Bill Graham already had a reputation when the first Trips Festival occurred at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco in early 1966. He was connected to the Mime Troupe.
I was there at the gate taking the money on the first night at the request of Stewart Brand, one of the three organizers of the Festival ( the others were Ken Kesey and Ramon Sender). Stewart knew I was a banker and we knew each other from the Portola Institute and the San Francisco State College Education Fair that I had put on.
The festival was too exciting. I couldn’t be at the gate taking money when there was so much fun going on. I asked Bill Graham who I knew as the business manager of the Mime Troupe to handle the money. He was known to be honest about money.
When he saw the overwhelming size of the hippie crowd and the wild music from the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Jefferson Airplane he was hooked. He joined with a good friend of mine, Chet Helms to start putting on hippie concerts. Graham continued that direction the rest of his life.
Chet was a gentle, tall, kind true hippie who brought Janis Joplin to San Francisco. Graham promptly screwed Chet when Graham got control of the Fillmore Rock Auditorium and told Chet to go to hell.
A few years later, after Chet had been running the Avalon Ballroom successfully, he came to me with a political problem. The City wanted to shut down his ballroom because the neighbors (imaginary people) said the noise was too loud and the crowd was making a mess. (All untrue. The building had super sound insulation and Chet cleaned the sidewalks meticulously.)
Chet had already hired a lawyer to fight the issue at the Board of Permit Appeals. The lawyer was Michael Stepanian who was a partner with Brian Rohan. Both were stoned hippies and pretty much useless. I told Stepanian to keep his mouth shut and say what I told him to say. Which he did.
I knew the Board members and approached several of them, me, a bank vice president, and explained that Chet Helms was a hard-working decent honest guy. His operation was clean and well run. I had the majority of votes for Chet at that point.
Then, into the Board room walked Bill Graham in a hippie clown outfit and said boisterously that he was the leader of the hippie music scene and said he had a handful of telegrams from prominent bands who supported Chet and the Avalon Ballroom. He threw the telegrams at the Board chair and walked out.
The Board was made up of ordinary San Francisco straight politicians. One was the president of Olympic Savings and Loan.
I knew at that moment we had lost. And we had.
Nearly a decade later the lead minister at Glide Memorial Church, Cecil Williams, where I was the business manager, had arranged with Quincy Jones to put on a concert on behalf of Glide Church. We got the Cow Palace that can hold 10,000 comfortably. It was certain to be a sell-out.
Cecil assured me that Bill Graham, a good friend of his, would not put on any competitive performance the same night. Of course Graham did just that with another black pop-jazz composer. We had to scramble to get 5,000 people just to look decent. Most of the 5,000 were from Jim Jones’ People’s Temple brought in buses.
In the end Bill Graham died by his own hand in a helicopter accident. Flying with his girl friend, Melissa Gold, wife of Herb Gold a friend of mine, on a very foggy night when his salaried pilot said it was too dangerous to fly; Bill told him to fly or be fired. They ran into a 115,000 volt power tower and were fried.