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July 28: The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen

July 28, 2013

watkins2Named by the Guinness Book of Records as the “largest audience at a pop festival,” the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen attracted 600,000 people to the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway on this date in 1973. Two Jewish producers, Shelly Finkel and Jim Koplik, sold 150,000 tickets for $10 each, but as at the Woodstock Festival four years earlier, the crowd overwhelmed profit-making and turned it, for most, into a free festival. (A large part of the crowd was unable to see the stage, but twelve huge sound amplifiers, installed courtesy of Bill Graham, allowed them to hear.) The performing bands included the Grateful Dead, the Band, and the Allman Brothers. Shelly Finkel went on to become a boxing and music promoter, representing Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield as well as Vanilla Fudge and Mountain; Jim Koplik has produced concerts by The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, REO Speedwagon, Madonna, Billy Joel, and Elton John, and owns the Dodge Music Center in Hartford, CT. To see a short documentary about the event, with live footage of the Band, look below.

“Many historians claimed that the Watkins Glen event was the largest gathering of people in the history of the United States. In essence, that meant that on July 28, one out of every 350 people living in America at the time was listening to the sounds of rock at the New York state racetrack . . . [and] close to one out of every three young people from Boston to New York was at the festival.” —Robert Santelli, Aquarius Rising