In 1973, a major concert event happened at Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway in upstate New York. Promoters Shelly Finkel and Jim Koplik assembled three powerhouse bands at the time "The Grateful Dead, The Band and The Allman Brothers" to perform on Saturday July 28th. The price of admission was $10 and word spread fast of this event, as approximately 150, 000 tickets were sold. As the weekend arrived, a mass of people showed up on Friday to set up shop, camp and prepare for the big day. During the sound checks on Friday, there were so many people in front of the stage, The Grateful Dead performed for over two hours after the other two bands did a couple of songs each. On the day of the show the ticket collectors and security were overwhelmed by the amount of people who showed up. The fences came down and it quickly turned into a free show. There was an estimated 600,000 people in attendance, which at the time was the largest crowd to ever attend a concert. Below you will see some individual accounts of people who went to the big show and how they endured the special event.
Sim U. from Oceanside, New York
R.V.B. - As far as your little journey, why did you decide to go there and who did you go up with?
Sim - Word got out that there was going to be this great concert at Watkins Glen. I was working at Nathans in Oceanside at the time... that's where I grew up. Two of my friends approached me and I asked my parents if I could go. They shocked me by saying yes. I guess they thought I was going to be safe because I was going with a guy that was kind of a boyfriend... and his friend. (Hahaha) They had no clue what they were allowing me to do because under normal circumstances, I was pretty restricted. My parents really didn't like me going to certain places. We bought tickets.
R.V.B. - Where did you buy the tickets... A&S or Ticketron?
Sim - Probably. I don't remember doing the transaction myself. I just remember someone handing me my ticket and paying them for it.
R.V.B. - So you were one of the 100,000 that actually bought the ticket.
Sim - Yeah, we got up to the gate and the gates were already crashed down. I remember thinking "We spend money on the tickets and we could have probably come up here anyway." Hahaha
R.V.B. - Was there a lot of traffic on the way up?
Sim - Yeah, there was tons of traffic. Going over the bridges... getting off of Long Island. It was all backed up. We went through a part of New Jersey for some reason because the person that was driving said that he knew a short cut. Basically all the roads from all directions leading to the concert were just all backed up... incredible traffic.
R.V.B. - Were you able to drive to the parking lot?
Sim - No, no, no. We got as far as we could... about five miles outside of Watkins Glen and everyone was just pulling over in whatever available spot there was on the side of the road. In front of stores, in front of people's houses, long stretches of wooded areas... it was just grab your stuff and start walking.
R.V.B. - What kind of preparing did you do? Did you bring food or did you buy at the concession stands?
Sim - We heard that there was going to be concession stands. I remember we brought some things like fruit. One of the people I was going with... his father had a fruit stand or something and he set us up with these trays of cherries. Like the ones they have in the supermarket. We had a couple trays of those and other fruit. We had these big jugs of water. We thought this was going to be great, we'll have our own water supply. We got out of the car and we had backpacks and bedrolls and duffel bags of clothes, and we proceeded to walk this five mile walk all uphill to the concert site. The cherries never made it up to the top of the hill. I think we traded water for something else. I just remember walking to the concert going "I must be completely out of my mind."
R.V.B. - (Hahaha) That sounded like fun. Once you got there were you able to see the bands?
Sim - We were all the way up on top of the hill. We could see them but obviously not very good. It was just wall to wall people. There were 650,000 people there. We were able to hear them somewhat. There was pretty good sound. There was The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band.
R.V.B. - So what was your opinion on the day, the events and the music?
Sim - It was a lot of fun. I was just shy of my 18th birthday, which is why I was shocked that my parents allowed me to go to something like this and I remember thinking that I could have been better if I just went to the Coliseum to see them. Even though it was fun, it was stressful because we had the horrible walk like cattle being herded. Your drunk by the time you get there or I'm sure we were all stoned on whatever peoples preferences were at the time. It wasn't like a festive type of atmosphere. We were all in this big pile of mud all the way up on a hill. If we needed to go to the bathroom, it was a long walk to the porta-potties. That was a distraction of that type of an outdoor concert. I did have fun... it was an adventure but it's not something that I would ever do again. Hahaha
R.V.B. - I'm sure that there are more comfortable surroundings that you could watch a concert in. I had a similar experience at the Simon and Garfunkel show in Manhattan in 83. There was just too many people.
Sim - Exactly
R.V.B. - But you did it. Do you remember anything about the music?
Sim - It was really great listening to the music. They were our favorite bands at the time and that part of it was enjoyable.
R.V.B. - It was a long day. Were you able to get to your car and get home in the same day?
Sim. - I think we stayed there overnight. A couple of guys had tents. I don't even remember sleeping in a tent. I think I just slept on a blanket. It poured so we were all soaking wet and even more muddy than at the beginning. So we just repeated the exit. As we were walking down the hill, an ambulance had gone by slowly. I somehow convinced the guy to let me ride in the ambulance and waited at the car for my friends. I just couldn't walk anymore. The day was a physically stressful experience, even at the age of 18.
R.V.B. - Did everybody behave themselves for the most part?
Sim - I remember everyone behaving themselves, yes. Even people who you could tell were drinking heavily or were very stoned.
R.V.B. - Well it sounds like you had a fantastic time of adventure. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Sim - I did have a good time. What person at 18 doesn't enjoy going on an adventure like that. It was just a silly thing and like you said about the Simon and Garfunkel concert, when there's too many people, it's difficult to enjoy your surroundings. The concession stands completely sold out of things very quickly. I remember getting a container of orange juice and a buttered roll from there. This wasn't something that you're used to doing in your average day but all in all it was a fun experience.
R.V.B. - It's a lifelong memory right?
Sim - Yeah, definitely.
Eddie M. from West Milford, New Jersey
R.V.B. - Mr. Eddie... how are you doing?
Ed - Hey what's up
R.V.B. - So Watkins Glen. Why did you decide to go up there and did you go up with friends?
Ed - Yeah, I went with three other friends. Actually it was one other friend, and he brought a friend and a girlfriend, so four of us went up there.
R.V.B - Did you buy tickets ahead of time?
Ed. - Yeah, I still got my ticket. (hahaha) It was ten bucks.
