Charlotte music photographer Daniel Coston on Johnny Cash, Ted Nugent and getting hit in the face with a drumstick

Daniel Coston

If you go to concerts in Charlotte you’ve probably seen Daniel Coston and his camera. On a typical weekend night he shoots photos at three or four shows. On a busy night, six to eight.

On his busiest day, he took pictures at 16 locations from morning to night. Fun fact: Daniel Coston does not drink coffee.

His live concert shots and posed sessions of musicians pop up on bands’ and musicians’ websites, promotional materials and album covers. Just a few: Johnny Cash, The Avett Brothers, Wilco, Drive By Truckers, Son Volt, The Monkees, The Beach Boys, Procol Harum, Superchunk, Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Tift Merritt and Carolina Chocolate Drops. (Also, read on for a weird Ted Nugent story.) You can see many of his music photos here.


He’s also authored several books that combine writing and photographs to document the music history of Charlotte and North Carolina, and is currently completing a new edition of his 2013 book “Charlotte’s Home of the Blues: 40 Years of The Double Door Inn,” which will tell a more complete story of the iconic venue, including its final days in December of last year.

I got the chance to talk to Coston about his experiences as a photographer. Here are some of the highlights. In Part 2 he shared his experiences with The Avett Brothers.

On Johnny Cash:

I was asked by the Carter family to photograph what became his final public appearances and the only ones he did after June Carter passed away. It was at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Va. His first show was a tribute show to June. That may be the most emotional show I’ve ever been at in my life. The venue usually holds 500 or 600 people, and word got out through Johnny Cash’s web ring the night before and so suddenly 1,600 people showed up. And they opened up the sides and the back doors of the venue … and people just sat on the mountainside. And if you were on the floor, like I was, to see people going up the mountainside, it was endless.

On getting clocked by a drumstick:

I was sneaking some photos of a Local H Show. They weren’t allowing photos. I took a picture, I took the camera down from my face, and the drummer’s drumstick slipped out of his hand and nailed me between my two front teeth. I’m lucky I didn’t lose my teeth. The people behind me picked me up and I’m like “don’t pick me up, I’ve got my camera in my hands.” I was bleeding from my lip … I still have that drumstick.

On his favorite area bands to photograph:

I’ve been working some with Time Sawyer on their new record and promotion for that. I’ve been enjoying working with newer up-and-coming artists again. There’s something about seeing a band on the way up that’s unlike anything else. The pictures that we did at Neighborhood Theatre, that shoot turned out great. Technically it’s not right. It’s a little more side lighting … but if you get them all in the right place there’s gonna be power in terms of, “I’ve got to look at this band, I’ve gotta see this band.” And that’s what I want in the pictures. Hopefully the visuals complement what they sound like. And that’s the fun challenge. Can you get a visual that feels like the music or feels like them at that moment?

Time Sawyer

The weird Ted Nugent story from 1999: 

I got a call from someone at Verizon Amphitheatre, and they said “Hey, we’ve got this 70s themed concert tonight, nobody’s here taking pictures, can you come out here and take pictures of the headliner?” It was Ted Nugent. So I go out there, I was halfway through the first song … and this guy from Ted’s people pulls me out of the pit and says, “You’re not wearing the right color pass.” I was like “There is no wrong colored pass. I’m the only guy that showed up!”

I was equally mad, incredulous and found it hilarious. One guy who shows up who gives a toss about this so-and-so and these people won’t even allow them to shoot. It takes a lot to get fired from Ted Nugent’s camp but that guy did after that. But I sent (the photo agency) that half roll of photos as a giggle. I printed them at Eckerd’s. And three years later I get a call from the photo agency: “I just sold one of your Ted Nugent photos for a cover of a Sony album for $300.” It’s a budget priced Sony “Best of.” I finally got a copy of it (on Amazon for 29 cents.) “Motor City Madness.” And that cover looks like it was from Eckerd’s. But it’s my picture on a Ted Nugent record.

On his crazy workload:

There’s a bit of a game within my head. I’m like, hey can I do this? Can I pull it off? Also I just like the experience. There’s a certain adrenaline rush that comes from documenting these things and experiencing it. If you’re gonna drink the wine, drink it all up.

James Brown

Photos: Daniel Coston


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