Summer Jam at Watkins Glen

36 years ago today, three of the most prolific bands in rock history came together for an outdoor festival. The Grateful Dead, The Band, and the Allman Brothers (sans Duane and Berry) performed at the Grand Prix Racecourse in Watkins Glen, NY to a crowd estimated at 600,000, the largest gathering of rock & roll fans in history. Only 150,000 tickets were sold, and as a result the majority of the attendees witnessed the show for free. And what a show it was.

Pigpen had just passed away in April causing the Dead to scramble for a new sound to compensate the lack of harmonica and organ. Without Pigpen, the dynamic of the band changed significantly, causing Jerry to take more of a lead role, and Bob to direct the underlying rhythm. The summer of ’73 largely functioned as a period of transition leading forward into what many feel are the Dead’s best and most exploratory years.

On the day prior to the show, the bands took the stage for a soundcheck which the fans were permitted to watch, courtesy of Bill Graham. Fans quickly gathered as The Band soundchecked a few songs, however, Robbie Robertson who is known to have terrible stage freight (hence the name of their second album), became confused at the growing number of people. The Allmans took the stage next playing fiery versions of both “One Way Out” and “Ramblin’ Man”, warming the crowd for what was to come next. By the time it was the Dead’s turn, the numbers had grown substantially and the group decided to play an extended set. This soundcheck is now regarded as one of the finest Grateful Dead performances ever played, 18 minutes of which are included on the So Many Roads box set. The soundcheck, in particular, has incredible sound (as it should). The link to the torrent is at the bottom.

The show itself took place on July 28th with all three bands delivering stellar performances. In the midst of heavy rain The Grateful Dead performed first, playing two sets over five hours, of incredible music. The setlist is great, as is the music. What is oddly surprising is the sound quality. While not quite as good as the soundcheck, for a festival with 600,000 people the sound is amazing. One might even say better than the quality of recent livephish releases.

The Band performed next, and the recording of their show would later be released as a live record, “Live at Watkins Glen”. Robbie Robertson would go on to say that this was the first “100 percenter” The Band had played. Those who are unfamiliar with this CD should check it out, as it really is a phenominal show. Prior to Watkins, The Band had failed to fully rise to the occasion when performing their own material.

Third came the Allman brothers who played a three hour mindblowing set. By 1973, Dicky Betts was the lead guitarist and legendary piano player Chuck Leavell had signed on to replace Duane. Instead of bringing in another guitarist to replace Duane, the Allmans hired Chuck, who is known as “the sixth rolling stone” by many. Their sound is different during this period with a single guitarist. There is significantly less harmonizing, less slide, and a great deal of intricate lead work by Dicky. The band delivers a high-energy performance, per usual. To see the setlist, click HERE. The encore featured members from all three bands, resulting in quite a magical combination. The “Mountain Jam” is a highlight, showcasing Jerry and Dicky on a classic Allman’s jam tune. The encore is included in the stream below.

Posted below are the links to the torrents for both the Grateful Dead’s soundcheck and concert at Watkins on July 27th and 28th, 1973. Be sure to give both a listen, the “Playing in the Band” from this show is a personal favorite. The stream for the 28th show is also posted. In addition I have also included two videos (audio only) with the Allman’s soundcheck, quite a rare treat. Enjoy the music, as so many people did 36 years ago today.

1973-07-27 Watkins Glen Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY (Soundcheck)

1973-07-28 Watkins Glen Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY

Click HERE for the Dead’s setlist from the 28th.

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