Ten Behind-the-Scenes Stories From the Biggest Dance Shows at San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Kaskade
Mark Owens

Kaskade at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

As dance music was making its ascent in the United States starting around 2010, a new generation of burgeoning stars were graduating from bedrooms to small clubs to mid-sized rooms to larger venues to festival mainstages. This future class of EDM elite required big, but not quite arena-sized spaces as they climbed the ladder of dance music superstardom -- and on the West Coast, a major nexus of the scene became San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Erected in 1915, throughout its century of existence the space has hosted greats including Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and other stars of the city's famed late '60s psychedelic rock heyday. As electronic music become the sound of choice by the 2010s, bookings at the venue reflected the tastes of young audiences who were driving the EDM youth moment.

\While farther down the coast, Los Angeles was considered the hub of the U.S. dance scene, San Francisco was a crucial west coast tour stop and region stronghold. From 2010 onward the Auditorium -- named for the late iconic concert promoter Bill Graham -- hosted nearly every major dance music as they ascended to headliner status.

This past weekend, the venue celebrated its ten year anniversary of operation by Another Planet Entertainment, the only independent and locally owned concert production company in Northern California. Another Planet Entertainment also operates venues including San Francisco's Independent Theatre, Oakland's Fox Theatre and the Greek Theatre and UC Berkeley.

As such, Allen Scott, the Head of Concerts & Festivals at Another Planet Entertainment, has seen many of the biggest names in the global dance scene pass through the halls of the Auditorium. Here, in his own words, Scott shares the back stories on ten of the biggest dance music shows to ever roll through the venue.

Swedish House Mafia (2/13-17, 2013)

The first and only artist to headline five consecutive nights at the venue to kick off their historic One Last Tour in 2013. I remember the excitement of the call with about a dozen people on the artists’ team, including Amy Thomson their manager and Sam Kirby their agent, rolling the shows one after the other as each quickly sold out, something that no artist had done before at the Civic. I remember being floored by the energy in the venue and how every person there was singing along, word for word throughout the entire show. That type of communal experience is why I love this business.

ODESZA (12/10-11, 2015)

This live dance duo experienced a monumental step forward with this run, growing from playing The Independent, our 500-person capacity club, to these two sold out shows in 2015. They continued their ascent while returning to San Francisco in 2018, billed in the top six performers at our festival, Outside Lands. I was really excited for these shows as I’m a big fan of their music. I was really impressed to see the progression of their live show, and it was at those shows I realized how unique an act this was.

Flume (9/22-24, 2016)

This Grammy Award from Australia played three straight shows in 2016. A three-night, sold-out run was still fairly uncommon at the time; this was just before Flume was awarded a Grammy for his album, Skin. He had a great glowing cube production and he was frequently spotted scooting around the halls of the Civic on his Razor.

Avicii (June 28, 2012)

His Le7els Tour was billed as among the first "all-arena" tours by a dance music act. He performed from this amazing floating head with projections being mapped on the side of it, at times looking like it was melting -- it was really impressive. At the time, Avicii was right on the cusp of international stardom. Little did I know this would be the only time I would see him perform live.

Kaskade (7/28/12, 12/31/16, 12/30-31, 2017, 12/31/18)

Kaskade truly loves playing the room. He’s visited five times, and we are honored to have celebrated three straight New Year’s Eve’s with him. He memorably fell off the deck while addressing the crowd during his most recent visit, but gracefully caught himself, as posted on his Instagram.

Marshmello (1/21/17)

For this Friday night show, they did an intro video where he revealed his “true identity” as Will Ferrell for the first time -- everyone was laughing their asses off, and it was big news. That reveal video they filmed at the Civic has been viewed over 46 million times on YouTube. This performance was right before Marshmello entered the massive realm he is in now, officially part of the pop culture landscape with his collaborations with Selena Gomez, Halsey and Khalid. My son even dressed up as Marshmello this past Halloween!

Zedd, (9/16-17, 2015, 10/7-8, 2017, 9/19-20, 2019)

Zedd is definitely a favorite at our venue, having performed here six times since 2015 with a sold out crowd every time. We’re thrilled Anton enjoys our venue as much as we enjoy having him here. Zedd recently said, “Bill Graham Civic is one of, if not my favorite, venues in the world.”

deadmau5 (10/29/11)

While he most recently celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Civic this past year, the performance that really sticks out to me was his Halloween weekend show. San Francisco celebrates Halloween bigger and better than anywhere and deadmau5’ Halloween was an all-out costume party. Add in the infamous glowing mask, the cube and Fatboy Slim and A-Trak among others opening the show to make it the biggest Halloween party in town. There were so many fans with deadmau5 heads dancing in the crowd -- definitely a sight.

Illenium (11/22/17, 11/21,23,24/18, 12/13,15/19)

An incredible DJ who continues to grow each year. It was his third year in a row playing here -- his most recent 2019 outing in SF included over 30,000 tickets sold, with two nights at BGCA and a third at the new Chase Center arena. That is a feat that’s astounding for any artist, but mind-boggling for an EDM artist.

Jack Ü (4/12-13, 2016)

A DJ supergroup made of Skrillex and Diplo that came to be after the two producers performed at a private holiday tech party at the BGCA. Major Lazer had been playing The Independent that night and came over to this private party to play with Skrillex. When Jack Ü performed two years later at the Civic, I remember thinking to myself how amazing it was to see what this dynamic duo had become from that initial spark. Those shows had so much energy, and the performed from on top of a giant old-school Macintosh computer.

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