The launch of SFX Collectibles, a new unit of Bill Graham Presents, was announced by SFX Entertainment on March 15. The new site intends to offer "the world's premier collection of original poster-related rock, blues, jazz and soul music memorabilia." Located at www.sfx.com.collectibles, SFX Collectibles is a "vast array of rare posters, tickets and other items from 1966-1971," according to SFX Collectibles president Michael L. Krassner.
As reported earlier, SFX is a broad corporation that develops and manages touring Broadway shows, and sells Broadway subscription series and individual productions in 55 markets. An integrated franchise, SFX promotes and produces a broad variety of live entertainment events locally, regionally and nationally. In all, SFX has 122 venues, and owns or operates venues in 31 of the top 50 domestic markets.
The company that is preparing to buy SFX in a $4.4 billion stock swap, Clear Channel Communications, is even larger. After it finalizes a separate and outstanding $14.6 billion deal to purchase the radio enterprise AMFM, Inc. (as well as the subsequent $4.4 stock swap for SFX), Clear Channel will operate a total of 874 radio stations and 19 television stations in the United States. The company will also have equity interests in over 240 radio stations around the world. In its other significant business, Clear Channel operates more than 550,000 outdoor advertising displays,including billboards, street furniture and transit panels.
With SFX Collectibles, the rare posters, tickets and other items that SFX is offering were produced during 1966-1971, the nascent years of the Bill Graham era, which is considered one of the most influential periods in the history of modern concert promotion. SFX purchased Bill Graham Presents as well as other top national promoters during its recent, long-term acquisition phase.
Bill Graham's story bears mentioning because it was his sense of showmanship and the use of promotional posters featuring local San Francisco artists like Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse and Wes Wilson that set him apart and forever changed the way music concerts were presented. Graham started making history in 1965 after accepting an administrative job in San Francisco. It was then that he befriended the Mime Troupe and later organized his first concert on their behalf -- a benefit to support their fight against obscenity charges. Subsequent benefits and concerts for profit followed as Graham worked with the Jefferson Airplane, the Warlocks (soon to be the Grateful Dead) and Santana, among others too numerous to mention. He also established the popular Fillmore halls, east and west, and continued to define concert promotion -- from his consultations on the original Woodstock in 1969 right through to the 1985 Live Aid benefit in Philadelphia. Graham and two associates from Bill Graham Presents were killed in a helicopter accident in Oct.1991. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Santana, Aaron Neville and Oscar winner (and one time San Francisco mime) Robin Williams performed at a free concert honoring their memory. Today, SFX suitor Clear Channel Communications (CCU) is divesting itself of 72 radio stations to pave the way for federal approval of the $14.6 billion purchase of AMFM Inc. In the third quarter of this year, CCU plans to finalize the subsequent $4.4 billion stock swap for SFX Entertainment.
Meanwhile, by way of pursuing its "once-in-a-lifetime-event" marketing strategy, SFX Collectibles is hoping to tap well-heeled baby boomers, many of whom are assumed to be eager to be reminded of the musical and social memories conjured by the distinctive style of the Bill Graham era posters. SFX will frame various combinations of posters, postcards and tickets that are expected to fetch between $100-$5,000.
Back in the '60s, Bill Graham was a visionary -- a man who had dodged the Nazis at age 10, won a Bronze Star in Korea and later redefined concert promotion as big business. Ironic then, that while Graham saw his business model eclipsed by the advent of the ultimate juggernaut- corporate sponsorship -- one of the largest corporations in entertainment has put his original gimmick, the psychedelic rock poster, back on the block.
One wonders: Could even Bill Graham have predicted this?
-- By Murdoch McBride