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All In The Family: Larry Reichman
One lucky Cornell freshman and amateur photographer had the good fortune of witnessing the magic of the Grateful Dead's Barton Hall gig before, during, and after. That fellow was Larry Reichman and in this edition of All In The Family, he gives us a first-hand account of the evening's festivities, shares his thoughts on why it really IS the "Best Dead Show," and details the recently launched kickstarter campaign for his Cornell coffee table book. (Learn more about that here and below.)
Tell us a little bit about how you got started with photography.
I started working with black-and-white photography when I was about 14. I got an SLR camera and taught myself how to develop film and print photos with an enlarger. I set up a darkroom in a storage closet in my father’s office in the garment center in midtown Manhattan, which I was able to use on the weekends when the office was closed.
I worked for the high school yearbook, and also had a small business with a friend where we would take photos at school sporting events and sell prints to the athletes on Monday morning. My uncle William Klein is a renowned and groundbreaking photographer, who was always an inspiration to me. Like him, I loved to take photos in the streets of New York City, where I grew up.
When I went to Cornell in 1976, I connected with a start-up, off-campus newspaper that had a darkroom. I took photos of campus events for the paper, including many of the concerts held on campus that year. It was great to have a darkroom I could use, and it was pretty cool to see my photos in print.
Grateful Dead fan or photographer first?
I think those two passions developed right around the same time, coincidentally. My friend Bruce, who was then and still is a phenomenal jazz musician, turned me on to the Dead in 1973. He got the bug from his older brother, and the two of them went to the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. I still remember one morning in biology class when he told me that the Dead were going to stop touring. I had just started going to concerts and was incredibly bummed to hear that I might not be able to see the Grateful Dead soon, if ever.
You had access to Barton Hall for the entire day on 5/8/77. Can you give us a play-by-play?
Sure. I had a pass to be in Barton Hall the entire day from the Cornell Concert Commission; I was not representing the newspaper or working for anybody. I got there in the morning as the stage was set up. Remember, this was essentially an empty hall, not a theatre, so everything had to be built afresh. I watched the lights go up, including the famous Super Trouper spots, one of which my friend Allen operated for the show (he shone the light on Bobby and Keith).
Then I got to watch the stage being set. The Dead crew put up the scaffolding for the PA system, and hoisted the speakers into place. All of the amplifiers driving the PA were hooked up. Then the band’s gear including the amplifiers and the drums were set up. I have a shot of someone I think is Steve Parrish working on a drum set.
Just before show time, the crowd started to stream in from the west side of the hall. People were running to get close to the stage, so after snapping a few shots I went to claim my place as well. Soon the lights went down, and that’s when it all began.
Any standout moments/memories personally or professionally from the gig?
I do have a few clear memories. At some point in the afternoon I was wandering around behind the stage. I looked up to see that the band had just entered the hall from the east doors and was just a few feet in front of me. I was too shy to say anything or ask for a photo, so I just nodded to Jerry and kept walking.
I also remember when the musicians were on stage setting up their equipment and doing sound check. I only have a couple of photos from that part. I felt that was sort of private time for the band, and didn’t get too close to the stage or take a lot of shots.
As for the show itself, it was hands down the best Grateful Dead show I ever saw. I loved the song selection. The band was so tight and the playing was inspired. I know people criticize the acoustics of the hall, but from where I was, it sounded great! I was about eight or 10 rows back, center stage, which was also a great vantage point to take photos. People debate whether this was the Best Dead Show ever and have explanations for why it may be. For my part, I will say that Ithaca, NY is a very special place, and this concert was held during the week after classes ended and before finals began, so the students were in a really good mood. As you can hear in the audience tapes, people in the crowd were very happy and having a good time.
Did you have other opportunities to photograph the Dead? Other artists?
I never had another opportunity to photograph the Dead. The one time I tried to record a show, I had my tape recorder confiscated, so I shied away from further efforts to document the concerts.
As I said before, I did get to photograph most of the concerts on campus that year. These included the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Gil Scott-Heron, Kenny Rankin, David Bromberg, Seals & Crofts, and Stanky Brown. I was in the front row for the New Riders and have some great shots of them. Maybe once I’m done with this project I can start to work on those!
Tell us about the coffee table book you are working on.
