WINTERLAND NIGHTS

by Bruce Krejcik

winterclose.jpg (34611 bytes)
another Jim Marshall
Note: The PA reflex  bin on the left with treble horn on top, the audience recording mike next to it, BBC cameramen in lower centre, the recording/PA reinforcement mikes. 
This is actually the Fillmore on March 7 but it's pretty close to the the way the stage looked at Winterland

I was very fortunate to be able to see Cream in San Francisco at Winterland in 1968.

The show on Saturday 2nd March was actually the very first rock and roll show I attended. I was a high school kid from California's central Sierra mountains, just 17 years old. I came down to the city by the bay to watch and hear the legendary Cream among the hippies. It was great.

This being my first concert there, I didn't know what the seating arrangements would be. The stage was set up at one side of the floor, with all the best seating being down on the very hard plywood floor. If you didn't get a spot on the floor near the stage, you sat in the regular seats around floor. We didn't know, so we lost our chance to get a closer view from the floor, so we resorted to the "standard" seating. Having been born and reared in San Francisco, I had been to Winterland years before, to the Ice Capades shows as a child. My memories, however, did not prepare me for the reality of Winterland twelve years later.

The seats, having been designed and installed many years before, were so blasted small my companions and myself could barely fit into them! We sat about a hundred feet away from the stage. Our view from that distance was not so good (although the light show was easy to see!), but the sound was not a problem. The bands on the bottom of the bill (a local r&b group called the Loading Zone, and I guess another band too, but I don't really remember well [Big Black]) sounded fine.

Cream was very loud. I was astonished at the volume. I had the Fresh Cream album, and had read interviews with the band members in "Rolling Stone." They were famous in a whole new "underground" way. I read articles about what Cream did "live," and I just had to go. I was still not prepared. They were astonishing, and completely different from any other band I had heard. They just roared. Cream performed material from Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears, but I remember only two songs clearly. They did "Politician," which was a surprise since I was not familiar with it. When they did "Sunshine of Your Love," the sea of seated bodies down on the floor below us parted, and a single young man heaved himself up to his knees in the midst and danced as hard as he could, being hemmed in on all sides. The irresistible force moved the jammed-in object.

Sadly, I didn't even know about the second shows bands used to do, so we left after Cream's first set.

THE NEXT WEEK

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Bruce Krejcik 1968, 2000
[Bruce is a bit embarrassed by this double exposure but I think its a great action shot! ]
Note: the recording mikes, the Fenders probably from the James Cotton Blues Band,

Jack & Eric in Jackets (ice rinks are cold but Ginger plays hot)   & the BBC film crew in right corner

Somehow I talked my parents into taking me back to San Francisco the next weekend (Saturday night, March 9th), also at Winterland. Forearmed with knowledge of the setup, I raced in and got a good place on the floor much nearer the stage, on Jack Bruce's side.

Eric liked to start off with wah-wah pedal stuff, and I remember them opening with "Tales of Brave Ulysses," but I don't remember what else they performed. Luckily, some songs from that night were recorded and released (see the excellent discographies on this site).

I just recall being flat-out blown away by the intensity of the whole show. The atmosphere before the show was electric with anticipation--everybody was so excited, in a state of high suspense, just waiting for Cream to start. Everyone expected something incredible to happen when Cream took the stage, and they got it. It is my belief that most of the audience there that night was local people who had seen Cream the night before, perhaps even the previous weekend as well. These people could have been considered jaded. They were in San Francisco. Many, if not most, of the bands of their time said they played their best in the Bay area. These were people who saw the best bands in the world, and they were really excited. They were riding the wave Cream was generating, and they knew what to expect.

Personally, I was immobilized. I couldn't believe the power of their music. It was revelatory, thunderous and overwhelming. Don't think I'm crazy when I try to portray the effect of Cream's music. Many knowledgeable musicians found it the same--including Leonard Bernstein! Between those two shows and the last one (on the Farewell Tour) I saw a few other concerts. Later yet I saw many concerts--many, at least, for a guy who generally had to figure on a 300-mile round trip. None had even close to the same effect on the audience. People were excited at other shows, but not nearly to the same extent. I was never on any other occasion so transfixed by a performance. Not by Jimi Hendrix, Blind Faith, the Who, the Band, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, B. B. King, Albert King, the Moody Blues, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour, Santana, Procol Harum, Rod Stewart or anyone else.

Every band generates its faithful fans, but the charged atmosphere at a Cream concert was unique in my experience--especially, for me, on this night. Remember, the fans recognized that Cream was unique. They were the first musical group to become widely known and hugely popular without a "hit record." They were inventing a new type of music (later widely abused by the less-talented and ignorant). An undiscriminating listener could consider them boring and wonder why they played "so long between the singing parts." (I heard that once!) They were powerful, ferocious, pioneering - without a stage show of any sort. Their appeal was not "cheap thrills."

The BBC was there that night, filming some of the concert [clips are on the 'Fresh Live Cream' video] . I was able to get some photos of the band when the film crews turned on their bright lights. Light shows were entertaining, but they made photography very difficult. Again I was able to stay only for the first show - it was hard to leave at that point, but I was only a kid and not in charge of my own destiny. This being only my second concert it was still heady stuff for a country boy, so I left happy.

Tech note: Fender amps are clearly visible next to the Marshalls, but I don't know how much they were used. Eric was playing his famous painted SG.
[It was common to leave the support band's gear on stage during the 1st set for use in the 2nd.  Usually they cleared the stage for the headliner for the 2nd set]

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Bruce Krejcik 1968, 2000
Note: Miking on the stacks for recording (BBC, Atlantic and reinforcement ie 3 on Jack's stack), BBC camera crews,
photographers, and the light show with the British Royal Coat of Arms

Bruce Krejcik 2000