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1970 saw the Fillmore East really peak as a venue and a series of legendary shows by the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and Jefferson Airplane cemented its place in rock n roll history, preserved sonically forever.
As 1971 dawned, the business of rock was growing fast. Fees for performers were getting high quickly and the big bands were starting to by-pass venues the size of the
Fillmore for larger halls like Madison Square Garden where they could pick up a huge wad of cash for one performance. The Fillmore couldn't compete with that. But still, bands like Ten Years After, Humble Pie and Savoy Brown, regularly packed the place out and rocked hard. Yet beyond the financial situation, culturally Bill Graham felt a shift was happening. Reports have it that he was annoyed by CSNY's rather precious attitude for one series of shows. But no-one thought he'd just shut them down on both coasts. But that's just what he did. On 28th April 1971, he called a press conference at the Fillmore East ans said it was the end for both East and West.
Ever since the creation of the Fillmores, it was my sole intention to do nothing more nor less than present the finest contemporary music in this country, on the best stages and in the most pleasant halls. The scene has changed and, in the long run, we are all to one degree or another at fault. All that I know is that what
exists now is not what we started with and what I see around me is less than that with which I prefer to be associated.I am not pleased with many of the wealthy musicians working in it and I am shocked at the nature of people who support it without asking why."
The Band's manager had turned down 50,000 for a week of dates as not being enough. This seems to have been on the straws that broke broke the camel's back. Graham clearly thought that these bands, bands he'd helped make into successes, were getting above themselves. That is was now all about the money.
The 27th June was set for the final gig. That last month saw Frank Zappa and the Mothers play one last time, joined by John and Yoko. Laura Nyro played, as did the Byrds, BB King, Moby Grape and Edgar Winter and Albert King amongst others. But it was down to the Allman Brothers, the band that had delivered so many stellar hours
of music within those walls to wind the whole thing up. Invitations to the final day described it as a 'concert celebration featuring food, drink and joy'. A single red rose was placed on each seat. It was a by invitation
only gig but was broadcast live on WNEW-FM. It went on till dawn.
No offical recordings were made of those last gigs. Out west, The Last Days of the Fillmore was brought out as a triple box set and a movie Fillmore was made of the final days for the west coast operation. It makes fascinating viewing. This is rock 'n' roll living history. You can see the art bumping up against the commerce all through it. Bill Graham comes over as part idealist, part hard-headed business man, endlessly trying to bridge the gap between musicians and money.
The end of the Fillmores was a literal and symbolic shift in the culture of rock n roll. It was evolving from the its amateur days into a new era of big money. The irony was that it was Bill Graham that in part, led the way. He ended up hating how it turned out, but he showed how to promote music and make money. He gave the public what they wanted and the standards he set would become the industry standards.
Bill Graham stayed in the music business though. He began organizing concerts at smaller venues, like the Berkeley Community Theatre on the campus of Berkeley High School. He then reopened the Winterland Arena in San Francisco, along with the Fillmore West and promoted shows at the Cow Palace Arena in Daly City and other venues.
In 1973 he promoted the largest outdoor concert at Watkins Glen, New York with the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and The Band. Over 600,000 paying ticket-holders were in attendance. He continued promoting stadium-sized concerts at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco with Led Zeppelin in 1973 & 1977 and started a series of
outdoor stadium concerts at the Oakland Coliseum each billed as Day on the Green in 1973 until 1992. These concerts featured billings such as the Grateful Dead and the Who on October 9, 1976, and the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan in 1987.
The US Festival in 1982 was funded by Steve Wozniak and booked by Graham (Bill Graham Presents In the mid-1980s, in conjunction with the city of Mountain View, California, and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, he masterminded the creation of the Shoreline Amphitheatre, which became the premier venue for outdoor concerts in Silicon Valley, complementing his booking of the East Bay Concord Pavilion. Throughout his career, Graham promoted benefit concerts. He went on to set the standard for well-produced large-scale rock concerts, such as the U.S. portion of Live Aid at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 13, 1985, as well as the 1986 a A
Conspiracy of Hope and 1988 Human Rights Now! tours for Amnesty International.
Bill Graham died in 1991 at the young age of 60 in a terrible helicopter crash. He had revolutionised how rock music was brought to the public but more than that, he had promoted groups who, when they started, where regarded as nothing but dirty, hippy, anarchists. Bands and musicians that no-one took seriously. It's impossible to
overstate how important he is in the history of rock music and, right at the centre of his legacy, is the Fillmore East, home to dozens of live albums and millions of happy memories. Somewhere, in some dimension, the sound of Duane's slide guitar is still singing.
Live at the Fillmore East - Part 4