50 Years Ago: Robert Plant Befriends a Dove at Led Zeppelin Show
To capture a truly great rock 'n' roll photograph, you need a few things: access to the band, a good vantage point, a careful sense of timing and, perhaps most importantly, a little bit of luck.
Photographer Neal Preston had all of these things when he snapped the now-famous photo of Robert Plant tenderly holding a white-winged dove at a Led Zeppelin concert that took place at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco on June 2, 1973.
The dozen doves that flew out from behind a pair of amps that day were staged, but they were only meant to head for the audience at the end of "Stairway to Heaven." "To be honest, I think they were probably just white pigeons, but we called them doves so let's stick with that," Preston told The Guardian in 2018.
But one of them got lost and turned back toward the stage, where Plant held out his hand and the bird perched for a few moments — enough time for Preston to grab a shot of the singer with the dove in one hand and a drink and cigarette in the other. "I'm just glad it didn't land on Jimmy Page's hand or something bad might have happened to it," Preston noted.
Plant was in good spirits that day for a daytime performance that drew 50,000 fans. Led Zeppelin had recently released their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, which had gone to No. 1 in both the U.K. and the U.S. "I'm gonna tell you," he said from the stage, "this is the best vibes since the first time we played the Fillmore five years ago. So vibes are real!" (Plant's math was slightly off: Led Zeppelin had first performed at the Fillmore West four years earlier, in January 1969.)
Preston didn't realize at the time how iconic his photo would become, a literal representation of peace sitting gingerly in the hand of one of rock's most raucous characters. Plant reportedly loved the photo so much that he acquired a copy of it.
Preston acknowledged that only someone with Plant's stage appeal could have made such a moment appear so effortless. "I was happy with it," Preston said. "But you know what? If you're a professional photographer in my line of work and you can't get a great photo of Robert Plant, you should probably quit your job and go sell donuts."