Wolfgang’s Vault is a Rock Treasure

win781231-02-fp.jpgConcert promoter Bill Graham was a well-known packrat. His collection of posters, tickets, t-shirts, backstage passes and other memorabilia sat in a warehouse after his death in a helicopter crash in 1991. In early 2004, entrepreneur Bill Sagan paid Clear Channel, then-owner of Bill Graham Presents, $6 million for the entire collection and began selling it online.

With five-figure prices for many items, the Wolfgang’s Vault website wasn’t a place for the casual fan – until the advent of Vault Radio. Introduced early last year, it offered free streams of songs from the Fillmore, Winterland and other Graham venues. In late 2006, the site began making many full-length shows available online.

The selection is a treasure trove of the classic rock era. The “Concert Vault,” as it’s now known, dates back to the first Graham-produced show, headlined by the pre-Grace Slick Jefferson Airplane. Early performances from Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cream, are presented in soundboard quality, along with vintage performances from era stalwarts the Grateful Dead, the Who, the Rolling Stones and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Wolfgang’s Vault has since added broadcasts from the King Biscuit Flower Hour, the King Biscuit-produced Silver Eagle Cross Country program and “Live from the Record Plant,” a series of radio concerts heard originally on San Francisco’s KSAN-FM.

The site currently has almost 600 shows; a small number of them can be purchased, mostly sets from B-list bands like Girlschool and Blackfoot. Apart from a 1976 Santana performance, there’s not much from the classic era. All shows, however, are unencumbered by file protection schemes, and fairly priced at $9.98 each.

The effort is not without controversy. In December, lawyers representing several performers, including the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, brought suit against Sagan, claiming that Bill Graham never intended to profit from his personal collection. Indeed, he’d discussed plans to open a museum with it.

“We have never given permission for our images and material to be used in this way,” Bob Weir said, complaining that Sagan was “stealing what is most important to us — our work, our images and our music — and is profiting from the good will of our fans.”

Wolfgang’s Vault countersued, arguing that the legal action was a ploy by the record companies to create new sources of revenue, calling it “frivolous.”

Company representatives, who did not comment for this story, claim to have artists’ interests in mind: “Based upon all the information that is available to us,” reads a statement on their site, “we believe that performers can earn between four and six times more from Wolfgang’s Vault per download than they currently receive from their record companies.”

Whatever the outcome of litigation, Wolfgang’s Vault is a must stop for serious music fans. Here are five of the best shows from their archives:

  1. The Police at Zellerbach Hall, 3/4/79 – They’d only released one album, which they played in its’ entirety this night, along with two early singles, “Fall Out” and “Landlord.” Called back for an encore, they’d run out of material, so they reprised the song they’d opened the show with, “Can’t Stand Losing You.”

  1. Pink Floyd at Oakland Coliseum, 5/9/77 – The Bay Area audience was a nice respite for the English band. Fans hung on every note and sound effect, rather than whoop during the quiet moments. Includes pristine versions of “Have a Cigar,” “Money,” and a sadly abbreviated “Us and Them” – the sound board tape ran out. Considered one of the best live Floyd shows ever.

  1. Fleetwood Mac at Capitol Theatre, 6/7/75 – One of the first live performances from the lineup that made Mac a superstar act, as they worked through soon-to-be standards like “Rhiannon” and “Landslide,” along with mid-era favorites like “Spare Me A Little” and “Hypnotized,” a Bob Welch tune sung by Welch’s replacement, Lindsay Buckingham – with a nice Stevie Nicks harmony. A rare glimpse of rock royalty back when they were still a little hungry.

  1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Berkeley Community Theatre, 3/2/73 – Opening for Blood, Sweat and Tears, soon after releasing his first album, the Boss is raw and relentless. Save for a two-song contribution to the inaugural King Biscuit show a few weeks earlier, this is Springsteen’s first full-length live recording. Standout moment: the unreleased (until “Tracks”) “Thundercrack.”

  1. Little Feat at Winterland, 2/14/76 – At the time, a relatively unknown act – ELO headlined this show – the Lowell George-led group has all the pieces in place here. A 22-minute medley, “Cold Cold Cold/Dixie Chicken/Tripe Face Boogie,” doesn’t waste a second; fans at the show (and on the radio) also heard “Willin’” done the way it was intended, and a bang-up version of “Fat Man In The Bathtub.” One of the most bootlegged shows of the Seventies, it’s also one of the best available for download.

Commitment to a Breast Cancer Cure

pink_ribbon_gs.jpgThere are many reasons Pat Budnick got involved with the Susan G. Komen “Race For the Cure.” Her years as an oncology nurse, for one, and the friends she’s lost to breast cancer.

But her commitment, evidenced by her status as a “Pink” (over $1,000) donor to the charity, and her work spearheading this Saturday’s benefit concert on the grounds of her Chester motel, can be described quite simply.

She’s keeping it local.

When I found out that 75 percent of the money stays in Vermont,” she says, “I knew I’d found the right organization.”

The Komen group, says Budnick, “gives money to people that can go give somebody a ride, watch your kids, get supper for you the night you’re getting chemo – things you need right now, right this minute, the day you’re diagnosed. I thought this was a real cool use, so I’ve been doing the concert for five years.”

Budnick says she originally conceived “Music-In-The-Meadow” simply as a day of music. “I’m a child of the Sixties,” she says, “that’s the way we did things back then.” Over the years, however, the show has grown as more people signed on to help. In addition to five bands, there are crafts, a flea market, the New England Dukes Cars group – even a moonwalk for the kids.

John Taylor has been there from the start. “You do this and I’ll come up from New York and I’ll do it,” he told his old friend. This year Taylor, who works as an editor during the day, is bringing a trio to perform.

Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, a respected Americana duo, headline the show. “It’s got pizzazz,” says Pat Budnick. “I don’t know how else to describe it. I’m excited about it.”

Julie Waters, who leads the monthly song circle at the Bellows Falls RAMP gallery, plays a solo set, and the father/son team of Tom and Scott Hitchcock, dubbed “H2O,” also perform. The John Sullivan Band rounds out the talented lineup. The show runs from 1 till 9.

It started as a brainstorm, my friends wince when I say that,” she explains. Her ‘brainstorms’ can turn into tsunamis, and friends inevitably wind up pitching in. “They say, oh no, what does she need me to do now,” laughs Budnick.

Then, she turns serious. “Having been in the field, and seen the devastation breast cancer causes, it’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Because it’s a disease that affects Mom, or a woman, it affects the whole family. Everybody is not only affected by it, but consumed by it.”

I’ve been lucky, I’ve been spared,” she continues. “I’ve watched my friends who haven’t, and their families, their kids, their grandchildren, it’s a horrible thing, and we need a cure.”

We need it now,” she says firmly.

The 5th Annual Race For The Cure Benefit, “Music-In-The-Meadow,” features Rebecca Hall & Ken Anderson, Fire On The Mountain with John Taylor, Phil White & Mike Leuci, Jule Waters, H2O – Tom & Scott Hitchcock, and the John Sullivan Band, along with special guests. There will be food, crafts and a flea market. Saturday, 1-9 PM at the Motel-In-The-Meadow, Route 11 West, Chester. $5.00 suggested donation benefits the Susan G Komen Race For The Cure, Vermont/New Hampshire.