Watkins Glen. Remember the name. They’ll be talking about the huge rock concert at the upstate New York community in the same way they’ve talked about Woodstock. But, by comparison, the crowd staggered the mind as 600,000 rock buffs streamed in for a one-day concert inside the race track. They came by car. By truck. By motorcycle. On foot. They transformed the grounds into a massive bivouac…sleeping, rapping, singing until the 12-hour show began. Remember the name. Watkins Glen. – Sunday News, July, 29, 1973
Up until the Summer Jam concert in 1973—a one-day show featuring The Band, The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead—the village of Watkins Glen was known mostly for its renowned racetrack that had begun 25 years earlier with the first post-World War II road in the U.S. dubbed “The Day They Stopped the Trains.”
Approaching Watkins Glen International raceway today, one can imagine the now-vintage sports cars careening past barns and hay bales and down winding roads past rolling pastures. Time hasn’t stood still in Watkins Glen but it has, seemingly, moved as slow as the turtle crossing the road we swerved to avoid yesterday.
So, when Phish approached the venue about hosting a music festival, the reaction was understandably lukewarm. “There are a number of people still living here [that were here for the ’73 concert] and we play very well with our neighbors,” says Brett Powell, Senior Director of Marketing, Fan Experience of Watkins Glen International. “We take things pretty slow.”
Four years ago, Powell began exploring the idea of bringing music events back to the raceway. Some time after—about a year and a half ago by accounts—Phish approached the venue to explore opportunities.
“I first came here with [Red Light Management founder] Coran [Capshaw] in March of 2010 and we really liked it because it’s got some bones to it— this is different, unique and vibey,” says Phish tour manager Richard Glasgow who also helps oversee the band’s special events.
“It was always a ‘what if’ site,” says Phish management’s Jason Colton suggesting that the Watkins Glen seed existed perhaps over a decade ago.
“We liked it but [the Watkins Glen residents] were reluctant because of what happened on that campground over there,” Glasgow says gesturing toward the Dakotas, Oklahoma and Arkansas campgrounds which were ground zero for Summer Jam, which reportedly had 600,000 in attendance.