The Fillmore Concert Poster:
Anyone who knows me, I mean really knows me, knows that I am obsessed with Fillmore concert posters. While studying history in college I learned about the artwork done for the first rock concerts and I was hooked like an old history teacher starting a Civil War relic collection.
What are Fillmore posters you ask? Well, in the early sixties while Ken Kesey was a grad student in
Who are they you ask? They were a folk-Americana group that dressed like they just stepped out of a Hollywood Western. Their music wasn’t very good, which is why you hear more about the band who played for the Pranksters later, The Grateful Dead.
“The Seed” as a concert poster is not really that earth shattering as it is kind of cartoonish and only done in black and white. What Wes Wilson was producing for The Beatles last show in
All of these people collided at the Fillmore Auditorium in
In reality, this whole movement started in the forties with a few outcasts later called Beats. Then, in the sixties, due to home videos not having sound the Pranksters had a band called The Warlocks play for “ambiance.” That band, as opposed to The Charlatans, you have heard of as they are known now, The Grateful Dead. In the end it was all about home movies, a literary scholar or two calling it “The Acid Tests”, and a young Bill Graham seeing dollar signs flashing everywhere that created the Fillmore scene.
Very quickly after the first test by Kesey, Graham began producing shows at The Fillmore featuring the Merry Pranksters and other acts. Ken Kesey had begun to run into legal troubles and soon he was faking his own death. Graham created a dance hall atmosphere with balloons on the floor, apples to munch on, and a safe environment for everyone. He also wanted a flyer that promoted the bands playing to young people. Wes Wilson was called upon to create the first Fillmore posters and he also did all of the first Family Dog’s produced show posters.
The Family Dog was a group of hippies who were the opposite of
While the Family Dog also threw their first shows at the Fillmore, they found their own home at the Avalon Ballroom after being pushed out by Graham. Chet Helms ran the Family Dog and soon he went back home to Texas to get Janis Joplin to come out and play for a band at his ballroom called Big Brother and the Holding Company. She had been out in San Fran already in the early sixties trying to make it as a folk singer and had returned to
The Family Dog posters number significantly fewer than Fillmores, but they are more true to the philosophy of hippie ideals and “The Seed.” Wes Wilson did the first few concert posters for the Avalon Ballroom too, but he was soon replaced by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse. Helms wanted control over his posters, and most of the early ones followed a theme. They are slightly western, but with cut-out pictures from very old magazines. This is an entirely different kind of art from the Fillmore posters that Wes Wilson was freely making without any restrictions or input. Graham knew the people loved the free expression that was being germinated in 1966 and let
There were two other artists, Rick Griffin and Victor Moscosso, who joined the elite club and soon they were all known as the “Big Five.”
Balin’s band, Jefferson Airplane, was the house band of the Fillmore in the early years. This was pre and post Grace Slick and Graham even tried to manage the Airplane for a period of time. The Airplane shot to fame after Slick left The Great Society, bringing with her the songs “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love.”
One forgotten artist from the “Big Five” was Bonnie Maclean. She was Graham’s wife and did many posters that are very well known today. She helped run the Fillmore and is usually not given the same credit as the male artists, but she was just as earth shattering.
Later artists came along in 1968 after
Other artists carried on the flame, but this is how it all kind of started. Today, a website (www.wolfgangsvault.com) owns all of the rights to the Fillmore posters, and also all of Bill Graham’s possessions and collections. They are being sold piecemeal through the site, which is owned by a former Minnesotan.