Live At Watkins Glen

Thanks to Pat Brennan. The most important part of this page is taken from his article on The Band website, theband.hiof.no. It is a remarkable piecer of musical archaeology.

It was the biggest concert of all time. Watkins Glen Race Track. The Grateful Dead, The Band, The Allman Brothers (playing in that order). 28 July 1973. 600,000 to 750,000 people attended.

Wiki quotes the math:

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. Considering that most of those who attended the event hailed from the Northeast, and that the average age of those present was approximately seventeen to twenty-four, close to one out of every three young people from Boston to New York was at the festival.
Robert Santelli, Aguarius Rising, 2018

Back in 1973 we were shopping at Virgin records in Oxford Street, London. In those days it was upstairs, over a shoe shop. It was also well-known because future record label magnate, Richard Branson, openly and brazenly sold bootlegs. I picked up Summer Jam At Watkins Glen, my hands shaking with excitement. Then I saw the price … triple that of an ordinary LP. Unbelievably expensive. I said to Karen, ‘I have to buy it!’ We’d noticed a great album was playing in the shop … they always had first rate sound sytems. Karen asked what it was: Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and Oates. She said firmly, ‘No! Let’s get this instead.’ We had a discussion about the clicks, scratches and appalling low volume and poor fidelity on Waters of Oblivion, my Basement tapes bootleg, and on Royal Albert Hall 1966, the 1966 Dylan & The Hawks tour bootleg. This had the same white label and invisible track divisions. I realized she was right. We left with Abandoned Luncheonette.

I knew that The Allman Brothers released just one track on Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas in 1976 Come and Go Blues. I like the album for the cover illustration.

In the mid-90s there was a great deal of cassette swapping of live Band tracks and I acquired a Watkins Glen cassette. Then there were cassettes of the soundcheck jam, which saw members of all three bands jamming the day before the concert.

In 1995, the Band CD finally came out:

titlecomposer credit
Back to MemphisChuck Berry
Endless HighwayJ.R. Robertson
I Shall Be ReleasedBob Dylan
Loving You Is Sweeter Than EverS. Wonder / I.J. Hunter
Too Wet To WorkGarth Hudson
Don’t Ya Tell HenryBob Dylan
The RumorJ.R. Robertson
Time To KillJ.R. Robertson
JamThe Band
Up On Cripple CreekJ.R. Robertson
Live At Watkins Glen: The Band, CD, Capitol 1995
Watkins Glen CD liner notes: Chris Morris

Evocative? Indeed. But it was all a scam. It was uncovered on The Band website by Pat Brennan (in blue type):

PAT BRENNAN:

In 1995, Band fans were more than mildly surprised when Capitol releasedLive At Watkins Glen a partial record of the boys’ appearance at the legendary 1973 New York rock festival. Purchasers were treated to a stunning performance by the group, with a songlist that included rare castings of “Don’t Ya Tell Henry,” “The Rumor,” “Time To Kill,” and “Back To Memphis.” Given both the paucity of new releases by the original quintet and the status of what is generally regarded as the largest rock concert in history, Watkins Glen was greeted with near reverence by the true believers. Five years later, the awe is still in place.

A recent internet sampling of opinions about the disc testifies to the place the concert holds in the collective hearts of Band fans. “The Band Watkins Glen Cd is one of my favorite CD’s and would be a fine addition to your collection,” wrote Richard Krivisky, continuing that “It is truly an amazing testament to the best band ever! Its so tight.” Martin Rudow agrees, writing “I like this cd a lot…. Levon’s opening number is wonderful.” And the venerable Diamond Lil weighs in with “I have the Watkins Glen cd..and I really like it. Of course, it’s short and incomplete, and I essentially bought it for that version of Rick doing ‘Lovin you is…”, but I do like it and listen to it often.” Lil does voice an opinion that seemed to be almost universally shared, that the document was somewhat short given the assumed length of the show. 

One writer commented on what was perhaps the most interesting moment during the show. Levon Helm told a story that rain drove the group from the stage midset, but that a genially served Garth Hudson remounted his keyboard throne and played the storm away. Wrote Ragtime Willie, “The thunderstorm break is one of these electrifying moments and when Garth’s bursts out… that’s pure magic.” Indeed, Garth’s break–aptly named “Too Wet Too Work”–captures the brilliance of the Band’s organist quite well.

