As the Tacky Lights Tour has become a traditional celebration of kitsch in the Richmond area, who remembers how long has it been going on? Who remembers the guy that started it?
SLANTblog has the answers: Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1996 Bill McKelway offered his readers a brief history of a seasonal tradition in Richmond since 1986, when the Tacky Lights Tour was launched by its creator, Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb (pictured above), who was a deejay at a local radio station at the time.
…His fondest memories will be of the outpouring of interest when the tacky house tour began 10 years ago. “I figured I could rent one of those trolleys for about 15 people,” said Gottlieb. “That filled up right away. Then I rented a bus and that filled up in an hour. Then I rented another bus and that filled up.”
At one house decked out in blue lights, tour members spontaneously broke into Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas.’ At another house, they marveled at the lifelike figures on the roof wrapped in lights. “After a while, we realized that the lifelike figures were real people,” Gottlieb said, laughing.
Of course, the tour of way lit up houses still goes on, although Gottlieb moved to San Francisco years ago. By the way, Gottlieb originally called it “Richmond’s Tacky Xmas Decoration Contest and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour.”
Back in 1989, or maybe it was 1990, yours truly was one of small group of judges for Barry’s annual stunt. Chuck Wrenn (who was Barry's partner in the 353-ROCK nightlife hotline in the 1980s) was one of the other invited judges, as was a radio deejay named Dick Hungate. Don’t remember who else was along for the ride. We cruised around in a limousine drinking beer and so forth, looking at a bunch of houses made up to resemble amusement parks, or perhaps houses of ill fame in a Fellini film.
I still remember the all-blue-lights house McKelway mentioned in his piece (which is a good read). It was by far the smallest house on the list. To me it was a little creepy, too, so I stayed in the limo while the others went in.
Barry greatly enjoyed meeting the people, getting their stories and so forth. Some he already knew because he saw them every year, others were new. At the end of the tour we judges voted and may have gone to a bar.
After that same night, I came to see that stretch limos were just not for me. Although I enjoyed my chance to judge tackiness, I’m happy to report I haven’t been in one since then.
As far as how politically incorrect it might be to burn thousands of lights in 2008, with over-the-top conspicuous consumption having suddenly been put in a new uncool light, perhaps that magnifies the mojo of the tackiness factor this time.
More Tacky Lights Links:
- Tour list and map at inRich — click here.
- RichmondWiki — click here.
- NPR (2006 story on local Tackiness) — click here.
- “Highly Illuminated” at STYLE Weekly — click here.