COMPLEXICATIONS OF A FESTIVAL PHOTOGRAPHER
If you’ve had the misfortune of traveling with me, you know things don’t go as planned. I don’t mean you forgot to pack your deodorant and you have to make time to pick some up near your destination. I mean, you find out that your cousin Eddie has Asteroids, and you arrive at Wally World to find the park is closed. I’ve been photographing music festivals since 2014, where at my first festival, I fell asleep transferring files from my camera to my laptop. This caused the battery to die on my camera before the headliner performed on the last day—novice mistake. The next year, I bought a fancy, bluetooth hard drive that I essentially catapulted into the rain on the second day. None of the files were salvageable. In Chicago, I was pick-pocketed on the L and lost my tickets and car keys. I couldn’t go back to the show, or drive home.
Every year something happens to complicate an already full schedule of photographing, interviewing, and staying fresh and hydrated in the season’s heat. Being the optimist, and believing the key is in solid planning, I outdo my previous year’s attempts at circumventing any complexities. This season, the festival opener for me was Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival. It was completely sold out, and there can be no question as to why. A string of well-thought-out decisions, and responsive actions led to a terrific festival experience at Sawyer Point Park on Cincinnati’s Ohio River. Despite weather issues, cancelations, and other unexpected events, It was a successful venture, even for me.
Despite Friday’s headliner cancelling a few days before the festival, the Promowest team did get a commitment from them for next year’s Bunbury festival. If a fan was just there to see Blink 182, and only had a wristband for Friday, they were even offered a refund. A quick lineup adjustment and a look at the Bunbury app, and we were back on schedule.
The weather would threaten to douse us all day, but in the end it only set back some of the performers half an hour. I’ve been to festivals where nearly an entire day had to be cancelled due to the weather. Again, the Bunbury app kept everyone abreast of which artists were to perform at what time. After less than an hour’s downpour, strong planning and communication had us back on track.
LIFT THE MEDIUM
Representing Pure Rock on the River stage was Cincinnati’s own Lift the Medium. Not being from Cincinnati, I hadn’t been exposed to them until one of the local photographers insisted I would enjoy them. They know me pretty well! Uplifting vocals, righteous guitar riffs and hair everywhere!
A positive, realistic, open, and sensitive artist. He’s taken events that happen all around the world and to him, and made the best out of them. While some rappers try to maintain a hardened image, his second song was dedicated to his mom. He’s next!
The first act on the Nissan stage were fun and full of energy. This is how ever festival should start. The back up singer’s ball cap shed light on their performance. #caffienated
She needs a bigger stage! Pop sounds with dramatic and smooth vocals are what makes for a real live girl! She bounced around the stage, enjoying her performance as much as the overflowing crowd at the River stage did. Even the stairs to the ampitheater were packed. Bishop Briggs is another up-and-coming artist to watch with her first album released just a few months ago.
FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS
Every bit as good as the first time I’ve seen them. From the casual listener you might hear, they sing this song too?! Fitz and Noelle rule the stage together while they perform familiar toe-tapping mega hits.
YOUNG THE GIANT
Lead vocalist, Sameer Gadhia has given me some of my favorite photo opportunities. Their performance on the Sawyer Point stage was exactly what you would expect. They even had a few new songs to boot.
This was my first time seeing Friday evening’s headliner Chainsmokers perform live. With their lasers, lights, confetti, and fire, they kept everyone fixed on the stage for their entire set. And for primarily a DJ set, they stayed out in the open rather than behind a table.
HA: Hi! Thanks for meeting with us! It’s been 42 days since you released your first full-length album. How has your life changed?
BB: Well, all my problems are solved …
HA: Ha! Yeah, give it some time. One thing I got from researching your style, music, and history is how genuine and artistic you are. I’m thinking of your image, branding, and how there was a push to name this album something happier, but you were firm about Church of Scars.
HA: How big of a vinyl collection do you have?
BB: I have a big vinyl collection. It’s got Amy Winehouse, Carole King, Lorde.
HA: And Kanye?
BB: Yes, but I’ve had to sort of back off for recent political issues that have come up lately.
HA: What do you think of his single Lift Yourself?
BB: I think the sampling is incredible.
HA: Imagine you’re on a first date. Everything is going really well, but both of you listen to very different music. Do things go any further, or is this a deal breaker?
BB: Oh … I think I can still find something I can enjoy listening too, so it wouldn’t be a deal breaker.
WHAT FRESH HELL CAN THIS BE?
Recovering from all of the excitement from the first day, when I arrived back at my car, I calmly searched through my gear to find I didn’t have my car keys anymore—just a broken carabiner on my hip. Oh that’s right. I nearly forgot something unexpected was going to happen. I abandoned the car for a night and took an Uber to check in to the hotel. Before the night was over, I received an email from Marissa of Promowest letting me know that they found my keys. I was skeptical, because, how do they know what my keys look like?
