Winterland in San Francisco was built in 1928 and served as an ice-skating rink while doubling as an arena for boxing matches and the like. In 1966, Bill Graham started using Winterland for concerts too big for the Fillmore (Winterland held about 5 times as many people). Over the years, countless acts played there ... off the top of my head, I saw Lou Reed, J. Geils, Robin Trower, the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, and Bruce Springsteen at Winterland. Parts of classic albums like Cream's Wheels of Fire, and Frampton Comes Alive were recorded there. It was the site of The Band concert filmed by Scorsese as The Last Waltz. Eventually, the sign outside the building read "Bill Graham's Winterland".
The sound was awful, the building was old, the neighborhood (Post and Steiner) nondescript at best. When Graham decided to shut the place down, the only reason to feel sad was nostalgia. I admit I was one of the sad ones ... I spent a lot of memorable nights at Winterland. It was a shithole, but it was our shithole.
Graham announced that the final month of 1978 would be devoted to a Winterland sendoff, capped by the traditional Grateful Dead New Year's Eve concert. On December 2, Van Morrison headlined, supported by Tower of Power and the now-forgotten Moon Martin. Tower of Power was only one of the local stars to appear during that month.
On the 15th and 16th, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band arrived. The first night was simulcast on FM radio, which made for a better-sounding bootleg than usual. Bruce was on fire (perhaps appropriately, his performance of "Fire" on the second night made it to his first live album). Whether it was the quality of the performance, the availability of the bootleg, or a combination of the two, that first night is considered one of his greatest-ever shows. They were also the only two end-of-Winterland shows we attended.
A couple of nights later, Kenny Rankin headlined ... whatever. Then, on the 28th ... SVT opened, a local band that had yet to record, but which featured the legendary Jack Casady on bass. Next up was The Ramones, and I don't think I need to remind you of how great The Ramones were at their peak. The headliners were The Tubes ... they began as a local act, but they had gone national, enough so that it made sense they headlined over The Ramones.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played the penultimate concert. Greg Kihn opened, once again a nod to local artists (Kihn had yet to hit nationwide). And so, to New Year's Eve.
First up was The New Riders of the Purple Sage, yep, another local act. The New Riders often featured Jerry Garcia in their earliest years, and had been a part of Dead tours for a long time. They made perfect sense for the closing of Winterland.
Next up was an act with no Bay Area connections. Honestly, I don't know why they were on the bill, except that they were at the peak of their popularity: The Blues Brothers.
The eventual Dead concert became legendary. They played three sets, somewhere in the neighborhood of five hours, into the wee hours of 1979. You can see/hear the show on The Closing of Winterland, released on CD and DVD in 2003.
Here are a few samples from that last month at Winterland.
Click here for the audio of the entire first night Springsteen concert: Winterland
Most of The Ramones set:
The Tubes with their all-time classic, "White Punks on Dope":
Tom Petty, "Breakdown":
The Blues Brothers tackle "Flip, Flop, & Fly":
And, what the heck, all five hours of the Dead, with half-an-hour of backstage interviews at the beginning (featuring "Alan Franken") and the traditional descent of Graham as "Father Time":