Larry Hulst was in his early 20s and had just returned from Vietnam when he photographed his first show as a freelance concert photographer in November 1969. It was Steve Miller, live at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Hulst now resides in Colorado Springs, where he has lived for the past two decades. His latest exhibit, Front Row Center, will debut February 18 and run until May 21 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center as part of Month of Photography Denver. For those who have never seen his work, it’s well-worth the drive. Hulst’s photography captures the essence of some of the most legendary musicians from the past 50 years.
We caught up the 70-year-old Hulst to talk about some his career’s most memorable moments.
5280: What do you hope the audience takes away from Front Row Center?
LH: I hope they walk away appreciating the music and the dedication this took—I’ve probably seen 3,000 bands perform live. I have 15,000 black-and-white negatives that have been processed. For this exhibit, with David Bowie’s passing in 2016, we decided to take some photos from a Bowie concert I shot in ’78 and make them the highlight. Those will be joined with photos of bebop, reggae, folk, country, blues, pop, rock, hard rock, and San Francisco rock musicians. It flows from one artist to the next and represents music as whole, and not just rock ‘n’ roll.
When did you realize your photos were more than just personal keepsakes?
LH: When I started to see musicians die off. Then I realized I have something no one can ever get again.
Was music actually better back in the day?
LH: I think the golden years for live music were from 1968 to ’79. All of the classic musicians were still playing regularly. It’s subjective, though. You hear old farts going, “Oh, music has never been good since ’79.” But that’s just because that’s what we were growing up listening to on a daily basis. Just how, 25 years from now, there’s going to be a classic EMD, you know?
Umm, not sure if we follow you, there. Do you mean EDM?
LH: Oh, yeah. My friends listen to it. I don’t listen to it.
[Editor’s Note: EDM stands for electronic dance music]
It’s all right, we understand. Who got you into music?
LH: I started going to music festivals in 1964. I saw Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones. But it was probably just my friends and me. We would just be in cars listening to stuff on the radio. I started listening to rock ‘n’ roll on a crystal radio.
LH: Ask your dad.
Ok. Who was the best performer you ever saw?
LH: Led Zeppelin, in 1975 on a Monday night in San Diego. They played close to four hours—and we’re not talking, you know, an hour break like bands do nowadays. They played one set. That’s what Led Zeppelin did; they’d just go in and blaze for hours. I saw them in ’71, ’73, ’75, and ’77. I saw them like nine times; they were the best.
If You Go: Front Row Center kicks off on February 18 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St., Colorado Springs. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students/military, and children ages 12 and under are free if accompanied by a parent/guardian. Daily hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 719-634-5583; email@example.com