When COVID-19 forced everyone inside, we were all tasked with filling our newfound free time. Some people bought Pelotons, some people baked bread. Then there’s Anthony Coscia, who decided to build a wall. Not just any wall, but a scale model recreation of the Grateful Dead‘s famous—or infamous, depending which side of the production you were on—public address system used for 35 concerts between March 23rd, 1974 and October 20th, 1974.

The real Wall of Sound was shelved as the Dead took a much-needed touring hiatus from October 1974 through June 1976. Since then, the legend of Owsley “Bear” Stanley III‘s Wall has lived on through fan lore, photographs, videos, that scene in The Grateful Dead Movie and, of course, audience recordings.

That is, until Coscia, a luthier in Connecticut, decided to bring history back to life.

“It’s one of those things that’s been kind of being planned in my head for years, but more as a ‘someday I’ll do this,’ knowing that I would do it and I would ultimately do a large one, but the timing was just right to actually start doing it,” Coscia told Live For Live Music. “We’re kind of stuck at home. I’m a luthier and I make speaker cabinets, like full-size speaker cabinets, for a living. So it was like, I had some leftover material, a little bit of time. I’m like, ‘Ah, maybe I’ll get started on this.’ And then it kind of snowballed from there.'”

After starting the project in February 2021 and launching its associated social media accounts soon thereafter, Coscia developed a Deadicated online following of people interested in his Mini Wall of Sound page.

“When I started it, it was almost like a little test balloon for me to see how many people were really interested in this,” Coscia said. “Is it just me and a thousand other Deadheads who are kind of lunatics, or is it 200,000 people out there? And I think as of today, I am just closing in on a half-million people that have at least seen the wall, which is crazy to me.”

For Coscia, what started as a passion project has since turned into something that Deadheads, audiophiles, and people who somehow got led to his page via the Facebook algorithm can latch onto.

“What I always find really interesting about this is that what the Wall represents to everybody is different than it means to what the next person might think,” he said.

“Think about it, to see the Wall of Sound you really had to see a show in ’74,” he continued. “So that’s not a lot of the world of Deadheads, but all of them see this and it’s nostalgic, but then there’s this kind of fake nostalgia: every Deadhead in the world has nostalgia for the Wall of Sound, even if they never saw it,” Coscia said. “Some of them are fascinated by just the logistics of the system and traveling around and the story of Big Steve [Parish] and all the roadies, and others are like audio guys that all they care about is that it was one of the first true line array systems out there. So I’m getting all these people that, some are Deadheads, some aren’t.”

After only a few months of intermittent tinkering, Coscia finished his first replica of the Wall of Sound. This first attempt is a one-sixth scale model of the actual Wall, with most of the speakers coming from cell phones or alarm clocks. While 120 cellphone speakers don’t carry quite as much the same oomph as the original Wall, this achievement is symbolic—as well as therapeutic—for Coscia as well as the legions of admirers he’s garnered.

“To me, 1974 happens to be one of my favorite years for the Grateful Dead. So I’ve always kind of fixated on that timeframe and the Wall of Sound is a big part of that,” Coscia said. “We didn’t see tons of pictures of this stuff when I was a kid, because there was no internet yet. Now you can go and get everything in detail and learn about how this stuff works and why it works and what it took to pull it off. And then you get addicted to it and you start wanting to build it.”

Though the speakers themselves are much smaller than the original model, that doesn’t mean Coscia is skimping on any of the details. When we spoke as he was finishing his first model in late March, the speakers were all in place and it was wired for sound, but he still wasn’t done yet. Instead of slapping a bow on this months-long passion project, he set about erecting a small lighting rig and building miniature instruments for the stage.

“I don’t think I really had intended originally on doing things like the piano and then you start getting done and you’re like, ‘Oh, that looks a little empty. It’s missing some of the stuff in there,'” Coscia explained. “So I was like, ‘All right, why don’t I make a little piano?’ And then I got to make the mic stand. And then when you make the mics, you got to make sure you have the dual condensers on that. And then you got to put the foam on the end of the mic. It’s like, where does it stop?… I have no desire to put little dolls of the band. I almost feel like it would cheapen it or make it look a little hokey, but just to have the full stage set and have all the little details done would be great. Then it’s complete and I can move on and start the bigger one.”

“And I think for most people, despite all the science behind it all, if I built this thing and it didn’t look exactly like the Wall of Sound, it wouldn’t be popular at all. So that was kind of my priority first was to make it look just like the Wall.”

“Then, second was to make it make sound,” Coscia said. “I didn’t even care when I started, I didn’t even have a clue how good it would sound. It was all about just having functional speakers in it. And the more I do the better it sounds and the more involved and the more detailed it gets.”

Beyond the sound and the look, the work and the lights, the Connecticut luthier has a bigger-picture project in mind. This first attempt is only one-sixth of the size of the real McCoy, but it is still as tall as its five-foot, eight-inch builder and stretches 10 feet wide. Next, Coscia is quite literally moving on to bigger and better things.

With his first test project in the bag, he plans to build a new Wall of Sound model—this time one-quarter of the size of the original. Next, he’ll progress to a model one-half the size of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound. Even at half the size, this model would still be 22 feet tall and 40 feet wide.

Rather than marketing it toward a traveling band, Coscia has his sights set on making his Wall replica a permanent installation at a venue or even a private concert space.

“Hopefully through this little project, it’s been a great test of the waters of that because clearly there’s enough interest out there to make it financially worth someone’s time to actually invest in doing a project like that,” Coscia said. “No one’s going to spend a million dollars on a sound system for 40 guys to show up with dreadlocks. But if you’ve got 200,000 people who are willing to drive halfway across the country to see a show in front of a Wall, well, now those possibilities start to open up.”

Coscia has already donated his first model to HeadCount, which used it to raise $100,000 from an anonymous donor who will now have their very own (mini) Wall of Sound.

Though this started as a personal passion project for Coscia, he has seen it improve the lives of others at every turn, from people simply seeing his posts and feeling that nostalgia for the Wall—whether real or fake—t0 turning his work into real, grassroots action through an organization like HeadCount.

“We’re also at a time where getting young people to vote is more important than ever,” Coscia said. “So I think it was a logical charity for me. It was also important because I knew that the charity is one that Deadheads, in general, are particularly fond of. So I think they were going to get the most reach and the most bang for your buck out of it.”

As for Coscia, he has already broken ground on his next two models—one for private use and another for special events—armed with the lessons and knowledge gained from the first trial attempt.

[Exclusive photos of Coscia’s next mini Wall of Sound]

“I’m already starting to draw my plans out because this first one was all in my head. The next one, I’m being a little more methodical about doing it. I think there’s a lot of time savings having done a small one already,” Coscia observed. “So now it’s just a matter of scaling it and what’s important for me is it’s got to look like the Wall. So just because you find a four-inch speaker doesn’t mean that it’s going to look like the four-inch speaker in the Wall of Sound. So I got to find products that not only will work sonically, but also looks correct because I don’t want it to look like I have just stacked up a bunch of speakers. So I’m putting a bit more attention into the details of that going forward.”

In the end, beyond the specifications, donations, and permutations for his mini Wall of Sound, it all comes down to the music for Coscia. While he is still mapping out the concept in his head and on paper, there’s one final question that will pose itself when the next Wall is finished: what will he play first?

“You know, as long as it’s from ’74, I’m good,” Coscia said. “I played a little bit from the Cow Palace because that was the first official full-size gig with the full-size Wall. My favorite show, which wasn’t even from the full Wall, would be from Palo Alto on February 9th. But I think it’ll be something from ’74. I haven’t figured out exactly what yet.”