It was a very sad day when Bill Graham died. But the music played on. And 300,000 came to pay tribute. Thanks Bill for everything you did, even when you were grumpy. Especially thanks for breakfast at 4am. Here's some for you all. Thanks also to John Neil and everyone else.
Michael Snyder PUBLICATION: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
DATE: November 4, 1991
Graham, who spent a quarter of a century producing concerts and benefits for the biggest stars in rock, died last week in Vallejo with two companions when his helicopter struck a power pole.
His funeral was held last Monday, but yesterday's free concert was his memorial: an amazing wake that brought together the Grateful Dead, a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, John Fogerty, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Tracy Chapman, Kris Kristofferson, Robin Williams, members of Journey and other stars.
It was the kind of spectacular event that was the hallmark of Graham's career. Musicians reunited, collaborated in unusual combinations and played each other's songs in new ways, as they had at Graham benefits for AIDS, world hunger, school sports and other causes.
And in a tribute to the organizational skills Graham passed on to his co-workers, the concert he would have loved to attend ran smoothly without him.
There were predictable elegies, but most of the tributes were wordless, as musicians expressed their gratitude by doing what they do best.
He made us look good,'' said singer Neil Young, during an eight-song set with the reunited '70s supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Their performance was opened by Graham Nash, who said, Let's sing for Bill'' and then launched into Teach Your Children,'' a gentle musical lesson on transmitting love from one generation to the next.
Looking out on the field a little later, David Crosby added, I haven't seen this field so full since we were trying to stop the Vietnam War.'' Their set was highlighted by Neil Young's Long May You Run,'' complete with a plaintive harmonica. People in the crowd were crying.
The roster of rock stars was evidence of the high esteem felt for the man who transformed rock concerts from flaky, haphazard affairs to professionally organized big-money, big-crowd events.
And the concert was a technological tour-de-force, put together in just four days, with clear sound and tight scheduling.
Bill would have been proud,'' Jerry Pompili, one of Graham's top executives, said backstage. He's probably running a show of his own in heaven right now.''
The concert also celebrated the lives of Graham's friends Melissa Gold and Steve Kahn, who died with Graham in the helicopter accident.
It began at 10 a.m., when the Dirty Dozen Blues Band, mounted on a flatbed truck, circled the Polo Field playing Dixieland music while crowds followed in traditional New Orleans jazz funeral style.
The loop ended at a flower-bedecked stage, offset with an enormous sign reading We Love You More Than Words Can Tell,'' a phrase from a Grateful Dead song.
San Francisco singer Bobby McFerrin then improvised off the Star Spangled Banner in his
singular style. He was followed by singer-songwriter Jackson Browne and by virtuoso Joe Satriani, who performed a rousing guitar instrumental with local bassist Randy Jackson.
Later, in a stunning collaboration, John Fogerty, former lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, sang the Creedence hit Bad Moon Rising'' with the Grateful Dead.
Carlos Santana eulogized Graham with beautiful soaring guitar work on one of Graham's favorite songs, the Tin Pan Alley standard I Love You Much Too Much,'' and then played Santana's own poignant Somewhere in Heaven.'' Santana was joined by Los Angeles barrio rockers Los Lobos, whose saxophone player, Steve Berlin, jammed on the Santana classic, Oye Como Va.'' When Los Lobos followed that with their take on the Grateful Dead song Bertha,'' the mixing and matching was enchanting.
In the late afternoon, the Grateful Dead, Graham's favorite rock band, played a climactic set, its high point a medley of Truckin'' and Graham's favorite Grateful Dead Song, Sugar Magnolia.''
But perhaps the most touching moment of the day was an uplifting Ave Maria,'' sung by sweet-voiced Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers Band, while prima ballerina Evelyn Cisneros performed an interpretive dance choreographed by former San Francisco Ballet director Michael Smuin.
Backstage, Graham's son David looked out over the crowd. The bottom line is that I never realized how much power he really had, how much love and goodness he brought out in people,'' he said. To see them out there gathering in peace and good feeling, in such numbers . . .''
Joan Baez closed the concert with an a cappella version of the hymn Amazing Grace,'' and the crowd rose for a standing ovation in Graham's memory.
The concert was mostly peaceful, but there were parking problems, noise complaints from neighbors and a handful of fist-fights and arrests for assault and drunkenness after the music ended and people headed home.
Caption: A huge crowd filled the Polo Field at Golden Gate Park for the concert, at which a steady stream of rock stars and friends of Bill Graham, such as Carlos Santana (below), played above a hugh photo of the concert promoter mounted on the side of the stage / BY SCOTT SOMMERDORF/THE CHRONICLE, (2) BY BRANT WARD/THE CHRONICLE