It was in 2016 when Ross Mickel received a phone call to his own radio show that would open an unforeseen opportunity in his life.
On the phone was a band that simply goes by “Lettuce.”
They were looking for someone to shoot photos at their concert.
“I figured it would be kind of fun,” Mickel said.
So, he borrowed his friend’s DSLR camera, and with no prior education or professional experience with photography, he photographed the show.
“I found out I was reasonably good at it to begin with, and I just kept whacking away and continuing to learn,” Mickel said.
But there’s more to the story, which really began back in the early 2000s at what was called Castleton State College at the time.
Mickel is a 2006 Castleton graduate. With a major in communication, he spent three-and-a-half of his four years at college sitting in the then-WIUV office doing his radio show, something he referred to as a “second choice.”
He originally wanted to be a sound engineer, producing and engineering music for bands. But when he started his show at Castleton, he fell in love with radio.
“I’m an avid music collector, and it gives me a reason to collect and listen to and follow as much music as I possibly can,” said Mickel. “The radio show is a music addict’s dream.”
Mickel graduated, and it wasn’t until four years later in 2010 when he picked up his love for radio again. Between jobs and needing something to do on Saturdays, Mickel began a radio show out of a small station in Burlington called “The Radiator.”
His show, which he calls “Bootlegger’s Beware,” focuses on live music. It’s based on his show from WIUV at Castleton, and it was this show where he got the gig shooting photos.
“The photography thing feels like it works pretty well with it,” Mickel said. “The two kind of manage to play off each other a bit.”
Since 2016 when Mickel first shot Lettuce, he has taken his photography to a new level. He now goes out and shoots concerts for Glide, an independent magazine that focuses on innovative music and the arts.
This new opportunity propelled Mickel into covering bigger jam bands and internationally known acts. He has shot photos for bands such as Gov’t Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band, My Morning Jacket, and most recently Jimmie Vaughan, the older brother of late guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan. He also works with Glide to cover Grand Point North, a music festival in Burlington that features Grace Potter.
“It’s humbling to have that experience,” Mickel said of being able to cover some of these bigger names in the jam band world.
He also covers other bands, including many mid-range bands. One of his favorites to work with is “Pink Talking Fish,” a cover band of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish.
He’s able to meet with a lot of the members from those smaller to mid-range bands as he works with them. Mickel also notably interviewed Warren Haynes of “Gov’t Mule” and Jimmie Vaughan for his radio show.
For Mickel, being a photographer was never something he planned. He never learned about still photography in college. He had no knowledge of what it took to get a good shot, or how to use a camera in manual settings.
“It was just on a whim that I wound up doing what I did,” said Mickel. “It was daunting to begin with. The enjoyment came from learning how to do it and getting better.
Mickel still enjoys photography and has a drive to learn how to be even better at the craft.
“Now, the enjoyment comes from pushing myself and trying to see different things every night, and really trying to refine my own style,” he said. “It’s the thrill of the hunt, kind of, looking for the shot.”
Although he has not yet gotten paid for any of his photography work, Mickel’s love for music is benefitting from the photography gig. With a radio show that started at Castleton and an unexpected spot in the photo pit at many concerts, Mickel calls photography a “zero-sum game.”
“I jokingly call my camera my $1,200 free concert ticket,” he said.