The August Jam
(This post has been up for over a year now and still no one has come forth with any photographs. Surely, someone has some photographs out there? If you have any memorabilia I'd love to have a copy of it so I can add it to this article. Please contact me if you have anything you would like to share at edmcdonald at gmail.com)
Pictures from audience member
Flickr user Linda just emailed me a link to some photos she took of her time at the August Jam. You can view her picture set here
Recently I was going through some old newspapers that someone had donated to the library. Most of the papers in the stack had coverage about the resignation of President Richard Nixon. A Sunday Charlotte Observer from August 11th had four stories on the front page. The stories were about Nixon's last days in office, Gerald Ford assuming power, how the city of San Clemente was handling being the home of citizen Richard Nixon and the fourth story was about a huge rock concert held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was called August Jam.
On August 10, 1974, the day after Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from Richard Nixon there was a big party at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. An estimated 200,000 people came to a rock festival, milling around the front stretch, the pit area and the grandstands enjoying Southern rock and indulging freely in drugs and booze. Scheduled to play on that Saturday were the Marshall Tucker Band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Allman Brothers Band, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Foghat, Grinder Switch, Black Oak Arkansas, an Italian prog rock band called PFM and several other minor bands. The Eagles were scheduled to play also but they canceled. Tickets were available through Ticketron for $12 in advance and tickets at the door were $15. I had no idea Ticketron was selling tickets in the mid seventies. The promoters rented all 154 rooms of the Coliseum Downtowner Motor Inn located on Independence Blvd. Performers were flown in all during the day on two helicopters.
According to a story in the Spartanburg Herald Journal it was the biggest concert on the east coast since Woodstock in 1969. The crowd was so big that it was equal to about one quarter of the whole population of the Charlotte metro area at the time and four times the population of Spartanburg, SC. Cars lined the road the day of the festival and late arrivals had to walk up to two miles just to get to the race track. The Times News of Hendersonville, NC, which billed it self as "one of America's most modern newspapers," reported that eight towing companies from the Concord area towed around 385 cars that were parked illegally in the area. Companies were forced to give a discount on their regular $25 fee for towing because a lot of the kids had no cash. Some towers even released cars for free. One even accepted in lieu of cash a "sawed off shotgun, a watch and a guitar."
The concert was slated to begin at 11am Saturday morning. The gates opened on Friday afternoon and those that showed up early rushed in to claim spots near the stage. Eventually the concert started to resemble the fabled 1969 Woodstock festival in one significant way, nonpaying customers eventually forced their way into the show through the fences and past "club swinging security." Security guards were so overwhelmed that they eventually gave up. One guard was quoted as saying to the rock fans, "Come in, they're not paying me enough to take this." Despite the chaos there were no serious injuries although two guard dogs were "trampled to death." The mob even took over the local police outpost for a short period of time but the cops cleared them out quickly. The crashers prompted one of the promoters, Larry Pressley, to say, "I'm sure not happy when our profit is so small because of this. But we'll do okay and they're going to see a good show." Richard Howard, president of the speedway, estimated there were 10,000 gate crashers. According to the Observer there was a large skirmish between the concert goers and security guards which were provided by a company called Security Dogs Inc at 8am Saturday morning. The crowd rushed the gates five times until the guards gave up and officials at the gates quit attempting to take tickets. Once that happened people poured in and the more dishonest of concert goers collected unused tickets and sold them to unsuspecting late arrivals who were unaware that tickets were no longer needed.
Those who are currently familiar with the Charlotte Motor Speedway may think it's odd that a crowed of 200,000 could overwhelm the area but up to that time the largest crowd for a race at CMS was 90,000. The music ran smoothly all day. The stages were set up along pit road. While one band was playing the next band would be setting up on another stage. Once the current band finished the next one started right away because their gear was already set up and ready to go. An expensive quadraphonic sound system was utilized. The speakers were on tracks so the bands would be playing in the center of the speakers no matter which stage they were using.
Drugs were sold openly inside the track. There were only around 100 police officers to provide security and they stayed outside in order to keep the roads open to traffic. If the police did attempt to enter the show they were pelted with debris. Cabarrus County Sheriff J.B. Roberts said his men could not enter the festival because "hundreds of them would have come at you...we're not equipped to do it." The story in the Charlotte Observer while addressing the indulgences of the crowd included this doozy in the opening paragraph: "The largest crowd ever seen for a rock concert in the Carolinas...swarmed over the Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday, tearing down fences, consuming rivers of beer, smoking pounds of marijuana and listening to hours of continuous, welling music."
