Lost at Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen Summer JamIt was steaming hot that particular weekend in July of ’73, the time of The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. A ticket to this one day jam, with The Allman Brothers, The Band, and The Grateful Dead, cost $10, half the price of admission charged for Woodstock, which covered three days. The Jam’s promoters and the town of Watkins Glen remembered Woodstock, especially the problems of crowd control. Some new friends and I grabbed a few rides, joined a caravan, and ultimately walked past miles of traffic jam, which stretched out forever. In terms of numbers, we were 600,000 strong and surpassed the Woodstock figures by 100,000. Many of us did not buy tickets, but it didn’t matter. We would get through the gate, somehow, despite rumors about security guards turning away those without tickets. Campers arrived earlier in the week and made things easier by knocking over the fence designed to keep out freeloaders. We simply walked along with hundreds of others, and eventually put down our blankets to claim the space.

I didn’t get to Woodstock, but a year before the Jam, I did make it to the Festival of Hope, a three day mega-concert for charity held at Roosevelt Raceway in Long Island. I was allowed to go because it was close to home. Dozens of rock, pop and soul acts were crammed into this one weekend festival. I went specifically for Jefferson Airplane. The Festival was the biggest thing that happened in Long Island during the summer of ‘72. News crews in helicopters flew over Roosevelt Raceway to document that hundreds of thousands came to party. It was a blast and I didn’t worry about a thing. A different story with Watkins Glen, though, I made the journey without telling anyone and I was a long way from home.

The first hours of the jam were sublime. Everyone soaked up great music blasting from colossal speakers. We were also soaking up the sun. It was bloody hot. My group was too far from the stage where hoses kept things cool. I drank up everything in sight until I realized that it was time to seek relief at one of the portable stations placed somewhere on the grounds. I made a mental note of my friends’ proximity to the stage, unaware that I wouldn’t be seeing them again until the next morning. I don’t remember which band played first, nor if I missed Duane Allman, who had died in a motorcycle accident in ’71. The bands played on, but I wasn’t able to camp out and enjoy the experience. When I found a spot, the person next to it claimed it for a friend. There was no space for me; no community to join. Day turned to night and the temperature dropped. I was lost. No choice but to head to the security tent for a rescue. Not quite saved, but, I did fend off the advances of a scruffy security guard. I was on my guard. At the next sunrise, I ambled around without a clue on how I was going to make my way home. Thousands of people were heading out. Against the odds, I spotted my so called friends. They had forgotten to look for me and were leaving the grounds. Lucky day for me. I caught up with them and trekked back home.

Copyright © September 30, 2007

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4 responses to “Lost at Watkins Glen

  1. This was my first Dead concert. I hitchiked from Dupont Pa alone . I bought something to trip on and found a friend from back home but mostly I just wandered through the crowd making friends with everybody. The dead strarted in the sun with I think Sugar Magnolia. It rained and levon Helm played solo organ. There was a jam later.

  2. Thanks for sharing that. I mostly remember the trip up to the Glen and getting lost. It’s hazy after that.

  3. What a scary experience! Glad that you found your friends.
    I remember back in the 70’s on a road trip with my sister, camping out near Vegas on a holiday weekend. Campgrounds all full and then some. Parties everywhere. Finally we just pulled out our sleeping bags under a vacant pavillion, soon one guy came up introduced himself and pulled out his sleeping bag near us. He seemed safe enough, and I felt we’d have less trouble with a guy around then 2 girls alone. I slept great, later my sister told me it was the scariest night of her life.

  4. Nothing like the good old day, lol. The best concerts were the ones I went to while still in high school.

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