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March 8: Fillmore East

Lawrence Bush
March 8, 2010

01abillgrahamBill Graham opened the Fillmore East in New York’s East Village on this day in 1968 with a concert that featured Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), Albert King, and Tim Buckley. Graham (Wolodia Grajonca) was given to a Berlin orphanage at age 8 by his Russian mother in Nazi Germany. He was spirited to France, and then to the U.S. in 1941 as part of HIAS’s “One Thousand Children” kindertransport (the only unaccompanied children rescued from the Holocaust by the U.S.). His mother died in Auschwitz; a sister died on the kindertransport. A Bronze Star and Purple Heart veteran of the Korean War, Graham took over the Fillmore West in 1965, where he helped launch the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Otis Redding, Cream, and Santana, among many other major acts of the Sixties counterculture. He closed both Fillmore theaters in 1971 but went on to produce many large-scale rock concert benefits for social causes. When President Ronald Reagan announced his intention to lay a wreath at Germany’s Bitburg cemetery, where members of the SS were buried, Graham led protests, which resulted in his office being firebombed by neo-Nazis. He died in a helicopter crash in 1991. To honor his career, the San Francisco Civil Auditorium was renamed the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.
“Basically, it was an incredible two-year movement of people and energy. But you know what? There are still a lot of people I talk to who were influenced so much by it that it carried on in the rest of their lives. And I feel good about that.” —Bill Graham

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.