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Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound


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This is an interesting article from Vice:

 

"It sounds like it was just another band meeting for the Grateful Dead.

Three-fifths of the Dead’s original lineup were holed up in Novato, California, at the band’s practice space in a Pepto-Bismol colored warehouse located behind a pizza shop. Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, and Phil Lesh, then just in their twenties, were joined by a small circle of gear heads, audiophiles, and psychonauts who’d become instrumental to the band’s growing popularity. It’s unclear who called the meeting, why it was even arranged, or what, if anything, was supposed to come of it."

 

The Wall of Sound | Motherboard

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Hi Chris,

 

If I recall correctly, when I saw the Dead at a local show in Gaelic Park, way back in the mid-70s, they used a wall of AR3a's--with tie-dyed grill cloths(!). It might have been one of the only, if not *the* only, PA I ever heard that didn't hurt.

(Of course, with all the "smoke" in the air, even at that outdoor show, nothing hurt. ;-})

 

Kudos to whoever the sound person was at that show. In my experience, they remain one of a kind.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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From the source of all human knowledge:

 

The Wall of Sound was an enormous public address system designed specifically for the Grateful Dead's live performances by audio engineer Owsley "Bear" Stanley. Used in 1974, the Wall of Sound fulfilled the band's desire for a distortion-free sound system that could also serve as its own monitoring system. The Wall of Sound was the largest concert sound system built at that time.[1] As Stanley described it,

 

"The Wall of Sound is the name some people gave to a super powerful, extremely accurate PA system that I designed and supervised the building of in 1973 for the Grateful Dead. It was a massive wall of speaker arrays set behind the musicians, which they themselves controlled without a front of house mixer. It did not need any delay towers to reach a distance of half a mile from the stage without degradation."[2]

 

Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_of_Sound_(Grateful_Dead)

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Kudos to whoever the sound person was at that show. In my experience, they remain one of a kind.

 

Owsley Stanley was also their LSD 'chemist', and subsisted on a diet of pure meat, believing all vegetable to be toxic, and also avoided all sugars and carbohydrates, believing insulin to be a form of poison. He eventually emigrated to Australia to avoid what he predicted would be a multi-year mega-cyclone that would consume the entire northern hemisphere.

 

Yeah, he was one of a kind.

 

Further reading: SF Comical.

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This is an interesting article from Vice:

 

"It sounds like it was just another band meeting for the Grateful Dead.

Three-fifths of the Dead’s original lineup were holed up in Novato, California, at the band’s practice space in a Pepto-Bismol colored warehouse located behind a pizza shop. Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, and Phil Lesh, then just in their twenties, were joined by a small circle of gear heads, audiophiles, and psychonauts who’d become instrumental to the band’s growing popularity. It’s unclear who called the meeting, why it was even arranged, or what, if anything, was supposed to come of it."

It's fascinating, and it makes me think about the amazing (and little-known) relationship between live music reinforcement and the advancing edge of audiophilia. MacIntosh behind the Dead and John Curl as an engineer at Alembic - amazing!

 

I met and (for about a week) roomed with Mark Levinson in September 1964, when he was a 17 year old trumpeter who decided college wasn't for him the first week he tried it. He stayed up most of the night repairing a broken bass he found somewhere on campus, and took off with it for a career in jazz. Among the many soon-to-be-greats he met and worked with was an almost-as-young Chick Corea, who complained bitterly about the lack of quality sound equipment. Mark started making great stuff for him using mil spec surplus parts, and the rest is history. No, he wasn't an electronics nerd - he was just a genius who found a way to solve a problem.

 

Looking back on the emergence of "high fidelity", many if not most of the major advances in sound quality came from commercial applications like the movie industry and good old Ma Bell (Western Electric was a Bell company), e.g. many legendary speaker & amp designs plus still-popular tubes like the 6l6. The newly revitalized 300B dates to the early '30s, as I recall. So commercial sound reproduction and reinforcement are an integral part of our quest for sonic perfection.

 

The best early "hifi" equipment came from industry - some now legendary audio power amps started life in movie projectors, PA systems, radio stations and auditoriums. Remember who put the BBC in Rogers. There's some great, reasonably priced audio equipment in commercial sound today. My Stewart "pancake" amp and my Alesis RA100 are perfect examples. Emotiva and many others provide excellent, inexpensive stuff at home in studios as well as living rooms. So the Dead were an integral part of the evolution of audio, and we all benefited.

