Avalon Ballroom





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In 1966, after splitting his brief partnership with Bill Graham, Texan transplant Chet Helms rented the ballroom, originally opened as the Puckett Academy of Dance in 1911, for $800 a month.

For the next two years, Helms presented Dionysian revels every weekend featuring bands all but unknown outside certain neighborhoods in San Francisco. They all had funny names such as the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Daily Flash, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Before long, the Avalon Ballroom was known around the world as the crucible of the new San Francisco rock.

Helms also managed Big Brother and the Holding Company and, when the band decided the group needed a female vocalist, Helms summoned an old friend from Austin named Janis Joplin.

But Helms lacked Graham's capitalist instincts. He was a hippie zealot with a missionary's dedication. Although the Avalon was known as a far more authentic alternative to Graham's more commercial Fillmore Auditorium operation -- Joplin once famously earned Graham's ire by saying the Fillmore was "a place where sailors go to get laid" -- Helms' business ultimately foundered. By November 1968, after the city pulled his sound permits, he was looking elsewhere for a place to throw his shows.