Fillmore Concert Posters

When I was 18 I visited a habadashery in Elk River, MN looking for odd antiques. Surrounded by albums from the 1960s, incence holders and 8-tracks, was a small painting about the size of a postcard. When I looked at it closer I could barely read the names, "The Grateful Dead" written in fire. There was a date and some othere information, but the card was torn and not in very good condition. The price-tag also said $30, so it was a bit much for something so tattered. When I asked the clerk about what it was the story that followed captured me.

The owner of the establishment had grown up in San Francisco and he told me that these were advertisemnts sent out to promote shows being played at the Fillmore West back in the 1960s. As I researched I learned much more about these peices of art and soon I began to collect them. The full information I later learned was that these were handbills and were a portion of Bill Graham's Fillmore Concert Posters series.

For those of you who don't know the history of rock, let me tell you a few short things. In the mid-sixties there was one ballroom that was the center of the artistic universe, and that ballroom was the Fillmore West in San Francisco. It all started when Ken Kesey had his, "Can You Pass The Acid Test" events in 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium. The Pranksters, as Kesey called his crew, needed a venue to show the movie they had made driving across the country to meet Timothy Leary. The music was played by The Grateful Dead at the event, but at that time they were still called The Warlocks. It is too much for one section, but this evening changed the course of history.

The Fillmore Posters and handbills were concert advertisements that were hand-painted, small print run creations, by California artists. They also went on to become the images that define "Psychedelic" and a revolution in lettering. They were printed onto special paper for lithography and only a certain number of each one were originally made. The colors the artist chose, the new lettering forms (Rick Griffin designed the classic "Rolling Stone" lettering), were all groundbreaking movements. Wes Wilson, the first Fillmore West artist back in 1965 tried to recreate asian writing and came up with a drippy sort of font that is seen all over today.

The problem was that in the 1960s although LSD was legal, the owners didn't want to place an add in the newspaper to advertise ACID ROCK, or whatever you wanted to call the events. They would have a pianter make signs that required the viewer to walk up to the piece and have to find the lettering. Most printings were a few thousand and then many were never printed again. A great site to see some of these posters is this If you click on the posters he tells a bit about his experiences and has a book for sale. On my web site there is an interview with Paul Olsen about growing up on the Haight and his experiences.

While Fillmore posters are a bit more vivid than Family Dog/Avalon (Chet Helms ran this where Janis Joplin was in the house band) or Matrix (the club in Fear & Loathing run by Marty Balin) posters it really depends on the artist. The Fillmore ran from 1966 until 1971, and there is a GREAT BOOK with ALL of the posters displayed in color. The book has many stories on the artists as well as the bands they covered, it's called Art of the Fillmore:1966-1971.

If you love a band from the sixties or seventies there is a poster to match. There are a few sites that sell the posters out of San Francisco. The ones's I have trusted are listed here, but be careful if you go on a place like Ebay. There were several printings of many posters and a first or second can be the difference of thousands of dollars. There are books like the Art of Rock that can help you understand differences in printings to watch for. Some are obvious like a 31-2 at the bottom, but others are more difficult to detect.

These beautiful posters are displayed on my web-site and can be found by searching the internet. The one's on my web-site I have collected over the years. I became hooked when I saw the one in a Doors article. It is called BG-99 and was only printed once. It has The Doors, Chuck Berry, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding company, and a few more.

I believe that this is the future art that people will be climbing over each other to collect. I have mine framed and they are beautiful. For beginners start with the book ART OF THE FILLMORE. At the book is cheap, or order it from a local bookstore. It is the best book to have on the coffee table, and the posters are colorful and remenicent of Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol.

Imagine stripping the paint off of a bad painting and finding something original on the canvas underneath? Wash away Disco, Huge Stadium Coporate Monster Shows, Hair-Bands, a pinch of Alternative, and Hip - Hop Pop Bubblegum Plop and you have the original colorful artwork. Vibrant, innocent, and beautiful you find something you have never seen before.

A few sites to purchase REAL Fillmore Posters and learn more information:

A great link to the artists, with contact information: