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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Concerts in Your Home

In My Life

If you lived in San Francisco or in the New York metropolitan area in the late 60’s and early 70’s and if you liked hearing live music, the Fillmore East and/or the Fillmore West were the best places to go to see every major musical act of the day perform. Owned and operated by rock impresario, Bill Graham the Fillmore concert halls on both coasts became a Mecca for virtually every popular musical act who was touring the United States at that time. The Fillmore East was often referred to as the “Church of Rock’n’Roll” due not only to the reverence the musicians had for the place and for Bill but also for the respect concert goers had for the old converted movie theater with it’s incredible acoustics. A night in the East Village of New York with dinner at the 2nd Avenue Deli and a concert at the Fillmore for me was a night well spent.

The formula for the success of the Fillmore was in part, the cause of the demise of the grand old lady. As musical acts became more and more popular, their fees to the promoter and concert hall would rise as well. Graham found it difficult to raise ticket prices to keep up with the artists’ demands and as a result the super groups gravitated to large arenas that seated many more people than the 2,700 seats in both Fillmore’s. Added to this was Graham’s disdain for musical acts whose contractual demands read like a novel. Graham came from a time when a handshake and a persons’ word were more applicable than pages of legalese created by overzealous mangers of self-important rock groups. In 1971, after approximately three years of operation, Bill closed the Fillmore East much to the dismay of all of us in the New York area who enjoyed being there with our friends as we enjoyed the best music on earth.

Although there were similar venues in the NY metropolitan area that looked like the Fillmore, they never really matched up, nor did they have the acoustics that made Bill’s theater unique. Perhaps, the best live album that has ever been recorded is by the Allman Brothers at The Fillmore East in 1971. It’s one of those albums that need to be in everyone’s musical collection (preferably on vinyl).

So once Bill closed shop, the era of stadium rock was born. For me, Madison Square Garden became the place to go for super group concerts. Sadly, the Garden did not have the intimacy, or the acoustics, or the essence of the old Fillmore. It also did not charge the same amount of money for tickets that all of us were used to paying. “Dig down deeper into your pockets” to pay for admission or buy a beer and hopefully afford a snack could have been the slogan at the Garden when acts like The Who, Kinks or Elton John would perform. A few years prior, you probably could have seen the Who on the Fillmore bill teamed up with Eric Clapton & Cream along with Miles Davis for ½ the price being charged by the Garden.

Nevertheless, the Garden was the place to go to see all the latest musical acts. The Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey competed with the Garden for the local entertainment dollar, but all shared the same shortcomings when compared to the Fillmore. The only difference was that they all could seat ten times more people than the Fillmore much to the delight of the rocks groups, promoters and their management.

As time went on, new rock acts came and went and new generations of concert goers materialized and soon none of them really knew about the Fillmore. For me, I tried to frequent concert venues that were more intimate in size than the Garden. In New York, we had the Bottom Line which was located near New York University on Mercer Street. I am pleased to say that I saw many acts there, but am still bummed that I did not see Springsteen on the night when his performance was reviewed as the “future of rock’n’roll”. The Beacon Theater on the upper West Side of Manhattan is still rockin’ today and is probably the closest to the Fillmore in many ways. Also living on Long Island, I frequented the Jones Beach Theater which was a delightful place to watch and hear a concert. Surrounded by water on the bay, the open air theater is cooled by the gentle sea breezes and when combined with great music, it makes for a great evening. Over the years, the seating capacity has been raised to 15,000, which is now far more people being able to see a live performance than when I used to go there.

My wife and I would go every year to see Crosby, Stills & Nash perform at Jones Beach. Their harmonies combined with the cool night air, adequate sight lines and a superior sound system always was well worth the price of the tickets in spite of the fact that it seemed to always rain when those guys appeared. One year, after we saw another extraordinary summer show with C, S & N at Jones Beach, we found out that Neil Young was going to join his mates at a concert at Madison Square Garden in the fall. We went and the difference between the Garden and Jones Beach were profound. The Garden was overpriced, the sound system was poor in comparison to Jones Beach and the crowd was unruly, to say the least. The music was fine, but the experience was not. Since that time, I have tried my best to avoid the big concert venues and have concentrated on finding smaller halls so you can really see AND hear the performers.

Last month, I interviewed Abby Ahmad for this column. I looked to see if she was performing in my area so that I could see her in a live performance. In addition to all her club dates, I noticed that she was performing at a “House Concert” and conveniently that house was located very close to my house. Since I didn’t know what a house concert was, I decided to go.

A concert in Your Home is simply a concert in your house. If you have a living room or any part of your house that can seat 20 – 30 people, you can have a house concert. The people at the Concerts in Your Home site help with the details, but it’s up to the house owner to select the acts, publicize the event and be host to the musicians & guests.