R.V.B. - That wasn't bad. Could you imagine what it would cost for those three bands today?
Ed - Probably like $150.
R.V.B. - Did you hit traffic on the way up there?
Ed - Yeah we hit traffic. I don't know the roads but once we got off of 17... what we call the quick way up there (haha)... we were heading on a rural type of road and pretty soon there was like four lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper going one way on a two lane road. I remember it was still light out so it was the early evening on Friday night.
R.V.B. - Did you go up there with the intent of camping I guess?
Ed - Yeah, we borrowed a tent and we had sleeping bags. I don't know how many gallons or bottles we had of Spanada.
R.V.B. - Anything else that was available during that time period.
Ed - We were definitely all tripping (haha)
R.V.B. - (hahaha)
Ed - Not yet though (hahaha) Not until we got up there.
R.V.B. - What else do you do at a Grateful Dead concert?
Ed - I actually smoked a joint with Jerry Garcia.
R.V.B. - How did you pull that off?
Ed - I get to it. So we're going up there and the traffic is bumper to bumper. Everybody is on the roof's of their cars now... in party mode already. Jumping back from this car to that car. We could walk faster than they're driving. We got to an in ground pool place and they had a demo pool. It was warm out and me and my friends jumped in and a bunch of other people jumped in. (hahaha) Anyway, we finally could not drive anymore. That's where the car stopped and that's where we left it. I estimate we walked 8 miles to get to the place.
R.V.B. - So I gather you carried everything you could possibly carry with you?
Ed - I don't know how we did all that but I remember I had a gallon bottle of Spanada, sleeping bag and a tent. We didn't really bring much food or anything. A couple of interesting things I saw was... I thought I might have been imagining this because I was tripping for about 10 of those hours. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - (hahaha)
Ed - I remember these parachuter's coming down with flares and I saw one catch on fire. I think we heard a rumor that one guy was dead. So the next 35 years, that's part of the story I would tell to anybody who wanted to hear it. I was telling this girl at work and she goes "Oh my parents went there." She comes back the next day and goes "There was no parachuter's killed." I was like "Oh shit, did I imagine that?" So I looked it up on the internet and I confirmed it... my sanity and my story. (hahaha) I told the story to somebody else and they were actually closer to that guy and saw him.
R.V.B. - When you got there, was it already a free concert?
Ed - I don't know. Nobody collected tickets that's for sure. I don't know at what point it became a free concert but we had our tickets.
R.V.B. - So you got up there on Friday night.
Ed - Yeah. I don't even remember going through a gate of any kind. That part escapes me.
R.V.B. - So did you sleep inside the concert grounds? I saw a picture with wall to wall people and very few tents.
Ed - We got a little spot there. I'm gonna say like 150 yards from the stage. You know how it is when you go to those outdoor concerts. You get out there and spread your stuff out. You hang out on a blanket. Before you know it, there's more and more people and pretty soon everybody's walking all over your blanket. Now you got no room. I remember the bottle of Spanada... we didn't drink the whole thing and we couldn't put the line that holds the tent out because people kept tripping over it and knocking the tent down. So we hung the pole and used the bottle of Spanada with half of the wine in there as sort of a weight. I remember when we finally got back to the tent... at 4 o'clock in the morning or whatever it was... I remember not really sleeping in the sleeping bag because my head was still rushing. (hahaha) A bunch of people would come by and take a swig out of the bottle of Spanada and the tent would go down. When they put it down the tent would go back up. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - That's hilarious.
Ed - I don't even know who was on... I'm gonna say, The Band was on at this point but the other two... the driver and the girlfriend decided to leave and go back home. I don't know why? So they left and we didn't care. We thought "How are you gonna get out of here... the car just stopped?" We walked eight miles, so that means if you leave early, the car is going to be in the middle of other cars. They made it home somehow. So anyway we started making our way up towards the stage. We wanted to go crazy up by the stage.
R.V.B. - That's what 18 year olds do.
Ed - Yeah, and it was so freaken crowded and we couldn't get to the front of the stage so we got kind of swept to the right side of the stage. Almost to the back of the stage and there were stairs going up there. There was a trailer attached to them. I walk up these steps about six feet high that went up to a door to a trailer. It must have been the dressing rooms. I'm just standing up there craning my neck around to get a better view of the stage. The door opens up and it was Jerry Garcia. I had a joint in my hand so I handed it to him. He took a hit and I don't even think he said a word... and handed it back to me and closed the door. It was like a split second.
R.V.B. - That's fantastic. So do you remember the music at all? (haha)
Ed - (hahaha) You know the music at those types of things are very important but it almost takes back stage to everything else that is going on. We saw a lot of stuff happening there. People shooting up heroin, various different things. We were 18 and we hadn't really lived a lot yet. I mean I enjoyed the music. The Band is like one of my favorite bands. The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead are right up there. So it was incredible.
R.V.B. - Did everyone behave themselves for the most part?
Ed - Yeah, I didn't see any problems.
R.V.B. - What about food. Did you have enough to eat?
Ed - I don't really remember. We must have brought some stuff. There was some free food tents with 55 gallon drums of mush. You know, shit like that. They were a little better prepared than Woodstock. I seem to remember that they drilled eight wells up there for this thing, to provide water. I don't really remember that there were vendors there, like you see now. I don't think I ate much. I don't really remember that part of it, to tell you the truth. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - How did you get out of there. Was there a big wait for that also?
