Updated January 11, 2016.
The first time I saw David Bowie perform was in 1972, soon after Ziggy Stardust was released. He played at Winterland, which was on the corner of Post and Steiner In San Francisco. It had been the home to the Ice Follies but Bill Graham turned it into a rock music venue. I saw many shows there. It was torn down in the mid 1980s
Winterland held around 5000 people but only 500 showed up for Bowie’s Ziggy show. The album was just breaking in the States. Apparently Bowie said he would never play in San Francisco again after that. But of course he did and I saw him three more times over the years. Each performance so different than the last. RIP David Bowie.
I probably went to more rock shows at Winterland than at any other venue when I was in my teens and twenties. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it had become the premiere venue after The Fillmore West had closed in mid ’71. Impresario Bill Graham carried on producing concerts at a series of auditoriums and halls including the Berkeley Community Theater, the Cow Palace and Oakland Colisuem. But it was Winterland that had the best shows every week.
Opening on June 29, 1928, it was originally known as the New Dreamland Auditorium. Sometime in the late 1930s, the name was changed to Winterland. It served as an ice skating rink that could be converted to an entertainment venue. Early shows at Winterland included the Ice Follies, boxing matches, tennis tournaments and operas but it was also frequently used for ballroom dancing and ice skating for the public.
Bill Graham, put on his very first concert at the 5,400 seat Winterland (which was much larger than his Fillmore Auditorium a few blocks away) on 23rd September, 1966, with the Jefferson Airplane, Butterfield Blues Band and Muddy Waters. Located at the corner of Post and Steiner Streets in San Francisco, it became the premier concert ballroom (after the Fillmore West) through most of the 1970s. The final concert at Winterland was with the Grateful Dead, the Blues Brothers and the New Riders of the Purple Sage on New Years Eve 1978/79. A complete list of all of the Winterland shows can be seen here.
Poster by Wes Wilson, 1966.
Bill Graham and son at Winterland. New Years eve ’72/73.
I recall being dragged to several ice folly shows at Winterland by my parents when I was a kid, but those chilly ice capades were nothing like the times I would spend watching, listening and experiencing up to three ear splitting rock bands, playing for almost six straight hours in a room full of sweet smoke. I started to go to Winterland regularly in my senior year of high school. My buddies and I would pick up tickets at one of the local record stores or from Ticketron, which was the main ticket source of the day. And at three or four bucks per show, it was an awesome deal. I don’t recall ever having problems getting tickets to any show I wanted, except for the Rolling Stones. I had waited in line outside of the Emporium store for eight hours to get Stones tickets, but the Ticketmaster machine got overloaded and I didn’t get any. A few days later, I received a call from another friend who had an extra pair. I got lucky. Ten bucks for the pair!
Over the years I would go to all of the other Bay Area concert venues; the Berkeley Community Theater, the much larger Cow Palace and Oakland Coliseum and Stadium, but it was Winterland where I saw most of my favorite shows. It was a beat up old building with dirty bathrooms and worn out details. Even parts of the plaster kept crumbling as the result of age and the loud volume of the music. Early on, I would bring my new 35mm Mamiya Sekor Camera, alternating between a screw mounted 200mm lens and the normal 55mm that it came with. I usually shot with GAF 500 color slide film which I pushed to 1000. The grain can easily be seen on most of the images included here. I loved walking around Winterland taking pictures from upfront near the stage and from the sides and upper balconies.
With my trusty Mamiya Sekor DTL 1000.
Winterland was a great big open ice-rink like space and even when packed, was pretty easy to manuerver through the crowds who would sit or stand on the ground floor. The upper balconies surrounded the entire venue with rock solid fold-up wooden seats bolted onto steep cement steps. Only twice did I sit up there throughout an entire show and that was for the Stones and Springsteen concerts. Otherwise I would roam the venue watching, listening and taking photographs. But that all changed at the second of two Kinks shows I attended. Being a huge Kinks fan, I went both nights. It also turned out to be the farewell performance of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks.
On the second night towards the end of the show, I made my way up the rear staircase to the far right hand corner of the upper balcony, a fairly empty spot where I got a birds-eye view of the entire stage and floor area. I began to unscrew my telephoto lens to replace it with the short one for a wide shot. As I got to the last turn, the lens slipped out of my right hand and bounced on the hard cement slab, rolling down about five or six steps, until it got wedged between two of the seats. I grabbed it, dusted it off and tried to screw it back onto the mount, but it was too bent up to fit. It was a goner. That was the last time I ever brought my camera to Winterland. I decided to just go and enjoy the music from then on.
One of the most memorable shows was the Rolling Stones with Stevie Wonder. The Stones played a total of four shows; an afternoon and evening show on two consecutive days. Pink Floyd in late 72 was also amazing because they played a preview of Dark Side of the Moon which wouldn’t be released for several months. And there was David Bowie’s Winterland bomb. I had just gotten the Ziggy Stardust album and loved it, so I went to the show and only 500 people showed up. David Bowie in 1972 with an audience of 500! I heard later he didn’t want to return to San Francisco after that, but not many people knew who he was at that time. It was a great show nonetheless.
Pretty much every show at Winterland was great and highlights still come to mind now and then. There were two other shows that really stood out; The Band’s Last Waltz, which included a full course Thanksgiving dinner all for $25 (watch the Scorcece film and play it loud) and Bruce Springsteen’s performance in 1978. Darkness on the Edge of Town.
But you cannot think or write about Winterland without mentioning the New Year’s Eve marathon shows with the Grateful Dead. I attended three of them over the years, including the last one on Winterland’s final closing night, December 31, 1978. It was with the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Blues Brothers. It was wonderful, lasting about eight hours, but seemed to go on forever….and ever….
Note: The following photographs of the bands are not in any particular order and don’t necessarily represent the exact bills as listed on the Winterland Marquee.
The Photographs: The Grateful Dead; Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Donna Godchaux & Bill Kreutzman. Hot Tuna (and Jefferson AIrplane); Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady. Traffic; Stevie Winwood, Chris Wood & Jim Capaldi. John Martyn. Free; Paul Rodgers (later in Bad Company). Neil Young, Linda Ronstandt, David Crosby. The Kinks; Ray Davies, John Dalton & Mick Avory. Dan Hick the his Hot Licks; Dan Hicks, Naomi Ruth Eisenberg. The Mothers of Invention; Frank Zappa & Jean Luc-Ponty. Michael Bloomfield. Steve Miller. Ten Years After; Alvin Lee.
All marquee and concert photographs © Norman Maslov
© Norman Maslov
Winterland was torn down in 1985.