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Patrons of San Francisco’s lodestar auditorium Great American Music Hall have long rushed outside after shows to discuss what thee eff just popped off in the historic old barn. Nowadays, the tradition takes place post-Helado Negro, Broun Fellinis, or Destroy Boys. But a couple of decades ago, you’d catch the same movement after a Dead show, Journey debut, or that Robin Williams HBO special. Whether you’re seeing GZA perform Liquid Swords in its entirety, or ESG give their farewell performance in San Francisco, at GAMH you understand that the boards creaking beneath your feet are testifying about the past, and providing context.
Jerry Band, Sarah Vaughan, and The Tubes made this a living national shrine. Fred Armisen’s 2018 Netflix special “Standup For Drummers” was also filmed here. The venue is even linked to those Robin Williams hairy, sweaty moments of yesteryear. See how our fair “Ess Eff” is a sexy little metro hub with a bad case of ADD at times? This foggy old town with bright lights and smoke-and-mirrors trickery was built on a wink and a nod. Ya feel me?
The Great American Music Hall’s structure itself dates back 115 years. Its history and legacy were established during the 1970s, with rock and jazz shows from Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Merl Saunders, and too many others to name. In 2013, it was named the sixth-most-rocking small club in America in a Rolling Stone poll of artists, promoters, and managers.
Today as ever, GAMH thrives on the attentive, opinionated dynamism of a community. In modern times, we debate music on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Mastadon, but we’ve been swapping opinions on O’Farrell Street for a minute. Free-spirited revelers continue to flock to this 500-person capacity venue, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
That is archival clamor.
GAMH still operates as a thoroughfare of taste, marching forward with so much tradition intact. Run 100 percent independently to this day, it has maintained space an SF edginess that refuses to die. You can still find it after a savage show at GAMH. It’s right there, in the street.
Check out upcoming shows at Great American Music Hall here.