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Curly's Family Restaurant, Watkins Glen

Sponsoring this People page:

Curly's Family Restaurant, located on Route 14 near the P&C Plaza in Watkins Glen. Phone: 535-4383.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Aerial shot of the Summer Jam crowd at what is now Watkins Glen International. The photo, sent in by Foot Field, was snapped from a state police helicopter.

Summer Jam 1973: Remembrances

By Charlie Haeffner

SCHUYLER COUNTY, July 27, 2023 -- I was cleaning out my garage recently when I came upon a box full of newspapers and news clippings, all related to the Summer Jam concert that descended on Watkins Glen back in 1973.

That year was long before I made my way to the Southern Tier, so the box wasn’t something I personally had filled with news of that event -- a concert with 600,000 people flooding the area and congregating up at the racetrack. No, the collection had to be that of my wife, long deceased now, who was a young adult back when Summer Jam occurred. I had never seen the box before, but there it was -- not long before the famed concert weekend's 50th anniversary.

Summer Jam occurred from July 27-29, 1973 -- a half-century ago. It featured a heavyweight, though limited, lineup of rock stars: The Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and The Band. It also featured impassable roads clogged by gridlocks and abandoned cars for miles; heavy rain that struck on the middle of the three days, drenching everyone; a run on food and drink at any store that provided such things in Watkins Glen, Montour Falls and environs, and a massive cleanup.

I recall reading about it from my vantage point in Northern New York, where I was working at the Watertown Daily Times. I had never, to that point, been in the Southern Tier, and was almost four years away from doing so. It wasn’t until 1977 that I traveled to Schuyler County to visit the woman who would be my wife, Susan Bauman, a graduate of Watkins Glen High School who, when I met her, was teaching in Copenhagen, a little village a half-hour from Watertown. I visited her during an Easter break, when she was staying in Schuyler for a week with her parents, helping her mother in the latter’s store, Country Cards in Odessa.

I wheeled into Odessa in a little yellow MG that I owned, and met her parents (her dad operated a gun shop next door to Country Cards), and was invited to dinner at their house, up on Coykendall Road above Montour Falls. On the way there, I traversed roads that had been so very clogged on that Summer Jam weekend four years earlier.   

Yes, I’d heard of Summer Jam back when it was happening, but it was just a distant story to me. But I soon got a first-person account from various members of Susan’s family, who had lived through it. And I eventually read about it in a 40-page booklet produced a few years ago by Dave Smith. It contains an overview of that weekend in words, with various side stories involving drugs, nude bathing, an abandoned baby and the death of a parachutist on that fabled weekend.

But reading about it is one thing. To live through it? That must have been ... well, amazing, I suppose, and unnerving, and exhilarating and frustrating and, to some, infuriating. I mean, 600,000 people in a county that numbers somewhere around 17,000? That stretches the imagination.

There are many people still around who recall it, I’m sure. I put the call out for anyone to send along their Summer Jam memories, but to date have received a few. They follow.

From Deanna Reddout

Reading everyone’s messages brings back a lot of memories. I was 14 years old when the Summer Jam took place. My grandparents at the time owned the BP gas station on the corner of Franklin Street across from the State Gorge Park.

I as a kid spent a lot of time there helping my grandparents pump gas, and selling ice. When the Summer Jam started we got very busy and everything was going fine. As time went on our business parking lot was so full that people couldn’t get in to buy gas, so my grandpa decided it was best to just close.

We lived on Route 329 at the time, so if you know anything about Watkins Glen, that is like a back route to the track. As we were headed home, cars were everywhere on the road and people were jumping onto our car to catch a ride up the hill because some of them had been walking for a very long time.

When we finally arrived home after a long journey weaving in and out and around people and abandoned cars, there were all kinds of folks in our yard. Some were asking if we had anything to drink or eat and said they would gladly pay us. So my brother and I decided to start cooking and selling hot dogs real cheap to people and giving them free water. People were so grateful.

I do remember hearing on TV and the radio that most everything was either sold out or shut down because of so many people. Somehow they needed to be able to start getting some of those people out of town. What were they going to do?

My grandfather received a call from the State Troopers asking him if he still had gasoline to sell and saying that if he opened the gas station the State Troopers would help him pump gas to try and get some of those people out of town that needed gas. So my grandfather, with help from the State Troopers, worked together pumping gas.

From Kate LaMoreaux:

My husband David had a motorcycle accident on Friday evening. I could not find him for hours. Finally in desperation, I called Schuyler Hospital and, in fact, he had been admitted. My sister and brother-in-law drove me across to Skyline to Montour Falls, but the road was clogged with cars, so I walked up the hospital hill. Dr. Norton told me in detail about the time he spent suturing David’s eyelid so it would function properly, and it did! Because he was hospitalized all weekend, I had several adventures returning from WG to the hospital.

On Saturday I rode my bicycle from WG to MF, and there were cars parked from the edge of the marsh to the cliff along Rt. 14, sometimes 10 cars across! There was a group of men showering in Aunt Sarah’s Falls and there were masses of happy, friendly people everywhere. Many doctors and nurses spent the weekend at the hospital because they could not get home! They were all super busy!

Our MGB was stolen from in front of our house on 8th St. Saturday night, leaving the only open parking space in the village!

I didn’t hear one note of music, but it was most certainly a memorable weekend!

Jim Teemley’s story is the best: He and a friend were in his meat market on Franklin & Fifth, selling sandwiches, when a naked man came in the door wearing only one sneaker. Jim said,  “Hey buddy, you lost a shoe.” The young man replied proudly, “No, I found one!”

