From small-town Wisconsin to 15,000-capacity stadiums
Name: Ty Helbach
Birthplace: Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Profession: Music and concert photographer
City of residence: Sturgeon Bay
Door County connection: Moved here about nine years ago after visiting for many years to photograph the Steel Bridge Songfest
Vanessa McGowan (VM): Who or what first got you into music photography?
Ty Helbach (TH): I began maybe 15 or more years ago taking pictures of friend’s bands at bars around central Wisconsin. I loved going to shows and liked taking pictures, and it just kind of morphed together.
VM: What was the first band you ever shot?
TH: Well, I’d have to say probably my friend Mark Little and his gigs at Clearwater Harbor Bar in Waupaca, and of course Cool Waters Band in Appleton. I really got to get experience and meet some great people through Steel Bridge Songfest and pat [mAcdonald] and melaniejane. That gave me the experience needed to be able to better my art.
VM: What bands or gigs do you typically shoot now as a professional?
TH: I am the house photographer for concerts and events at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, so I get to shoot many different genres and types of shows. One day it may be Elton John and the next, monster trucks.
On top of that, I work for the band Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and have toured with them across the country. There are a few other bands I work with as well, like Trampled by Turtles, Dead Horses, and Them Coulee Boys.
I do a few different music festivals such as our own local Steel Bridge Songfest as well as Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire and Boats and Bluegrass in Winona, Minnesota. I photograph Summerfest every year for the publication On Milwaukee as well.
VM: If you could shoot any artist, who would it be?
TH: Well, hoping for Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam in the future! Those are two off the top of my head who I personally love as musicians and have never gotten to photograph.
VM: What’s the weirdest gig or experience you’ve had shooting live music?
TH: This is a hard one – I don’t like to talk out of turn about things. A few years ago at Blue Ox Music Festival, I had to do the group photo of the host band Pert Near Sandstone on stage and the crowd behind them – on a massive ladder on stage in front of 4,000 people. I hate heights. It was terrifying, but [I] got the job done, along with some teasing from the band.
Getting to stand on stages like Red Rocks or The Fillmore in San Francisco or side stage at Alpine Valley Music Theater as The Who plays – [it] all feels weird to this guy from a small Wisconsin town.
VM: When you’re not doing photography, what else do you enjoy?
TH: I love to travel. I love getting lost on two-lane roads and finding small towns. I love photographing the real America you never see from the highway. A few years ago, I did all of Route 66 from Chicago to LA on two-lane roads. It was amazing. The two-lane roads and small towns are what made this country, and those small towns are disappearing. Roadside attractions and national parks with my son are part of the travels as well. I sell prints of those trips on my website as well!
VM: What have you missed the most with the lack of gigs in 2020?
TH: Well, gigs in general! But I miss seeing my friends. I miss the people I work with. My favorite part of photographing a show is that moment when you are in the photo pit, and there are 15,000 people behind you. The lights go down, and every one of those people lose their minds. There is no politics. No fighting. No worries. Just that crowd together in that moment. Grooving to whatever artist it is that they saved money up to come see. Got a babysitter perhaps for a night out. Or maybe like my mom said, when I took her to see Paul McCartney for her first time: “Finally seeing that someone in person you’ve known your entire life.” That moment is magical. I miss that the most.
VM: What exciting projects do you have on the horizon?
TH: Right now really just hoping to get back to shows when it is safe. Blue Ox Music Festival has been moved to August with a great lineup. Also Driftless Music Gardens has a wonderful lineup of shows and festivals this summer. Hopefully this year we get back to shows at Fiserv Forum as well. I really do miss my job.
Check out Helbach’s photography at tyhelbachphotography.com.