Monday, February 22, 2016

Psychedelic Daze Part Six: "The Promoters and their Venues"

Psychedelic Daze Part Six:
"The Promoters and their Venues" 

by Don Robertson

This is Part 6 of my 12-part series on the San Francisco countercultural movement of 1965-1969 that created a revolution in music and culture. I was a part of that movement, recording my album Dawn for Mercury Records in San Francisco in 1969.
Thank you Wikipedia.

Bill Graham
     Bill Graham was an American impresario and rock concert promoter. In the early 1960s, he moved to San Francisco, and in 1965, he began managing The San Francisco Mime Troupe, an avant-garde performance group. As an example of how avant-garde they were, members of the troupe were arrested for an outdoor production deemed too risqué by the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Commission. On November 6, 1965, Graham staged a benefit for the group's legal defense fund with a line-up that included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Jefferson Airplane, the Fugs, and John Handy. Graham then teamed up with local Haight Ashbury promoter Chet Helms and his Family Dog commune and used their network of contacts to organize a benefit concert. After that, he promoted several free concerts, sharing the Fillmore Auditorium together.

Bill Graham  

The Mime Troupe

     The second benefit concert for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, managed by Bill Graham, has passed into legend as it was the first rock concert that Bill Graham produced at the Fillmore Auditorium, located at the intersection of Fillmore and Geary. Promoter Chet Helms and Graham both produced shows on different nights at the Fillmore from February through April 1966, but then Graham took out a lease on the Fillmore without telling Helms, who responded by taking over the Avalon Ballroom, and he then began producing his own shows there.

The Fillmore Auditorium
        Beginning in December 1965, the Fillmore Auditorium became the focal point for psychedelic music and counterculture in general. However, on July 14, 1968, Bill Graham left the Fillmore Auditorium to take over the Carousel Ballroom. The bands Electric Flag and Blue Cheer closed out performances at the Fillmore.


Fillmore West (The Carousel Ballroom)

     The Carousel Ballroom was first operated by a collective formed by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and The Holding Company. Bill Graham took over the lease of the Carousel and converted it to what he named "Fillmore West," moving his acts from the old Fillmore Auditorium. (He opened the Fillmore East in New York City on March 8, 1968).

Chet Helms
From Wikipedia:
     Chester Leo "Chet" Helms, often called the father of San Francisco's 1967 "Summer of Love," was a music promoter and a major figure in San Francisco during the counterculture period in the mid to late Sixties. In 1965, Chet Helms teamed up with some Haight-Ashbury folks and started producing some of the greatest rock events of all time.

Chet Helms (Photo by Robert Altman)
     Helms was the founder and manager of the band Big Brother and The Holding Company. It was he who recruited Janis Joplin to become the band's lead singer. He was a producer and organizer, helping to stage free concerts and other cultural events at Golden Gate Park (the backdrop for San Francisco's "Summer of Love" of 1967), as well as at other venues, including the Avalon Ballroom. He was the first producer of psychedelic light-show concerts in the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms, and was instrumental in helping develop bands that had the distinctive San Francisco Sound.
    Chet Helms and Bill Graham had very opposite personalities. BIll was a hard-edged business guy who viewed the counterculture community as outside of himself. Chet was a mellow member of the counterculture.
     Chet and his friends lived in a commune called "The Family Dog." It was there that Chet held a series of legendary concerts between April 1966 and November 1968 that featured a mix of musicians, including rock, blues, soul, and Indian classical music. His friends included Bill Graham, the Diggers, Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Stephen Gaskin and Timothy Leary. 

A Family Dog Handbill
An early handbill, by Alton Kelley 

      The above rare handbill advertised the first event promoted by the Family Dog at the Longshoreman’s Hall on 10/16/65. Ellen Harmon, one of the original four partners in the Family Dog collective, was an avid reader of Marvel comic books, and helped dedicate the first dance to “Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts."

Tribute to "Ming the Merciless" Concert
         The original members of the Family Dog Commune's last concert occurred November 6, 1965 with the Mothers of Invention and the Jefferson Airplane performing.

Big Brother and The Holding Company
     This is a full set by Chet’s band, Big Brother and The Holding Company, recorded live on August 16, 1968 in San Francisco:

Cheep Thrills, by Big Brother and The Holding Company
     "Cheap Thrills," is a studio album by "Big Brother and The Holding Company." The cover was by R. Crumb, the creator of Zap Comix (covered in Part Nine). R. Crumb's original album cover featured a cartoon of the band naked in bed together, but that was reject by the label. The group, featuring the singer Janis Joplin, had been formed by the great promoter Chet Helms, and their first significant gig had occurred in October 1965, presented by Chet's Family Dog Commune.
The Avalon Ballroom
     The Avalon Ballroom was a music venue in the Polk Gulch neighborhood of San Francisco, California, at 1244 Sutter Street (or 1268 Sutter, depending on the entrance). The space operated from 1966 to 1969, at the height of the counterculture movement.
Light Show Pioneer Bill Ham
     The bearded man on the right is light-show pioneer Bill Ham. His company Light Sound Dimension (LSD) created the first psychedelic light show. Bill pioneered kinetic lighting, first using this technique at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City with "The Charlatans" in 1965. Chet Helms had met Bill at the Red Dog Saloon where he asked him to produce light shows at the Avalon Ballroom.

The Family Dog on the Great Highway
     Chet Helms lost his lease on his Avalon Ballroom and moved the rock shows that he promoted to a rickety wooden building where for years before, generations of San Franciscans came to eat fried chicken, roller skate and play with slot cars. The venue opened on June 13 1969 with the Jefferson Airplane. Chet will finally pull out of concert promotion in 1970. The Sixties were over.
     I spent many a night at the Family Dog on the Great Highway during 1969. One Saturday night at the Dog, I ran into Timothy Leary. I didn't speak with him; he was just hanging out. I should have said something to him, but I missed that opportunity.

Thanks for reading. Next in this series is: Psychedelic Daze Part Seven "The Quick and the Dead"

No comments:

Post a Comment