Ed - The people with the car left. The guy I was with wasn't even a friend of mine. He was a friend of my friend. I knew him but we weren't like buds or anything. He borrowed this tent from a friend of his. The thing was worthless. We just left it there. Coming back as we were leaving the concert grounds, we were walking on this road with a half a million other people. The cars are going by very slowly and they're just barely passing us and we're passing them. Maybe the cars were going a little faster. This one van goes by and the side doors are open. There was like three or four people in there and they had this mound of once pot bags. I don't even know why they would have it at the end of the concert. That's the part that escapes me there. They went by and I said "Oh wow, look at that." I see a cop up ahead us at this crossroad. This was like a gravel road and it must still be inside the raceway or something. I'm saying "This is gonna be interesting, they didn't even warn them." As the van comes up to the cop directing traffic, he waves them through and he see's what's in there. So the van gets about ten feet passed them and he stops them. We're probably about a hundred feet away which is not a lot of distance. We could plainly see what's going on. The cop stops them and he looks in there... doesn't even take a second... takes one of the bags and sticks it halfway in his back pocket and then waves them on. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - (hahaha)
Ed - I don't recall if it was a real cop or security. We really weren't paying attention all that much. I guess this was on Sunday. Then we see a freight train... a slow moving freight train. There was like hundreds of people running to the freight train and we jumped on as well. But then we realized very quickly that it was going in a westerly direction... not the way we wanted to go. But there was hundreds of people who jumped on this thing. So we hitchhiked home and we got home. Our sleeping bags weren't even rolled up. They were just like draped around us. I don't even know why anybody would even pick us up but they did.
R.V.B. - Obviously it rained there. Did that suck?
Ed - Not really. By that time we saw the Woodstock movie so it was like "Ok this is just like Woodstock." There was supposedly 600,000 people there. Friday night they did sound checks and it was like six hours from my memory. It could have been more or less. Saturday, all the bands played and then they played together. all and all I think I heard like 14 hours of music from three bands. At that time Pig Pen had died not to long before that and Duane Allman had died and also Barry Oakley. It was an experience... it was fun. I actually saw a couple people that I knew up there, which was incredible.
R.V.B. - Thanks for sharing it with me.
John M. from Franklin Square, New York
R.V.B. - Hey Johnny
John - Hey Robbie
R.V.B. - So Watkins Glen... how did you hear about it, how did you organize friends to go and where were you living at the time?
John - I was living at my house in Franklin Square, which is not far from the Queens border. I used to take the bus to Macy's where I worked in Queens and me and my friend Mark worked there. I think he heard about it and he told me "Look, me and a few of my friends are gonna get tickets to this music festival in upstate New York. The tickets are $10... would you like to go?" I said "When is it?" He said it was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We would have to leave Friday night after work." I said "That'll work for me." I'll take a day off from work and have a long weekend. I said "Yeah sure." He had a summer house out in Oakdale and he organized it. We used his car, we gathered what we needed... food clothes. We had a 63 Impala and it was Mark's who lived across the street from me. I didn't have my license at the time so I couldn't drive. It was Me Mark, Kevin, Billy. There was another guy and Kevin girlfriend, so we had three in the front and three in the back. We left on a Friday night, I guess around 7:30 and got there maybe 2:30 in the morning.
R.V.B. - What were your plans? Where were you going to stay?
John - Well the first night we got there it was too dark to find a spot. All my friends had sleeping bags. I didn't have one so I slept in the back seat of the car out of the elements. I thought I was the smart one. I was away from the mosquitoes. Everybody else slept outside. Three slept in a tent and two slept outside. It was where we parked. We parked on the grass in the field. When we got there the tickets were null and void. We didn't need tickets. They knocked the fences down. Twice as many people showed up. They expected 100,500 and at the time 250,000 showed up. Who's gonna stop them from ripping the fences down? It's not worth it for $10. At the time, it took me three hours to make that.
R.V.B. - What happened on Saturday?
R.V.B. - I believed that it rained on Saturday morning. I'm not exactly sure. I recall I had a bar of soap and a towel. I was all slimy and sweaty and I stood out in the rain with my shorts on and I scrubbed my hair and body down. I just stood there moving around in the rain and it washed all of the soap off my body. I was clean and I remember that vividly. I don't recall what the other guys did? I think they were more intent on getting a spot. We waited for the rain to subside, which it did about midday. My memory is kind of foggy. I believe the first one's on were The Allman Brothers... then The Band followed by The Grateful Dead.
Did you guys have the things to help you're heads for a concert atmosphere?
John - You mean doobies and things like that?
R.V.B. - Exactly.
John - Yeah, I was doing amphetamines. There were guys walking around with a giant clear baggie with a thousand tabs of acid... selling acid for $1.00 a hit. They were saying "Acid for sale, one dollar - one dollar." There was no policing or anything. You know how it was back them. It was pretty openly free. When you get that group of people...
R.V.B. - So when you got into the place, where did you set up shop?
John - We were about 150 yards from the stage. I guess it was maybe half way. A few guys went up there and we stayed back. I didn't feel like going up there. I didn't want to be hassled walking through the crowd and finding your way back to a little small blanket through a sea of people. So I just sat there. I smoked cigarettes, smoked a couple of doobie's and then thing about the amphetamines... I didn't even get a buzz off them. I always did when I took these.
Was it because you were in that element with so many people around?
John - Maybe it was Rob. I didn't feel that comfortable there. Back at that time, I was finding my way with who I was and everything. I didn't like the way I saw the other people. I didn't like the way they were being, and I kind of looked at myself and said "Man, what the hell am I doing?"
R.V.B. - So as you sat 150 years from the stage, were you more interested in what was going on around you, or the music?
John - I was listening to the music but you couldn't help but be aware of people around you. People were getting into the music. It was very, very hot when The Allman Brothers played. That was another thing, it was uncomfortable. I had shorts on and no shirt on. I had long hair at the time so I was sweating. We didn't have enough food.
R.V.B. - What did you do about that? Was there food by the concessions?
John - We brought snacks. I brought a few sandwiches and they were gone in the first couple of hours. I brought like a bag of chips. We may have had some beer... I don't really remember. To be honest with you, I was disappointed with the whole concert. The bands weren't my favorite bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Humble Pie. I was more into that. My friend Mark went all the way to the front of the stage. I don't know how he got through. He snuck under some ropes or something. There was a snapshot in the paper and he was in it. Not sure if it was The Long Island Press, Newsday or what. He was in the crowd but he was in the front row.
R.V.B. - Do you remember any music from The Band?
John - "Take a load off granny" or something. I wasn't a big Band or Grateful Dead fan. I knew Casey Jones and I knew Truckin' and a few others. They were kind of a mellow group but the crowd was really into them. They were standing up and singing along. I enjoyed that the most, even though I was not that familiar with the group. It was night time also and it was cooler. When I was in the sun, I could not enjoy myself because the climate was so overbearing. At night it mellowed out.
