The Scene: A pretty healthy crowd turned out to Quixote’s on Saturday night to take a trip back in time to the summer of 1973 with some local favorites. The original Watkins Glen Summer Jam was held on July 28th of that year and by some accounts the event drew as many as 600,000 people, for nearly 10 hours of music, from three of the most legendary bands of the era: The Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers. Now we all know that Denver’s rich music scene has a lot to offer, and on Saturday it offered up three bands who were up for trying to fill the shoes of these legends.
The evening kicked off and 8 o’clock and ran till nearly 2am for a full 6 hours of music. No, it wasn’t the full 10 hours of the original event, but they gave it the old college try with pretty damn good results. While the Summer Jam isn’t anywhere as well documented as Woodstock or The Last Waltz, it was truly a landmark moment in the musical history of our country and I’m thrilled that these guys found time to give it the respect it deserves. Hat’s off to Tori Pater for coming up with the idea for this recreation. I would love to see this become an annual event.
The Band (Polytoxic): Polytoxic kicked the night off in their favorite musical costume as The Band. Although they didn’t play the set that The Band played in 1973 because it was far too long for these guys to get through in their time slot, they delivered the best set of the night as they condensed the setlist and shook things up a bit. It’s always great to hear Polytoxic play songs like “Don’t Do It,” “The Shape I’m In,” and “Life is A Carnival,” but for some reason they sounded especially good on Saturday. Maybe the 8 o’clock start found them fresh, or maybe it was the more intimate confines of Quixote’s when they are used to delivering these tunes in big rooms like The Ogden. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was the highlight of the set as everyone on stage seemed to put a ton of soul into it. [Editor’s Note: Thanks to Brian Turk for the help on this section as I didn’t arrive in time to catch this set]
The Grateful Dead (Shakedown Street): Shakedown Street took to the stage a little before 10 and though the sound was suffering a bit and their set was marred by some feedback issues, they showed why they are one Denver’s better Dead cover bands as they ran through staples like “Jack Straw,” “Deal,” and “Playin’ In The Band” in the same order The Grateful Dead played them at Watkins Glen back in ’73 to close out their first set.
The guys kept things loose up on stage as they meandered in and out of jams before landing in a crowd pleasing version of “Loose Lucy” that found the ample crowd singing along to the punchy chorus. It seemed for all the world that everyone was indeed having a “real good time.” Shakedown invited Polytoxic keyboard player CR Gruver up to the stage for a set closing take on “Truckin’,” and the stage was set for Mountain Jam to take on the music of The Allman Brothers.
The Allman Brothers Band (Mountain Jam): It was shortly after midnight when Mountain Jam took the stage with Paul Murin filling in on the second lead guitar, and let me tell you, he didn’t miss a beat. The sparring between the two guitarists was lively as the boys raged through versions of “Wasted Words,” “Statesboro Blues,” and “Jessica,” that got the spinners in the crowd twirling like mad. They proved the could slow things down for some old school blues with “Stormy Monday,” and even dropped radio staples “Rambling Man” and “Midnight Rider” on the attentive crowd.
As the clock pushed past one in the morning they invited Tori Pater from Polytoxic to the stage to lend vocals to “Whipping Post.” Pater did the song justice with his gravelly voice as the guitars dueled behind him and Ted Tilton wailed away on the Organ. It was a powerful set that made wish it wasn’t the first time I caught these guys doing their thing.
If I’m nitpicking, and as a critic I often do, I would have to take issue with the fact that the bands didn’t play in the same order as the original event, but, in the grand scheme of things that’s fairly minor. The music was good, people turned out and had fun, and who knows, maybe we have a new Denver tradition on our hands. The only thing that would make it better would be to throw this party outside in the height of the summer. Maybe next time . . .
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: C+