Rock N Roll High School: Bill graham

Bill Graham is known for being one of the most influential concert promoters in history. Graham’s dedication to uniting artists from diverse genres and communities led him from booking small benefit shows to large scale rock concerts.

Where It Started

Graham’s passion for concert promotion began when he organized a benefit show for The San Francisco Mime Troupe Theater company. After a performance deemed “obscene” it was shut down by local enforcement. Graham organized this show to raise money for their legal defense and to his surprise it was attended by luminaries like Sandy Bull, Allen Ginsberg, and The Fugs.  

From that moment, Graham’s path was clear. He delved deeper into concert promotion, specializing in benefit shows and gaining traction in the industry booking shows at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. In March of 1968, he opened The Fillmore East in New York City where he set the standards for large concerts. Later on that same year, Graham took over The Carousel ballroom in San Francisco, renaming it The Fillmore West, and then started a label called Fillmore Records.

The Artists

Bill Graham is the rock impresario behind the popularization of rock in the late 60’s-70’s not only in San Francisco, but across the country. Graham was booking iconic artists including:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Santana
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Janis Joplin, and more!

Notably, Graham played a pivotal role in the rise of The Grateful Dead. He first booked them for the second mime troupe’s benefit concert, and went on to book their first headlining show at The Fillmore Auditorium in 1966. He continued to book them not only at Fillmore locations, but throughout the country. His keen eye for talent and dedication to supporting artists contributed to the band’s enduring legacy.


Bill Graham orchestrated numerous groundbreaking events including:

  • Summer Jam was hosted at Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway outside of Watkins Glen New York in 1973. It was a massive  outdoor Rock festival attended by over 600,000 fans. It long held the record for “largest audience at a pop festival,”. Bill Graham was in charge of production and logistics.
  • The American Live Aid 1985 was a benefit concert produced by Bill Graham and held at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. It was attended by 89,484 people and raised $45 million to combat hunger in Africa. 
  • “Day On The Green” was a recurring festival  presented by Bill Graham and his company: Bill Graham Presents. It was held at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum. These concerts popularized the concept of single-day outdoor festivals.  

Today Bill Graham’s legacy transcends the realm of concert promotion. His visionary approach, characterized by a commitment to artistic freedom, social responsibility, and community engagement, continues to inspire generations of music lovers. As the architect of rock concert culture,  Graham’s legacy is immortalized in the joy and passion he brought to millions of fans worldwide

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