Amid the vast array of streaming internet radio stations, public service broadcasts, podcasts, Youtube, and not to forget dodgy download sites, there is above all these a jewel in the crown…. and that jewel is Wolfgang’s Vault. The vault, perhaps it would be better if I referred to it as www.wolfgangsvault.com, is a website and company which provides access to a vast array of concert recordings, video and memorabilia. It is a private, for-profit company, but defying all expectations, ITS FREE!
The company began when it acquired the many, many recordings (and memorabilia) made by the late great Bill Graham, the famous concert promoter associated with the Winterland in San Francisco. It turns out that a large proportion of the acts that Graham promoted were recorded, so you can imagine the contents of such an archive. Interestingly, the site got its name from Graham, who was actually born Wolfgang Grajonica in Germany. He fled to the Bronx during the Nazi years, and later changed his name. It is a fitting tribute to him that the site is named for him as he helped raise funds for many charities, not least among them the US half of Live Aid in 1985. Subsequently, the company has acquired more archives, 11 in total so far. The company survives by selling merchandise, memorabilia and of course, the concert recordings.
So how does it work I hear you ask? Well, luckily its very simple! You go to the website and register – which only takes a few minutes and is free. You can choose various privacy options, but I actually like to get the weekly emails advertising the latest uploaded concerts. Importantly, so far I have not gotten any spam associated with the site. Once registered, you log in and choose the concert you would like to hear. The concert is streamed over the internet to your PC and you can listen as it streams. You cannot download the concert and burn to a disc later unless you pay for the download, i.e. streaming is free but downloading is gonna cost you. However, the costs are not extravagant, and most importantly you can hear the concert first so you know what you will be getting. When you choose the concert, a pop-up browser window opens and through that window you can control the playback. I have what might be referred to as a mid-fi computer audio set-up, featuring SPDIF output from my motherboard, external DAC, valve headphone amp and a couple of different headphones. The quality of the stream is usually pretty good, but I can see many would hook up their laptop to their main system through the headphone out jack. The playback is typically glitch-free on my connection (a fairly poor DSL line) – I can only remember the stream stopping once mid concert in the last few months of listening – but hey, this is free! Purchasing a concert is easy enough to do. You add the concert in question to a shopping basket, pay and then get a download ticket. There’s some software you need to download to fetch the concert, but its pretty standard stuff. I just love the way you can listen first, so then you can target your purchases to the concerts you would really like to have.
Last year, the site began offering concert videos as well, streamed in much the same way as Youtube. Longer videos are broken into shorter segments, but this may suit many. I was converted when I caught a great video of Muddy Waters in concert in Chicago from the 70′s. There was lots of material from the dressing rooms, interviews with Muddy, and the concert – all in all a fascinating insight into one of my favourite artists.
The site is easy to navigate and it is pretty easy to find the artist you want. It may take a little searching to find exactly what you need as there are over 2500 concerts available – and this number is still growing. If your appetite is not sated by all that goodness, there is another treat for you. A magazine site, Crawdaddy, carries many music related articles. Its definitely worth a visit at least, and more likely more than one visit.