A 1973 festival featuring the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, The Band, and other legendary performers was bigger than Woodstock – and a group of documentary filmmakers are looking to bring its story to life with your support. Summer Jam at Watkins Glen is the subject of “a very special moment in time” that sold 150,000 $10 tickets, only to see more than half a million music fans show up to the festival grounds in Watkins Glen, NY.

“Much has been written about Watkins Glen, but for the very first time it will be memorialized on film on this, its 50th Anniversary,” says director Robert Abbott on the kickstarter page, which has seen more than $50,000 raised as of August 18 – with a goal of 64,500 to hit before September 7.

“To help tell the story, we will use never before seen archival footage and we will include past and present interviews with the promoters, band members, attendees, and historians. We will highlight and feature music that was created and performed at Watkins Glen, music that continues to be embraced today by countless cover bands and enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide.”

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Envisioned by promoters Shelly Finkel and Jim Koplik, the festival was set at the Watkins Glen racetrack, featuring some of the largest acts in the history of jam-based rock-n-roll music. The Grateful Dead, enormously popular anchors of the jam scene out of San Francisco, the Allman Brothers Band, powerhouse crew from the south, and The Band – onetime Bob Dylan backers who had struck out on their own with some of the best-selling records of the 1960s – all performing in three acts on one stage on a summer day.

“This is a hugely important event in music history, and it’s unbelievable that it has taken this long for its story to be told properly,” says TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro. “Everything about this is larger than life, and really showed people how this kind of scale can be achieved if you do it right.”

For the 3 bands, it was an era of great success, significant tragedy, and some reinvention:

  • The Grateful Dead were coming off their epic triple album Europe ’72. They had become new crusaders of improvisational jam, with large groups of fans in the US now following the band from live show to live show. They tragically lost their keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan in early 1973.
  • The Allman Brothers Band had lost two founding members – Duane Allman and Berry Oakley – in motorcycle crashes. They added keyboardist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams. The new lineup would produce the critically acclaimed Brothers and Sisters. They were voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as Band of the Year in 1973.
  • The Band was truly at a crossroads. Some say they were in shambles. Torn apart by substance abuse and internal bickering, they had not played a single live show in over a year. Jerry Garcia’s insistence and support was exactly what they needed.

The demand was far greater than anticipated, and the promoters heeded the advice of Bill Graham when they saw the masses walking to the site, having parked their cars miles away in the traffic jams, and opened the gates to all. The sound check alone saw more than 200,000 in attendance. But despite the crowd size and the summer heat, the event was a massive success, notably without issues that plagued other marquee festivals of the era like Woodstock or Altamont.

“Everybody came to party, and – dare I say, they were on their best behavior.” – Sam Cutler, Tour Manager for The Grateful Dead, in an interview for this film – his final interview before he passed. “I’d say this was the hippies’ greatest success.”

Supporters can access some significant perks if they want to sign on to bring this documentary to life, ranging from a extra-special DVD with exclusive commentary track from the filmmakers for support beginning at $45, through limited-edition t-shirts, keepsake booklets, zoom chats with special guests from the film’s production, and limited edition art. Deductions are tax deductible to the maximum extent of the law.

Having completed significant work already on the film, the producers are confident that reaching their baseline goal will allow them to bring the final product to fruition, but hope that they can exceed the goal to ease the process of bringing this legendary and landmark concert to life.

Many of the legends are accurate, and many stories are larger-than-life,” says Abbott. “This was a truly special show that happened during a truly special moment in time.  It’s a film 50 years in the making.  It will be independent. It will be truthful. Please check out our Rewards. Thank you for visiting. Thanks for your support!” 

Last Updated on August 18, 2023