To every barefoot goddess, billowy sister of the moon, or hula-hooping sprite that expressed her love for a jam band in the last thirty-five years, consider picking up a copy of Jay Blakesberg's new coffee table book, Hippie Chick: A Tale of Love, Devotion N Surrender. The book is comprised of more than 400 images of women from the last three decades, and pays tribute to the music mavens who brave heat, rain, sweat, and smoke to connect with her band of choice. Blakesberg will be at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles on Thursday, October 15 in support of his 10th book.
The veteran photographer contributes to several stalwart music rags, racking up photographs of iconic artists that span generations and genres. He was also the exclusive photographer for the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well shows, and published several music-based books under his own Rock Out Books publishing company. The decision to create Hippie Chick was simple for Blakesberg, who started receiving a great deal of support for his one-off social media posts featuring women in the festival circuit.
"I wanted to do a book like this for a long time," Blakesberg says over the phone from his San Francisco office. "Even back when I was shooting Dead shows in the 80's I was taking pictures of fans, of people dancing, and the experience… There's passion in what's around, and so much inspiration. Dancing, hula hooping, riding the rail, there's this whole other part of live shows."
Photos aren't the only form of expression in Blakesberg's book, it also features several written works including a forward by Grace Slick, an afterward by Grace Potter, and three essays by journalist Edith Johnson. The forward proved to be the most elusive aspect of the project, due to the fact that Slick doesn't believe in email. With a bit of legwork on Blakesberg's part he was able to track down an address for the Jefferson Airplane front woman. A few weeks after sending her samples from his book, Blakesberg received a package in return enclosed with a five page handwritten forward.
Johnson, who pens the Festival Girl blog, wrote three essays that break down the book's subtitle, exploring the concepts of love, devotion, and surrender through eyes of a hippie chick. Johnson was also responsible for gathering the quotes that are peppered throughout the book, which were harvested via email interview from hippie chicks old and new. Blakesberg considers these quotes the thread that holds his project together, lending honest insight to his images. The quotes express thoughts about music, dancing, fashion, and watching the concert from the rail.
"A lot of the women quoted in the book talk about what it's like to watch from the rail. They've waited hours in line for an indoor concert or got to the festival gates right at noon just to get a good spot see their band. I feel like these women, they become the muse for the musicians. And the band becomes the muse for the women as well. It's not a one-way street. This is an important part of the whole story," Blakesberg says.
The photographer and filmmaker made it a point to veer away from larger fests like Coachella and Bonnaroo for this project, in an effort to capture what he considers a more organic vibe. He notes that the mood of smaller fests like Virginia's Lockn' Festival or California's High Sierra Festival can be more authentic than larger-scale events.
"The bands that play at the bigger festivals are different than the bands playing at these smaller festivals," Blakesberg says. "From a fashion standpoint, it's less manufactured than say a Coachella or ACL. I think it's a very different vibe. It's not so much of a runway."
Hippie Chick is not a book for quick consumption. It's meant for long nights, refills, and a stack of records. The images and words align to create something tangible, a friend that can be revisited when festival season draws to a close. It's a source of nostalgia for women who have willingly–or unwillingly–renounced their hippie chick crowns. The book's designer, editor, illustrator and contributors are all females, which was a conscious decision on Blakesberg's part. As a whole, Hippie Chick taps into a spirit that's been blanketing farms, fields, mountainsides, parks and arenas for decades.
Jay Blakesberg will appear at Mr. Musichead Gallery, 7420 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046. (323) 867-0042, www.mrmusichead.com, Thursday, October 15, 8 p.m. Free, all ages. For more information on Jay Blakesberg visit www.blakesberg.com.