Street Sax Musician


“I’ve got two extra tickets!”

Oh how we love that phrase.  Nothing activates our dopamine like someone having two extra tickets to an event we desperately want to see.

The thing is,  I didn’t desperately want to see this event.  In fact I had never heard of this person.  Is he a singer? or a magician? or a poet? or a psychic? or a self-help guru? or an evangelist? or a fund-raising politician?

My first reply was “Yes, I will take the tickets.”  My second response was “Who is Sturgill Simpson?” I guess that is why they call it dope-amine.

It wasn’t until after I accepted the invite, that I asked my wife. She was in the throes of PMS…Post Mental Shutdown, since it was after 10:00 at night. She did not put up a fight.

As we neared the destination of the concert, I reminded her that the tickets cost $40.00 each.  She did not recall that conversation from the previous night.  She then put up a fight.

We found our seats in the balcony, behind what I could only describe as a bigg’un. This guy was wearing a local motorcycle group’s shirt that had to be made by a local quilting circle.  If a Vietnamese child would have made this shirt, she would have taken it home to be the new roof of her house.

Bigg’un was waving a fifth of bourbon for all to see.  Amazingly, the liquid was reduced  down to a few tablespoons.  It didn’t take long to know where the rest of the missing libation was residing.  He turned out to be entertaining, just part of the ticket price.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sturgill Simpson and his band.  I tried to describe his music that night to a friend.  It was as if the tour buses of Dwight Yoakum, Tower of Power, and Southside Johnny collided at a New Orleans intersection.  There was a mixup and these musicians staggered onto a bus and kept touring.

I took this photo of a street musician in Boston near Faneuil Hall.  I love to listen to good street musicians.  They add so much to the essence and spirit of the city.

I like the fact that the musician’s face is hidden, that it could be any street musician.  Also since I did not get permission to use this, my attorney was happy that the musician can’t be recognized.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.





J. Geils



I stood outside Wetherby Gymnasium feeling all grown up.   I could smell the excitement, the freedom, an occassional whiff of Smashburgers from the Dairy Cheer across the street and dirty denim.  There was also a strange smell, like burning rope, but not any kind of rope I had smelled burning before.  There was also the smell of what I remember Crosley Field smelling like when someone spilled a beer.

I was fourteen and it was the spring of 1972.  I was waiting  to see Rare Earth in concert.  This was to be my first true rock concert.  I rode to Morehead with a friend who was a junior in high school and was way too cool to be spending time with me, a lowly freshman. We came to the campus of Morehead State University to meet my brother.  He was a freshman at MSU and was living the dream, eating out three times a day, letting his hair grow out, going to rock concerts, and hanging out with college girls.

On this particular night, I was like my brother…living the dream or whatever you would call a 5 foot, 120 pound, near-sighted bantam standing amid a massive horde of college students.  Oh, and I did not have a ticket.  My brother, in his new  college wisdom, told me I would not need one.  He said when the doors open, the crowd moves so fast through the openings, the ticket takers don’t even try.

I felt the mass moving.  I looked up and all I saw was afros and beards and pony tails moving slowly against a cloudy sky.  Then a strange feeling came over me…I was floating.  I looked down and saw my feet were not attached to the earth anymore.  I was being carried by this throng toward the doors and all I could think about was staying upright.  This was my first experience with festival seating for rock concerts.

My feet never hit the ground until we were past the doors and inside.  At this point, it looked like a sprint for people with  no sense of direction.  We went everywhere.  My little group settled in the seats on the side, awaiting one of the hottest rock bands of the day.

There was rain in the forecast, but I don’t think cataclysmic gulley-washer was ever mentioned…for it came one…a big one.  Water filled the hallways of Wetherby Gymnasium so fast, I thought I was seeing animals coming in two by two.  But it was just the football team.

Some of the more chemically engineered students were body surfing out in the halls and concession areas.

There was some concern as to whether the band would go on due to all the water in the building.  Evidently the electrical engineering department was among those crossing over to chemical engineering that night  because there was going to be rock and roll as soon as the water receded enough to find the outlets.

All the water in the building activated my little bladder, so I had to go find the restroom before the band took the stage.  As I pushed through the men’s room door and headed past the urinals to the stall ( my bladder was not only small but also shy), I could see in my periphery there were other folks in the restroom.  I recognized the faces of Rare Earth from their album covers.  Their dressing room must have flooded because they were in the men’s room with all of their stuff.   And now Rare Earth was listening to me pee.