When we arrived at the concert house, a sign on the front door directed us to the back of the house. There, seated at a table having dinner was the couple who owned the house, four performers and various house family members. We introduced ourselves and had a drink and brief chat learning that Bob, the owner of the house was experienced in the house concert game and was happy to have another one staged in his living room.
Bob explained that the people at Concerts in Your Home.com list available talent on their website. You choose any listed performer who should be based preferably in your area, but that is not necessary. Once you pick the artists that you would like, you then publicize the event in cooperation with the site. You are obligated to give the artists a meal and a place to stay for the night, if necessary. In return, you and your guests are treated to a night of original music in a very intimate setting. After the performance, you are expected to “pass the hat” for donations to the artists ($10 – $20 per person is suggested – which is probably close to the cost of a hot dog and a beer at the Garden). The artists can also sell their CD’s, t-shirts, etc and will keep all of that money. Bob provided snacks and drinks and the performers provided a great night of music.

The beauty of having a concert in your home is that you can hear great music performed by talented performers in a relaxed setting. At Bob’s house, some of the guests brought home made cakes and pies that were served along with the cheese and crackers that were there already. It’s sort of like, music the way you want it to be. You can hear all the notes, understand all the words and get to know the artists on a personal level. It’s a great idea.

We had a wonderful evening at Bob’s house and look forward to staging a house concert at our home in the near future.

BTW:

You want to know how good the acoustics were at the Fillmore East?
These albums were recorded there:
• The Allman Brothers – At The Fillmore East (1971)
• Buffalo Bob Smith – Live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East (April, 1971)
• Chambers Brothers – Love, Peace & Happiness – 2 disc set; one disc recorded at the Fillmore East
• Derek & The Dominos – Live at The Fillmore – October 23 – 24 (1970)
• Virgil Fox/Heavy Organ – Bach Live at The Fillmore East – recorded Dec. 1, 1970 (released on LP 1971, on CD 1989)
• The Fugs – Golden Filth – Alive at The Fillmore East – recorded June 1, 1968 (released on LP 1970,
• Jefferson Airplane – Bless It’s Pointed Little Head (1969) – this album was split between the Fillmore East and Fillmore West.
• Jefferson Airplane – Live at the Fillmore East – recorded 1969; released 1998
• Jefferson Airplane – Sweeping Up the Spotlight – Jefferson Airplane Live at the Fillmore East 1969 (released 2007)
• Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsy’s (1970) & Live at The Fillmore (released 1999)
• Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs & Englishmen – Complete Fillmore East Concerts March 1970
• King Crimson – Epitaph – two disc set with three tracks recorded at Fillmore East Nov. 21, 1969
• Love – Studio/Live – live tracks recorded at Fillmore East (released on LP 1982, on CD 1991)
• John Mayall – Turning Point (1969)
• Al Kooper & Mike Bloomfield – Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes – recorded Dec. 13-14, 1968 (released 2003)
• Grateful Dead – Ladies & Gentlemen…The Grateful Dead at Fillmore East – April 1971 – (2000) ; a four-disc set taken from their five-night stint at the Fillmore East in April 1971
• Grateful Dead – Live at the Fillmore East 2/11/69
• Grateful Dead – History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear’s Choice) Feb. 13-14, 1970) –Grateful Dead Records released in 1996 a three-disc set called Dick’s Picks Volume 4 of the same two day concert
• Lorin Hollander Live at the Fillmore East recorded on Feb 23, 1969
• Humble Pie – Rockin’ The Fillmore (1971)
• Taj Mahal – The Real Thing – recorded Feb 13, 1971
• Miles Davis – Live at The Fillmore East; March 7, 1970 – It’s About That Time – a rare live recording of Davis’s so-called ‘“lost quintet” There is another Miles Davis at the Fillmore recorded on June 17, 1970.
• Mountain – Flowers Of Evil album – Side 2 recorded at Fillmore East 12/26/1970
• Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Live at The Fillmore East recorded March 6-7, 1970 (released on CD & DVD 2006)
• The Nice – Live at The Fillmore East; December 1969 – recorded Dec. 19-20, 1969 (released 2009)
• Laura Nyro – Spread Your Wings & Fly – Live at The Fillmore East May 30, 1970
• Quicksilver Messenger Service – Happy Trails – live tracks recorded at both Fillmore East & Fillmore West (CD released 1994)
• Ten Years After – Live at The Fillmore East – recorded February 27-28, 1970 (released 2001)
• Johnny Winter – Live Johnny Winter And – recorded at Fillmore East & Pirate’s World, Dania, FL
• Frank Zappa & The Mothers – Freaks & Motherfu*#@%!; – recorded in 1970 (released 1991)
• Frank Zappa’s Mothers – Fillmore East – June 1971

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