Having grown up in the City during the birth of the hippie movement and arguably some of the best rock and roll ever, I've of course seen the Starship many times, as well as the original Jefferson Airplane. This will "date" me, but the first time I saw the Airplane was on my 16th birthday. Opening act Buffalo Springfield with Richie Furay, Steve Stills, Jim Messina, and Neil Young all in the same band, followed by the Airplane.
Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jack Cassady, Jorma Kaukonen, and original drummer Spencer Dryden ... for $2.50 a ticket, at the University of San Francisco gym. Yikes what a show. Surrealistic Pillow had just been released, Grace Slick had recently left The Great Society and replaced original singer Signe Anderson. Today, Somebody To Love, White Rabbit, It's No Secret ... what a show. And what a way to turn 16. Being a normal California kid, I of course got my driver's license that day, so I was able to drive my mom's '62 Valiant wagon to show, along with my band's guitar player Tim, and our girlfriends.
We were spoiled rotten growing up in the City during this period. We knew it then, and never took it for granted. Where else on the planet did you have access to the music that we were so priveleged to grow up with? Free concerts in Golden Gate Park were a commonplace occurence, and a lineup with some combination of the Airplane, the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sons of Chaplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Paul Butterfield, Elvin Bishop, Blue Cheer, and more ... were not uncommon. Speedway Meadows or the Polo Field, most weekends, and occasionally even during the week. Great time to be a native!
Bill Graham was of course the father of modern concerts. I was fortunate enough to work for him for a ten year period, and can personally say he was a total professional, and a great guy ... as long as you didn't try to disrupt one of his shows. He wouldn't hesitate to pull an unruly teenager out of line and deny them entrance, if they were making someone else's life miserable. Behave or you're going home. Graham started doing concerts as a way of promoting his pet project the "San Francisco Mime Troupe." This quickly blossomed into fairly regular concerts, ultimately settling at the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland, a couple blocks up Geary. Arguably the most important factor in making Bill Graham shows different and each one memorable in its own unique way, is the combination of acts on the bill for any given show.
You could see Miles Davis with a young Tony Williams on drums open up for The Who. Or the Staples Singers open for The Doors. Local bands like the Syndicate of Sound or Peter Wheat and the Breadmen could find themselves on a Fillmore poster with The Moody Blues. Watching musicians and bands "evolve" was also a unique treat. I recall a Winterland show that opened with The Nice (and a very young Keith Emerson, soon to be a third of Emerson, Lake and Palmer), The Vagrants with guitar player Leslie West (Mountain, Mississippi Queen), Procul Harum with both Robin Trower and Terry Reed on guitars, and headliners The Doors. I believe this was a $5.00 show.
The closing of Winterland show (pictured at right) was absolutely incredible. New Year's Eve, December 31st 1978 was the final swan song at the crumbling, long past its prime hall that once served as the Ice Follies' home base. Opening act NRPS, The Blues Brothers with most of the former "MG's" from Booker T. and the MG's as the backup band, and about four hours of the Grateful Dead. And at the end of the show, they served breakfast to the lucky 6000 attendees.
Two shows come to mind from the old Carousel Ballroom, before it was transposed into "Fillmore West." The Yardbirds, always a favorite, went through a few guitarist changes. Original lead axman Eric "Slowhand" Clapton was replaced by Jeff Beck and his unorthodox style of attacking a Fender Telecaster. Original bassist Paul Samwell-Smith was temporarily replaced by young studio guitar player Jimmy Page, to try out his hand at producing. Smith returned, and for a brief period produced the lineup we saw at Carousel, with both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page playing twin lead guitars. Oh my.
There have been so many memorable shows in the Bay Area over the years. Memorable, one of a kind concerts. The Last Waltz, which was The Band's first retirement party, held on Thanksgiving of 1976 at Winterland. The Who and The Grateful Dead for a weekend of "Days on the Green" in Oakland in '76. A week of Bob Dylan at the Orpheum Theater. A week of The Tubes at the Palace of Fine Arts. Two nights of Paul McCartney and Wings Over America at The Cow Palace, also in '76. The Rolling Stones (with guest Tina Turner), J. Geils, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers at Candlestick Park in '81. The Who, The Clash, and T. Bone Burnett at the Oakland Colisseum.
And the proverbial good news is that the music scene has survived in the City. Bill Graham was tragically killed on a stormy night, following a concert at the Concord Pavillion (ironically, I opted to go to a show at the Berkeley Community Theater that night - Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and The Indigo Girls). Bill Graham Presents has been swallowed up by the giant LiveNation concert machine, but the shows still go on. I've gotten picky about where I want to spend my concert dollars (because it takes a LOT of them to get into a show these days), but in the last few months I've seen Alanis Morissette, Matchbox 20, a fantastic Rush show (my favorite), and just last night ... The Pretenders at The Fillmore.