Bill Graham Clashes with His East Village Neighbors

Bill Graham Clashes with His East Village Neighbors

The Fillmore East was an instant commercial success, which led to a clash between Bill Graham and the East Village neighborhood radicals who demanded he “give back to the community.” The Motherfuckers insisted that the theater should be turned over to them one night a week, so the first “Free Wednesday” featured the Living Theatre performing Paradise Now. When one of the actors announced that they were going to “liberate” the theater, Graham ran onstage to stop the madness, but the crowd overwhelmed him and forcibly tied him to a chair. The psychodrama continued for hours, with Graham and the crowd yelling back and forth at each other well into the early morning. “The free nights at the theater were just drunken homeless people screaming and hitting drums. It didn’t last very long,” said Joshua White, recalling the combustible mix of people in the Lower East Side. Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East’s doors in the summer of 1971, citing the changing economics of the concert industry and an inhospitable atmosphere in the surrounding neighborhood. By the time it shut down, Joshua White had witnessed how drug consumption was shifting from psychedelics to cocaine and heroin, which created even more tension inside and outside the theater. “One of the things that I noticed right away,” he recalled, “was that even though people went around smiling and grinning at each other, there was a lot of anger and hostility there. It was not a good time, and it was going to get worse before it got better.”

From Chapter 19 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Fillmore East
105 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003