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Florida Holocaust Museum takes rock ‘n’ roll detour with exhibit on legendary promoter Bill Graham

Photos by SCOTT KEELER | Times The exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. Graham was a legendary concert promoter who fled the Nazis in Europe at age 11 before going on to help launch the careers of some of the biggest Rock & Roll artists of all time. Photos and the original letters from the famous Fillmore East concert venue in New York City are on display. SCOTT KEELER | Times
The exhibit, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. On display is an apple barrel from the Fillmore Auditorium, 1965-1971, San Francisco, where free apples were available to concertgoers. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Photo Courtesy of The Florida Holocaust Museum. Rock and Roll promoter Bill Graham poses outside of the Winterland concert venue, San Francisco, December 31, 1978. The photo is one of many on display at the Florida Holocaust Museum as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019. PHOTO BY MICHAEL ZAGARIS.
Florida Holocaust Museum Rock and Roll promoter Bill Graham reacts on stage at the Fillmore East concert venue, New York City, June 11, 1970. The photo is one of many on display at the Florida Holocaust Museum as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019. PHOTO BY JOHN OLSON.
The first poster created for Bill Graham promoted concerts was displayed at a Jefferson Airplane show, February 4-6, 1966 at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium. The poster is part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Various Rock and Roll posters for Bill Graham promoted shows in both San Francisco and New York are part of the an exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution. The exhibition opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
A photograph of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and a Doors, Joshua Light Show, and Ars Nova concert poster from the Fillmore East concert venue, New York City, 1968, are part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution. The exhibition opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
In 1985, Rock and Roll Promoter Bill Graham placed a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle urging readers to send letters and telegrams to US President Ronald Reagan protesting his visit to a military cemetery in Bitburg, Germany where Nazi's were buried. Days later, Graham's office was firebombed. The original personal plea survived singed from the blaze. It is on display as part of the Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Rock and Roll promoter Bill Graham plays a cow bell backstage at the Woodstock Rock Festival, Bethel, N.Y., as Santana performs, August 16, 1969. The cowbell and striker can be seen below as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Various items from the US Live Aid concert, Philadelphia, promoted by Bill Graham are on display as part of the Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Items from The Who, Fillmore East music venue, 1968, New York City, are on display as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
A display of the late artist Aretha Franklin photos and posters from the Fillmore West Auditorium are part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
A display of rock icon Janis Joplin photographs, her tambourine, and microphone are on display as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution. The exhibition opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Concert promoter Bill Graham wore this costume New Years Eve, 1980, at the Fillmore West concert venue. The concert featured artists Boz Scaggs, The Gratetful Dead, Elvin Bishop, Riders of the Purple Sage, and Voices of East Harlem. The costume is on display as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution which opens Saturday, August 18 and runs through February 10, 2019, at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Bill Graham's I.D. card from1939 can be seen with Nazi insignias. The card is on display at the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg as part of the exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution. Graham's mother and sister were killed in the Holocaust. Graham was orphaned and made his way to the US where he was adopted by a family in the Bronx, N.Y. His birth mane was Wolfgang Grajonca which he later changed to Bill Graham. He became a legendary concert promoter and helped launch the careers of some of the biggest Rock & Roll artists of all time. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Friday 17 August 2018 05.00

ST. PETERSBURG

The apples in the barrel arenít real. Even if they were, you couldnít just grab one and munch it, like Jimi and Jerry and Janis likely did decades ago.

But rest assured, it is the very same wood and tin barrel that sat by the door of San Franciscoís famed Fillmore Auditorium, ground zero for the rise of legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. It now greets patrons at "Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution," an expansive exhibit opening today at the Florida Holocaust Museum.

The exhibit is a very different kind for the Holocaust Museum, almost certainly its most pop-culture-focused. Spanning an entire floor, it brings together hundreds of Graham family artifacts ó including photographs, documents, memorabilia, multimedia clips and a psychedelic light installation ó to pay tribute to Graham, who from the 1960s until his death in 1991 changed the live music industry as much as anyone.

