I regularly receive emails from Wolfgang’s Vault, promoting the latest items that it wants me to purchase. Wolfgang’s, if you’re not familiar with it, is the archival trove and then some of concert promoter Wolfgang Grajonca, better known as Bill Graham, he of the Fillmore fame. It is a vast compendium of photos, vinyl, books, merch, and posters from the venues (e.g., The Filmore, Winterland, Avalon Ballroom) at which Graham staged what can now only be considered legendary shows, even though back in the ‘60s they were considered, well, shows.
The posters are the most wonderful objects. Graphic artists including Wes Wilson, Lee Conklin and Rick Griffin created a visual vocabulary on the posters they designed. In addition to the full-size posters, these works of art—yes, commercial art, but be that as it may, they were artists, not just layout jockeys—were printed as 5 x 7-inch postcards, which increased the opportunity for ownership.
In addition to the wildly imaginative lettering and graphics that these objects embody, there is another fascinating aspect to them, which are the performers they promote. As the setting was San Francisco, it is not at all surprising that The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane loom large. Often, the two bands were on the same bill.
But what is in some ways more interesting than the art is the selection of performers on a given night. The Who and Cannonball Adderly. Jimi Hendrix and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Led Zeppelin and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity (in my humble estimation one of the best groups of the last half of the 20th century that never got its due). The Yardbirds and The Doors. Pink Floyd and Procol Harum. These and many other shows are the stuff that audio dreams are made of, the sorts of events that give rise to “If only. . . .”
As I grew up in Detroit, there was the Grande Ballroom and similar handbills created, many penned by Gary Grimshaw, many including the MC5, which was something of the house band but one that would often get top billing, except in cases like playing second to Cream and Jefferson Airplane. Again, shows that only the imagination can capture.