The Truly Great American Music Hall

Nightlife, What's New — By Mary Polizzotti on August 2, 2011 at 12:16 am

One of my friends loves to go see bands whose names are totally obscure and often ridiculous. Ever in search of music-loving, concert-going partners, her Facebook posts often sound something like this:

Does anybody want to go see Eating Cheese While Watching the Grass Grow?


Last night’s Dirty Stapler on My Desk show rocked!


Highly recommend Rum in My Tummy Makes Me Sick, great vocals and hot drummer…

great-american-music-hall-interiorPhoto courtesy of ryancnelson/Flickr

Similarly, I’ve found that the Great American Music Hall has a penchant for booking acts with ambiguous names like the above. For example, the past few months have featured the likes of Architecture in Helsinki and Hooray for Earth, Civil War Rust and 5 Days Dirty, and my personal favorite – Cerebral Ballzy and Personal & the Pizzas. No doubt that any and all of these shows were awesome; but, without putting in the effort to research the acts and their genres, my interest in attending a show there has always been low.

Unfortunately, my ignorance led to seven years of living within a mile of the Great American Music Hall having never set foot inside. And this, my friends, was a tragedy. A last minute ticket offer to Steve Kimock recently lured me through its doors, and I finally laid eyes one of the most classically beautiful, historically significant, and opulently decorated live music settings in San Francisco.

great-american-music-hallPhoto courtesy of NicoleAbalde/Flickr

Sharing the same blighted Tenderloin block as Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater (the strip club with quite the notorious history), the 5,000-square-foot Great American Music Hall was built in 1907. The place oozes antiquity from a bygone era. Marble columns support ornate balconies and lavish chandeliers hang from the gorgeously frescoed ceilings. I was told that before they repainted, you could see the smoky orbs burned into the ceiling, remnants of when nothing but candles lit the intimate space. The venue has been home to a bordello, burlesque dancing, song and dance acts, and more recently, jazz, folk, and rock concerts. The Grateful Dead recorded their album One from the Vault on stage in 1975.


It’s not only the charm and allure of a glamorous heyday that make this place well-worth visiting; the acoustics are outstanding, which makes watching live music here a real treat. I may have been surrounded by sweaty, hippie mosh pits during Kimock’s flawless, folksy, acoustic set peppered with random Deadhead favorites. But, I have an appreciation for the Dead. I admit it. How can you not like China Cat Sunflower et al? (Well, if you’re a little square, I guess).

Gazing around the locale, I could easily imagine the boisterous and bawdy antics that occurred in bygone days – cigar-smoking Don Draper look-alikes with slicked hair and pressed tuxes; a women’s bustier pouring over the balcony, beckoning to the boys below; men in top hats dancing with women in flapper dresses and Art Deco cloche hats.  If I had a time machine, I would turn the dial to 1936 and hope the door opened into the Great American Music Hall.

Photo courtesy of Great American Music Hall





Tags: grateful dead, great american music hall, live bands, live music venues, san francisco, san francisco nightlife, steve kimock

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