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Hi wgscott,

 

Ah! "...which they themselves controlled without a front of house mixer."

Could it be?

Maybe that is a big part of why that was the only time I've experienced a PA without wishing for the "soundman" to be brought up on charges. (I often think murdering the sound *should* be punishable.).

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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The lack of need for a mixer may find part of its explanation in the fact that it wasn't a stereo setup. The speaker cabinets for each instrument were located directly behind the player. (In photos the big bass speakers behind Phil Lesh are easily spotted.). Vocals all went to a semi-circular array in the center.

 

As noted in the article, the vocal mics weren't the best. (I'm not certain, but I think they may have used them on Mars Hotel.)

 

I saw them once during this period, in a hockey arena in Pittsburgh some time in 73-74.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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The lack of need for a mixer may find part of its explanation in the fact that it wasn't a stereo setup. The speaker cabinets for each instrument were located directly behind the player. (In photos the big bass speakers behind Phil Lesh are easily spotted.). Vocals all went to a semi-circular array in the center.

 

As noted in the article, the vocal mics weren't the best. (I'm not certain, but I think they may have used them on Mars Hotel.)

 

I saw them once during this period, in a hockey arena in Pittsburgh some time in 73-74.

 

Hi Jud,

 

I believe an FOH (front of house) mix is usually done to achieve balances between instruments (and voices), not necessarily for stereo.

Often those are mono mixes anyway.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi wgscott,

 

Ah! "...which they themselves controlled without a front of house mixer."

Could it be?

Maybe that is a big part of why that was the only time I've experienced a PA without wishing for the "soundman" to be brought up on charges. (I often think murdering the sound *should* be punishable.).

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

......and us live sound engineers often wonder how it could be that a recording engineer working in a controlled environment over months of time still can't get it right? At least the live engineer has viable reasons.........poor and/or varying acoustics( big empty space for sound check......full damped with bodies for the final show), lack of time, inconsistent performers, equipment for reinforcement instead of fidelity.......and the list goes on an on.

 

How strange that so many here strive to reproduce a live performance in their living spaces and yet so few live performances meet your performance expectations?

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On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene

But yours was kitchen clean

 

Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor motorhome

Every A-Frame had your number on the wall

You must have had it all

 

 

Kid Charlemagne - Steely Dan (For Owsley)

In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake ~ Sayre's Law

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...How strange that so many here strive to reproduce a live performance in their living spaces and yet so few live performances meet your performance expectations?

 

Hi mayhem13,

 

Who said anything about the performances? I'm talking about what the "sound folks" *do* to the performances.

I'm sure there are exceptions and in fact I know a few. But unfortunately, that is what they are: exceptions.

(This is equally true, in my view, of those in the controlled environs.)

 

To my point from the earlier post, at live shows, a whole lot more often than not, I get a knob twiddler devoid of any sensitivity to what is occurring on the stage. I can remember a performance of some very intimate songs, where the genius behind the board decided to turn on a spinning disco light show (!) and swamp the vocal mic in reverb. It is difficult to get that sense of intimacy when the vocalist sounds like they're at the bottom of a deep, metallic well. (The artist told me after the show that he wished the sound man had gone home before his set.) This had nothing to do with time, the artist, the gear, etc. It was the person "doing the sound" and nothing else.

 

I'll never forget another show I was at last year where the opening band decided to do one song from the *audience* side of the mics. In other words, they bypassed the sandman and PA altogether. It was fascinating. Everyone in the room got quiet and leaned in to hear the three vocals and their acoustic instruments. They could easily be heard from the back of the auditorium (provided one was listening) and they sounded fabulous--music, pure and clean and organic. Too bad that song was the "special." They went back behind the mics and the sound got hard and brash again. Folks in the room weren't quiet anymore. They weren't leaning in, rapt in attention, *bonded* with the artist. The sound was now simply rained on the audience. Here again, not the time, not the room, not the gear, not the artist. It was the person "doing the sound" and nothing else.