R.V.B. - All three bands are kind of mellow.
John - The crowd was pretty mellow actually. There was no violence or anything, which was a good thing.
R.V.B. - Everyone behaved themselves for the most part.
John - Yes they did. There were people laying there with no clothes on. Girls, bare assed naked... guys bare assed naked. They had baby's with them.
R.V.B. - They were like "Woodstock wannabe's?"
John - Yeah, kind of. Woodstock four years later but it didn't live up to what Woodstock was. Woodstock was a one of a kind festival.
R.V.B. - So when the concert was over, did you leave right away?
John - No, we spent the night.
R.V.B. - That was probably a smart move because of the traffic nightmare that was out there.
John - I know they probably printed up 200,000 tickets and 600,000 showed up. We went back to around to where the car was and it was late at night and I believe it was after midnight. It started to drizzle and we built a fire. They pitched the tent again. Somehow I got in the tent sort of because the car wasn't that close. For the most part I stayed out of the rain. My friend Mark was out and exposed and his sleeping bag caught on fire. he was sleeping and he slept too close to the fire. I woke up and yelled "Hey Mark, Get up." as I was beating the flames out. We put the flames out and he was so tired he just went back to bed. He said "Ok, my sleeping bag is ruined but I'm sleeping tonight." It drizzled all night. Everybody was pretty beat. We packed up and got out of there. We waited and waited. When we hit the open road, we stopped at the nearest McDonalds. I bought like five hamburgers. We got in the car and we're driving down the road. I open up my hamburgers and there's mustard and ketchup on it. I can't stand that. I was stuck with them and I gave them away. I ate the fries and I had to get by on them.
R.V.B. - You didn't even eat one of the hamburgers when you were that hungry?
John - I think I ate one. So everybody ate what they had and everybody was full except me but i was just glad to be going home. We got back Sunday night at around 8 o'clock. I had to be ready for work the next day. I got balled out by my boss for not telling her I wasn't coming in on Friday. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - That's a fantastic story John. As a nineteen year old you helped set a record for the largest attendance at a concert. You were there and have a story to tell and I appreciate you sharing it with me.
John - That's alright Rob. Thank you for making me feel like a celebrity.
R.V.B. - You are a celebrity (Hahaha)
John - Yeah in my own mind (Hahaha)
Jim G. from Brentwood
R.V.B. - Hey Jim. What sparked you into going to Watkins Glen and how did you arrange to go up there.
Jim - I was living in Brentwood where I grew up. I was probably about 19 at the time. It was just a spontaneous thing... "Hey there's a concert up there." We went up with no tickets.
R.V.B. - Oh I see. Some of the other people I talked to bought tickets but they didn't have to use them
Jim - Yeah, there was so many people that went up there, it got crazy.
R.V.B. - So did you hit traffic?
Jim - I don't remember going up if we hit traffic. We weren't really sure we were getting there until we were there, when traffic was building up.
R.V.B. - So you were able to drive your car right up to the place?
Jim - No. I think we were three miles away or something like that.
R.V.B. - And you hoofed it from there. Did you prepare for this? Did you bring beer, water, pot or whatever you needed?
Jim - We brought Beer, Watermelon, weed and hash.
R.V.B. - Hahaha. How the hell did you carry the watermelon?
Jim - I think we just had like it in paper shopping bags at the time. I think we went back and forth to the car. We didn't get to the stage and I never got to see the bands.
R.V.B. - I guess there was so many people that part of the experience was interacting with the people.
Jim - There was so many people that it became unimportant what band was playing.
R.V.B. - Were you able to hear the music?
Jim - Yes
R.V.B. - Do you remember anything that was going on around you, or about the music?
Jim - I remember there was a lot of people playing music on their own with acoustic guitars, bongo's and that kind of thing. There was a stand there... everybody that was there realized that they didn't bring enough food. We all had a little bit of money in our pocket and we could buy food up there. There was nothing up there but a peirogi vendor.
R.V.B. - I guess that's better than nothing.
Jim - Yeah, but there was 600,000 people there and a peirogi vendor.
R.V.B. - So I guess there was a big line?
Jim - Yeah, and they ran out fast.
R.V.B. - Did the rain bum everybody out?
Jim - No. Actually we were walking... I don't know where we were walking... but when it rained, everyone was soaking wet and we went into a drain pipe that went under the road and people were just hanging out in there like a cave. We waited it out.
R.V.B. - Was there enough room to stand in it?
Jim - Everybody was just sitting in it and hanging out partying and doing their own thing. It was just random people. I don't think at that point I was even with my friends. You would just mingle with whoever was around you.
R.V.B. - Did you lose your friends?
Jim - I lost them for a while and then we met up sometime later in the day.
R.V.B. - Do you remember anything about the music? If the bands were good or anything?
Jim - No
R.V.B. - Hahaha
Jim - I sort of heard the music but you really didn't care after a while. I remember one of my friends saying "Come on, let's get up there"... for what? We can always go home and listen to them on a record.
R.V.B. - Did everybody behave themselves for the most part? Was there any trouble?
Jim - I didn't see any trouble what so ever.
R.V.B. - Anything unusual happen?
Jim - Not really. There was just a lot of partying and a lot of people being wasted. I didn't see nothing bad.
R.V.B. - How many days were you up there?
Jim - I think we were up there for three days. went up on Friday night and we came back on Sunday.
R.V.B. - Did you have sleeping arrangements? Did you bring sleeping bags?
Jim - We brought a tent and a couple of blankets. We didn't really sleep in it. We just slept where ever we found a spot on the ground.
R.V.B. - What about the ride home... was there any traffic going home?
Jim - We got lost. We went the wrong way and wound up going all the way around the Finger Lakes coming back. So for us, it was a very, very long ride. I think we got lost because we followed a flow going out of there. We followed the wrong flow.
R.V.B. - Did you realize while you were there that it was the largest attended concert ever?
Jim - We didn't really comprehend that it was much larger than Woodstock.
R.V.B. - Would you do it again?
Jim - Oh yeah. It's one of the biggest things I've ever done in my life up to this day.
R.V.B. - We're you into those bands, or was it just the event, and those bands happened to be there?
