Monday, July 29, 2013

40 Year Itch: The Rock n Roll Raceway

On July 28th 1973 600,000 fans packed Watkins Glen Raceway in upstate New York to see The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead and The Band. It was the biggest rock concert ever staged in the U-S,  surpassing Woodstock by 200,000. Promoters expected 150,000 fans ( paying $10 each) but there were already people camping out two days before the concert. A full day before showtime, hours earlier than planned,  promoters opened the gates. The field was soon jam packed with people up to half a mile from the stage with hundreds of thousands still on their way. Traffic was insane. People abandoned their cars and hiked the final 5 miles to the raceway.

Here's some home movie footage narrated by one of the Summer Jam attendees:

  To appease fans who had been soaked by rain,  the bands prolonged their sound checks. The Dead played two short sets. The Band went for sixty minutes. The Allman Brothers played for ninety.
   The next day the Dead opened the rock festival with "Bertha". They played two long sets featuring many of their best known songs including "Box of Rain", "Jack Straw" and "Playing in the Band".
  Next came the Band with a two hour set as a thunderstorm threatened to wash them off the stage.

  Finally the Allman Brothers took the stage for a three hour performance that concluded with a jam featuring the Grateful Dead, The Band's Rick Danko and Richard Manuel and Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts that started around 2:30 in the morning.

Yes there was mud, litter, nudity and drugs. But only one death. A skydiver named Willard Smith --known for putting on a sparkling light show on his decent--accidentally set off an explosive in mid-air. He was dead before his body hit the ground.

More photos from the Summer Jam:

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