Back to the Gardens Everywhere

(Edited to modify a link.)

As I have noted here before, 1970 was America’s rock festival summer—kids wanted to frolic in the sun (or the rain, or the mud) for a weekend like the Woodstock Nation had, and promoters in all corners of the country were ready to take advantage of their desire. The first festivals, such as Sound Storm, brought a third player into the mix—state and local officials, who feared that festivals would cause a general breakdown of law and order in their communities, or an environmental or public-health catastrophe. So by summer’s height, rare was the festival that wasn’t preceded by a great deal of legal jousting. And often, once the music stopped and the garbage was picked up, the action moved back to courts and government hearing rooms, as after the Iola People’s Fair.

Near Middlefield, Connecticut, a festival scheduled for the Powder Ridge Ski Area was stopped by injunction only a couple of days before its scheduled start on Thursday, July 30, 1970. It was going to be a monster, starring several Woodstock veterans and a rumored appearance by Led Zeppelin. After local residents got the festival stopped, signs were posted on the roads to the site saying “festival prohibited,” but no matter—between 30,000 and 50,000 people showed up anyhow. Scheduled bands that had made it to the site could not perform under pain of arrest, although Melanie eventually did. Most of the music that weekend was provided by the attendees themselves, either on instruments they had brought or through stereo systems and car radios, amidst a blizzard of drug use that made Woodstock veterans blanch.

On the very same weekend half-a-continent away, several days of court hearings left fans, bands, promoters, and public officials hanging until the very last minute on Friday to learn whether a festival scheduled for the Iowa hamlet of Wadena that weekend would be allowed to proceed. On Thursday and Friday of this week, we’ll tell the story of the Wadena Rock Festival, so be sure to stop back for that.

This week is also the anniversary of the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a massive 1973 show held at a racetrack in western New York featuring the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Band. I can remember hearing about that one when it happened—the news coverage it received was on-par with Woodstock four years earlier, but the difference was that in 1973, I was paying attention. But where Woodstock was a quintessential event of the 1960s, Watkins Glen was much more of the 1970s—it was a weekend’s diversion for 600,000, and not an event that galvanized a generation. You can read more about Watkins Glen in my post at

More Recommended Reading: I’m pleased to see that Kevin, a longtime friend of this blog, has started posting again at his site, Got the Fever, after a life-enforced hiatus. Few bloggers write about their music with as much passion as Kevin does, so we’d all best get back in the habit of heading over to his place regularly. Also recommended: At Popdose, Rob Smith pays tribute to REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You,” and 30 Days Out goes searching for Robert Johnson.

2 thoughts on “Back to the Gardens Everywhere

  1. I’ve been to Watkins Glen a couple of times (it being, as you say, convenient to Rochester.)
    Lovely little town; I find it completely impossible to imagine 600,000 people there for anything.
    There’s a fairly unremarkable brewpub on the main street.

    The Grateful Dead book written by the band’s former publicist, Dennis McNally, says the band regarded the Watkins Glen show as just another gig … apparently there wasn’t much buzz to it at all among the group.

    I assume you’ve heard the backstory regarding the Band’s “Live at Watkins Glen” album? There’s probably material for a good post in that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.