Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Jam featuring The Allman Brothers Band, The Band & The Grateful Dead, Watkins Glen Speedway 1973

In the early 70s hitchhiking was a fairly normal thing. people didn't think too much about taking or giving rides to strangers. It was not at all like the culture of fear we live in nowadays. My pal & I planned to hitch up to this concert in the beautiful Finger Lake region of New York. My dad put the kibosh on that, tho, & bought me a bus ticket. My pal hitched. We made plans to meet at the Watkins Glen bus station. ~right~ The Watkins Glen bus station was a bench in a pretty little mountain town about 4 blocks long.
I shouldn't complain. My bus ride afforded me the chance to visit the Cleveland Bus Terminal for, like 6 hours overnight ! My dad's plan of keeping me safe was kinda tossed out the window when my keen teenage sense of self preservation kicked in and I took any pill any hippie boarding the bus gave me saying, "Hey man, you going to the concert ? Here try one of these !" My lunch in Buffalo is best not recounted.....
Amazingly, my friend popped out of a car within minutes of my arrival in Watkins Glen. We bought a 12 pack of Gennesee beer from a cop, hopped on a pick up truck full of hippies and went up to the race track.
There were about 150,000 tickets sold and it looked like everybody had made it.

We had an old canvas pup tent with no floor or screens. The posts were made out of wood. Since I was taking the bus I got the honors for transporting the heavy ass thing. Anyway, it was easy setting up, lotsa nice park like settings to choose from. We commenced to walking around and checking out the scene.
photo by Grant Gouldon
Lotta Freaks
photo by Grant Gouldon

We found a group of guys in a van who were selling pot out of trash bags. We looked at them and turned and looked at the troopers standing about 15 feet away, bought a bag of "medium grade" and went back to the tent to commence smoking it.
The next day we walked up to the concert site even though the concert wasn't til noon the next day. We were nerds. We liked looking at amps and PAs & junk. Anyway, as the story goes, Robbie Robertson asked to do a sound check. Sometime in the afternoon The Band did a soundcheck - it turned into a mini concert. The Allman Brothers Band followed with their soundcheck that was a bit longer with lots of extended jamming. Later, The Grateful Dead did a "soundcheck". Their soundcheck actually had an intermission. That soundcheck can be found here and a few other places.
The next day we got to the concert site in the late morning. Hot - no shade. Guy next to me took off his clothes and passed out. He was a pasty shade of white at the time. That didn't last. The Grateful Dead started out the show and played most of the afternoon. The Band took the stage next. Probably around 6 it clouded up which was nice, but then the clouds let loose and it rained like hell.
photo by Grant Gouldon
Wet Hippies

Organist Garth Hudson was the only holdout while the rest of the band made for cover. This is captured on the track, Too Wet to Work on the Band's Live at Watkins Glen album. When The Band resumed it was with a long organ intro to Chest Fever. The Allman Brothers took the stage later. They were promoting their first album since the death of guitarist Duane Allman, Brothers and Sisters, which was released, apparently, shortly after the concert. I swear I knew, at least, Ramblin' Man before I went up, tho. They delivered a solid show, their biggest since Duane's death and they came through in flying colors. After The Allman Brothers, various members of the bands came out on stage and jammed, switched off with others and jammed some more. We fell asleep that night to the sound of members of all the bands jamming. The last thing I heard was "The Mountain Jam" as I drifted off into slumberland.
The next day we dropped some windowpane we had brought with us. We walked up to the stage where we saw naked hippies sitting in the mud frantically drumming on plastic milk crates. I could have lived without that. Garbage everywhere. We found a broken jar of peanut butter (peanut butter jars used to be made out of glass). We did not eat any because we didn't know if there might be glass shards in it. We spotted some playing cards and started picking them up. We figured we could play cards later in the day if we could scrounge a whole deck. We wound up with about 250 cards but not a whole deck. We found a bank of temporary phones. My friend called his girlfriend. That's when we found out there were a few more than the expected 150,000 people at the concert.

About that time, a truckload of hippies drove by tossing out boxes of Little Debbie cakes. We could move pretty fast back then & grabbed a couple each. We attacked them mercilessly. Remember the aforementioned lunch in Buffalo ? This was the first I had eaten since then.
We decided to walk around the race track. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clearing from the rain the night before. Big beautiful puffy and hallucinatory clouds everywhere. Yet another truckload of hippies came careening up the track and stopped to offer us a ride. ok. As we flew along the race track we swerved a few times to dodge other hippies doing the same thing in the opposite direction. We got off the truck at the next stop. Apparently there were some collisions.
That night, after playing crazy eights with our 250 card not-a-deck, we went over to talk to some of our neighbors. We met these city boys from somewhere in New York. They were trying to build a fire. They would light some dried brush and as it flared up, they would drop this big ass log they found onto it and -surprise - it never lit. We built them a fire. They thought we were some kind of Ohio mountain men. We gave them the last of our 12 pack.
The next day we went back to the town in, yep, a truck full of hippies. My friend and I went our separate ways to the same place. This time he beat me by about 8 hours. I remember sitting at the back of the greyhound bus when an attractive well dressed young Canadian woman sat down next to me. I had not bathed or eaten real food in days. I had been living outside in the rain and the sun and the mud and the woods. She took it in stride. She knew where I had been. I was still embarrassed.
When I got home I don't know what I did first second or third but showering, eating and sleeping in clean sheets were all I cared about and I know I did all 3.

None of the images in this post are mine. Hell, I had no money for a camera back then, besides, I figured this was life forever at the time....
A great gallery by Grant Gouldon is here.

The soundcheck recording of the Grateful Dead can be found here.

More links:
Summer Jam 1973
Mitchell & Bonnie A pair of teens who disappeared somewhere along the line.
Hunter-Gatherer A view of the aftermath from the back seat of a station wagon with the fam.
Shakedown Stream


Journey Home said...

Great post Quim - really enjoyed it "I figured this was life forever at the time"....I sure do miss the 70's - try each day to shine it on brother and well the magic is everywhere...

Paul Burke
Author-Journey Home

CityKin said...

a lotta freaks!