The Great American Music Hall is San Francisco’s oldest, and arguably the greatest, live venue.
Located on O’Farrell Street in the Tenderloin neighbourhood, the grand old venue transports its guests back to a bygone era, with its ornate balconies, soaring marble columns and elaborate ceilings.
The 5,000-square-foot concert hall opened in 1907 and now boasts a professional sound and lighting system, two full bars, a modern kitchen and a spacious oak dance floor that blends the contemporary with turn-of-the-century elegance.
Like many other old venues of its kind, the Hall has endured various incarnations and reinventions. It starting life out as Blanco’s, before eventually local celebrity Sally Rand, known for her dance acts, acquired the property and re-branded it the Music Box. After long periods in the doldrums and surviving nearly getting demolished and burnt down, the Great American Music Hall as we now know it opened in 1972, and music lovers could pack it to the rafters once more.
Since 1972, the Great American Music Hall has hosted artists as diverse as Duke Ellington, Journey, Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Arcade Fire, Patti Smith and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Its unique history of first class entertainment- which has included burlesque dancing, comedy, jazz, folk music and rock ‘n ‘roll concerts- make it a must visit venue for a authentic rock ‘n’ roll experience in San Francisco.
Rock aficionados may know that several live albums of note, including The Grateful Dead’s One From The Vault, were recorded here.
Location: 859 O’Farrell Street San Francisco, CA 94109
The Fillmore Auditorium is without doubt one of the most renowned live music venues in San Francisco.
Named for its original location at the intersection of Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard, it was made famous as a rock venue by impresario and promoter Bill Graham. In 1968, Graham moved his concerts to a different venue in San Francisco, formerly known as The Carousel Ballroom and El Patio at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue, that he renamed Fillmore West.
In the mid-1960s, The Fillmore Auditorium became one the focal points, if not the focal point, for psychedelic music and counterculture. Stellar acts such as The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Allman Brothers Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Miles Davis all took to the Fillmore stage, as did British Invasion acts The Who, Pink Floyd, Elton John, and Cream.
Besides rock ‘n’ roll, Graham also ensured the Fillmore featured different elements of art and culture. The venue put on comedy shows, hosted jazz, soul, R&B and folk artists, and had poetry readings. The likes of Lenny Bruce, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding all graced the stage at some point in their careers.
The original Fillmore Auditorium continued under the name The Elite Club (which hosted a lot of punk bands such as Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys), before Graham began presenting concerts at the original again in the 1980s, until earthquake damage in October 1989 forced its closure. After much structural and rebuilding work, in 1994 the original Geary Boulevard location re-opened as The Fillmore. The reopening on April 27, 1994 was a major cultural event, with The Smashing Pumpkins, Ry Cooder, David Lindley and American Music Club providing an concert worth of the occasion, and not surprisingly, tickets for the show sold out extremely fast.
As of 2008, The Fillmore is leased and operated by tickets giant Live Nation, and continues to be an important venue for live music in San Francisco, welcoming major bands on their world tours and hosting the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Los Lobos (annually in December) for multi-night stands.
A must visit venue, for both its historical and cultural importance and for its continued hosting of the best the rock music world has to offer.
Location: 1805 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94115
Bottom of the Hill has been a home of live music in San Francisco since September 1991.
Located in the Potrero Hill district and chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as “the best place to hear live music in San Francisco,” the Bottom of the Hill is a mighty fine place to enjoy rock ‘n’ roll and alternative music.
Bottom of the Hill is one of the most active venues in the city, presenting the finest bands and artists seven nights a week.
The club is known for having hosted a huge number of acclaimed artists when they were still relatively unknown, including Death Cab For Cutie, The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, The Arcade Fire, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes and Neutral Milk Hotel, among many others.
As illustrated above, the venue features up and coming acts from around the globe as well a local upstarts, and spans multiple genres ranging from alternative, rockabilly, punk and hard rock, to folk, funk and pop.
Irrespective of music, Bottom of the Hill offers up a full bar, a late night kitchen and patio area where guests can chill and escape the crowded interior.
Having won the Readers’ Poll Best Of The Bay award for Rock venue eight years in a row as of 2011, there is no doubt that you will have a rollickingly good night at the Bottom of the Hill.
Location: 1233 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
The Warfield is a one of San Francisco’s most celebrated and storied live music venues, with over 80 years of history.
Located on 982 Market Street, it was originally built as a vaudeville theatre, and opened as the Loews Warfield in May 1922 before going on to feature some of the biggest stars of that genre in the pre-war years.