I’m making a book that is a photo essay of what took place in Barton Hall on May 8, 1977. I was just finishing my freshman year at Cornell, and was an amateur photographer and a huge Grateful Dead fan. I got to be in Barton Hall the whole day, and documented the setup and the entire show.
A couple of years ago, it dawned on me that we were approaching the 40th anniversary of this amazing show, and I decided to find a way to share my photos with Deadheads for the first time. I landed on the idea of making a coffee-table-style photo book that would tell the story of the day. First it will show the setup, including the stage and lights going up, the sound system and all the band’s gear being deployed, and a few shots of the sound check. The main feature, of course, is the photos I took during the show. I really love the opening sequence of photos showing the band getting locked in during New Minglewood Blues, which ends with a dramatic shot of Jerry facing the crowd, looking like a tiger ready to pounce. There are some really cool shots from the second set that show some movement on stage and the exciting climax during Morning Dew, and lots of great moments captured in between.
I’ve been working on this project for about 18 months. I preserved the negatives for 40 years and had them scanned electronically. I’ve selected the best images, and edited the photos. I’ve also been working with a graphic designer on the layout of the book. My goal is not just to present these rare photos as a document of one special concert, but for the entire book be a work of art. I’m working with an art book printing house in Rhode Island so the book will be something to enjoy, treasure and display proudly.
I’m ready to go to print, but need to raise funds to cover the costs of the printing. I’ve been doing some networking on Facebook, and launched a Kickstarter campaign. This part of the process has been fascinating and rewarding for me as I’ve been able to connect with Deadheads around the world. While I certainly have pride of ownership for this project, it really is a community effort. I will have a tremendous sense of accomplishment if I’m able to see this to a successful conclusion, but I’m really making the book for the fans and for the sake of history. In fact, I will be able to make the book only if I can sell enough copies to pay for the printing, so this is now a joint product of my work and the backing of folks around the world.
Here’s a link to my Kickstarter campaign where people can preorder the book at a discount and get some other rewards like archive quality photographic prints. I hope your readers will check it out and help me make this book a reality!
Are you showing your Barton Hall photographs anywhere else?
I’m thrilled to have my photos in the MAY 1977: GET SHOWN THE LIGHT box! Masaki Koike is a brilliant designer. I was blown away by the preview we got in the video reveal and can’t wait to hold the finished product in my hands.
I’m also going to be showing my photos in public for the first time at the upcoming celebration at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY on May 8. I’m really excited to see my photos projected on the walls of the theater and to be able to connect with Deadheads there. They also used a few of my photos in the mini-documentary on the Barton Hall concert that was shown at the recent 4/20 meet-up at the movies.
LARRY REICHMAN’S GRATEFUL DEAD
First exposure to the Dead/first show: First exposure was in high school around 1973, before the band took its break from touring. My first concert was during their “comeback” tour at the Beacon Theater in New York City in June 1976, right after high school graduation. I was able to walk to the theater from my parents’ apartment, and when I got there I saw people climbing up the fire escape trying to get in. I saw another show a few nights later at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ.
Favorite Dead Song/Songs: If I had to pick one favorite song, it would be Eyes of the World. I just love the rhythm of that song, and it has such a happy feeling. Just hearing the first bar puts me in a great mood. I also like a lot of the short rockers, like Beat it on Down the Line, Jet to the Promised Land, and of course New Minglewood Blues. I’m a fan of Bob Weir’s compositions. I like his use of different time signatures, as in Playing in the Band, and his approach to song structure.
Favorite Dead Era/Years: I would say from about 1971 through about 1977. Their sound had really consolidated by then and they had a fantastic repertoire of songs.
Desert Island Dead: I love their earlier albums, like The Grateful Dead, Live Dead, Workingman’s Dead, Skull and Roses, Europe ’72, Wake of the Flood, and Mars Hotel. Probably the last one I really dug was Go To Heaven. You’re not going to make me choose just one, are you?
Being A Dead Head Means… that the music is wired into your body, brain and nervous system. As soon as a song comes on, it’s instantly comfortable and comforting and triggers a wave of memories, emotions and feelings. With all the great lyrics in their songs, there’s always a good thought for whatever you might be feeling or going through.
Larry Reichman, Cornell
©Lawrence Reichman, GDBartonHall1977.com