Oddly enough, a few worthies recorded their misgivings about the disc. Charlie Young offered, “I own the ‘Watkins Glen CD’ and think that it’s OK, but lacking and length and something else I can’t quite pinpoint.” Jonathan Katz goes one step further, saying, “Its a good quality Band performance and worth the price…. The song selection is what distinguishes it from the several live performances officially released. Some have said that all of the tracks are not from WG, and that may be true.” Given the controversy surrounding the “overdub question” with regards to the Basement Tapes and the Last Waltz, it would seem almost impossible to believe that the group would release a Watkins Glen disc that didn’t contain Watkins Glen performances. Well, as is usual, the impossible has once again occurred.

I was drawn to this story innocently enough. Soon after Watkins Glen, the Band performed at Roosevelt Stadium with a group they shared the stage with at Watkins Glen, the Grateful Dead.

This Wheel’s On Fire: The Band. Bootleg of 31 July 1973 Jersey City show

A boot of the show from July 31, 1973 and generally regarded as one of the worst Band shows ever committed to tape–has been around for years. But recently the second day’s show has also surfaced, the well-titled Roosevelt Stadium on the Deep Six imprint. Fortunately, the group’s execution is markedly improved.

Roosevelt Stadium: The Band. Bootleg of 1 August 1973 Jersey City show.

Three shows performed within days of each other (Watkins Glen having occurred on July 28) are now available, and the listener has a unique chance to compare three closely-knit Band concerts. Or so I thought.

All three shows open with the Chuck Berry chestnut “Back To Memphis.” Then things get a bit strange. While Live at Watkins Glen continues with “Endless Highway”, the Roosevelt Stadium shows reprise the Motown standard “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” and “Endless Highway” appears on both Roosevelt Stadium shows eighth. Even more problematic is the radical differences between the Live at Watkins Glen performances and the Roosevelt Stadium shows. On the Live at Watkins Glen “Loving You,” the group kicks the song together, while on the Roosevelt Stadium boots, Rick Danko begins the song alone with a bass groove. Had the group scrapped the Live at Watkins Glen arrangement just for the Roosevelt Stadium shows? I guess that’s possible. Differences in the various performances also crop up in “I Shall Be Released” and “Cripple Creek,” but then something truly bizarre happens. “Don’t Ya Tell Henry,” “The Rumor,” and “Time To Kill” appear on Live at Watkins Glen; not one of these three songs appear during either Roosevelt Stadium performance. Did the group scrap the Live at Watkins Glen songlist in favor of the running order from Roosevelt Stadium where both Jersey shows are essentially the same? Call in the reinforcements.

Now I must admit, I have a little something riding on this. I was one of the lucky 750,000 people who attended Watkins Glen, and I was a committed enough Band fan that I made my way up to the front of the stage for their part of the show. Since then, I’ve passed on a number of chances to purchase boots of the show, most likely because I didn’t want to sully my memory the show. However, these seeming contradictions forced my hand. I contacted the estimable Peter Viney and asked him if he had a boot of the show. Luckily, he did. Within days I had a fair copy of the show, complete with the warm Bill Graham introduction, and I sat down in a recording studio to compare the boot with the official release. 

The reults of the listening test are shocking to say the least. After a few hours of analysis, I can safely say that the only material on the Capitol release of Live at Watkins Glen that is from the actual show is Bill Graham’s intro, Garth’s “Too Wet To Work,” and the “Jam.” Even to that point, all three are heavily edited. Otherwise, no song on the Live at Watkins Glen release is from that concert. Even more disturbing is the presence of “Henry,” “The Rumor,” and “Time To Kill,’ none of which were even performed at the show. These discoveries beg a host of questions, but first let’s deal with the nuts and bolts.

Bill Graham: “‘Cause…uh…we’ve waited a long time to hear music which is real close to our hearts…cool…it’s such a long time, like it’s…ahhh…like it’s like waiting for good wine, it’s worth the wait and it’s been such a long time for us. We’d like to introduce them to you because they’re very close to us….” With that ramble, promoter extrordinaire Bill Graham introduces each member of The Band to the massive audience. Someone in the group begins a handclap which leads into “Back To Memphis.” On the boot, Robbie takes the first solo while Richard pounds out a Jerry Lee Lewis figure. On the Capitol release, Garth takes the first solo and Richard is barely audible. After some delay, Rick Danko starts up a funky bass line ala “Don’t Do It” that Levon starts to support. Eventually the entire group falls into “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” On the official release–as the fourth song in the set– the entire group comes in together. Already, it’s painfully obvious that the Capitol release bears little resemblence to the actual show.