The Warfield became a concert hall in 1979 when Bill Graham Presents booked a two week run of shows with Bob Dylan, and it has been rocking- so to speak- ever since. Now operated by Goldenvoice (the creator of Coachella and Stagecoach festivals) the venue is building a new history to challenge its illustrious past. Almost everyone who is anyone has played at The Warfield at some point in their careers, and such varied artists as Faith No More, Prince and The Killers are still showing up on world tours today.
The Warfield served as a home from home for local heroes the Grateful Dead for many years, with the Dead playing 15 sold-out shows there in 1980 alone. Jerry Garcia also made himself comfortable the Warfield, performing a record 88 times there with his various side bands, when not touring with his premier band.
Holding around 2,250 people, the Warfield venue has been a San Francisco institution for almost 90 years and looks like being a thriving one well into the future.
Location: 982 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
The Independent is the latest incarnation of one of San Francisco’s most diverse and brilliant live venues.
Since opening its doors in February 2004 countless numbers of well known and emerging artists have graced The Independent’s stage, including The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Sonic Youth, Les Claypool, Damian Marley, TV On The Radio and LCD Soundsystem.
Of course, Number 628 Divisadero Steet has been showcasing live music in San Francisco for over 30 years, with The Half Note, Vis Club, Kennel Club and Justice League having all shared the same address.
But the Independent is the resident now, and has already made its case for being one of the Bay Area’s very best live music venues in its short history.
Location: 628 Divasdero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117
The Haight-Ashbury district became world renowned in the 1960s as the centre of the counterculture and hippie movements. The area quickly became synonymous with ‘The Summer of Love’, psychedelic rock and ‘free love’ and still holds onto that legacy dearly today.
While the earlier bohemians of the beatnik movement had largely congregated around San Francisco’s North Beach neighbourhood from the late 1950s, many who could not find accommodation there turned to the quaint, relatively cheap and then underpopulated Haight-Ashbury. From then on, it quickly established itself as the centre of the San Francisco Renaissance and the rise if drug culture and rock-and-roll lifestyle.
In 1967 Haight-Ashbury’s fame reached its peak as it became the haven for a number of the top psychedelic rock performers and groups of the time. Acts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin all lived a short distance from the now famous intersection. The area was immortalised in song- namely Scott McKenzie’s ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’- and many of the local bands and artists would become household names across America and much of the Western world due to the increasing media interest in the hippie phenomenon.
It should go without saying that a rock ‘n’ roll road trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to the legendary Haight-Ashbury district.
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
The ‘Grateful Dead House’
Committed Deadheads might want to seek out number this adress on a trip through the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, as it is where arguably the most legendary of all the city’s psychedelic rock bands resided in the late 1960s.
Yes, The Grateful Dead themselves lived at this very address from 1966 until 1968, and the house became a celebrated part of the Jerry Garcia-led band’s history, featuring in a number of pictorials of the band on the steps as well as being the subject of an infamous drug bust in 1967, at the height of the ‘Summer of Love’.
Of course, it should be noted that the house is still resided in today, and visitors to the area keen to take a snapshot should be respectful of the current occupants rights and privacy. Nonetheless, a few photos outside this noted address in the daylight should not be a problem at all.
Location: 710 Ashbury Street, San Francisco, CA 94117
The Grateful Dead aren’t the only band to have set up camp in the Haight-Ashbury district. The Grace Slick led Jefferson Airplane also resided here, just across from the Golden Gate Park at 2400 Fulton Street, a mansion which came to be known simply as ‘Airplane House’.
Soon after moving in the band made the decision to paint the exterior of the mansion black (perhaps through listening to the The Rolling Stones’ song too much), and the address soon became notorious for its wild parties as well as becoming synonymous with the whole hippie movement. ‘Airplane House’ got its full recognition for its place in Jefferson Airplane history when the greatest hits album 2400 Fulton Street was released in 1987.
Location: 2400 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94118
Janis Joplin’s apartment
Another former home of a now world famous musician, this impressive Victorian on 112 Lyon Street was the place where the late singer-songwriter Janis Joplin used to reside.
Joplin, of Big Brother And The Holding Company and solo fame, lived here during the height of the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967 and was regularly sighted on the steps and balcony of the house or walking her beloved dog up and down the Haight.
Rumours abound that the bedroom here was virtually a swinging door, with Joplin’s famed sexual appetite for both men and women.
And of course, lots of parties, drinks and drugs were had here.
Location: 112 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA 94117