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.