Thousands of VersoFest attendees gazed in awe at Anthony Coscia’s 1/20th-to-scale model of the Grateful Dead’s legendary “Wall of Sound.”
They were equally impressed when they heard it: A working model, it cranks tunes loudly and clearly.
Every person probably thought: “There must be a story behind this.”
Coscia is a Weston High School graduate. He majored in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, but needed a “real job” to make a living.
He worked in computer training, and executive search with the technology industry. After the dot-com crash of 2001, he got into home remodeling. It loved the hands-on work.
His hobby was also very hands-on: building guitars. Each one took 60 to 200 hours to make.
But they were worth the wait. They were well-crafted, good-looking, and they sounded great.
As tough as it was, the pandemic gave Coscia time to do something he’d long dreamed of: recreate the Dead’s sound system.
He’d fallen in love with the band in college. A true Deadhead, he traveled to 46 states for shows. They were “a great part of my youth,” Coscia says.
That was more than a decade after the Dead’s “Wall of Sound” experiment. The band “pushed through technical barriers,” he explains. “It was the first large-scale PA system for large audiences. The Beatles stopped touring because no one could hear them play. The Dead wanted to be heard.”
Despite all its amps, the system was not meant to be overly loud. But it was crystal clear. And in arenas — where groups like the Dead were starting to perform — it was a way for audiences to hear their music the way they intended.
However, Coscia notes, at 35 feet tall and 60 feet wide, “the Wall” proved too costly and difficult to transport.
It lasted only a year. Most fans never saw or experienced it.
Yet decades later, everyone knew about it.
He began working in the 1,500-square foot basement of his Southbury home. His first “Wall” was 5 feet tall, 8 feet high.
He posted photos on social media. With so many folks locked down, working from home, it got plenty of traction.
After 3 years, Coscia had amassed 100 followers for his guitar business. Suddenly, his sound system had 1,000.
Wall Street Journal political writer (and Deadhead) Alex Leary pitched his editor. The story ran on page 1, in the spot reserved for quirky ideas.
Soon, everyone was interviewing Coscia: podcasts, publications, TV.
His project grew. It morphed from a fun idea into a desire to preserve musical history — and one that actually played music.
Coscia donated the model to HeadCount, which used it to raise $100,000 from an anonymous donor.
His second model — the one he brought to VersoFest at the Westport Library — was 10 feet high and 14 feet wide. Its sound reverberated throughout the Trefz Forum.
It attracted Dead fans, and plenty of people who don’t care at all for them. Some admired the craftsmanship. Some were sound engineers.
Meanwhile, Coscia had been working on a 17-foot by 30-foot version. It’s too large for his basement. But a man who runs the non-profit organization SpreadMusicNow, which brings music education to underserved kids heard about the project.
He’d just bought the old Granite Church in Redding. He’s converting it to a music and arts space. He offered it to Coscia, until renovations begin.
For the past several months, he’s completed his large-model Wall there.
People wander in often. They watch him work, ask questions, and listen to the bands that occasionally use it to play music.
One man was particularly intrigued. He’d actually seen “The Wall” in 1974, at Hartford’s Dillon Stadium.
But the church is too small, sonically. And when renovations begin, Coscia will have to move.
He has 2 choices: sell his “Wall of Sound” to a collector, or find a larger space to display it.
In an ideal world, he says, a museum would feature it — or be built to do so. “It really needs a 5,000-seat arena to be appreciated,” the Wall’s creator says.
Coscia estimates the project has cost $75,000 so far in materials alone. He’s spent thousands of hours (with many volunteers), while balancing his paying work as a luthier.
What has he gotten out of it?
“This is my ‘I’m arrived’ moment,” Coscia says.
“I’m 54 years old. I’ve had several careers. This — makin instruments, and this project — is what I’m meant to do.”
He learns something about sound every day. He’s always incorporating new ideas, new technologies, to make the Wall “more friendly and cost-effective — just like the Dead did.”
And definitely built to last.
(To contribute via GoFundMe to the current “Wall of Sound” project, click here.)
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Don’t mean to rain on Anthony Coscia’s well-deserved parade. But “The Wall of Sound” was a name first applied to Phil Spector’s productions of famous girl groups in the early Sixties. It referred to his over-dubbing as many as 30 tracks of a song. Guess he never trademarked it.
But the Dead’s sound reinforcement was very good. A close friend, who is the archetypical “Dead Head” and had heard this audio system in person, commented on this story that “Best concert sound that I remember! Thanks for sending.” He’s mastered (vinyl, CD, Digital) Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, The Beach Boys, and hundreds (thousands) of others (The NY Dolls, Pearl Jam, Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, Helen Reddy, Electric Light Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Blues Brothers, and Yes, just to mention a few).
Sadly the genius polymath who designed and built the original Wall Of Sound Owsley Stanley has nary a mention. He was obsessive about the sound and music but sides being a world class chemist. I mention this because I met Owsley and The Dead when I was 16 in NYC. There was nothing then and nothing now that compares to what he did , every rock act today owes Owsley a debt of gratitude.