[Slowhand] OT: SF Concert Venues - 1960s

Bryan Reid humblephoenix at comcast.net
Sat Jan 14 11:13:32 EST 2006

Since we seem to be on this topic, here's some more background info.

It all started in the summer of 1965. That seems to be one thing that
everyone can agree on.

Somewhere at the beginning is the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada.
In the summer of 1965, they began booking SF area bands, and in particular,
The Charlatans (widely regarded as the original psychedelic band). Other
bands that played there included Big Brother (pre-Janis Joplin), the
Jefferson Airplane (pre-Grace Slick) and Quicksilver Messenger Service. The
Charlatans were pretty much the house band in the summer and fall of 1965.
Some people say it all started there.

The Matrix was probably the literal beginning of the "scene" in SF. Starting
in the August of 1965, The Matrix began shows with the Jefferson Airplane,
The Charlatans, Quicksilver and the Dead.

Then there was Chet Helms, of the Family Dog. Chet started producing shows
at the Longshoremen's Hall and California Hall starting in October 1965.
Chet's earliest shows included the Jefferson Airplane, The Charlatans, The
Mothers, and Big Brother (still pre-Janis Joplin - she joined in June 1966).
While Chet has been credited with inventing the "scene", he is may be more
appropriately described as its spiritual leader. When it came to free
concerts, benefit concerts and public service work, he most certainly was
the leader. Anyway, Chet used a number of venues early on, including the
Fillmore Auditorium in early 1966. In April 1966, he hooked up with the
Avalon Ballroom, where he was to promote shows through the end of 1968. He
also did shows at Winterland, the Straight Theater, in Denver and at several
venues in Berkeley, as well as out on the Great Highway later.

Bill Graham started out producing shows for the SF Mime Troup in and around
SF in 1965; he continued to produce them through 1966 (ended in February
with one last show in November). His first rock show was in a loft on Howard
Street in November 1965 and featured the Jefferson Airplane and The Fugs,
along with poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Graham opened the Fillmore Auditorium
in December 1965 with the Jefferson Airplane headlining. The following year,
he took over an old roller skating rink called Winterland and began shows
there in September 1966. Bill produced some of the Trips Festivals at
Loneshoremens' Hall in 1966. He shut down the Auditorium and opened the
Fillmore West in July 1968. Love him or hate him, Bill was "the man" in the
SF rock scene. H e ran his theaters until 1971, when he moved on to
promoting tours for the likes of the Stones, The Who et al.

In terms of importance, Graham's theaters, the Matrix and the Avalon (read
Chet Helm) were the mainstays of the scene. Other, lesser, venues included
The Straight Theater, California Hall, the Longshoremens' Hall, the Carousel
Ballroom (which became the Fillmore West), The Ark in Sausalito, The
Firehouse in SF (1966 shows with Big Brother and The Charlatans), the Rock
Garden in SF, Sokol Hall in SF (home to most of the Hell's Angels' dances),
and The Barn in Scott's Valley south of SF. And then there are a herd of
little places that featured up-and-coming bands all around SF and the
surrounding region.

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