I planned on getting up early the next day to report to lost & found. I needed to find my keys, or have my son drive two hours with my spare set. Packing up at my hotel, I realized I also left a $1100 camera lens in the darkness of the parking lot next to my car while searching for my keys. I ordered another Uber to take me to my car, but there was a footrace that kept us from getting any closer than a mile to my spot. In clothes still smelling of Friday’s adventure, I walked to my car. Twenty minutes later, I found my lens still sitting next to the rear wheel well. Okay! Now let’s just see about those keys.
When I arrived at the media trailer where we charge devices, and conduct interviews, I could overhear Marissa inquiring about my keys over the radio. I dropped some gear off in the trailer and headed out. Not long after, Evan, a volunteer for the festival uttered the greatest thing I heard at a three-day weekend of music, “Is it a Nissan?” They had found my keys! I rushed back to my car to put on some clean clothes before my shower wore off or I missed any more of Saturday’s performances.
This was the most surprising set I saw all weekend. Their energy was unparalleled. These guys came to party, even if some music got in the way! I had to travel to Cincinnati to discover a band out of my own home town. I’ve already photographed them again since.
If you’re a photographer with pit access and you couldn’t get a great shot of Misterwives, you don’t deserve pit access. This is such a fun and crazy band that two of the members moved in together after only knowing each other a week in Astoria. I first saw them perform at the smallest Promowest Venue in Columbus three years ago. It’s great to see how far they’ve come . Mandy Lee has developed a great style and stage presence. You’ve got a cold, damaged soul if Misterwives’ live performance doesn’t get you moving.
THIRD EYE BLIND
Yes, of course they played all your favorites. You might think Third Eye Blind would create a great nostalgia, but they seem to have perfected their own sound to create new versions of their music. Also, their new release Fuck Forever came out last week, so there was a solid mix of old and new.
ANDREW MCMAHON IN THE WILDERNESS
This guy! I missed him at the last festival I was at, but he was worth the wait! This man’s stage had no boundaries. Very likely you know and like more songs by him than you realize.
It’s hard to get as good of a sound from a live performance as a studio recording when everything is digital, but wait!!! This isn’t sampling—he’s actually playing the saxophone! I misjudged Griz. He’s got real instruments outside of the turntable and one of the funkiest sounds at Bunbury this year.
Supporting their 8th studio release appropriately named “8”, the alt-metal band brought a sound and force as alluring as Brandon Boyd is to the ladies. Years of dedicated touring have made them pros.
IS THIS REAL LIFE?
This is it—The last day! The forecast originally promised rain all weekend, but there was only a small chance for Sunday now. Everything I lost has been found. There were some great performers to photograph, a few to interview, and the heat was tolerable. Smooth sailing from here, right? RIGHT! I’m so used to disappointment, I don’t know how to convey this point without any sarcasm. Everything worked out! As a matter of fact, there was even a mix up with my hotel stay and I ended up getting my last day for FREE! Please don’t tell the folks at the Cincinnati Millennium. I made some new friends. I saw some great performances, and discovered some new artists to fangirl over.
BLACK PISTOL FIRE
This is my third time photographing this duo, and the performance I looked forward to most this weekend.They can be a challenge to photograph, so I was trying to prep my friends in the pit on what to expect. Every chance I get, I will photograph them. Guitarist and vocalist, Kevin McKeown gave me everything I expected, and more! I even caught myself saying, “whoa!” after he intentionally dropped to the ground hard and kept playing his guitar. If you like raw blues-rock, and don’t like being disappointed, check out their new single Cry Wolf.
COHEED & CAMBRIA
It may seem crazy that Coheed & Cambria shared a stage that would be occupied by Post Malone shortly afterward, (Drummer, Josh Eppard, even had a thought on it on Twitter after the show), but … I’ve seen Kid Rock introduce the Cure after his performance on stage. If you only know their one killer song (You know the one!), it’s your own damn fault! Check out the Dark Sentencer, and go pick up some Armory Wars comics!
Probably the most heartfelt and soulful rapper I’ve ever seen perform. Truthful and uplifting with a little bite with lyrics like, “I love Jesus, the one out of Nazareth, not the European with the ultra perm and them soft eyes and them thin lips”. I think the kids call that keeping it real. And what a performance! I can’t believe it took me 14 years to discover him. He could definitely fall back on being some sort of professional athlete if he got tired of performing music. If he looks big in photos, he’s bigger in real life and I think he’s going to continue getting bigger.
I was skeptical about this one when I learned the only original member, Ken Casey had just returned from surgery and was even being driven to the stage on a golf cart. You would never have known it though! Ken, Alexander, James Lynch, Jeff DaRosa, Tim Brennan, Matt Kelly, and of course bagpipe player, Scruffy Wallace performed like a bunch of hooligans!
