The posters in this section capture the moment when the “psychedelic” turn in rock truly began to take hold. In San Francisco, the first “acid test” was administered by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in 1965, with music provided by local band the Warlocks – who would soon evolve into the Grateful Dead. Alongside the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company (which included singer Janis Joplin), Quicksilver Messenger Service, and less well-remembered bands such as the Charlatans and the Great Society, the Dead would expand the sound and shape of rock music and help to turn San Francisco into a hallowed location in the evolving national rock scene.
San Francisco housed more than an aggregation of great bands. What made it such an important scene was the combination of factors at work. Underground FM radio took hold under the influence of DJ Tom Donahue. Journalistic attention came first from critic Ralph Gleason at the San Francisco Chronicle, and then beginning in late 1967 from Rolling Stone, started by U. C. Berkeley dropout Jann Wenner with help from Gleason. Perhaps most importantly, San Francisco housed two of the leading rock music ballrooms in the U. S.: the Avalon and the Fillmore.
With a few exceptions, the posters in this exhibition advertised shows at either the Avalon or the Fillmore and they attest to the great concentration of performances these venues hosted. Avalon manager Chet Helms and his Family Dog associates, and Bill Graham and his team at the Fillmore, assembled distinctive combinations of performers, making a point of presenting touring African-American blues artists like Junior Wells or Otis Rush with local favorites that were known to draw a crowd. Also at these ballrooms, rock shows became spectacles to an unprecedented degree, with elaborate light shows that were sometimes given equal billing with the musical artists featured.
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The fact that some posters on view come from Santa Clara or even Denver show that San Francisco did not exist in a vacuum. The scene was at once local and national, and ballrooms on the model of the Avalon and the Fillmore would arise in various U. S. cities. So too would larger gatherings on the order of the Human Be-In held at Golden Gate Park in January 1967, or the Magic Mountain Music Festival held in June of that year, which preceded by a week the more celebrated Monterey International Pop Festival—often taken as the announcement that the “Summer of Love” had truly begun.
Image: Bonnie MacLean. American, born 1949. Martha and the Vandellas, 1967. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Published by Creative Lithograph Company, Oakland, California. Purchased.