On July 28, 1973, the Grand Prix Raceway in Watkins Glen, New York hosted what at that time was the largest audience ever gathered for a concert. Four years after Woodstock’s half million gathered for three days of peace and music, Summer Jam attracted a record crowd of six hundred thousand.
There are some striking similarities between the two events: both were held in upstate New York; the traffic jams leading to both were horrendous; and rain marred both shows.
But there are significant differences, too. Watkins Glen only suffered one fatality — a skydiver who accidentally set himself on fire with flares as he descended — to Woodstock’s three. Where Woodstock was a planned three days, Summer Jam was only intended to be a single gig. (Early comers were treated to sound checks, some of which turned into full sets.) Woodstock featured a deep bill filled with performers. Watkins Glen featured only three acts: The Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band, in that order.
Perhaps the biggest differences between the two festivals are that no camera crew captured Summer Jam, and no soundtrack album was released. Some performances have appeared on the bands’ own releases, but no official document of the event exists. And so Watkins Glen, once a Guinness World Record holder for largest crowd, has faded from pop culture memory.
Of course that doesn’t mean that nobody tried to capitalize on Summer Jam. Pickwick Records rushed out Watkins Glen with the tiny subtitle Kings Road Plays The Heavy Sounds Of The Watkins Glen Concert. The album is essentially studio musicians doing half-assed karaoke versions of the three bands’ songs with canned crowd noise book-ending each cut.
The album has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but its comic value and its dedication to the cheap hustle make it something of a conversation piece. I have no idea what this hunk of junk is going for because nobody has been insane enough to try to sell one outside of a yard sale or a thrift store. I’d say that if you spend more than twenty-five cents American you’ve overpaid but hey, man, it’s your trip. Peace.