John Wingfield is a resident of Richmond, Virginia and can be seen at almost every music event in and around town with a camera in hand to document the live music scene. He is the admin for a Facebook group named “Richmond VA Area Events for Music Lovers” where members of the Central Virginia music community can get to know each other as well as share media from previous live concerts. All photos in the post are attributed to Wingfield.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
Well, I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia in the 1970s and I went to Radford University once I graduated high school. There I met my wife, and we were both going to college there at the time. After we’d graduated we got married and lived in Norfolk for a couple years and then moved to Arlington and we both commuted to work in downtown DC for a couple of years. During those couple of years, that was enough for us to decide that the hassle of living in the DC area was not worth it for us. I wanted to be able to afford a house and I had worked with a number of people who had moved way out of town in order to find a house that they could afford, which I thought was just crazy. I’m in my 20s at this point and I’m just like “there’s no way I want to live my life like this”. That was around 1990. So we both eventually found jobs here in Richmond and we’ve been in RVA since 1991. For us, there was less stress and a reasonable commute to work – a huge improvement. This is still a breeze compared to the DC area. It’s been good for us.
How do you think geography has impacted the way you find, consume, and share music?
[Roanoke] was a big enough town in the 1970s to get a lot of big national acts at the time, if you were hitting the radio – radio was a big thing back in the day, that was how a lot of people heard their music. If you didn’t hear it on the radio, you heard what your friends were playing. WROV was the favorite station there in Roanoke – that was a good station. It was your typical [music], pretty much Top 40. But for me, I didn’t like just sticking to the radio, the music world was bigger than that.
What was your first concert?
My first concert my mother took me to. I was a Johnny Cash fan and he came to Roanoke and she knew I was a big fan. Amazingly she took me to this Johnny Cash concert at the Roanoke Civic Center – I was about 10 years old. I can still remember the guys, you know. People were drinking, whoo-hooping and hollering at the Johnny Cash concert. That was a real experience going into that thing at 10 years old. That was the only time I got to see him. I kind of moved into the Rock & Roll category, so Country didn’t come up for a while.
You have quite a collection of music memorabilia – could you speak to the process of collecting and preserving that?
You know, I wish I had kept it going. I was collecting ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, and stuff like that. When I went to college, I stopped doing that for some reason – I guess I was just having too much fun. I still have the stubs, but they’re here, there, and yonder. Maybe with this quarantine thing I’ll get to finding them all [laughs]. There’s a lot of concerts I’ve been to that I probably don’t have tickets for. One would be the Johnny Cash show. The second concert I went to was actually Pure Prairie League at the Lakeside Amusement Park, which no longer exists. Then I went into the Rock & Roll stuff.
Are there any stand-out pieces for you?
Oh absolutely! One of them is the Kendall Street Company poster that all of the band members signed from their 2019 [The] Camel residency in Richmond. I also have a number of signed Little Feat CDs. One of my favorite posters would be the one that Stanley Clarke, the bass player, signed for me at a show around 20 years ago. That was here in Richmond, downtown.
When did seeing live music become a big priority in your life?
As a teenager, I was a big fan of Rock & Roll music. Once I got old enough to go to concerts, I bought a bass guitar and took music lessons, started playing and singing, and joined a band in high school. With that group of guys, all I had to do was walk into the band. They already had a PA, a lightbox, and all the equipment. All I needed was the bass and the amp and we were off playing parties, and stuff! You know, never got paid for anything. I went off to Radford University and continued to play in a number of bands over the course of my time there. I think we got paid one time, it was never a serious thing.
The biggest success story was later in my college years. My wife, Susan, was in a class with a guy who happened to need a bass player. These guys opened my mind to a whole other area of music. They were big into King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Return to Forever, so yeah that completely exploded my mind in the jazz area. That influenced my playing style – I had always been kind of a free-flow bass player, never playing the same way twice. You know, just whatever hits me at the time. We did a one day studio session and we were tight enough at the time that we only overdubbed one song. That one session we got all of our original material recorded. I still have that, I need to make another copy of that. The name of that band was Azoth, which I think had something to do with alchemy? Apparently the guy had opened up the dictionary at the A’s and that was the first word that came to him as a good band name. That was my heyday, anyway. I’ve always loved music. It doesn’t leave you. If you love it, you always will.
Was there a certain band that inspired you to follow them?
