Band helps bring rock ‘n’ roll immortality to Cedar County man
RANDOLPH - As a music photographer, David Carstens usually aims his camera at those in the spotlight. But he now finds himself the one up on center stage.
Carstens, a Randolph native and former editor of The Randolph Times, was inducted into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame Friday night in Norfolk as part of the annual Nebraska Rocks awards and performances.
“It was absolutely mind-blowing, it was so good,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I’ll be on a buzz for a long time.”
He said it’s difficult to reconcile the recognition when he still sees himself as a farm kid from rural Randolph.
“I’ve always been that. The music part speaks to your heart and I tap into that energy and that’s where the inspiration comes from,” Carstens said. “I just try to be true to myself, and amazing people have really helped me on different things.”
The son of Dean and Ruth Carstens grew up on a four-generation farm south of Randolph.
Ruth was the organist at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church for about 50 years and taught piano for decades as well.
David credits his mother for his early love of music but he had many people and experiences that set him on the path to the Music Hall of Fame.
One of his junior high music teachers, Paul Rath, gave the assignment to bring in a favorite record to share with the class. Carstens brought Kansas’ “Point of Know Return.” Rath happened to bring in the band’s latest live album.
He said he was fascinated by the photographs on the record.
A couple of years later, he started working on the Randolph High School yearbook under the direction of Shirley Jensen. He recalls attending a photography workshop and the next week started taking pictures at Randolph’s football games.
His career took him to the Norfolk Daily News where he worked in a number of newsroom roles, getting hands-on attention from the photographers he worked with there.
Carstens remembers specifically getting assigned to cover Nebraska Rocks as a reporter and initially thought of it as nothing more than just another assignment.
“They really welcomed me in from the get-go, the whole organization did,” Carstens said. “To be a part of that now is pretty important to me.”
Entertainment reporting - attending concerts and interviewing bands and musical artists - became a regular thing - his beat, as they call it among newspaper professionals.
He had the opportunity to interview his favorite band - Kansas - in the mid ‘90s and take pictures at a concert in Sioux City, Iowa, meeting the band afterwards. He calls that meeting a “game changer.” Soon after, the band presented him with his own photography credentials.
And he’s been working with them ever since - nearly 26 years now. In a complete full circle, it’s now his photos that often appear on Kansas’ album covers as well as the band website and T-shirts, among other promotional items.
Carstens’ photos have also appeared on the band’s documentary and on a Dan Rather-hosted TV program featuring the band.
Now living in Estherville, Iowa, and working as a railroad engineer, Carstens still photographs about three or four shows per year for the band.
“These days, if there’s a show within 500 miles, I’ll look at the feasibility of getting there. I always take my camera with me,” he said. “I just try to balance life and family.”
All in all, Carstens is thankful for the Hall of Fame induction but gives credit where credit is due — his roots.
“When you stop and think of how far you’ve gone, it’s just great to come back home,” he said. “You remember what it’s like. Nebraska Rocks really got myself and all of us in attendance in touch with the music that we love and grew up with - our musical roots. That’s always been what it’s about.”