 

And the engineers in the controlled environments? I'd have to agree with you. One has to wonder why these guys (just like the live "sound folk") seem to think engineering means turning knobs instead of getting out of the way. I guess no one ever taught them to ask themselves what they might have done wrong in a previous step that they believe will be remedied by turning that knob. Unfortunately, this is a craft where what tends to get passed down is what someone else did (wrong in my opinion) and not what *might* be done. Trainees are not taught to ask the right questions. In the absence of the questions, we have an absence of the answers.

 

All just my perspective, of course.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi mayhem13,

 

Who said anything about the performances? I'm talking about what the "sound folks" *do* to the performances.

I'm sure there are exceptions and in fact I know a few. But unfortunately, that is what they are: exceptions.

(This is equally true, in my view, of those in the controlled environs.)

 

To my point from the earlier post, at live shows, a whole lot more often than not, I get a knob twiddler devoid of any sensitivity to what is occurring on the stage. I can remember a performance of some very intimate songs, where the genius behind the board decided to turn on a spinning disco light show (!) and swamp the vocal mic in reverb. It is difficult to get that sense of intimacy when the vocalist sounds like they're at the bottom of a deep, metallic well. (The artist told me after the show that he wished the sound man had gone home before his set.) This had nothing to do with time, the artist, the gear, etc. It was the person "doing the sound" and nothing else.

 

I'll never forget another show I was at last year where the opening band decided to do one song from the *audience* side of the mics. In other words, they bypassed the sandman and PA altogether. It was fascinating. Everyone in the room got quiet and leaned in to hear the three vocals and their acoustic instruments. They could easily be heard from the back of the auditorium (provided one was listening) and they sounded fabulous--music, pure and clean and organic. Too bad that song was the "special." They went back behind the mics and the sound got hard and brash again. Folks in the room weren't quiet anymore. They weren't leaning in, rapt in attention, *bonded* with the artist. The sound was now simply rained on the audience. Here again, not the time, not the room, not the gear, not the artist. It was the person "doing the sound" and nothing else.

 

And the engineers in the controlled environments? I'd have to agree with you. One has to wonder why these guys (just like the live "sound folk") seem to think engineering means turning knobs instead of getting out of the way. I guess no one ever taught them to ask themselves what they might have done wrong in a previous step that they believe will be remedied by turning that knob. Unfortunately, this is a craft where what tends to get passed down is what someone else did (wrong in my opinion) and not what *might* be done. Trainees are not taught to ask the right questions. In the absence of the questions, we have an absence of the answers.

 

All just my perspective, of course.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

I'd suffice it to say that you've experienced far more controlled studio performances that live shows where you weren't directly involved with the performance......and vice versa for me......,,,which neither have cause to generalize about the capabilites of either.

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The lack of need for a mixer may find part of its explanation in the fact that it wasn't a stereo setup. The speaker cabinets for each instrument were located directly behind the player. (In photos the big bass speakers behind Phil Lesh are easily spotted.). Vocals all went to a semi-circular array in the center.

Never saw Dead a-live myself...) I read quadraphonic system was used to amplify each of four strings for Phil, and in some settings the sound of each string came from one of four room corners. (I guess it was in Dennis McNally's book).
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Never saw Dead a-live myself...) I read quadraphonic system was used to amplify each of four strings for Phil, and in some settings the sound of each string came from one of four room corners. (I guess it was in Dennis McNally's book).

That was the "quad bass". Rick Turner first built 2 for Lesh in the mid-'70s out of a Guild Starfire (I think).

 

9.jpg

 

The QB had 3 pickups, 2 traditional but low impedance passive units with parametric eq plus filters, and the quad one with pushbuttons to select several combinations and permutations of output. He could send the output of each string to a different tower, and experimented with shifting them around during performances. The electronics wizard was George Munday.

 

I think he had a quad PU on later basses as well. One of his favorites was a custom Alembic (6 string?) with a quad setup in addition to the usual electronics. He later went to Modulus basses and still uses them as far as I know (no more quad PUs).

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That was the "quad bass".

 

The QB had 3 pickups, 2 traditional but low impedance passive units with parametric eq plus filters, and the quad one with pushbuttons to select several combinations and permutations of output. He could send the output of each string to a different tower, and experimented with shifting them around during performances. The electronics wizard was George Munday.

