The entrance to the old Fillmore East on 2nd Avenue.
The iconic east coast rock theater closed its doors for the last time one summer night in Greenwich Village.
“The Fillmore East was rock promoter Bill Graham’s rock venue on Second Avenue near East 6th Street in the East Village neighborhood of the Manhattan Borough of New York City. It was open from 1968 to 1971, and featured some of the biggest acts in rock music at the time. The Fillmore East was a companion to Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium and its successor, the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Graham’s home base.Former name(s) Commodore Theater, Village Theater Capacity 2,639
Because of changes in the music industry and exponential growth in the concert industry, Graham closed the Fillmore East. Its final concert took place on June 27, 1971, with the billed acts: The Allman Brothers Band, The J. Geils Band, Albert King, and special guests – Edgar Winter’s White Trash, Mountain, The Beach Boys, and Country Joe McDonald – in an invitation-only performance. The concert was broadcast live by WNEW-FM with between-set banter by many of the station’s then-trend-setting disc jockeys – Alison Steele (“The Nightbird”) and Scott Muni among them. The Allman Brothers Band set was released as the second disc of the deluxe edition/remastered version of their Eat a Peach (1972 and 2006) album” (retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fillmore_East)
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That night my boyfriend Peter and I were tripping our asses off on some bootleg orange sunshine, arrogantly riding around in his big blue Plymouth Fury confident of our invincibility since it looked like an undercover cop car. We were rocking to WNEW-FM and I was blabbering away a mile a minute when I suddenly stopped dead midsentence and listened for a few seconds before scrunching up my face and saying to Peter “I never heard that version of Mississippi Queen before!”
No sooner had the words flowed past my lips, than DJ Alison Steele, “The Nightbird” came on and in her signature sultry voice told us they were broadcasting live from the closing of the Fillmore…and totally stunned I shouted to Peter “THEY CANT CLOSE THE FILLMORE…I’VE NEVER EVEN BEEN IN THE FILLMORE!!” I was just twenty years old and lived on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge just minutes from downtown Manhattan all my life. I’d seen Sly and the Family Stone at the Electric Circus and B.B. King in Central Park, but had never been to the Fillmore East where an entire universe of classic rock had echoed within those hallowed halls!! Without question, my loyal and obliging paramour immediately turned his super fly car around and we flew over the George Washington Bridge and downtown into the Village…or did we take the tunnel? Probably took the tunnel!!
Arriving at Second Avenue and approaching Sixth Street, there was a massive crowd of young, counterculture freaks surrounding the entire block, being swooshed along the sidewalk by a line of benign patrolmen who just meant to keep the crowd moving. We could hear the Beach Boys playing inside and the “good vibrations” were literally pouring through the walls. The crowd just kept coming back around the block swarming the building. Some were climbing up the windows and hugging the brick walls with ears pressed tight to get a good connection. One poor fellow was crying out “BRIAN WILSON, I LOVE YOU!!”
The electricity was overwhelming even from inside the car, so I had Peter drop me off in front of the building near the huge beer truck parked out front while he went to find a parking spot. The glittery cosmic freaks that were pouring in and out of the theatre all night long were looking pretty wasted, no doubt from the smorgasbord of psychedelics and gourmet weed being passed around and washed down with free flowing beer from the stacks of giant metal kegs that were being rolled in and out nonstop from that beer truck. I positioned myself vigilantly at the front door pressing against the sweaty, pulsating crowd, begging and pleading with the very large bouncer who was quite adamant that NO ONE without a pass was getting in. He was actually very good-natured about my relentless and somewhat flirtatious beseeching. He didn’t see that I was accompanied by anyone and I could be somewhat disarming back in those bra-less days! But needless to say, no one was getting past him that night!!
Eventually I saw Peter’s worried face coming towards me from within the thick of the crowd but I was sharply focused on the task at hand…getting into the Fillmore before the doors were locked for the last time! That bouncer was NOT going to have any of THAT!! Peter stood faithfully by me, making sure I didn’t get hurt or trampled by the frenzied and totally stoned mob. We stood out there for hours and hours listening to the Allman Brothers playing all their classic southern rock songs, looping their riffs over and over, winding up and down, trailing back and forth with sweet and searing trills that seemed to grab a hold and never want to end…until I noticed the peachy glow of the break of dawn at the far end of Second Avenue as it is inclined to do and the dusky pearl blue sky was beginning to pale. A long night on the streets in the city will leave you sticky and sweaty and smelling like a factory with dirt under your fingernails. The intensity of such sensual observances paralleled the vibrant ebb and flow of the waning psychedelics in my system.