Jim - I think my friends were into those bands. I was never into The Grateful Dead. My friends were into The Allman Brothers and I had been to see a lot of Allman Brothers concerts. I guess I like The Band but I just went up because it was a concert. We used to do a lot of that in the day.
R,V.B. - Thanks for sharing your experience with me.
Jim - Ok, have a good day buddy.
Russell A. from Bayside
R.V.B. - Watkins Glen is the biggest attended concert event ever at the time.
Russ - Was it really? Well in the United States.
R.V.B. - 600,000 people.
Russ - I got to Watkins Glen early. I hitch hiked up there with a friend of mine. It's pretty amazing that my folks even agreed to let me go. I don't remember what story I told them but we hitch hiked through Manhattan from Bayside where I lived, and I think we got up there on a Monday at night. The concert wasn't I think until Saturday.
R.V.B. - Did you buy tickets ahead of time or did you wing it?
Russ - We were one of the few people that actually bought tickets. They weren't that expensive either if I remember.
R.V.B. - Yeah they were $10
Russ - Yeah, I mean $10 to see the Allman Brothers, The Band and The fucking Dead.
R.V.B. - Yeah, that's a good deal. No wonder why 600,000 people went.
Russ - Most of them didn't even pay, like my brother. He just crashed the gates with a bunch of other people. I didn't go up with him. He went up with his friends. I hitched up there with my best friend who has since passed away.
R.V.B. - Did you plan on camping out or did you get a hotel or something?
Russ - Come on, rent a hotel? We were 15... what are you nuts?
R.V.B. - Hahaha
Russ - We took the bus to Manhattan and then found a friendly cab driver who took us through the Holland Tunnel. You can't walk through. We started hitching and we got a few rides and the last 350 miles we got a ride with these two chicks who were heading up there. They had a cooler with like 350 hits of acid in them in the back. They were like help yourself. I was doing acid back then but I think at that point I didn't want to because I wanted to get up there first and get myself settled. We got up there at night and there was like a main road inside the grounds where people were camped so of course it was raining. My friend Nelson and I got out and set up our little pop up tent, and being somewhat a bit out of it perhaps. We set it up so that some of it was over a log that had fallen over. We were basically camped in a puddle of water. The next morning everything was soaked but the sun came out. When we got out the next morning and fixed everything up. Parked in front of us was a guy with a bug who was selling pot. On the right of us was a guy with a truck that had Nitrous Oxide. The guy on the left was selling masculine. There was some other people scattered around selling various other drugs and we felt very much at home. It was a nice experience. We just hung out. We hitched rides to a lake that everybody was swimming in.
R.V.B. - Had did you plan for food and eating? Were there places to eat?
Russ - No. There might have been but we brought some freeze dried stuff. We would use Sterno and cook. There was water available there. My family used to go camping fairly often. We found the easiest way to do it was to get the freeze dried foods that were available then for camping. It wasn't the best tasting stuff. Other people had food and they were willing to share. We didn't have much money but what we did have, apparently it was enough. We brought some beer with us.
R.V.B. - So you spend a couple of days doing the camp thing and hanging out with the crowds.
Russ - Well we got up there Monday night. The concert wasn't until Saturday.
R.V.B. - One thing good about the way you did it is you didn't have to deal with any major traffic jams.
R.V.B. - The only traffic jams that we were involved in was hitching to the lake where everybody would swim in. I remember we were riding on the hood of somebody's car. There were like three or four people riding on the outside of this bug. We were going about 5 miles per hour, which was fine, so no one would get hurt. I remember that traffic jam. I remember we were driving up this road and there was a house with like seven little kids all sitting on a porch screaming and pointing at us going "Hippies, Hippies, Hippies."
R.V.B. - Hahaha
Russ - Pretty funny.
R.V.B. - So the day of the show, did you go there early to beat the people going in to get a good spot? Where did you wind up setting up shop in there?
Russ - I know that Friday night when the jam was happening, we were kind of on the outside. We didn't go in to see the jam but you could hear it. So that was great hearing them doing their sound check which turned into a jam.
R.V.B. - I heard The Grateful Dead played a 2 set sound check.
Russ - We were just digging the whole thing and then Saturday, everybody just starting moving in mass to the gate to get in to the concert area. We didn't pack anything up and when we left our tent there. Nobody had stolen anything yet. We weren't worried about it. I would say we were maybe about 200 feet from the stage... right in the middle. Not ridiculously far away, but far enough. We knew it was going to be a long haul. Oddly enough... this I remember because this is how your body works, especially when you are young... I didn't really have to go to the bathroom for the entire time that we were there. I'm talking about from Monday. I didn't have any real solid waste. I just peed a few times. I just burned up whatever I ate. I saw all the lines of people waiting by the porta-potties. I didn't have to worry about running out and missing part of the show. I remember that it was raining at one point. Everybody was going "Wow it's like Woodstock." Fuck that man. I wanted it to be raining and getting wet.
R.V.B. - So you were basically able to take in all of the music.
Russ - The only thing was, and I was a little pissed at myself was this... at the end, they were done and we were tired. It had been a long day and we had done a lot of drugs. There's only so much your body can take. We walked out and went back to our tent and went to sleep. The next morning everybody was going "Did you hear that fucking jam. It was amazing, oh my God?" I looked at them and said "What jam?" I always regretted that but I heard that there's a recording of it.
R.V.B. - I heard about it too. I heard the bass player from The Band was really drunk.
Russ - Gee I wonder why. Most of the time when you're at these festivals, the bands come, they do their slot... I've played enough of them... you get there a certain amount of time before your band goes on. In this case, they got there way early... a day before or something. You don't get that anymore. When the slots over you might hang around a little but you go. You don't stay. I guess what happened with Watkins Glen is they probably got there a couple of days before and they weren't going to leave until the next day anyway. So they were all just hanging around. You really don't get that anymore at festivals.
R.V.B. - Your the first person I've talked to that was able to actually hear most of the music and see it. There must have been a lot going on around with the people there and like you said, the drugs. It was an event to watch the people as well as listen to the music.
