Storied Venue

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The Fillmore East, ‘Church of Rock N Roll,’ Recalled By Those Who Helped Open It 50 Years Ago

During 1967’s Summer of Love, the Village Theater at 105 Second Ave. was New York’s premier rock music venue. The Anderson Theater, two blocks south, competed with rock acts in early 1968. But the landscape changed later that year when San Francisco promoter Bill Graham converted the Village Theater into the Fillmore East. Most of Graham’s technical staff defected from the Anderson, which soon closed. Graham’s “Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll” presented stars that included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

The Fillmore East’s March 8, 1968 debut show featured Big Brother & the Holding Company with Janis Joplin a month after the band rocked the Anderson. The show also featured blues great Albert King and folk rocker Tim Buckley. Graham’s eclectic lineups exposed rock fans to the best of jazz, folk, blues, Latin and Eastern music and made the East Village the center of the rock universe. Competition from arenas like Madison Square Garden and increased salary demands from bands convinced Graham to close the Fillmore East on June 27, 1971. Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991.

The 50th anniversary of the Fillmore East will be celebrated tonight, March 8, at Theatre 80 in the East Village, and next month the Who will release a live album recorded at the Fillmore East in 1968. For an inside look at its history, we talked with some of the people who worked backstage and on stage at the storied venue.

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The Anderson Theater, Forgotten Forerunner of the Fillmore East

Unlike the former Fillmore East two blocks north, there is no plaque at 66 Second Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets to honor the Anderson Theater. The forgotten Anderson kicked off with a series of rock concerts sponsored by Crawdaddy magazine on February 2, 1968 with Country Joe and the Fish, Jim Kweskin and Soft White Underbelly, predecessor to Blue Oyster Cult. Notable bands followed in the months ahead: the Yardbirds, Traffic, Procol Harum, Moby Grape and Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin. Big Brother’s Feb. 17 show introduced Joplin to many New York rock fans.

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Musicians Recall Dylan’s First Big Gig and 25 Years of Music History at Gerde’s Folk City

Gerde’s Folk City, on West Fourth Street. (Photo: New York University Archives Photograph Collection)

Greenwich Village in 1960 was ground zero for folk music. Beat poets of the ’50s gave way to folk singers in Village coffee houses like the Gaslight Café and Café Bizarre. Musicians gathered at the Kettle of Fish bar and Izzy Young’s Folklore Center, which sold books, records and instruments.

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How Sweet It Is! Jackie Gleason’s Early Life in Brooklyn

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On October 1, 1955, The Honeymooners premiered on CBS. The classic 39 episodes of that first and only season would achieve cult status and be rerun for decades. The legendary sitcom starred Bushwick’s favorite son, Jackie Gleason, as bus driver Ralph Kramden. But before he became “The Great One,” Gleason honed his craft in Bushwick’s lodge halls and vaudeville houses.

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Fillmore East Plaque Unveiled at Site of ‘Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll’

Andrew Berman and Phil Hartman of Two Boots unveil the plaque.

Andrew Berman and Phil Hartman of Two Boots unveil the plaque. (Photos: Frank Mastropolo)

More than four decades after its closing, a commemorative plaque was unveiled last night at the site of the Fillmore East, the legendary East Village concert hall at 105 Second Avenue that presented the biggest stars of the music world from 1968 to 1971. A light rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd that packed the sidewalk in front of what is now an Apple Bank branch.
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‘It Was a Joint’: Jazz Musicians Remember Slugs’ in the Far East

Albert Ayler outside of Slugs.

Albert Ayler outside of Slugs.

Slugs’ Saloon opened its doors in 1964, a neighborhood bar owned by Robert Schoenholt, who died in 2012, and Jerry Schultz. By early 1965, many musicians who lived in the neighborhood convinced the owners to feature live jazz. The club rivaled the Five Spot Café as one of the top jazz spots in the East Village.

Despite its implication, Slugs’ took its name from the book All and Everything by mystic George Gurdjieff, who referred to three-brained humans as “slugs.” New York law in the ‘60s prohibited the name “saloon,” so the club re-branded itself – keeping the apostrophe – as “Slugs’ in the Far East.”
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‘We’d Found This Cave Out of Time’: A Look Back at Glam Rock’s Club 82

(Photos: Aileen Polk)

(Photos: Eileen Polk)

When Judy Garland, Kirk Douglas, Liz Taylor and the glitterati of the ‘50s wanted to walk on the wild side, they headed to the East Village’s Club 82, “New York’s After-Dark Rendezvous.” The notoriety of the basement club, at 82 East Fourth Street, came from its elaborate stage shows performed by 35 female impersonators. Strippers, dancers, comedians and singers, all men in drag, staged three shows nightly, seven days a week well into the ‘60s, when the novelty wore off and the club’s popularity faded.
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‘Definitely a New York Hang’: Jazz Musicians Remember the Five Spot Café

Until we return to our usual schedule Jan. 3, enjoy this daily series of longer pieces in which we unravel the mysteries and the histories of storied addresses.
frontpicUrban renewal plans are nothing new to the Bowery. In 1955, New York dismantled the Third Avenue El, the elevated train that ran overhead, in an effort to bring light and air to the sordid strip of dives and flophouses. The cleanup campaign inspired brothers Joe and Iggy Termini to transform their No. 5 Bar, named after its Five Cooper Square address, into a place that would welcome the artists, writers and dancers moving into the neighborhood.
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A Look Back at the Electric Circus, the Greatest Show on St. Marks Place

ElectricCircus6Few nightclubs exemplified the excesses of the drug-fueled ‘60s like the Electric Circus. Trapeze artists, mimes and jugglers illuminated by pulsating strobe and black lights created a psychedelic atmosphere; predictably, the Circus became the club of choice to smoke pot and drop acid. But the Electric Circus also presented a powerhouse array of rock bands, many of who would become superstars: Sly and the Family Stone, Dr. John, Deep Purple and the Allman Brothers Band all played the Circus early in their careers.
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Paradise Alley Was the Beat Generation’s ‘Oasis in the Middle of Chaos’

501 East 11th Street ca. 1940 (photo: New York City Municipal Archives) and today (photo: Frank Mastropolo).

501 East 11th Street ca. 1940 (photo: New York City Municipal Archives) and today (photo: Frank Mastropolo).

The senior housing complex on the northeast corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street hardly looks like a landmark of Beat culture. But there, at 501 East 11th Street, three buildings shared a courtyard where residents gathered to talk, eat and drink wine. Fifties-era hipsters called it Paradise Alley.

The complex first drew attention in 1958 when Jack Kerouac published The Subterraneans, inspired by his affair five years earlier with black poet Alene Lee. The original version of the short novel was set in Paradise Alley, where Lee lived, and used her real name. For legal reasons, her character was re-written as Mardou Fox, one of the novel’s jazz club crowd; Kerouac’s character pursues an affair with Fox at her tenement apartment in what was changed to Heavenly Lane in San Francisco.
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'People Loved It Loud': Rockers Recall Academy of Music and Palladium

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(Photo: the private collections of Jason Knox and Harold C. Black)

Built as a movie palace in 1927, the Academy of Music on East 14th Street, at Third Avenue, was a place where Lower East Siders would watch first-run features in grand style. Promoter Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to America, understood the 3,000-seat hall’s potential: in the mid-1960s, he regularly booked British Invasion bands like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Herman’s Hermits there. Manfred Mann, on the charts with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” would share a bill with the Exciters, the American group that first recorded the tune to little notice.
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