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Everybody that hasn’t been living under a rock has probably heard of Woodstock. After all, it’s been described as one of those so-called “defining moments” of the 1960s and the lineup for the concert was pretty damned impressive. It’s estimated that over 400,000 people made their way to Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York and there have been countless articles written about the concert itself. It was also turned into a movie and of course, a live recording was made to capture the concert for those who either wanted to relive the experience or just couldn’t make it.

Another concert was held a mere four years later and it too took place in upstate New York. This time it was held at a racetrack by the name of Watkins Glen and unlike the varied lineup of Woodstock, the event would feature only three bands. They were :

  • The Grateful Dead
  • The Band
  • The Allman Brothers Band

    100,000 tickets to the festival (which was scheduled to last only one day) were sold for $10.00 apiece. Given the times, that was a pretty huge deal. Much to the events sponsors surprise, the concert would wind up dwarfing the attendance record set at Woodstock when over 600,000 people (everybody else got in free) showed up to party away and listen to the music. For a long time, it held the record as the largest crowd in pop music history to attend a concert and estimates are that 1 in every 350 people living in the United States at the time were either in attendance or trying to make their way in.

    Naturally logistics became a problem. Freeways became parking lots and traffic jams extended upwards of 50 miles to the concert site. Cars were abandoned by the side of the road as potential attendees either walked or hitchhiked the remainder of the way.

    Checking, one, two, three or the concert before the concert:

    The concert itself was supposed to start on July 28 but people had been already gathering at the site for about a week. On July 27, an estimated 250,000 people had already started calling Watkins Glen home.

    Before they hit the stage, all bands will conduct some kind of sound check to ensure that their instruments are in tune and the equipment is working properly. Usually this is done in front of a small audience or empty arena. This time, a day before the concert was to begin, the Dead went out and saw approximately 100,000 people standing or sitting in front of the stage. I guess they figured “fuck it” because their "sound check" turned into a two hour set with a couple of blips in between to tweak what would later become their infamous wall of sound. Not wanting to be outdone, The Band followed them up with a one-hour sound check of their own. The Allman Brothers then came on and played for another two hours just to make sure that they too, had their sound down to perfection.

    Before the concert even started, fans were treated to an additional five hours of music. I can’t ever envision that happening in today’s world where everything is timed down to the second and the concerts themselves are often played with a degree of military precision that could make any general proud.

    The concert itself:

    On Saturday the 28th, the Grateful Dead hit the stage a little before noon and played for five hours. Among the songs included in the marathon jam session were such favorites as Uncle John’s Band, Casey Jones, Friend of the Devil, Ripple, Sugar Magnolia, Truckin’, Not Fade Away and Me and Bobby McGee.

    It took about an hour or so to break down the stage and get it set up for The Band. They were about an hour into their set when a huge thunderstorm forced them offstage. They returned about a half hour later and finished their set to a crowd that was soaked to the bone and many had wandered off to try to get dry. They wound up playing for another two hours.

    Then it was the Allman Brothers turn. By most accounts, even though the Dead and the Band put on amazing performances the Allman Brothers blew them away. Along the way they performed many of their classics such as In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Statesboro Blues and much of the material from their new album Brothers and Sisters. They closed their second set with an extended version of their classic piece Whipping Post.

    It was now about two o’clock in the morning and much of the crowd had begun to fold their tents and make their way home. For those that remained they were treated to an impromptu jam session featuring many members of each of the bands that lasted about an hour. During that time they covered Not Fade Away, Mountain Jam and closed the performance with a rocking version of the Chuck Berry classic, Johnny B. Goode.

    All in all the concert (except for the rain delay and traffic nightmare) went off without a hitch. There was little or no violence reported and the major complaint at the time was that it often took about three hours round trip to use the toilet facilities. The only death occurred when four skydivers jumped out of a plane carrying flares and planned to land in the concert grounds. One of them was killed when his suit caught on fire and his body was later discovered in the woods near the site itself. Two girls from Brooklyn who were hitchhiking to the concert also turned up missing and to this day nobody seems to know what happpened to them.

    Personal Thoughts

    Man, I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. Those were (and still are) some of my favorite bands and I would’ve given my left nut to have been at the show. After all, I lived in New York and the commute wouldn’t have been as bad as some of the other concert goers. My dad however had no intentions of letting me spend the weekend with a bunch of “goddamn hippy freaks all stoned out on pot and god knows whatever else” and forbade me from going. At the time, I debated the consequences and given his temperament decided it just wasn’t worth it. My loss I guess.

    Sadly, there was no album or movie made of the highlights of the show. There’s little footage that exists and even though the Dead had their sound people there they have steadfastly refused to include any part of their performance to a concert album in which they don’t have editorial control. Some small parts of their performance (a whopping eighteen minutes) can be found on their own retrospective boxed set called So Many Roads.

    The Band fared even worse. A CD called Live at Watkins Glen (which I have in my collection) turned out to be a fake. Out of the ten songs on the CD, only two of them were recorded at Watkins Glen. The rest of them are recordings of their performances at other venues that were overdubbed with the sound of a live audience. The Band themselves had nothing to do with the release of the CD.

    Only one song from the Allman Brothers stellar set can be found. It’s a tune called Come And Go Blues and it was released on their album Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas released in 1976.

    I doubt we’ll ever see anything like it again. Even though rock festivals like Bonnaroo are pretty common and last for days, ticket sales are limited and only those with a ticket are allowed to get in. Besides, I don’t know how much any of the bands who played at Watkins Glen got paid for their efforts or even if they got paid at all.

    I don’t think the same could be said for similar events staged these days.

    Update later that same day...

    Leave it to the internet. According to this, here’s a complete set list of both the sound check and the actual concert itself. It reads like my own personal wet dream of good songs.

    Grateful Dead (sound check)

    The Promised Land
    Mexicali Blues
    Bird Song
    Big River
    Tennessee Jed
    Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
    Me And My Uncle
    Wharf Rat
    Around And Around

    The Band (sound check)

    The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
    Raining In My Heart
    Don’t Do It
    W. S. Walcott Medicine Show

    Allman Brothers (sound check)

    Ramblin’ Man
    One Way Out

    Grateful Dead (concert)

    Beat It On Down the Line
    Brown Eyed Women
    Mexicali Blues
    Box of Rain
    Here Comes Sunshine
    Looks Like Rain
    Row Jimmy
    Jack Straw
    Playing In The Band
    Around And Around
    Loose Lucy
    Big River
    He’s Gone
    Nobody’s Fault But Mine
    El Paso
    China Cat Sunflower
    I Know You Rider
    Stella Blue
    Eyes Of The World
    Sugar Magnolia

    The Band (concert)

    Back To Memphis
    Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
    The Shape I’m In
    The Weight
    Stage Fright
    I Shall Be Released
    Don’t Do It
    Endless Highway
    Genetic Method
    The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
    Across The Great Divide
    Holy Cow
    Life Is A Carnival
    Up On Cripple Creek
    Share Your Love
    This Wheel’s On Fire
    W. S. Walcott Medicine Show
    Slippin’ And A Slindin’
    Rag Mama Rag

    Allman Brothers (concert)

    Wasted Words
    Done Somebody Wrong
    Stormy Monday
    In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
    Come And Go Blues
    Trouble No More
    Blue Sky
    One Way Out
    Ramblin’ Man
    You Don’t Love Me
    Les Bres In A Minor
    Whipping Post

    Thank you ladies and gentlemen and have a good night!


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