July 28, 1973
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.
Well that Saturday morning of July 28th, Bones (my brother) and I loaded up my new car, a '72 El Camino, with all the big stuff...tent, sleeping bags, coolers, clothes, etc. Our buddy, Cleon, would follow us in his Mini Cooper (which he bought in England while in the Air Force) with Jenksy (another buddy) with him. We drove to the KOA campground and set up the tent. This campground was just down the hill from the concert site. All main routes to the Summer Jam site (near the race track) were blocked due to traffic. Rt 14 between Watkins Glen and Horseheads, N.Y. was completely blocked, about 11 miles! The village of Watkins Glen and all roads leading into it was totally impassable with cars parked everywhere. But being locals, and having attending the races for years, we were well aware of all the back roads leading to the track. I knew there was a dirt road just across from the KOA that lead directly to the track and that's the one we headed up on with Cleon's Mini. Four people in a Mini with coolers on their laps was pretty crowded but it was a small car and we knew we had to drive between LOTS of parked cars to get near the concert site. To our surprise we drove to and parked within 100 yards of the concert gate on that Saturday morning!
After unloading the car we started walking to the concert site and near the entrance gate I saw a couple of guys talking to two state troopers. The funny thing about this was that one of these two guys were smoking a joint while talking to the troopers! I knew then something was wrong with this picture. When I approached these two cops and showed them my ticket they told me that NO ticket was needed, it was a free concert, have fun and take it easy! By the way, I saw no cops within the concert grounds that weekend...but I understand there were up to 400 undercover police there. And there were many (cops) on the roads outside concert area... all weekend long!
I then put my ticket (which I still have today!) in my pocket, picked up the cooler, and we started walking towards the music. The road heading to the site was jammed packed with people. Drunks, dopers, freaks, hippies, kids, vendors, naked women, pushers, and all other sorts were walking in both directions. I never saw anything like this in my life (or since!). Well we finally found a spot on a slight hill across the road from the stage site. Most everyone was sitting on the ground. There were a few tents throughout the grounds.
Now and then a flap would fly open on one of these tents and the goings on in these tents, well you can imagine!
After a couple of hours of watching and listening (the band not the tents), I decided to take a walk up toward the track to take some photos. I couldn't believe what I saw. The gates were down where the road crossed the track (near the start of the "Front Straight" at the top of the "Esses") and cars were parked as far as I could see up and down the track. It was unreal! I then turned and walked back down towards the stage area. After leaving the road I then started making my way to the stage area, stepping over people all the way to within about 25 yards of the stage. It had rained hard off and on during the day and it was real muddy. Everyone near the stage was covered with mud, from head to toe! I got some real good photos (see below) on that trip! They were all dancing to the music of the Grateful Dead. I also made it down there, a few hours later, when the Band was playing. It was crazy! By the time I made it back to my buddies it had started to rain lightly again.
There were all kinds of aircraft (including a blimp with a, lighted, scrolling sign on the side) making fly overs that day. Just after I sat down from my trip from the stage I noticed one plane flying in circles overhead. Then I saw a parachute open and pink smoke swirling in the sky. I didn't know it at the time but this skydiver, Willard Smith, better known as "Smitty" to his friends, 35 of Syracuse,N.Y., with the pink flare would die before landing. From a fellow skydiver and personal friend of Smith: "He had an artillery simulator, which he had tucked into the pack opening band of his chest reserve. It is a dangerous explosive, packed with TNT. It went off prematurely, it was speculate, by accident, and it blew a hole in his chest". He is buried at Dewitt, N.Y., near Syracuse. He was a well known jumper in his time and to this day he's still talked about at sky diver's reunions and reportedly "...is still the legend he was when he was alive".
That's the only known death I know of concerning this concert although I've heard about a drowning at a farm pond nearby the concert area...But only in talk.
The rest of the day it drizzled rain (and really poured hard now and then) and the whole place became a real mess! Early in the evening we decided to go back to our camp at the KOA as we were soaked and getting cold. That night at camp, we could hear the Allman Brothers Band and, later on, The Band and the Grateful Dead jamming with them. All the while that blimp flew overhead (that night) with an illuminated scrolling ad for a local car dealership.
It was wet, wild, nuts, crazy, insane, fun, good, cold, loud, muddy, smelly,...well you name it, it probably was that day, July 28, 1973.
Sunday was the day that everyone left. I drove up there Monday morning just to see what it looked like. What a mess. I couldn't believe what I saw. There were clothes, tents, sleeping bags, umbrellas, shoes, chairs, coolers and anything else you could imagine laying in that field that 48 hours earlier held 600,000 people! A weekend I will never forget!
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SUMMER JAM - A HISTORIC ROCK CONCERT - July 28, 1973 - WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.
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SUMMER JAM - A HISTORIC ROCK CONCERT - July 28, 1973 - WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.© 1998 Mark Spaulding