Russ - Well at 15, I wasn't a real Dead Head. I grew up hearing jazz. My father was a jazz musician. I grew up with that. I was in rock bands starting when I was about 10. There was a very limited stuff that I had heard. By the time I was 15, I had heard all the bands that I liked and I dug...ELP. I wasn't really a big fan of The Band. I didn't know a lot of their stuff. With The Dead, I knew what everybody knew Working Man's Dead. Everybody wasn't really a Dead Head. I had heard of Sugar Magnolia and St. Stephen but i wasn't really big on that. Stuff like Uncle John's Band I heard of.
R.V.B. - Probably Casey Jones and Truckin'.
Russ - Yeah, all that stuff. I wasn't like a real heavy Dead Head. I think I had seen maybe one Dead concert before that, that I was probably tripping at. With The Allman Brothers, of course I knew Live at the Fillmore because I was playing a lot of the songs in whatever bands I was in. Of course I knew In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Whipping Post of course, Hot Lanta', but I didn't know a lot of the other stuff. I believe they were doing stuff from Brothers and Sisters.
R.V.B. - I think that just came out at the time.
Russ - Yeah. A certain amount of the stuff went over my head. The sound was not fantastic but it was good. It was a good sound system. That combined with the drugs, the drinking, and the excitement of being there and everything else... I think that if I went now... if they had the same concert... I think I would have experienced it in a completely different way.
R.V.B. - So how did you get out of there and get home. Was that a smooth transition?
Russ - We slept that night in the tent and we woke up the next day. People started packing up and leaving. We hitched a ride out of there, and that was ok. We weren't in any big particular hurry. Of course back then you didn't have cell phones or anything. You were basically on your own... we hitched and ended up having to sleep on the highway. We found a grassy area and set up our tent there and just slept there. We didn't get hassled by the police or anything. We went to a truck stop and nobody gave us a hard time.
R.V.B . - Throughout the whole experience, there was no real trouble per say.
Russ - We didn't see anybody having fights. I heard that a sky diver had died during it. I don't remember seeing that. In my experience, considering how many bikers and stuff was there, it was an extremely peaceful gathering. There was a lot of handouts. I save them and I don't know what the hell happened to them. One handout was all about Don McLean's American Pie... explaining what it meant. The religious significance and stuff. I had posters and all kinds of stuff. Damn if I know where it is? My ticket is probably still in that bag.
R.V.B. - I appreciate you sharing your experience with me. It sounds like you had a good time.
Russ - Yeah it was great.
Ward H from Huntington Station
R.V.B. - So Watkins Glen. How did you decide to go up there and who did you go up there with?
Ward - I went with people I was hanging around in school with at the time. I was still in high school. That was my last year of high school in 1973.
R.V.B. - Did you just hear about it from word of mouth?
Ward - Yeah, everybody knew it was going on, and being at that time when it was 1973, we all knew about the Woodstock experience. We were all too young to go to Woodstock so we were like "Hey we gotta try this one." A couple of our friends did have cars and we knew we could make a road trip out of it.
R.V.B. - Did you buy tickets?
Ward - No. We didn't buy tickets at all, but that was the thing, we knew what they said about Woodstock and this was going to be a big deal, "Let's just go up. I'm sure we could get in". So we did. There was six of us all together. We went up in a station wagon.
R.V.B. - What day did you go up?
Ward - We went up early that morning. It was on a Saturday. We left at like 4 o'clock in the morning to drive up there.
R.V.B. - How far did you make it?
Ward - Well we didn't get anywhere near the stage... (Hahaha) at the site itself. We ended up leaving the car on the side of the road. We marked where it was going to be but it was with hundreds and thousands of other cars. People were already there.
R.V.B. - Did you plan with food, beverages and whatever other necessities you might need?
Ward - No, nothing at all because we were in high school... we were kids. We were like "We could do this." It was just an adventure "Let's go with it." Some of us had money. I was never poor. I was fortunate enough that my parents gave me an allowance. When we went up there, we just knew that it was going to be a concert experience... we'd get food. We figured there would be vendors... you'd get a hot dog. With all the drugs that people were doing back then, you weren't worried about eating. There was really no food involved.
R.V.B. - Do you remember anything unusual happening on your way up to the place and once you got there, where did you set up shop?
Ward - Well just driving up there, you're in a car with five other people... your partying and you're going with the flow. You're not really paying attention to your surroundings or what's going on. It was just a drive.
R.V.B. - Right, so once you got there, where did you set up shop?
Ward - We started walking around and started hanging around with groups of people. We noticed at that time there were a lot of groups of friends in different areas. You came across six people or you came across fifteen people. All these people knew each other. It was basically the same as us because there was six of us. We would just mingle with whoever we came across and just start hanging out for a little while. You didn't have your own spot at that time because once you got there it was like "let's just start walking around and see what we could find."
R.V.B. - Did you catch all of the music?
Ward - No. (Hahaha) Being that there was so many people there, we never got anywhere near the stage. It ended up just being like a party atmosphere. You noticed a lot of people were tripping. Back then, that's what a lot of people were doing at shows like that. You would drop a couple of hits of acid and just go.
R.V.B. - Yeah, especially at a Grateful Dead show.
Ward - Yeah, of course. We weren't tripping. That wasn't our thing.
R.V.B. - Did you see people selling stuff?
Ward - Yes. Anything that you wanted, you could get.
R.V.B. - Did you have beer?
Ward - No we didn't have beer. We weren't drinkers, we were smokers. We had pot. We smoked a lot of joints. That was our thing. I didn't really start doing any heavier stuff until after high school. I didn't want to do it when I was in school.
R.V.B. - Were you able to see the stage at all?
Ward - No, not at all. There was just a sea of people. It was the type of thing that once you got to a point where you were walking around, you didn't really want to walk any more. When you saw what you saw... there's no way that you're gonna get through that. Why bother, so we just hung out on the outskirts... in the woods.
R.V.B. - Were you able to hear the music?
Ward - Yeah, we did hear it because they had speakers set up all over the place in different areas.
R.V.B. - Do you remember any songs that were played?
Ward - No. It's a lot of years later now. There were the typical songs. It was The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band. You knew the songs when you heard it. Being that you were so far away, it was like you were listening to a radio. You couldn't see the band, you just heard it. So as far as pinpointing a particular song... we heard hits or whatever.
