2005. Great American Music Hall Marquee sign. 2005 fundraiser and tribute for Chet Helms…hosted by Pete Sears, Roger and Ann McNamee, and Dawn Holliday.


2005. Great Amer­i­can Music Hall Mar­quee sign. 2005 fundrais­er and trib­ute for Chet Helms…hosted by Pete Sears, Roger and Ann McNamee, and Dawn Holliday.


Here’s a piece writ­ten about Chet in the Haight Street Music News by my friend Don Aters…Don was close to Chet.
Don Aters – Haight Street Music News 2005.

A Farewell For My Friend, “The May­or Of Haight Ashbury”……..Chet Helms.

He ven­tured to San Fran­cis­co amidst the tur­bu­lence of polit­i­cal and social unrest dur­ing the ear­ly six­ties with noth­ing more than a pock­et­ful of dreams, an affin­i­ty for equal rights, the dis­dain for bru­tal­i­ty and sense­less death of his peers in Viet­nam and a scrag­gly, pocked face teenag­er named Janis Lynn Joplin. From that hum­ble begin­ning, he rose to promi­nence as the leader of the noto­ri­ous Fam­i­ly Dog Pro­mo­tions, and in 1966 pro­ceed­ed to book the elite musi­cians of the day at The Aval­on Ball­room on Sut­ter & Van Ness. Chet had tried three unevent­ful book­ings with the oth­er leg­end of the era, Bill Gra­ham, but as a tan­dem with vast­ly dif­fer­ent ide­ol­o­gy, these jux­ta­pos­ing entre­pre­neurs would for­ev­er be etched in the annals of The Counter Cul­ture & “hip­piedom” dur­ing the apex of Flower Pow­er and the rise of psy­che­delia into main­stream “rock n roll”.

Dur­ing these neo­teric days of iden­ti­ty search for the mass­es, Chet Helms pro­vid­ed a venue for com­mon­al­i­ty aug­ment­ed by the musi­cal roy­al­ty of the day, i.e., Jimi Hen­drix, Jef­fer­son Air­plane, The Grate­ful Dead, The Char­la­tans, Quick­sil­ver Mes­sen­ger Ser­vice, Sweet­wa­ter, Taj Majal, The Young­bloods, and Big Broth­er & The Hold­ing Com­pa­ny, just to name a few. Always the con­sum­mate activist, he explored a myr­i­ad of ways to per­pet­u­ate and unite the mass­es, and along the way expose aware­ness to the com­mu­ni­ty that music was and is the com­mon denominator.

He once told me, as we rem­i­nisced about ”The Gold­en Era” that the basic dif­fer­ence between him and Bill Gra­ham was that he was still breath­ing. Actu­al­ly, the obvi­ous dif­fer­ence was Bill Gra­ham was a busi­ness per­son, and he did it for the mon­ey and noto­ri­ety while Chet toiled in vir­tu­al obscu­ri­ty while try­ing to expand the para­me­ters of the genre and the bond­ing of those who fre­quent­ed Fam­i­ly Dog Productions.

His impact and mal­leable per­son­al­i­ty can be clear­ly seen dur­ing the recent anniver­saries of The Sum­mer of Love (begin­ning in1967), when Chet brought back such not­ed bands as The Love with Arthur Lee, its A Beau­ti­ful Day, & Quick­sil­ver Gold with Joli Valen­ti. Last year at my show­ing at The Speed Muse­um in Louisville, Ken­tucky, Chet hap­pi­ly flew from the bay along with Tom Con­stan­ten as spe­cial guests and exud­ed the endear­ing witi­cism and charm he his not­ed for as he spent the evening sign­ing auto­graphs, get­ting pic­tures tak­en and con­se­quent­ly just being Chet, “The Sto­ry Teller”.

Many were cog­nizant of their efforts over the years but had nev­er real­ly met a liv­ing leg­end. We were to begin a lec­ture series on July 23 rd in Louisville, with posters, images of those who have paved the way musi­cal­ly, and the sto­ries that only those who were there know the significance.

I will soon be writ­ing a let­ter to The Hall Of Fame, to try and insure that his untir­ing work and efforts do not go unno­ticed and that his name will for­ev­er be not­ed in the ech­e­lons of great­ness and the folk­lore of the six­ties. I recall our con­ver­sa­tion a few weeks ago and we dwelled on what he has meant to so many but it’s not all of that I will miss. He was my friend, his jokes, his ref­er­ence and rap­port with Mar­i­lyn, his 3:00 A.M calls to just chat, menial things in the sands of time anal­o­gy but…..how do you replace a void of such a lov­ing, leg­endary fig­ure who couldn’t afford a coat for the brisk evenings of San Fran­cis­co or to wear to the bur­geon­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties of new show­ings and gal­leries? He glad­ly approved of those I brought from Leather­head in Louisville.

He was a hero of my youth, one of those that most aspired to emu­late, much like Jack Casady and Skip Spence. Strange how our paths would cross after a dev­as­tat­ing event that equat­ed to near­ly a decade of heal­ing and would ulti­mate­ly bring us togeth­er as friends. From thoughts of pre-med to the fleet­ing lives of musi­cal immor­tals, John Cip­poli­na, David Freiberg, Sam Andrew, Peter S. Albin, Pete Sears, Jack Casady, Paul Kant­ner, Lev­on Helm, Bud­dy Cage, Jer­ry Miller, Bob Mosley, etc. Much like Chet, it was a per­son­al choice, my mon­ey, my time, my skills, and nev­er wor­ried about how best to make these ven­tures into a prof­it mak­ing busi­ness machine.

His notes, images, posters, will become instru­men­tal as a book of his life will sure­ly become a real­i­ty some­time soon. San Fran­cis­co seems far less the allure now, and the rolling mead­ows of Gold­en Gate Park have become some­what emp­ty now that Chet is gone, and I hate that.

As chil­dren, all of our par­ents could see the “light” burn­ing as we grew old­er and our con­tri­bu­tions to soci­ety began to unrav­el. In the life of Chester Leo Helms, that “light” would burn until his untime­ly demise last month.

It’s been said before but with far less mean­ing, “there will nev­er be anoth­er like him”.

and as we bid adieu in var­i­ous ways, his abil­i­ty to reach out and love uncon­di­tion­al­ly per­me­ates the entire nation and has now evolved into the final­i­ty of “farewell to The May­or of Haight Ash­bury”, activist, entre­pre­neur and most impor­tant­ly, a friend that leaves a void in my heart…I will think of him often and will miss him with a lin­ger­ing, heavy heart.


Don Aters – Haight Street Music News — with Don Aters and Chet Helms.




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