How do you get Post Malone to perform at your music festival? You book him early. You book him before he breaks the record for the most simultaneous top 20 songs in the Hot 100, previously held by the Beatles and J Cole (No feats). You have to credit Post Malone. He is all in on his career. There is no back up plan for a man with a face tattoo that says Stay Away. Four days after this performance, he filled in more of his face’s canvas with “Always Tired”. I’m not considering getting a face tattoo or pink diamond teeth, but he’s doing well with the ladies who camped out all day to see him.
It’s not uncommon for a tiny woman to have a giant heart, but a nicer woman with a stronger grip I’ve never met. I remember first seeing Lillie Mae play with Jack White 3 years ago in Columbus and I was a little starstruck to speak with her today. To many kids, (Yes, I’m in my 40’s I’m allowed to say kids.), acoustic elements of blue grass, country, folk, and rock, aren’t high on their list of music to get into; then comes Lillie Mae! She has been performing onstage since she was three. Since then, she’s picked up just about every stringed instrument in the genre, and developed a look, and vocal style that is nearly impossible to classify. Her iconic hairstyle may have come from her sister cleaning up an accident, but she’s an original; an iconoclast, and Bunbury was a great place to showcase that.
A Nashvillian with strong roots in folk and country, she is one of the few who have been able to introduce Americana, alt country style music to these kids, and they’re loving it! She is the genre’s Green Eggs & Ham, opening their minds to sounds new to them.
She loves to yodel and has been doing so since she was a kid, but didn’t think I had the skill in me when I asked for a quick vocal lesson.
With all the instruments at her disposal, I expected the mandolin would be her favorite to play and experiment with, but she claims she gets fatigued playing the Mandolin. I mean, I have to believe her, but there was that handshake! Those hands could hold a bowling ball for the entirety of her performance. No stranger to performing, recording or conceptualizing new songs, she’s happy to do all three to promote her music.
I would find it daunting to travel and tour with my family, but Lillie Mae and her siblings have had a very different upbringing than most. Their father had all the children performing together as children. They even formed their own band — Jypsi for about 14 years. Today, Lillie Mae still tours with her siblings Scarlet & Frank.
When asked how many tattoos she had, she answered, “We’d have to count them. I almost got another one last night.”
An animal lover, she has several pets that her family takes care of while she’s touring. She would like to get involved in rescuing animals and hopes to be home enough one day to run her own dog rescue, but until that day, she’s going to continue to open the minds of today’s youth to the sounds of Americana.
Clinton Clegg sings with the grittiness of Joe Cocker backed by many rich sounds and diverse talent from his bandmates like the wailing guitar and horns in Aloysius off their 2016 release Grown. I met up with three of the nine members of Pittsburgh’s the Commonheart. As any self-respecting Yinzer, Clinton is a Steelers fan, and even sang the national anthem before their home game against New England in 2017.
There’s a lot to be said for a nine-piece band that tours the East Coast in one cramped van but it can mostly be summed up in one word — Dedication! It’s clear with their stage performance, and their process.
When I asked what the most challenging aspect of promoting their music is, they explained it’s scheduling everyone for two rehearsals a week plus performances. What’s more is, they had to part ways with someone they described as, “Everyone’s favorite band member”, when they couldn’t get the schedule to work for them. Yes there’s more room in the van now, but they’d still rather have him there with them.
With a group this size, it’s got to be all about the music. Jazz, classical, soul, and big band influenced their process of putting together their second album. Five people write the music. I asked Clinton how he brings new ideas to the other members of the group. Do they approve by committee? He told me, “There’s an unspoken sense if the song isn’t working.” When it’s not going to work with the band, it’s just not coming together. You can feel it as much as something that does work out. No one has to say anything.
They’re not a machine, and there are human moments throughout the process as well. Their guitarist Mel gets the most grief from the band. He’s a self-proclaimed heel and brings it on himself, but there seems to be nothing but good feelings toward everyone of the members.
If it all became too much; if they had to give up on this lifestyle, Clinton says he would join the ranks of fellow band member and saxophonist Abby Gross, and become a teacher like many people in his family.
Their sound is lively and well assembled. Every single one of the members on stage was another good photo opportunity. My only gripe that I expressed to Clinton is Who Dat Momma gets stuck in my head, and there is rarely an inappropriate time in my day for me to sing out those lyrics. Look for bigger things from this big band soon!
Has the curse been broken? Have I finally over-planned against fate? I’m sure I’ll regret even thinking that at the next festival. For now I’m going to roister in the memories of the first festival where everything worked out for me (In the end). I even had some opportunities for some impromptu photos with some of the artists and friendly festival goers —