As I washed my hands, I kept waiting for some big security hoss to pick me up and gently urge me to through the door.   It never happened.  And as I took my time soaking up the moment and gazing in the mirror of the newly inhabited Rare Earth dressing room, I could see the images of the band watching this little imp at the sink who dared to interrupt their pre-show meditations.  Alas, no one said a word to me except the mass of black hair squatting against the wall.  As I made my way out, I recognized the conga player, Edward “Guz” Guzman and we made eye contact.  He said to me, and I’ll never forget, those important words,  “What’s happenin’ man?”  I surmised he did not want an answer.

I regaled my friend and brother with my latest escapade when I returned to my seat.  Rare Earth came on stage shortly and did not disappoint the water-logged throng.  Miraculously, no one was electrocuted…not by electricity anyway.

I took this photo of another concert I attended at Morehead State.  This time as a photographer for the university when I was a student.  The J. Geils Band came to Morehead and this shot of J. Geils is one of the better ones I snapped that night.  It was also lead singer Peter Wolf’s birthday and he brought out a bottle of champagne and poured into the waiting cups of the crowd near the stage.

There was a different type of mass movement that night.   The campus police moved to the stage but not because they were fans of the band.   At the time Morehead was a dry town and they did not appreciate the way Mr. Wolfe was passing out birthday wishes.

I think the electrical engineers were called into duty that night, because someone pulled the plug quickly.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.




Harry Chapin

I always think back to my days at Morehead State University whenever I look at this picture of Harry Chapin.  He did a benefit concert at Morehead State, a beautiful college campus in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  I was a freshman at the time.

My love for photography really began with this concert.  I was a photographer for the public relations department at Morehead State and I was assigned to shoot this event.  I liked Harry Chapin’s music,  so this was a real treat for me.  He did not bring a band, only his guitar.

My first concert to photograph was The Spinners.  I did not do very well.  They kept moving around too much.  Harry just sat there on a stool…so much easier.  I did manage to get some good shots and I realized the power of the camera  and how you could produce an image that evoked feeling.

After the concert, I walked with Harry Chapin, just he and I, out the door of Wetherby Gymnasium into the cold night air.  I remember thinking how cool this is and not because of the temperature.     We talked about the possibility of sending these photos to him (actually I talked about it, he seemed deeper in thought about something else, probably how to get rid of an annoying teen age photographer who thinks he is better than he really is).  Anyway, as we were standing beside his rented Plymouth Duster with him holding  his guitar, I knew then I would always remember this moment. Then he asked me that all important question  I will take to my grave, “How do I get back to the Cincinnati airport?”

Harry Chapin was actually very pleasant on that night after his show.  I was very saddened when I heard of his death.  I will always remember the night when a big-time singer/song writer was kind to a young man from eastern Kentucky.

It’s funny how some things always stand out in our memory.  I can still smell my freshman dorm room at 212 Alumni Tower, and no, not because of a stench of two eighteen year-olds living together in what could be a small walk-in closet.

I remember lying in my bed with a high fever wishing I was delirious instead of  listening to my roommate and another friend argue over my lifeless body as to which was the best remedy…freeze the fever out  or keep me warm.  It looked like a bad comedy routine with one friend opening the window to let in the frigid January air and the other closing it and piling another blanket on me…repeating this dance over and over again.

I remember turning in my first Comp 1 paper.

At the sacrifice of hours of carefree college life to write our papers, we strode collectively up to the instructor and laid our finished work upon the altar.  When I placed my paper on the pile, Mr. Morrow peered up at me over his glasses.   After seeing the title of my paper, “The Baseball Life of Hank Aaron”, he said to me in his very southern drawl,  “That is uh mighty schahluhly subject Mr. Nickell.”  (That word is scholarly for you Yankees that don’t understand Southernese.)

I walked out of the room and down the hall, feeling quite pleased with myself.  Then suddenly I felt the cold sting of higher education sarcasm.   As I opened the door of the Combs building, with the crisp autumn afternoon hitting me in the face, I looked up into that bright blue eastern Kentucky sky and felt the pride and satisfaction of eliminating my first career choice…writing.   After all, that is what college is about– finding out all of the things you ain’t good at.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.