R.V.B - Did you stay until completion?
Ward - Yeah, we were there until it was all over with, which ended up being like around 11 o'clock.
R.V.B. - How did you make it out of there?
Ward - We just walked. We walked and found the car, and actually didn't get home until later on Sunday evening.
R.V.B. - That's a long day. If you had the chance to do it again, would you?
Ward - Ummm? In a situation like that? If I knew there was going to be that many people, I'd say no. I'm 60 years old now. I like going to shows at the Paramount, Westbury... we don't even go to Jones Beach anymore. Ticket prices are too expensive. To try and experience a festival atmosphere like that... you know I did it. More power to young people if they do it today.
R.V.B. - Well it sounds like you had an interesting experience.
Ward - Yeah. I can sit here 45-50 years later and say I was there. I did go.
R.V.B. - Thanks for sharing your experience with me.
Rick P from East Islip
R.V.B. - Mr. Ricky, how are you doing today?
Rick - Alright, it's a beautiful day.
R.V.B. - Are you in the pool?
Rick - Actually I'm vacuuming it right now.
R.V.B. - I see. So why did you decide to go to Watkins Glen and who did you go up with?
Rick - You know the high school guys you hang around with? 3 or 4 or 5 guys. One of the guys heard about it. He was a big music guy. He was actually at Woodstock too. When he was like 12 or thirteen he went there. So he wanted to do this too, and about five of us here got together and rented a U Haul truck.
R.V.B. - How did you guys fit in it? You sat in the back?
Rick - Yeah, three guys in the front and the rest in the back. We had a bunch of guys in Brooklyn that we picked up. I don't remember the exact number, but a handful of guys in Brooklyn that we knew. We had like 12 cases of beer. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - That's important.
Rick - Oh yeah. We had food and knapsacks and things like that.
R.V.B. - Did you leave the day before?
Rick - Yeah, I guess it had to be the morning before. It had to be the weekend. Everybody here in Islip came to get me because I had drivers ed that morning and I didn't want to miss it. It was the year before I was a senior so I had drivers ed. I remember them pulling into the parking lot and all of them sitting in the back of the U Haul truck. My drivers ed teacher was also my biology teacher and he didn't like us to begin with because we all had long hair and shit. (Hahaha) He was looking at me like "You're gonna ride in the back of that to a concert?" I get in the back of the U Haul and of course the guy driving it had to gun it in the parking lot. There I am hanging on to the straps of the door and my feet go flying up "Wooo". I saw his eyeballs "You guys are gonna die." Hahaha
R.V.B. - (Hahaha) So you went to pick up some guys in Brooklyn and you headed up there... did you run into any traffic?
Rick - At first no. We picked up a lot of people on the way up. People had signs... there were hippie looking people walking. The driver Charlie, who was my brother in law for a few years... he married my sister and then got divorced... he picked up everybody he saw. The whole back of the truck was filled with people by the time we got there. It was hot in the back of that truck. Everybody was trying to get to the edge. All of the beer went. It didn't even make it up there. It was gone before we got there. (Hahaha) Some of the people we picked up were pretty shady.
R.V.B - So where did you park?
Rick - When we got to town, we left it in the middle of the street. Everybody just abandoned their cars in the middle of the street, on whatever road we were on. We just started walking. It had to be late afternoon, early evening by the time we got there. We left it right in the middle of the street. It's a U Haul, who cares. We got our shit out of it and we started walking. It seemed like we walked for ever that night. I have no idea what time it was when we got there. I don't think I had a watch on. When we got to the top the gates were down already. They were flat.
R.V.B. - Did you all have tickets?
Rick - Yes, we bought tickets. At least the group I was with did. The other guys... who the hell knows. There must have been about ten or twelve us that started and we all bought tickets. There must have been about thirty people in the back of that truck. It was fucked up.
R.V.B. - When you got there, did you get near the stage? Could you see the stage?
Rick - Yeah, we could see the stage. I remember it being dark when we got there. It was dark walking up the hill. When we got there we just spread out our blankets and just went to sleep... no tents. I just laid down and went to sleep. I was shot from walking. It seemed like we walked forever. We drank all afternoon too. Everybody was drinking our beers so we had to drink it as fast as we could because we wanted to get ours. (Haha) There was no stopping anybody. I went to sleep right away and I had no idea what time it was. It was a side show walking up there. I just remember people tripping their brains out. There was all kinds of crazy things going on. Guys carrying coolers with poles and stuff on their shoulders. It was an interesting walk.
R.V.B. - So you slept the night... what happened when you woke up? Was it getting more and more crowded?
Rick - When I woke up we could see the stage but we were pretty far away from the stage. I heard them sound checking. It was bright daylight by the time I woke up and none of my friends were there. They were all gone. Something that stayed with me all these years... I looked up and about fifteen feet away from me, there was a one man pup tent and there was a couple going at it. (Hahaha) I could see the back of the guys balls. That's the first thing I see when I woke up. I was like "Aye Yi Yai."
R.V.B. - I guess the tent was open.
Rick - You would think you would enjoy something like that but I was looking at the guys balls.
R.V.B. - So your buddies left you?
Rick - Yeah , everybody left me. One of the guys from Brooklyn had this white derby. His name was Karl and he left it there. So I put it on my head and that's what I wore the whole time I was there... this white derby.
R.V.B. - So you stuck out like a sore thumb?
Rick - I don't know if I did. There was a lot of crazy people around. It was a total side show. I remember I had a bottle of vodka stashed in my knapsack. They didn't get that in the truck... so I had that. So I had my bottle of vodka and my derby on and I just started walking around. I think The Grateful Dead went on first and it was like mid day... and it was hot. I remember walking through a crowd and it opened up and they were playing Truckin'. The crowd opened up in a big circle and there was a big mud puddle there. There was about a dozen people dancing naked in the puddle. They were covered in mud. It was like "Wow I'm here man." (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - I gather you got soaked also... like everybody else?
