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WATKINS GLEN 1973, part 1

Copyright 2006 Robb Strycharz, all rights reserved. 

CAST: My friends Davy and Wally... plus 600,000 extras!

I don't remember when I first heard of the Watkins Glen festival but since it was going to be the first nearby festival since the post-Woodstock crackdown, I was determined to go as I did Powder Ridge back in 1970. While the last three years had seen the advance of the counterculture movement blunted, somewhere in the back of my mind was that old Woodstock Nation mystique. But I had no illusions. While going to the besieged Powder Ridge festival in 1970 was an act of revolutionary love, Watkins Glen was just a day-long concert of bands I really didn't care much about.

What had changed in those three years? The counterculture of the 60's always seemed to contain two disparate elements. There were the peace & love hippies and the anti-establishment militants. I always felt torn between the two. Where once one felt any other longhair was an instant brother... by '73 I wasn't sure there were many genuine hippies left. True, many looked the part... but often they were just druggies. As for the revolutionary arm of the movement that also seemed to falter even as far back as late 1970. The tumultuous post Kent State era seemed to be followed by a pall of sobriety and gloom. Add to that how the COINTELPRO program under Nixon helped undermine his domestic opposition. So by summer '73 it came with some satisfaction that the criminal Nixon junta was finally being exposed... not done in by the counterculture but by Congress itself. This was the summer of the Watergate hearings and I was glued to the TV set. On another front, summer '73 was also a transition time for me between my high school friends and new ones. Which group would show some interest in Watkins Glen? Who knew. I soon found out. It was the old HS crowd.

JULY 21, SATURDAY
It was the Saturday before the concert when Wally and I drove to the Sears at the Enfield Mall to buy tickets for ourselves and Davy. Ticket sales were being exclusively handled by some mysterious new computerized ticket service called Ticketron. Back then adding "tron" to anything... especially if one used a computerized font, automatically made it sound ultramodern and hi-tech.

Asking around we found we had to take the elevator to the basement of the Sears. We joked that the Great Computer had to be shielded from cosmic rays by 10' of concrete. In these early day's of computers we thought of them as things at a specific location. What was novel here was that Ticketron was actually a network. The Great Computer was actually elsewhere. Wherever it was, it could keep track of ticket of all the Watkins Glens tickets sold anywhere in the nation. Ya... Watkins Glen was to be different from Woodstock or Powder Ridge. This was a hi-tech operation. The promoters had things under control. If we believed we could get away with being gate crashers we would not have spent $30 on tickets. At $10 per ticket Watkins Glen was almost a bargain... especially since tickets for the big events of '69-'70 were $20. But then Watkins Glen was only to have 3 groups... The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, and The Band. In that light $10 for a one day concert to be held at a race track... of all places... seemed expensive. But then it did include parking and camping.

In the meantime in the news:

JULY 24, TUESDAY
Rather than let the thousands of early festival-goers wander around town, the ticket gates were opened up at the festival site.

JULY 25, WEDNESDAY
NY State Police estimated there were some 50,000 people at Watkins Glen.

JULY 26, THURSDAY
Estimates rise to 100,000 and the concert was not to even start until Saturday!

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Rockfest '70 Robb Strycharz, 1998-2006
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