Why is the Holocaust Museum hosting an exhibit that looks like a wing at the Hard Rock and will next visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019?

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Start with this: Graham, born Wolfgang Wolodia Grajonca to Russian Jews living in Berlin, was a Holocaust survivor. He was a refugee sent to an orphanage in France, then via ship to the Bronx, N.Y., all alone, at age 10. His father died when he was an infant; his mother and a sister died at Auschwitz. The first room of the exhibit, just past the apple barrel, details his difficult upbringing and young adulthood, from his swastika-stamped ID card to the Bronze Star he earned in Korea.

"This is great to lay the foundation for who he was and his connection to our cause and our mission," said Michael Igel, chairman of the Holocaust Museumís board and a Bill Graham fanatic, who loaned two posters to the exhibit. Itís important to tell survivorsí stories, he said, but also highlight "the things they got to do after. Itís hard to find ways to tell that story because thereís so much sadness and depression in what we want to tell. This is a rarer opportunity."

Viewed through that lens ó of all Graham accomplished after fleeing the Holocaust ó his life becomes all the more extraordinary. He actively shaped San Franciscoís late-í60s radical hippie movement; vintage posters and photographs detail his involvement with countercultural forces such as Dr. Timothy Leary and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Some of it you can hear Graham himself talk about on the audio tour.

The bulk of the exhibit is dedicated to Grahamís career as a promoter and operator of the Fillmore Auditorium, Fillmore West, Fillmore East, Winterland Ballroom and other venues. Such spots were holy ground for fans of the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane and other bands that came out of San Francisco, as well as almost any other major band that passed through. The museum doesnít entirely take you back there, but by tacking up letters from the original Fillmore East marquee or recreating the venueís iconic Joshua Light Show liquid light display, it does the time-trip job well enough.

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The history presented is profound for anyone with an interest in í60s and í70s rock, and not just in the striking photographs (many by famed photographer Jim Marshall) and the trippy, bulbous-lettered vintage posters. Below a photo of Graham playing cowbell with Santana at Woodstock is that actual cowbell. By a beautiful print of Janis Joplin sipping Southern Comfort is her microphone and tambourine; nearby is Duane Allmanís 1959 cherry sunburst Les Paul from At Fillmore East. There are Keith Richardsí old boots, personally taped up by Graham on the Tattoo You Tour, and over there is Peter Framptonís white suit from Frampton Comes Alive!

By the í80s, Graham had become more than a promoter, though he still put together some epic events, including a string of Grateful Dead New Yearís Eve shows and the Bandís famous farewell concert, dubbed the "Last Waltz." He shifted a lot of his time and attention to humanitarian festivals and tours, including Live Aid, SF Snack, Human Rights Now! and A Conspiracy of Hope. Of all the incredible photos from this era ó and there are many ó the best might be a print of Mick Jagger and Tina Turner nearly intertwined, screaming into a microphone at Live Aid, with Graham just offstage in the background, a single finger raised in the air.

Just offstage and in the background: Thatís one way to think of Graham, described by one placard as "a man who played no instrument, could not really sing, and had not written a word to any song." But the exhibit brings the totality of his life into more meaningful focus, perhaps more so than if it were at another museum.

Toward the end, a section is dedicated to the 1985 firebombing of Grahamís office by neo-Nazis in response to his criticism of Ronald Reaganís visit to a German cemetery where SS soldiers were buried. Included are singed posters, personal effects, the remains of a model of a menorah and the charred proof of the full-page San Francisco Chronicle ad that prompted the attack in the first place.

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So yes, with its posters and costumes and photos of Bono and Madonna, "Bill Graham" is not your everyday Holocaust Museum exhibit. But it also doesnít feel out of place. And it may bring more people through the doors; collections of rock memorabilia this electric and enlightening donít come to this town every day.

All they need is a real apple barrel by the exit. You know Bill Graham would approve.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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