After the excitement of the gate crashing the crowd calmed down and concentrated on imbibing and listening to the music. Considering the lack of security and the large size and few amenities there was very little conflict. The stories I found in local newspapers focused a lot of attention on the drugs and alcohol that were consumed by those in attendance and there was some hysteria from local officials concerning possible violence but there were no serious injuries at the event despite absolutely no police or security presence inside the gates. A quote by Sheriff Roberts in the Observer sums up nicely the preconceptions by the authorities. He said, "There will be drunks, fights, shootings and cuttings." As the article says "there were drunks in abundance" but the predicted shootings and cuttings didn't happen. A sense of community settled over the place. It became a "happening." There did seem to be a bit of nudity at the event. One man did a strip tease, encouraged by the crowd who paid him in "pretzels, sips of beer and puffs from their joints."
With that much chaos at the gates and that many people gathered in a hot August weekend at a facility where basic needs were scarce and serious partying was going on there were bound to be some injuries. The local hospital later reported that they had treated 138 people from the concert and that "most had not paid their bills." The estimated cost of the unpaid bills was $13,137. The injuries varied from drug overdoses to cut feet from walking on broken glass and one woman who was pregnant and was admitted to the hospital had a miscarriage.
The panic by local officials continued after the concert was over. In September the Cabarrus County commissioners discussed creating an ordinance either banning or controlling such concerts. Cabarrus County Health Director, Albert Klimas, said, "Our evaluation of the August Jam and its promotion is that it was a public health menace and a threat to the citizens of Cabarrus County." They may not have passed the ordinance because I can't find any news reports on the subject after the initial story.
The concert was promoted by Stan Kaplan (who went on to purchase WROQ and founded the weekly paper called The Leader) president of Charlotte's WAYS radio and a local promoter, Larry Pressely. The concert was promoted in Rolling Stone magazine and advertised on the radio "as far away as Florida." People came from all over. Near the end of the evening a Charlotte Observer reporter observed a young man with "a sign around his neck reading 'Ride Needed to Vermont.'"
Ron, a seventeen-year-old music lover from just north of New York City drove down that weekend with two high school friends. I contacted him through a music message board and he agreed to answer a few questions about his experience at the August Jam. They drove all night to get to the Charlotte Motor Speedway by Friday morning. The highlight of their drive was listening to Richard Nixon's resignation speech. They secured some beer, soda and ice and waited for the gates to open Friday afternoon. He remembers it being "really hot and humid." I would imagine a northern kid's first trip to the North Carolina Piedmont in the middle of August could only be described as that.
His experience was different than much of the reporting in the local papers. It was crowded and it was hot but overall it "was pretty mellow." He had tickets and got there early on Friday and secured a spot about fifty yards from the stage and missed the chaos of Saturday morning's gate crashing battle.
The newspaper reporting said that the bathroom facilities were badly overloaded and he confirmed that. Due to the overcrowding caused by the gate crashers it was a half hour trip to the bathrooms. Then you had to wait and then another half hour trip back to where you had set up. As Ron put it in his email to me, "...every trip to the bathroom was about a two-hour ordeal, and suddenly drinking a lot of beer lost its amusement value." Sounds like a flask of whiskey would have been handy.
He did answer another big question I had about the event: the sound system. From where he was sitting the sound was great. He wrote that the "quadraphonic sound system was enormous and magnificent." You can see the rear speakers for the quadraphonic system in the first picture of the event below. They are in the right side of the picture sitting just inside of the front stretch.
The track president Richard Howard estimated there was about $30,000 in damages done to the facility and Stan Kaplan estimated he probably broke even on his $600,000 investment. He said, "I'll never be part of an outdoor concert again."
Jim from Greensboro shared with me a poster from the event which he picked up after the concert at a Charlotte music store. Great find and thanks for sharing!
Other than the pictures from the Charlotte Observer I haven't been able to find any video footage or pictures of this event. There's got to be some out there. I did find a Black Oak Arkansas DVD that supposedly has two songs from their performance at the August Jam. I'd purchase it if I knew for sure there were shots of the crowd included. If you were at the August Jam leave a comment or email me. I'd love to hear your story.
Picture taken from the beginning of the front stretch of the speedway
Aerial shot of the crowd
I finally found some video. This is some footage of Black Oak Arkansas playing.
There are a couple of photographs of festival goers hosted on the website of the UNC-Charlotte website. Photographs were taken by Steve Perile.
View from the front stretch here
Exhausted participants outside the track here
Cabarrus seeks rock concert control, The Rock Hill Herald. September 7th, 1974
Concert was a package deal, not for real music lovers by John Smith, Spartanburg Herald. August 13, 1974
Crashers win big battle at the gate, Allen Cowen, Charlotte Observer, August 11th, 1974
Some towing fees cut for concert goers, The Times News. August 14th, 1974
Thousands jam rock fest, The Charlotte Observer, Henry Eichel with filed reports by Mark Ethridge III, Johnny Greene, Allen Cowan and Mike Schwartz. August 11th, 1974
Thousands of fans crash rock concert gate, Sarasota Herald Tribune, August 11th, 1974