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The concerts featured far-out light shows, uninhibited dancing and whatever turned young people on at the height of counterculture.
In 1968, Graham relocated the Fillmore to a better neighborhood, dubbing it the Fillmore West (he also operated a Fillmore East in New York City). He closed the West Coast place in ’71.
In the 1980s, the original Fillmore became the Elite Club, a punk-rock club, before the 1989 earthquake forced its closing. Five years later, it reopened as the Fillmore once again with the Smashing Pumpkins.
The current schedule remains remarkably eclectic. In June, performers include R&B star Kelis, reggaeton hero Yandel, indie-rock darlings TuneYards, jazz-pop pianist Jamie Cullum, British electronica act Metronomy and retro soul man Lee Fields.
Over the years, some classic live albums were recorded at the Fillmore, including those by Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, King Curtis, Traffic, Cream and, more recently, Lucinda Williams.
With a capacity of 1,100, the Fillmore, now run by the world’s biggest promoter, Live Nation, is still the prestigious place to play in San Francisco.
“For our kind of music, it’s the hallowed hall where it all got started,” said Jeff Mattson, guitarist/singer for Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band that has performed at the Fillmore several times. “There’s a cultural touchstone in that word ‘Fillmore,’ associated with the music I grew up listening to. Every third album I bought was ‘Live at the Fillmore.’ There’s just a great vibe in that room. You sort of feel the ghosts of all the performances that played there. … I strongly feel the history of the place.”
The sense of history is captured near the dance floor in large, framed photos of Miles, Janis and the early Dead with a clean-shaven Jerry Garcia. There’s also room for something completely new at the Fillmore — little-known solo acts and duos playing acoustic music on a tiny stage in one of the poster rooms during intermission in the main hall.
At the end of the night, two traditions carry on in the grungy foyer: free posters and apples as you exit. Graham himself used to hand out apples back in the day. Maybe after all that music (or pot), music lovers are hungry. Or maybe they’ll just want to pass the apple to one of the many homeless young people who hang out outside the Fillmore.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719