 

I think he had a quad PU on later basses as well. One of his favorites was / is a custom Alembic (6 string?) with a quad setup in addition to the usual electronics.

 

I said that to a friend of mine at a Dead concert, and he replied "Far out, man." ;)

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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I'd suffice it to say that you've experienced far more controlled studio performances that live shows where you weren't directly involved with the performance......and vice versa for me......,,,which neither have cause to generalize about the capabilites of either.

 

But in fact, since you don't know me, you don't have the slightest idea of how many live shows vs. studio performances I've heard.

I'll thank you to allow me my opinions. You are not obliged to agree.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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I said that to a friend of mine at a Dead concert, and he replied "Far out, man." ;)

Today, he would have tweeted it. One of the great things about live music (especially what were, for the day, large scale events) was the great interaction among total strangers bound by a common love of the performers and their art.

 

I remember as though it were yesterday standing in line for Springsteen at the Tower (1974) with my wife and close friends, when a bottle of Jack D was passed back and forth down the line and everybody took a pull while discussing music, politics, sports and everything else interesting in the world. The wait to get in was as much fun as the concert at the time. We knew Bruce would be big and had been following him since his first performances because our friend worked at the Dupont auto finishes plant with Harry Rundgren (Todd's father). We were tipped off to what was to be when the Boss was still playing high school auditoriums and little clubs like the Main Point (Feb '75 - we were there and the poor sound guy had his hands full, Barry!)

 

Far out, indeed!

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Today, he would have tweeted it. One of the great things about live music (especially what were, for the day, large scale events) was the great interaction among total strangers bound by a common love of the performers and their art.

 

I remember as though it were yesterday standing in line for Springsteen at the Tower (1974) with my wife and close friends, when a bottle of Jack D was passed back and forth down the line and everybody took a pull while discussing music, politics, sports and everything else interesting in the world. The wait to get in was as much fun as the concert at the time. We knew Bruce would be big and had been following him since his first performances because our friend worked at the Dupont auto finishes plant with Harry Rundgren (Todd's father). We were tipped off to what was to be when the Boss was still playing high school auditoriums and little clubs like the Main Point (Feb '75 - we were there and the poor sound guy had his hands full, Barry!)

 

Far out, indeed!

 

Hi bluesman,

 

Your post reminded me that at the Dead show I mentioned in an earlier post in this thread, someone (with a big smile) was going from person to person in the audience, giving out small cubes of a reddish substance that many were placing in small pipes. (!)

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi bluesman,

 

Your post reminded me that at the Dead show I mentioned in an earlier post in this thread, someone (with a big smile) was going from person to person in the audience, giving out small cubes of a reddish substance that many were placing in small pipes. (!)

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

 

Just slingin' hash, as they say. :)

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Just slingin' hash, as they say. :)

 

That reminds me of a long lost legend. When I was in college, a bunch of us went to some concert in Boston (Blues Project?) and found ourselves next to an original stoner known to us only as Serabian. We were really having a great time when one of my friends turned to Serabian and said "Hey, man - is this a great concert or what?"

 

Serabian turned slowly toward us, let out a deep sigh, and said sadly, "No, man - it's not a great concert without a riot."

 

About 15 minutes later, two guys started a fight some distance from us. Serabian turns to us with a smokey grin and says, "Hey man - there goes one now. 'S alright!"

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Today, he would have tweeted it. One of the great things about live music (especially what were, for the day, large scale events) was the great interaction among total strangers bound by a common love of the performers and their art.

 

I remember as though it were yesterday standing in line for Springsteen at the Tower (1974) with my wife and close friends, when a bottle of Jack D was passed back and forth down the line and everybody took a pull while discussing music, politics, sports and everything else interesting in the world. The wait to get in was as much fun as the concert at the time. We knew Bruce would be big and had been following him since his first performances because our friend worked at the Dupont auto finishes plant with Harry Rundgren (Todd's father). We were tipped off to what was to be when the Boss was still playing high school auditoriums and little clubs like the Main Point (Feb '75 - we were there and the poor sound guy had his hands full, Barry!)

 

Far out, indeed!