Rick - It rained walking up. I don't remember it raining that hard though. Maybe where we were it didn't rain hard. It was a big area. I stood there and watched that for a while. I kept walking around and I couldn't find anybody. I don't even remember what happened after that. I was drinking that bottle of vodka like crazy so who the hell knows. The next thing I remember The Allman Brothers were going on and I seen a bunch of the people from Brooklyn. I found them on the Allman Brothers left side. At one point I got about 20 feet away from the stage. Security had made pathways and I was right on the side of the pathway. It was starting to rain and they were under plastic and stuff. I watched The Allman Brothers there with them, in about a foot of water. We were standing in water. I remember The Allman Brothers throwing Heinekens out from the stage.
R.V.B. - Oh really, they were giving them away?
Rick - The stage was pretty high. I think it was a 15 foot stage. They were tossing bottles out. We weren't close enough to grab any. I think the vodka might have been gone by then. When you walk through the crowd, they grab the bottle and take a slug out of it and you hope they hand it back to you.
R.V.B. - So I gather a lot of people were doing drugs.
Rick - That was the first time I encountered hippies... that whole culture. Up until that point I was a football player. I listened to Cream and Mountain on my turntable in my little bedroom. It was like watching a movie. This is fucking for real.
R.V.B. - That whole Grateful Dead scene is completely different than regular rock and roll.
Rick - The Grateful Dead, The Band and The Allman Brothers. The Allman Brothers are a little darker. There was some pretty shady people there. Guys with beards down to their waste. Scraggly, smelly looking people. I had quasi long hair. It didn't grow that long yet.
R.V.B. - So when the show was over did you just go back to your spot? Did you meet your friends there?
Rick - Well we walked back through there. I remember walking and saying "Let's go see if they were back there." The guys from high school were still missing... and one girl Jodi. So we went back and the blankets weren't there. They were all gone. So we walked back down the hill to where we thought the truck was. The street is empty and the traffic is moving through the street now. I go "Oh fuck." We had to go walking around. There was a couple of U Hauls in town... parked here and there. I think the second one we got to, we banged on the door and said "Are you guys going to Long Island?" The guys were sleeping in there. "Did you see the concert?" "No, we came back halfway through." They didn't see most of the concert. They went back down. I don't know why? So we got back in and we drove home. On the way back was the first time I smoked pot. We were sitting in the cab with my buddy Charlie and one other guy and the guys from Brooklyn and they had this weird brass looking pipe and they go "You want to try this?" and I go "Yeah." (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - That's funny that you tried it on the way back.
Rick - Yeah isn't that funny. On the way there it was crazy in the back of that truck. Nobody was taking their pot out back there. It would be gone. It was funny. We were in Newsday. There was a lot of pictures in Newsday. In the picture there was a line of cars and the road curves and on the curve is our U Haul with two doors open and two guys sitting on the roof. I remember that vividly. I've seen Charlie a lot through the years and he had the picture in his wallet. It was all wrinkled and busted up.
R.V.B. - Well it sounds like you had a great time.
Rick - Yeah, from what I remember of it. It's been 42 years. The last thing I remember is Islip Speedway was still open. After we dropped everybody off, the next morning we pulled the truck into the parking lot. We had tons of garbage in the back and we had to sweep it all out. Everybody just dropped everything in the back of that truck. That's why I rode in the front on the way home. So we just dumped it out in the parking lot. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - (Hahaha)
Rick - The parking lot was a big sand parking lot and there was woods all the way around, so we kinda backed up to the woods and pushed it into there. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - You got to do what you got to do. Alright Ricky, thank you very much and I appreciate you sharing this with me.
Joanne A from Bayside Terrace
R.V.B. - Hi Joanne, How are you?
Joanne - Hi. Ok, thanks and you?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good, nice to meet you. Where did you live at the time and how did you decided to go to Watkins Glen?
Joanne - I lived in Bayside Terrace and some friends were going and I said I wanted to go, so I went. We drove up.
R.V.B. - Did you but tickets ahead of time?
Joanne - I don't remember. The tickets to me back then didn't really mean much.
R.V.B. - It was just like go there and see what happens?
Joanne - And get in, yeah.
R.V.B. - What day did you leave to get there? Did you leave on the day of the show?
Joanne - Oh no. We had to leave the day before because of the long line to get in.
R.V.B. - Did you go with other girlfriends or a mix of people?
Joanne - I went with three other guys.
R.V.B. - Did you have any trouble getting there and where did you set up shop once you got there.
Joanne - There was a long walk getting in but I was right in front of the stage in a crowd, the day before. We put the blanket down are we were there, right in the crowd.
R.V.B. - Did you bring a lot of things with you like food and beer?
Joanne - We brought some food... not a lot.
R.V.B. - Were you able to find enough food and be comfortable?
Joanne - Yeah, with everything else going on. I didn't really eat that much. I was only 16, (Haha) and it wasn't a primary concern for me.
R.V.B. - Were there a lot of drugs there.
Joanne - I saw people selling drugs and giving stuff out. Everyone was smoking pot.
R.V.B. - Did anything unusual happen in the crowd, that you may have noticed?
Joanne - No not really. I was in front of the stage... the day before and the night before. I saw the concert the night before and the one's I mainly remember is The Grateful Dead.
R.V.B. - Was it crowded the night before. Did you have room to breath?
Joanne - Yeah it was crowded there.
R.V.B. - What would happen If someone had to go to the bathroom? Would you have been able to make it back to the spot?
Joanne - Yeah, but again that was the day before, not the day of.
R.V.B. - What about the day of?
Joanne - Well I saw the show the night before... it was great. We were sleeping on the blanket and I couldn't sleep well. It was raining off and on. Then the sun came out early and I was getting sun burnt... I had to get out of there. I started to get a little claustrophobic after the whole day and night and with the rain, so I left the area. There was people camping out in the woods and I found somebody that would let me rest in the camper, so I was hanging out with them. I heard the show but I didn't stay there for the day of the show.
R.V.B. - Were you able to hook back up with the people the you went with?
Joanne - They came to the camper and got me and then we drove home.
R.V.B. - So the overall experience for you was very memorable?
Joanne - Oh Absolutely
Interviews conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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If anyone also attended this event and would like to share their story please feel free to contact me at musicguy247(at)aol(dot)com