From Peggy Scott:

Jack Kelly from Kelly Brothers Music called me and said that (Allman Brothers band member) Dickey Betts' guitar had been damaged on the trip to Watkins Glen. Jack invited me to go with him to bring a new guitar to Dickey.

We were flown in (to what is now the Watkins Glen International track, site of the Summer Jazz concert) by helicopter and dropped off backstage to deliver the guitar. There were many "firsts" for me. I was scared and stayed glued to Jack. I witnessed the backstage preparations and the people involved in the set-up.

We left the area in a chauffeured limousine, sharing the ride with Gregg Allman, who was alone in the back seat. My memory of him was that he looked like "Cousin Itt" from The Addams Family with the long hair, sunglasses on, and no movement at all. 

I wish that I had pictures to share, but didn't think to bring a camera. My final thought after that experience was that I realized I really was a "small town girl."

From Bill Phoenix:

I was there Friday to Sunday, on the west side of the race track. Not sure exactly where as I'd never been there before. I'd say out near the boot. I recall walking back to camp during the storm to find that two of my friends had been struck by lightning!

Apparently a bolt hit the trees nearby and arced over to the tent they were holding to prevent it from blowing away. They were knocked to the ground, but neither suffered any injury, other than scorched palms where they gripped the aluminum poles.

From Foot Field, who sent photos:

Here is a picture of an original ticket (shown above) still in possession of David Lynch, formerly of Montour Falls, who walked from Montour to the concert (at the racetrack).

Also, here is an aerial photo (at top of page) I have at home taken by the state police helicopter, along with a shot of the concert stage (shown below).

From Dennis Morris:

I was 21 and this was the summer before my senior year in college. On Friday (maybe it was Thursday?) morning my little sister stepped on a nail, so I took her to the Schuyler Hospital ER. Swinging through Montour Falls at 8 a.m., all was fine and we went up the hill to the new hospital. By the time we were done, County Road 14 in front of the hospital had become a big parking lot. As we walked out of the hospital, Doc Norton was taking photos of the traffic Jam. After finding it was impossible to drive back down the hill, I left my car in the hospital parking lot, hoisted my sister up on my shoulders and walked down the hill, through town to L’Hommedieu Street, where we asked someone to use their phone. (Cell phones would have been handy.) As there was no way I was going to be able to carry her up Skyline Hill, my mom was able to give us a lift home.

On Saturday I worked on the farm, bailing hay until about 3. Even on the opposite side of the Valley we had visitors camping in our fields., prompting my Mom to say “The Hippies are here ... the Hippies are here.”

The Squires (Drum & Bugle Corps) had two competitions canceled that weekend since our buses were stuck in the school parking lot. Therefore I decided it was time to join the crowd. I took my 350 Honda since there was no  way you could move through the Glen by car. I and a friend took the back roads to Van Zandt Hollow the back way into the track, weaving among parked cars for miles. Since all of the gates were removed due to the size of the crowd, we actually were able to circle the track and leave the bike near the Wedgewood road. As we walked down, the mass of humanity walking toward us made me think there was a break in the concert. No ... it was just the ebb and flow of 600,000 people.

We worked our way to the concert area and the scene continued to be incredible. Somehow we were able to slither our way to within 100 yards of the stage and enjoyed “The Band.” After about three hours we worked our way through the crush to the motorcycle, bought a watermelon(?) and headed back downtown to join the rest of the locals in an evening of “hippie watching” on Franklin Street.

From Dave White:

My dad and I worked at a Summer Jam ticket gate on the Montour-Townsend Road. I had just turned 17 a couple months before. We had an evening shift that was scheduled to run until the wee hours of the morning.

Things started out well -- with jovial (and many high) concert goers pulling up, and paying their entry fee. Most cars were packed and many had driven long distances. As the evening wore on, things began to get a bit strange. One packed car took a long time to pool all their money and finally determined that they were about 50 cents short. I said, "That’s all your money? What are you going to live on for the next few days?" "I don’t know, man" was the answer. Quite a few tried to barter their way into the concert. Pot, beer, and (the most common) having their girlfriend remove her top were favorite barter items. There were a number of female companions who didn’t wait to be asked to remove their tops as they had already shed most of their clothes before they wheeled into the ticket area. One car handed me a pile of popsicle sticks. It was pretty late when some of those waiting in the long line of cars began to hang back and speed through the ticket gate. It became a pretty dangerous situation as we were standing in the middle of a dark county road. We radioed those in charge who told us to get out of the road and just let everyone through. We spent the night in an old church building that was across the road.

In the morning, my dad and I began our drive back to Odessa. There were parked cars and people walking everywhere. It took quite a while to inch our way away from the concert area. Many of the roads were blocked with parked cars. As we slowly made our way toward Watkins, a very wobbly guy asked us if we could help him find his car. I gave my dad an "Are you kidding me?" look, but my kind-hearted father told the guy to hop in. About 15 minutes later, our lost hitchhiker yelled "There it is!" He jumped out, apparently reunited with his car. We made our way into Watkins but found that we couldn’t head toward Montour Falls or Burdett because of the packed roads. My dad used Rock Cabin Road -- which skirts the wildlife management area and was pretty rough back then -- to get us back to Montour and then on to Odessa. Cars were parked all the way past the top of the Odessa hill.

After we got home and told my mom and younger sister about our experience, my mom wanted to go and see some of the sights. The three of them (I had had enough) headed back down Route 224 toward Montour. Near the bottom of the Odessa hill, they spotted a couple guys walking along naked. My mother ordered my dad to turn the car around. And that was the end of our Summer Jam. (Although I do still have a Summer Jam poster in my garage.)

Photos in text: Original ticket from Summer Jam, and a view from the side of the concert stage. (Both photos provided by Foot Field)


The Odessa File 2023
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869