Downtown New York prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the biggest concerts ever.
An estimated 600,000 people attended a summer jam at Watkins Glen on July 28, 1973 featuring The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead and The Band. About 150,000 tickets were sold, but filling the small Finger Lakes venue and causing miles of traffic jams allowed an additional 450,000 fans to enter for free.
Memorial concerts have been held in New York City, Vermont, Washington DC, and Florida, but the real party is here, near the original venue. And don’t you know that? You can choose from two options.
“Summerjam 50will take place July 28th and 29th at Wonderland Forest, a brand new 500-acre venue in Otizco, NY. Taking place 15 miles south of Syracuse, the two-day event pays tribute to the original performers on both nights with Dark Star Orchestra (celebrating the Grateful Dead concert experience), Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country (celebrating The Allman Brothers) and The Weight Band (celebrating The Band’s music).
“Summer Jam ’23: Celebrating 50 years from Watkins Glenwill take place on Saturday, July 29th at Lincoln Hill Farms in Canandaigua, NY, with doors opening at 3:00 pm and music beginning at 3:30 with performances by Friends of the Brothers – Tribute to the Allman Brothers Band, Terrapin Flyer – Tribute to the Grateful Dead and The Band (Tribute to the Band).
Both events are within 160 miles of the Summer Jam 1973 venue at Watkins Glen. Neither one expects to draw as many crowds as it did 50 years ago — promoter Dan Mastronaldi says Wonderland Forest has a capacity of just 5,000 — but that’s not the point. The point is to celebrate historical events and celebrate music.
Tickets for Wonderland Forest’s grand opening event were sold to fans in 20 different states, Mastronaldi said. Many of them were at their first concert, he added.
At Wonderland, Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country will feature special guests associated with the Allman family, while the Dark Star Orchestra will perform two sets of exact re-enactments of the original Grateful Dead show at Watkins Glen. According to Mastronaldi, the weight band also includes guitarist Jim Widder, who played on the original Summer Jam. Wider also replaced Robbie Robertson in the reunited Band in 1985.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” Mastronaldi said. “If we were going to recreate something, we wanted to recreate something special.”
Alan Paul, bandleader of Friends of the Brothers and author of Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Album That Defined the ’70s, told syracuse.com. A post-standard that doesn’t try to perfectly imitate the Allman Brothers Band’s summer jam his group set at a Lincoln Hill Farms concert.
“This is special to us…I’ve seen tribute bands that are a little too precious to try to play exactly like the band,” said Paul. “I don’t know if this makes any sense, but for us it’s sacred… The only way to honor music is to put yourself in it…. You don’t play the same thing the same way every night because that’s what they do.”
“I’m really excited,” added Paul.
Paul told syracuse.com. Post-standard, he launched Friends Of The Brothers in 2017 as a tribute to Butch Trucks, but kept making music because it meant so much to them.
“It was emotionally satisfying to do it for Butch, and it was fun to have everyone playing together and playing music,” Paul said. “I mean, we really love this song, so every time we play it, even though we play it a lot more now, we try to bring in the same spirit that we’re playing in memory of Butch, Greg and Duane… The music is just timeless.”
In 1973, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to The Glen, home of the Watkins Glen International Racecourse, and summer jams overwhelmed the small village of 3,000. An estimated 600,000 spectators were included in the Guinness World Records for “largest audience at a pop festival”, a record that has been held for many years.
By comparison, the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 had a modest crowd of about 450,000 people at Bethel. Woodstock organizer Michael Lang planned a “Woodstock 50” concert at Watkins Glen in 2019, but financial and organizational issues stalled the event.
Summer Jam doesn’t have the same respect as Woodstock, even though it has a larger audience. Part of that was due not only to the large three-day line-up at Woodstock, which included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Sly & the Family Stone and the Grateful Dead, but also how extensive Woodstock’s record was, with Oscar-winning films and soundtrack recordings that catapulted then-unknown artists like Joe Cocker and Santana into the stratosphere.
“I think Woodstock in 1969 was kind of a shockwave for mainstream culture, because hippies were considered some sort of marginal counterculture movement, and the scale and scope of what happened.
According to Paul, Andy Alledoto, co-author of another of Paul’s books, The Texas Flood: The Story Behind Stevie Ray Vaughan, noted that many teens who were too young to go to Woodstock likely seized the opportunity to go to the next big festival in upstate New York four years later.
“Kids that age, say 14 to 18, were too young to go to Woodstock four years ago, but old enough to really recognize it,” Paul said. “[It] It was as if we were looking through a sheet of glass, and everyone had a certain kind of determination. It’s like, “If something like that happens again, I’ll go.” And then they left, so that was a big part…it’s kind of incredible. “
According to the New York State Police, the Summer Jam was generally peaceful despite drawing an estimated 650,000 city-wide crowds. Police officers made 13 felony arrests, 71 misdemeanor arrests, and 49 vehicle and traffic arrests (14 DUIs). No violence was reported, but Willard “Smitty” Smith, Jr., a 35-year-old skydiver from Syracuse, died when two of his flares caught fire while parachuting into the concert venue. His body was found in the woods about 800m away.
‘Summer Jam’ might be a book on its own, but Paul said during an interview for his new book, ‘Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Album That Defined the ’70s,’ he learned a lot more than just the concert. For example, there is a chapter about how Gregg Allman went to a drug rehab facility in Buffalo after the band broke up in 1976, and after some students wrote him a letter, he played at a Canisius High School rally with a local bar band. His then wife, Cher, was also present.
How to participate in the Summerjam Anniversary Concert
Tickets for SummerJam 50 at Wonderland Forest are available at wonderlandforest.com. 1-day tickets start at $75 and 2-day passes start at $125. Camping options are also available.
Wonderland Forest is located at 4812 South Cook Road in Lafayette, New York, near the Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard and the Lafayette Apple Festival site. Friday 28th July gates open at 11am (music starts at 4pm) and Saturday 29th July gates open at 10am (music starts at 1pm).
Tickets for Summer Jam ’23 at Lincoln Hill Farm are on sale at tixr.com. Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 on the day. Additional charges may apply.
Lincoln Hill Farms is located at 3792 NY-247 in Canandaigua, approximately 5 miles from the CMAC (Constellation Brands – Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center) amphitheater. Doors open at 3pm on Saturday, July 29th. Music starts at 3:30.
Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Album That Defined the ’70s by Alan Paul is available at Amazon.com and other bookstores.
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