 

Apologies in advance for the coming long OT:

 

Springsteen -

 

Where I grew up, there was the anomaly of a local *AM* station that played the same "album oriented rock" (before that became a synonym for "snooze") as the FM stations in the big cities. Good thing, because the 1972 fly green Ford Gran Torino I was driving in 1973, courtesy of my parents, had only an AM radio. I was driving to a local audio store (yes, kids, there were such animals back in the day) when over the radio came The Very Best Song I Had Ever Heard In My Life. It was a complete thunderbolt from the heavens. I started swinging the steering wheel of that big green car back and forth in time to the music (thank God there were no police on that part of the road that day), and instantly decided to make a U-turn and drive 6 miles in the other direction to a record store I knew would have this new album by an artist I'd never heard of, with this magical song "Rosalita."

 

That album (The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle) and Sergeant Pepper remain to this day the only LPs on which I literally wore out the grooves.

 

This unfortunately happened after my freshman year in college at Pitt, when, during the first week of school, there was a free concert in Schenley Park headlined by Buzzy Linhart. Second on the bill was a band named Estus. (?) Last on the bill was Springsteen. I had no idea who he was then, so I missed it. Junior year in school he came back around. This was when his lineup included Suki, the Israeli violinist. That concert, as Dirty Harry would say, took the top of my head clean off. When he came back again a year later, he waited so long between the finale of the regular show and the encore, half the people had left the auditorium (Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, essentially a largish theater). I'd just stepped outside myself, downcast that he hadn't even done an encore after such a fabulous show, when I heard and saw people behind me literally start running back into the theater. I got myself a seat 10 rows from the stage right in front of Clarence. The last of the three songs he played for an encore was Gary "U.S." Bonds' Quarter to Three. Clarence started wailing, I started trying to dance standing on top of one of those theater seats that wants to fold up, and when Clarence looked at me (he couldn't help it, I was standing on a chair right in front of him) he started laughing and had to take the sax out of his mouth for a minute.

 

But that is not my best Springsteen concert story. Not by a long shot.

 

In October 1992 Springsteen played Edmonton for the first time. I happened to be spending a lot of time there consulting on a lawsuit. I guess I was meant to go, because after the show I wanted to attend in Philly sold out in half an hour, I happened to be standing in the Toronto airport waiting for my plane home when the DJ on whatever station they had playing in the airport mentioned how unbelievable it was that there were still tickets left for a number of Springsteen tour dates in Canada, including Edmonton. I bought tickets over the phone (airport pay phone) right then and there.

 

When the day of the concert came, my girlfriend (who I'd flown up to Canada) and I went to the hockey arena an hour and a half early, because of some brain-addled idea I had that we might be able to catch the end of the sound check. Of course any sound check had been long since completed. We stopped at a booth to rent binoculars, because our seats were next row from the top all the way at the end of the arena away from the stage. There we were, the only people in the place.

 

I spotted this badass-looking dude - big, hair almost to his waist, and wearing a tank top and shorts in October in Edmonton (which is the same latitude as Moscow). He was headed our way (we were the only other people in the place). I thought "Oh jeez, I bring my girlfriend up to Edmonton for a Springsteen concert, and now this guy's gonna kick my ass for no reason." He stopped a couple rows in front of us and said "I have a problem." I thought "OK, now I'm *really* getting my ass kicked." He said "My problem is I have these two front row seats and nobody to sit in them." He showed us his Springsteen roadie photo ID badge, and exchanged two tickets right in the center of the front row for our seats. My girlfriend wanted to go to the ladies' room, but I didn't trust our good fortune and told her we better wait until intermission to make sure we didn't lose these seats.

 

Springsteen came out and of course put on an amazing show. About the fourth or fifth song (neither Lisa nor I remember which song it was), he came to the front of the stage, knelt down in front of us, and put his hand out to Lisa. She was paralyzed. So I did what any man worth his salt would do: I got behind her and shoved her into his arms. Then, on twin Jumbotrons in front of 16,000 people, he kissed her. She looked kind of mildly concussed after that, so I helped her back to stand in front of her seat.

 

During intermission, after Lisa at long last got her pee break, we were standing in line for drinks while other girls pointed and said to each other, "There's the girl he kissed!" After the final encore and bows, Bruce gave us a big smile and tossed me his harmonica. Lisa and I still have the harmonica (Hohner Marine Band) and the ticket stubs for those front row center seats.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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