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Let's All Play Three Degrees of Bill Graham

Proof that the late concert promoter rivals Kevin Bacon in showbiz ubiquity.


To say that late Bay Area concert promoter Bill Graham had a profound effect on rock ’n’ roll is an understatement. He promoted some of the biggest names of the past half century (the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, U2) and overhauled the concert experience, transforming it into something far more epic but also safer (thanks, concert security!). This month the Contemporary Jewish Museum showcases his wide-ranging influence with Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, a retrospective of his life and career. By the time he passed in 1991, there wasn’t a person in showbiz whom he hadn’t affected, directly or indirectly. Here’s proof.

Once upon a time, circa 1966, Graham forged a friendship with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead (by trying to reassemble Garcia’s shredded guitar before the band got onstage), after which he managed the band for many, many years. Later in life, Garcia’s bandmate Bob Weir brought together fellow musicians from indie rock band the National for a side project called the Bridge Sessions, and he invited singer-songwriter Sam Cohen (who will perform at the CJM on June 23) to join on the guitar. Cohen has helped write material for Norah Jones, Trixie Whitley, and the hip shaker herself: Shakira.

Captain America
Back in 1965, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical theater group, was busted for giving an “obscene” performance in Lafayette Park. To offset the troupe’s legal fees, Graham put on a benefit concert at the Fillmore (his first as a promoter, it sparked his life’s calling). Velina Brown, one of the troupe’s members, moved on to Hollywood, finding herself in movies like Milk but also in rom-coms like Playing It Cool, starring Chris Evans—whom you may know as Captain America in the recent reboot of the Marvel franchise.

Kevin Costner
Peter Coyote (who will reminisce with writer David Talbot about the Summer of Love at CJM on April 10) was a member of the Mime Troupe who went on to Hollywood for a slew of B-list roles. His voice has become his moneymaker: He has narrated 189 documentaries to date, including 27 National Geographic films—and a 2004 A&E documentary on Kevin Costner, aptly titled Biography: Kevin Costner.

See Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution Mar. 17–July 5 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Originally published in the March issue of
San Francisco

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