It was 1966. In San Francisco, there was an event called the Trips Festival, where the burgeoning hippie movement conducted informal “acid tests” (LSD) while area bands played in a haphazard, rather chaotic setting. Jerry Garcia, guitarist and spiritual leader of The Grateful Dead, remembers his first encounter that day with “this guy running around with a clipboard, trying to impose order in the midst of total insanity.”
The band was due to perform, but when Garcia reached the stage, he found his guitar had been knocked over and irreparably damaged. “I’m holding it like a baby, cradling it,” he said, “and I look up at this guy with the clipboard, who says, ‘Are you The Grateful Dead? You’re supposed to be playing now.’ I say, ‘It broke. It’s broken, you dig?’ And immediately, without saying a word, this guy drops to his knees and starts picking up the pieces, trying to fix it for me. Everybody’s stoned, nobody really cared whether I played or not, but here’s this guy who doesn’t know anything about guitars, and he’s trying to fix mine for me. It was the most touching thing I’d ever seen. No matter how much he screams or what kind of tantrums he throws, with me, he’s never been able to shake that first impression of ‘Here is this helpful stranger.'”
That man, of course, was the late great Bill Graham, the legendary impresario/promoter who blazed trails and pioneered the rock and roll concert as we know it. He was a curious character with a keen business sense and a mercurial temper and, under it all, a heart of gold and a passionate desire to keep artists and audiences happy.