Now that the Tacky Lights Tour has become a traditional kitsch extravaganza, how long has it been going on? Who started it here in Richmond?
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 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, while wallowing in it, I’m happy to report I haven’t ridden in a limo since then.
Happy tackiness to all.
Click here to see "Three New Ways to See the Tacky Lights" at Richmond.com.