At Watkins Glen, the Band then continued with “Shape “I’m In,” “The Weight,’ and “Stage Fright,” none of which made the official release. Richard then began his intro to “I Shall Be Released,’ wherein he hits an obvious clam (musical mistake) then rewrites the second half of the intro on the fly. Capitol however gives us a letter perfect performance. Driven by a manic piano, “Endless Highway” then makes it’s debut, a raggedly energetic look at life on the road. The official version of the song is staid in comparison, with none of Richard’s rock ‘n roll drive. In fact, my guess is that the Capitol version is a studio recording with the audience overdubbed.

Now comes some real confusion. My addled memory of the event is suspect, but I swear the rain started during “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” I recall commenting that the soaked concert grounds looked like Dixie was right there grovelling in the mud. But Levon’s story of Garth’s magic would place the rainstorm right after “Endless Highway,” as Mr. Hudson’s intro to “Chest Fever” begins at this point on the boot. Now, the Capitol release gives us an extremely shortened form of Garth’s improv, but at least it finally matches at least a portion of the actual concert. But, surprise, on the boot there’s no thunder, there’s no rain, nothing at all signifying any sort of delay. The group comes back out and tears into “Chest Fever;” they follow that with “Dixie/Across The Great Divide.” At this point on the boot, the rain is obviously falling and the group breaks.

When the rain ends and the Band retakes the stage, they evidentally feel the need for at least a short soundcheck. Thus, we get “Jam,” which also appears in a shortened form on the official release. When the improv finally dies down, they hit “Saved” and “Cripple Creek.” The latter is performed much faster than the Capitol release and suffers in places from feedback, a problem no doubt associated with the weather break. Also, between the last two songs you can hear the “Louder, can you hear that?” command from the stage which appears on the Capitol disc just before “Jam.” The boot continues with “W.S.Walcott’s Medicine Show” which is followed by the “Rooster Song” and a snippet of “Ain’t That A Shame.” “Slippin’ and Slidin'” and “Rag, Mama, Rag.” complete the boot performance.

It is barely worth commenting on the presence of “Don’t You Tell Henry,” “The Rumor,” and “Time To Kill” on the official release. 

I also choose not to comment on the “Too Wet To Work” story.

It’s easy in hindsight to pick up on the flaws. The tone and presence of the snare drum changes from song to song, as does the tone of the bass guitar. The performances are near perfect, these from a group that had just come off an 18 month vacation. And the songlist bears little resemblence to other shows just days later.

The official release claims that what you are hearing “is drawn from the most complete available tape of the Band’s Watkins Glen performance.” That is a falsehood, told with certitude by one Chris Morris of Billboard Magazine. However, the saddest element of this entire facade is in the Capitol credits. “Produced by THE BAND” would mean that the members of the group were involved in it. But weirder is the credit to Wayne Watkins as the reissue producer. First of all, it’s no reissue. Secondly, is the use of this person with the uncannily ironic last name some kind of in-joke at the consumer’s expense? I must confess, I hope I don’t find out.

Finally, I emailed a few people that I was working on this article. One reply hit home, revealing that many inside the present Band organization feel that the Watkins Glen disc should be pulled. I agree. And the Watkins Glen disc is awfully good; the performances of “Henry” and “The Rumor” are exquisite. It just ain’t Watkins Glen, folks.

Funny, though, I still love’em.

Pat Brennan

Pat alludes to the Basement Tapes. The official release in 1975 as a double album contained material by The Band which were transparently of a different sonic quality and were later. Some had 1975 overdubbing, it transpired. The Last Waltz was heavily overdubbed. Levon Helm says his was the only part that wasn’t overdubbed (probably an exaggeration) but it’s known that the bass guitar was replaced entirely and that the keyboards had a sound problem.