I was starting to crash and now getting quite desperate. Okay, I’d been peaking for hours and now starting to come down but still quite in a transitory state of mind. With the little bit of energy I had left, I was determined to get into the Fillmore. The last of the people inside were now starting to stumble out intermittently, looking melted and wiped out, each one worse than the next. I wasn’t sure if it was the barrel sunshine warping my vision or did they really have that flamboyant make up and those exaggerated, pulsating facial features? It’s hard to tell in the Village, you know.
I stood at my post with the dogged determination of a pit bull. As the exiting fans started to thin and the last of the giant empty kegs was being loaded onto that beer truck, I looked desperately into the big bouncer’s blue eyes and just whimpered, “PUHLEESE…You CANT let them close the doors without letting me at least see the inside!!” After several more minutes of imploration and realizing that no one else was coming out, the big fella softened, looked around, held the door open and whispered “Okay, but just for a minute!!” I jubilantly jumped up and kissed him and without looking back for a second, ran into the dark, musty theatre and down the aisle of red velvet seats all the way to the orchestra area at the front of the stage where the stage hands were coiling up wires and breaking down the set. There was a feeling of sadness mixed with celebration as they laughed and sighed and went through the motions of their routines. It was a distinct aura I’ll never forget, something like your last day at camp at the end of the summer.
Figuring no one was paying attention to me at that point, I made my way up the side steps onto the hardwood stage and looked out over the darkness of the vacant mezzanine and up into the haunted balcony and took in the height and breadth and magnificence of the venerable and historic theatre with its rococo red velvet seats. I don’t think I took a breath for a minute or two.
Not quite satisfied, I noticed one solitary mike on the stage was still “hot” and I strolled over to it, tapped it lightly, and hearing the echo and a slight hint of feedback…I grabbed it, placed my lips to the cold metal, closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and to the best of my ability, channeled Janis, and slowly began belting out her raspy, siren wails of “Summertime…time…time” in my best Joplin blues voice. I guess I was doing alright for the first few bars, but eventually a couple of big, dark scruffy guys came and grabbed the mike, shut it down, and politely asked me to leave. It was about then I noticed Peter shuffling anxiously down the aisle relieved to be finally catching up to me and finding me safe and in one piece. In short time, we were scurried out of the building, the door was latched behind us and we stood outside with a diminishing throng who had nothing left but to just absorb the afterglow of a spectacular and unique experience. Later we drove home across The Bridge pretty much in exhausted silence as our buzz wore off and only a couple of good doobies could take us gently down. One funny thing about Peter and me, he introduced me to hot wild sex but I introduced him to LSD. We were quite a pair back in 1971!
Days later, I was reflecting on the whole scene as I listened to Alison Steele on WNEW-FM talking about the momentous night and others I knew who spoke of the Fillmore with such reverence. There were some who had been regular concert goers who were quite bereaved and some like me, whose lives were so wrapped in daily domestic chaos that many cultural icons inhabiting our very metropolitan area were just simply unknown to me so I didn’t really feel any loss at all. But then I realized something very strange had happened that night, that very night that they closed the Fillmore East, the night the Allman Brothers and the Beach Boys and Mountain played on that stage…that very stage that I grabbed the very last hot mike wondering whose lips had also touched its metal and belted out a few bars of Janis Joplin’s interpretation of a Gershwin ballad… …that very night… before they tossed me out and locked the doors once and for all …I realized that I was the final act that sang on the stage of the [second most] renown, iconic, grandest, damnedest counterculture theatre of ALL TIME!!! On a hot, musky, sooty, trippy hippie midsummer’s night in Greenwich Village in 1971, I was the last act on the stage…I CLOSED THE FILLMORE EAST!!!!! Smoke THAT Jerry Garcia!!