Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Keith Godchaux - keyboards; Donna Godchaux - vocals; Bill Kreutzmann - drums
The legendary Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, held at the Racetrack over a weekend in the summer of '73, featured the Grateful Dead, the Band and the Allman Brothers. Tickets were only $10 for several days of camping and music. Reports put the crowd numbers at 600,000, almost twice as many as were at Woodstock at any given time, and 25% were already there by Thursday afternoon. Bill Graham had installed a state-of-the-art computerized delay system so that everyone has able to hear the music clearly and at full volume, regardless of how far from the stage.
Early Friday afternoon, a stage announcement was made that the Grateful Dead were going to play a little while the crew tested the sound system, and with hoots and hollers all around, one of the most enjoyable days of 1973 live music began.
Once the mix adjustments had been made during a preferatory "Promised Land," this entire recording is excellent and all the songs well played. Indeed, there are two unquestionable highlights that can stand as peak performances of the entire year.
The first occurs four songs into the set, during the lovely "Bird Song," Robert Hunter's homage to Janis Joplin. This version is not only one of the longest ever played, but also among the most consistently inspired. Garcia's stratospheric tone is rich and sweet, and he whips up all sorts of interesting, unexpected grooves, much to the audience's and band's enjoyment.
Perhaps the most amazing moment of the evening, however, occurs later in the set following "Me & My Uncle." The band dispenses with song forms altogether and begin improvising music from scratch. A spacey jam results that contain some of the finest playing by the group of the year, proving they were far from losing their almost telepathic improvisational ability - especially given the right circumstances. This 20-minute exploration is a sheer delight, and eventually winds down by transitioning into a mesmerizing version of "Wharf Rat," with heartfelt vocals from Garcia. The entire sequence is a must-hear for all Dead fans - and this was just the soundcheck.