People connected with the 90s Band had certainly read Pat’s article. When the remastered version of 1973’s Moondog Matinee emerged in 2001, they came clean:

Moondog Matinee 1973 wrap around poster: reproduced in the remaster CD insert

Chuck Berry’s Going Back To Memphis, on the other hand, was completed and ready for inclusion on the album Moondog Matinee but ended up being shelved in favor of Promised Land. This version has been released before complete with overdubbed audience sounds as the opening track on the fraudulent Live At Watkins Glen  CD. No one in The Band was connected with that particular release which had been originally mastered sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, although not released until 1995. The outtake of Endless Highway included here, which was recorded sometime between Cahoots  and Moondog Matinee was similarly included on the Watkins Glen CD with overdubbed audience. It is nice to hear both properly the way they were recorded as studio cuts.
Rob Bowman, sleeve notes to Moondog Matinee remaster, 2001

Indeed an album called Is Everybody Wet?was assembled by Capitol in 1974. A catalogue number was assigned and there were acetates or demos:

Is Everybody Wet? Capitol proof copy 1974 with catalogue list

There was press coverage between November 1973 and March 1974:

Press excerpts on ‘Is Everybody Wet?’

The CD from 1995 is long out of print and there are no plans to put it back in print. Band conspiracy theorists blamed Robbie Robertson (they always do), what with him being behind The Basement Tapes contretemps, but note that he only has composer credits on four tracks out of ten … far less than normal.

Watkins Glen: note the proportion of stage width to audience

Setlistfm gives this track list for the actual show at Watkins Glen. It also notes that The Grateful Dead had opened the day with Promised Land so that it would have been churlish for The Band to …er, sorry Deadheads … show them up. The show from Dixie on is on YouTube.

Back to Memphis  
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever  
The Shape I’m In
The Weight
Stage Fright
I Shall Be Released  
Baby Don’t You Do It  
Endless Highway
The Genetic Method  
Chest Fever
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Across the Great Divide
Holy Cow  
Life Is a Carnival
Saved  
Up on Cripple Creek
Share Your Love With Me  
This Wheel’s on Fire
The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)  
Rag Mama Rag

This piece was prompted in December 2020, quietly browsing in my favourite record store, I saw Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. An original 1973 copy of the bootleg. Here it is:

It seems to be from the soundcheck the day before (and one Grateful Dead site says the Grateful Dead soundcheck as one of their best performances):

The Band hesitated before taking the stage to run through a few numbers, due to the vast sea of faces already looking eagerly at them. Rightfully so, as the daunting amount of folks gathered a full day before the first notes were scheduled to be played was already one of the biggest crowds they’d ever seen. Namely, after getting the all-clear signal, The Band followed a thorough sound check with a quick three-song set to give the fans a special treat for their early arrival. The Allman Brothers followed suit, delivering a nearly hour-long jam-filled set with crowd-pleasing renditions of “One Way Out” and “Ramblin’ Man” among others while getting dialled in. When it came time for the Grateful Dead to soundcheck they, at the request of their longtime friend and frequent business partner Bill Graham, agreed to go all out. After a few minutes of tuning, the band delivered a three-hour, two-set performance to the delight of the over a hundred thousand onlookers.
Rex Thomson Live For Live Music 28 June 2020

The sound quality of the boot is actually better than the Waters of Oblivion and Royal Albert Hall too. The disc is in pretty good condition after 47 years. You get Buddy Holly’s Raining In My Heart which Rick Danko later sang with Ringo Starr and His All Star Band. It’s odd that they sound-checked it, but didn’t do it. You get Jessica far and away the best-known Allman Brothers track in the UK, better known as the Top Gear theme music.

The Grateful Dead released an 18 minute jam from the sound check on So Many Roads 1965-1995 a five CD box set from 1999. It’s odd that no one ever compiled a Watkins Glen master box set, though at the time Pickwick released an ultra budget covers LP of “Kings Road” performing a selection of songs played at Watkins Glen. You’d think enough of those 600,000 attendees would opt for a souvenir after all these years to make it viable. Maybe the sound just isn’t there on the tapes.

There are several different “unofficial” CDs of the Allman Brothers set.

COLLECTORS NOTE

Surprisingly the out-of-print Capitol CD commands no premium on Discogs … copies range from £2 to £22, but most are around £10 which is not a lot given its rarity.

Colour copy

The bootleg LP from 1973 would be hard to value, but I paid £20 for it. Discogs has two on sale at £60 and £120, but they have the same photo but in full colour. They also have a properly printed yellow centre label. The one I saw back at Virgin was black and white with a blank white centre.

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