They won it at the movies. Woodstock and Altamont had movies, and they were goodies. One was perfect for the midnight show, and the other had a guy getting stabbed. Not movie-stabbed. Stabbed-stabbed. Both films were drenched in import: this is culture now. Maaaaan. (Obviously, Gimme Shelter‘s soundtrack was better than Woodstock‘s.) They complemented each other: Apollo and Dionysus, miracles and nightmares, you know how it goes. Hog Farm versus the Hells Angels, that sort of jazz.
It is because of these films that the two festivals achieved their lasting hold on the cultural ur-mind–maintained brand awareness, if you’d like–and have grown the cottage industries around their decaying, but still mineral-rich, corpses. Like mushrooms. Books and movies and screenplays and high-gloss coffee table books featuring high-gloss coffee table pictures of naked white teens in a lake.
(AN ASIDE: The naked white teens were not frolicking in the lake; they were bathing in it. They were bathing in the lake because there were no sanitation facilities onsite. I haven’t been able to get Woodstock out of my head. Or that goddamned World Party song, but that’s my problem. This Woodstock bullshit is some sticking-around kind of bullshit, though. It vexes me! All of them should have been imprisoned without trial. The second the Thruway opened up, every cop in the world should have pounced on Michael Lang and all the other irresponsible idiots and beat ’em silly. Then: jail. No hearings, no judge, no lawyers at all, just straight to jail. Not even jail. Beyond jail. Superjail. One of those sci-fi jails where even if you escape, you’re on an asteroid or within a chrono-bubble 45 million years in the past.
You have become a crotchety old fuck.
I was always like this. And how did you get into an aside WITHIN a parenthetical? Can I not have any privacy around here?
Why do you want the producers of the Woodstock festival to go to, as you called it, superjail?
Y’know what: I was wrong.
Everyone should have gone to jail. All the way up to Governor Rockefeller, who absolutely should have called out the National Guard. It is situations like these why one has a National Guard in the first place. Checkpoints on the highway entrance ramps. Nice and simple. Very friendly. Granny and Gramps are waved through. The businessman on his way to work is given a respectful nod. The VW Microbus with Florida plates is stopped, and everyone inside is machine-gunned to death. This did not occur.
You’re saying the National Guard should have murdered young people in order to keep the highways open?
Do you know what the business of America is?
Business. The business of America is business.
That’s chilling and boring at the same time.
Right. America. And we gotta keep them trucks a-rollin’. Imagine, if you would, that the boys are thirsty in Atlanta. You, however, have access to beer in Texarkana. Coors Banquet beer, specifically, which any man sane and true knows is not pasteurized or homogenized or meddled with in any way, and must therefore get drunk up real quick!
This is Smokey & the Bandit. You’re just describing the film. Or the song. Either one. Whatever. You were going to write about the other festivals.
Woodstock owes all of its fame to Woodstock; likewise Altamont with Gimme Shelter. No one is think-piecing about the US Festival’s anniversary. Many more teens attended the ’82 and ’83 shows than either ’69 event, and a bunch of people got stabbed. But there was no serious motion picture, and so: poof. Gone. The Jams–Summer, California, Texxas–are now but whispers and patchy Wikipedia pages. Each one has a link to an article calling it “the forgotten Woodstock.”
Summer Jam ’73 (known in the vulgate as Watkins Glen) did not intend to be Woodstock, but it was a little bit. The producers of Summer Jam were going to sell tickets! And they did, 150,00 of them, and then 600,000 kids showed up.
Here, Enthusiasts, we see the fatal weakness of fields: they are entirely indefensible positions. This is the Hudson Valley with easy hills and clustered woods that anyone, especially a young, fit, music-loving teen, could traverse with no effort, and Watkins Glen is not so far from several highways. The teens will borrow their mom’s Ford Galaxie, and–
I write to you now from aback; I have been taken there. Watkins Glen is not along the Hudson River at all, but instead way-the-fuck out by the Finger Lakes. Oh, that is the frightening part of New York’s region known as Upstate. I do not like that area. It is is hostile to miracles, and devilish in its dealing. The Jew is not apportioned out his daily kindess there, ‘cept for thereby he bricks himself up with his fellow and calls it a college.
Anyway, like I said: it was a field. You know who else was in a field? Custer. Thus: 150,00 tickets sold, and 600,00 kids choogled. New York passed all sorts of laws regarding this sort of bullshit, and Watkins Glen never had any rockyroll bands again until The Phishes had one of their weekend-long drug binges there. All summers end, even Summer Jams.*
The Dead, The Band, and the post-necessary Allmans; each playing their full sets, plus an evening-ending all-star jam. For ten bucks! And recall that there were no other entertainment options in 1973. You could go to Vietnam, I guess, but most kids just went to the Summer Jam; many of these kids got there early. Around 150,000 of them. As Bill Graham tells in his posthumous autobiography/oral history, this was a disaster waiting to explode.
“The teens! They”ll stab each other!”
It wasn’t 1969 anymore. It was 1973. If you didn’t keep the teens entertained, they would stab each other. There weren’t enough concessions, and sanitation overwhelmed. The taco guy had run completely out of tacos. And the show wasn’t until tomorrow!
Bill Graham stood on the new stage and looked out. 150,000 youths of America, plus some foreign spies and cops, various time-travelers and aliens. The stabbing would start soon.
The stabbing will start soon, and then Robbie Robertson starts whining.
“Bill, how are we gonna do soundcheck?”
“Now. Please. You’re gonna do soundcheck now.”
“There’s people here, man.”
“They’re your fans, Robbie. They got here a day early because they love you so much. That’s dedication.”
“Bill, soundcheck is a sacred act.”
“Nothing you do in a hockey arena can be sacred! Get up there and sing your Civil War songs!”
And so The Band did, laying on the crowd about a half-hour’s worth of their loose-limbed tall-tales, and the crowd did thus go “Yeah!” and “Fuck, yeah” and “The Band! Woo!” and did not stab one another, not even a little.
Bill Graham rushed to the three trailers that contained the Allman Brothers Band. He knocked on the door of Gregg; he knocked on the door of Dickie; he knocked on the other door. The band assembled, warily. Bill Graham told them about the stabbing. Gregg responded by asking if knew anyone looking to make a large drug deal; Dickie quit the band; the other guys were happy to be there, but they were surly about it.
The Allman Brothers Band performed a certain number of songs. As this is not a Without Research post, I am not bound by the ethos’ tenets. I did look up the Allmans’ setlist. Having not been spoon-fed the answer within the top half of a google page, I abandoned the project. Those southern-fried boogie boys performed a certain number of songs.
It was not enough.
Bill Graham knew now who he must seek. When one needed vast swathes of time eaten up by the band, there was only one to call.
And the Grateful Dead did look up from their grabass, and did sit up from their tootski. Titties remained honked. It came to be known that the band was aware of the situation.
“The situation, uh, has become known to us,” said Bobby. Bill Graham smiled at him, and then addressed Garcia. He told the guitarist of the stabbing. Garcia was displeased; he didn’t like when people stabbed one another.
“I don’t like when people stab one another,” Garcia said.
“We’re on the same page about this topic. Good.”
Phil piped up.
“Hundred bucks, cash, each of us”
And thus Bill Graham did scurry about, but it was worth it, as the money got the band to play the Wharf Rat Jam.
TOMORROW: The US Festival
*Go read Corry over at Lost Live Dead about the connection between racetracks and rockyroll. Or read it again. I’ve read it three times, and I might go back for more.