This will maybe show my age a little bit… but when I first saw the Grateful Dead in 1983 at Hampton Coliseum [Virginia]. That was a big eye-opener. My friends and I did Dead shows for many years while Jerry Garcia was still with us. After Jerry Garcia passed we had a whole mourning period. We didn’t think anything else was going to be able to replace it (and nothing would). The closest thing we found was Phish a couple years after that. We did a fair number of Phish shows – probably three or four a year, but that’s waned at this point. Oddly enough (and this’ll show you the music we were mostly listening to before the Grateful Dead) we saw Judas Priest [at Hampton Coliseum] one week before the Grateful Dead show. So that’s kind of flipping a switch – you know, hard heavy rock to Grateful Dead kinda wild.
Tell us about one of your favorite recent festival or show experiences?
My favorite [show] of 2019 would be The Claypool Lennon Delirium opening for The Flaming Lips [at Sprint Pavilion in Charlottesville, VA]. I was going more to see Claypool Lennon, and of course that’s Sean Lennon, you know, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son. That was a big one for me. It was worth going – it was really good. I don’t do the big festivals like Lockn’ anymore. I’m in my 50’s now, it just doesn’t interest me. The big huge crowds, I’m not into it. I’d rather go to a small venue and see a band up close than get into a 50 thousand person scenario. I did that a couple times – RFK Stadium shows for the Grateful Dead. I found it overwhelming. You don’t have a connection with the band like you do at smaller venues. Football stadiums are not meant to see a band, in my opinion.
Do you have a favorite venue? What about that space makes it special? (“Venue” is to be understood loosely)
My current favorite venue would be The Camel [Richmond, VA]. I really like The Camel – if you get there early and stake out a spot – I like to be there right where the band is. You can’t beat that. Great music and you’re right there. My second favorite would be The Beacon Theater [Hopewell, VA] for different reasons. That, of course, is a seated theater. Great sound, small venue, I find that one hard to beat. It only holds about 800 people including the balcony so it’s a pretty small place. I like The National here in Richmond, and The Jefferson Theater and Sprint Pavilion in Charlottesville are all good places to see a show.
Who are your current top three bands and why?
Well, I would name Kendall Street Company as my number one. Yeah, I love you guys. I think you’ve got great music, every show is different, I’ve always had a good time at your shows, and you’ve all been on top of it, top notch. I give y’all a lot of credit and I think you’re a great band. I hope it continues. My number two is actually Dweezil Zappa. I love him. Frank Zappa is an incredible musician and Dweezil does it justice. He plays with some of the best musicians, I think, in the world. Those guys are absolutely top notch. He changes the band and it doesn’t always stay the same, but they’re always top notch. You can’t beat it if you’re a Zappa fan. My number three would be Goose. I like them for their jamming, groove music. The music itself is really fun and the fans are really enthusiastic. I’m in their Facebook group, and their fans’ over-exuberance reminds me of early Phish fans. Super enthusiastic. Those Goose fans, man, they are just the nth degree into that band.
How do you get more involved in the music community?
For me, it’s going to the show, it’s enjoying the show. When I’m shooting photo and video, I try to still have an enjoyable show. Sometimes I’ll shoot a whole lot of video, sometimes I’ll take a lot of photos, sometimes I’ll only do a little of either. Depending on the venue, you can’t do either of those anyway.
How have you been spending your time in social isolation? How do you still get your music fix?
I have been enjoying the live stream stuff, to a certain degree. My favorites would be [the] Kendall Street Company quarantine shows. Your first one was exceptional, second one was great. I still haven’t watched the third one, I’m planning on doing that probably this weekend with my wife. I ended up watching [Louis Smith’s] solo thing, just on the computer though, so I’m probably going to rewatch that with my wife. I appreciate y’all doing that. It’s a nice experience – we just sit on our couch, have our favorite beverage, and enjoy the show! [laughs]. Some of [the live streams] have been choppy, some of them come out good, some of them are just dropped because the video quality is too poor. I’ll start watching and think “eh, this just isn’t worth it”. It depends on what I’ve got going on – I’ve got to be into it to a certain degree to just sit and watch something.
Could you please send us off with your favorite quote?
Bob Dylan: “Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules. Gonna plant my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.”
Interested in learning more about Wingfield’s favorite venues and bands? Check out the following: