This has been a fantastic year for music and for Rubato Photo. Early in this year I teamed up with Cincymusic.com to help them out with photos and in turn they handled all of the credentials requests. Aside from Cincymusic taking the hassle of requesting access, they also recruited more photographers throughout the year to be sure that they can cover as much of the vibrant Cincinnati music scene as possible. I’m proud to call the other photographers my colleagues and more importantly, my friends.
As a musician, music fan and a photographer there are certain bands/acts that are on my concert photography bucket list. I knocked a few of those off this year, including BB King, Rush, John Prine, Mavis Staples, and Muse, to name a few.
In 2013 I also began writing for Sly Vinyl, a limited edition vinyl collecting website. If you’re a vinyl junkie like me, be sure to check it out. As the end of the year approached I was given the opportunity to write about my top 10 albums of the year. You can listen to the Spotify playlist below.
My goal in this post is to celebrate the 2013 year and to hopefully give you a peek behind the curtain of what it’s like to be a concert photographer. I hope you’ll enjoy my anecdotes and photos as much as I enjoyed experiencing them!
Take a look below at some stats on my year and some of my favorite shots and why they made the list.
Why it’s on the list: First off, you are going to see a theme in this list. Most of the bands I’ve listed here are also some of my favorites, and I’d be there with or without a camera. That being said, the first show I show this year was Father John Misty in Columbus, OH. The first photo above capture the essence of frontman J. Tillman’s charisma as he sings and writhes about stage, fraught with emotion. As for the second photo, I’m a sucker for well done back lighting and love the colors.
Why it’s on the list: Frontier Ruckus was my first show with Cincymusic.com and also the first time I had been to the newly reopened Southgate House Revival. I wasn’t too familiar with the band before the show, but I was eager to see the new venue and hear some new music. The show was in The Revival Room, an small room that only holds about 70-100 people tops. It’s great for an intimate show and was perfect for Frontier Ruckus as the wandered out amongst the crowd for their encore. While the photos above might not be my best work technically, I feel that the moment it captures far outweighs it’s technical shortcomings (very low light in the crowd, lots of noise). Some of the best stories are told by photos done in less than ideal conditions, but they really show the essence of the moment.
Why it’s on the list: Walk The Moon is a hometown band of a former bandmate of mine, who at the beginning of this year was beginning what would turn out to be one to remember as they began selling out venues across the globe. I caught them in Columbus as they played what at that point was their largest crowd ever (I suspect they have long since broken that record). With a band like Walk The Moon, my goal is to try to freeze their infectious energy. That’s why I chose the three photos above, they really give a good idea of the intensity of the show.
Why it’s on the list: I’ve been listening to Muse for a long time now and had never seen them live. For years I’ve heard tell of their epic stage productions but never seemed to be able to make it when they were in Cincinnati. Finally in February I remedied that situation. The opening act was a band called Dead Sara who were very good, I love the colors in the top photo of their guitarist.
The Muse set was both exhilarating and difficult to shoot. First, the stage was gigantic with a lot of space between the band members. Second, there was a long catwalk in the center of the stage that made going from one side to another a bit of a trek (the bottom photo was taken at the end of the catwalk). Third, the sensory overload was very overwhelming. At a few instances I had to remind myself to keep shooting and not just take it all in. US Bank Arena is the largest venue I shot in this year (not counting open air festivals).
Why it’s on the list: Every show at the Madison Theater is a bit of an adventure to photograph. There is rarely a photo pit and they get some awesome shows that often sell out. That’s a recipe for a challenging night for a photographer. The Local Natives show was sold out and the floor section of the venue was packed in like sardines. I managed to wiggle my way up near the front to join a few friends for the first song and then spent the second and third songs trying to rind any place I could to shoot from, while trying not to ruin the show for the concert-goers. I really had to work for this one and that’s why I love it so much.
The first photo was selected for the Fotofocus curated show called Reverberation: Capturing The Live Music Experience.
Why it’s on the list: MusicNOW is an amazing event that always incorporates some of the most forward thinking and creative musicians in the world. This year was no exception. With appearances from Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire , Tinariwen from Mali, Africa and event curator Bryce Dessner of The National, MusicNOW manages to elevate the bar each year.
Usually the crowd at MusicNOW is fairly reserved and some may describe it as a bit stuffy. It’s definitely a who’s who of the Cincinnati arts scene. But don’t let their put-together and reserved demeanor fool you. When Tinariwen played their set, there was not an ass in a seat. It’s amazing that such distinctly different groups or people can bridge cultural and language gaps through music. That’s why I chose the top photo, it shows the aisles filled with people or vastly different backgrounds dancing as one.
The last photo is one of my favorites of the whole year. Glen Hansard’s fame skyrocketed with the popularity the movie Once and it’s soundtrack. It’s really a beautiful story of love, loss, confusion and hope. During the movie Hansard and co-star Marketa Irglova actually began dating and took the musical chemistry from the movie into a fantastic long-term musical project. The song “Falling Slowly” on the soundtrack earned them both a Grammy. Sadly the romance didn’t last and the duet about falling in love lost it’s female half, thus fell out of Hansard’s live show. At MusicNOW Hansard was joined on stage with a girl from the Brooklyn Youth Choir for the female part. She was obviously a bit starstruck, but sounded amazing and it really was a special moment.
Why it’s on the list: There are a few bands that every time they come to town I make my best effort to get to that show. J Roddy Walston & The Business are situated comfortable on that list. Their live show is one of the most energetic and frenetic I’ve ever seen. J Roddy plays piano and guitar with a fervor matched by very few. As he pounds out Jerry Lee Lewis-esque riffs his hair flies in all directions. I swear one of these days he’s gonna smack his head right on his piano. I love watching a band who completely sells out trying to look cool for unbridled passion.
Their new album made my top 10 for the year. I chose these two photos because they show the intensity both with the motion captured in the first photo and the quiet brooding of the look in the second.
Why it’s on the list: The Shins are one of my favorite bands of the past decade. Like most people, I was introduced to them by Natalie Portman in Garden State. While I can’t really say their music changed my life like she says in the movie, it certainly has been in heavy rotation on my iTunes and Spotify over the years. Their show in May was the first show I attended at the new Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati and I was thoroughly impressed with the venue and the band. The first photo was also chosen as part of the Fotofocus Reverberation show in September.
Why it’s on the list: My concert photography has afforded me a lot of very cool opportunities in 2013, Nelsonville Music Festival was one of the coolest. I had the opportunity to meet some other great photographers from around the country and photographed some legendary bands.
Mavis Staples (of the Staple Singers) joined on stage by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco for her Grammy awarding song “You Are Not Alone” from the album produced by Tweedy.
During Mavis’s set a thunderstorm barreled through Nelsonville and they were forced to postpone the show for about an hour. When the storm finally passed her knees had had enough and Tweedy came out to say “Mavis says she loves you all very much, but this weather is God’s way of saying it’s time for her to sit down. She hopes to see you sometime real soon.” Wilco then joined him on stage to play an extended set to fill the rest of her spot and theirs. They played for nearly two hours straight. Bottom right is Tweedy and alt country pioneers Wilco.
John Prine is a legend. Period. The end. He’s been through a laundry list of health problems over the years and keeps persevering. I chose the photo at top left because regardless of the adversity he faces, he still has such joy in performing and it emanates from his thousand watt smile.
Gogol Bordello is one of the most difficult bands I’ve ever photographed. There are so many band members and so much motion on stage that it’s nearly impossible to do it justice. Hopefully this one brings some of the gypsy rock craziness that is their show.
Lastly, the Lo Fi Cabin is the coolest room I’ve ever seen music in. It’s an old log cabin that performers played in completely unplugged to a hushed crowd of onlookers. Take away the modern clothes and this could easily have been taken a hundred years ago. The above photos show an intimacy that I doubt I’ll ever see at another venue.
Why it’s on the list: As I have mentioned a few times on here, I’m been playing bass for about twenty-one years. I’ve been listening to Rush and Geddy Lee’s bass playing for nearly all of that time. Being in the presence of one of the best bassists alive was a very humbling experience. At one point Geddy was singing, playing the Moog Taurus Synth with his feet and playing crazy complex bass lines. I’d be happy to be able to do just one of those as well as he, much less all three at the same time. Stage setup was wild and the lighting was some of the best I’ve ever had the opportunity to shoot in. Also, this was my first shoot at Riverbend Music Center. All in all, it was an experience I’ll not soon forget.
Why it’s on the list: Bunbury Music Festival is pretty much where I got my start in concert photography. In 2012 I emailed and pestered the right people until they gave me a chance to shoot on the festival’s photo team. It’s a grueling experience that includes a ton of walking, temps in the high 90s and editing throughout the day, but it’s one of my favorite weekends of the year.
The headliner of the last night of Bunbury was hometown Cincinnati band The National. This was my fifth time seeing them and second time photographing them. They are right now my current favorite band and their newest album was my album of the year.
8.2.13 – Taft Theatre. Cincinnati, OH
Why it’s on the list: I love shooting at the Taft Theatre’s main space. It always has amazing lighting and beautiful sound. Grizzly Bear’s set was filled with lush color washes and eerie jellyfish-looking lanterns at the back of the stage that complimented the spacey, laid back feel of their show perfectly.
BB KING / PETER FRAMPTON
7.12.13 – 7.14.13 – PNC Pavilion. Cincinnati, OH
Why it’s on the list: Im not really sure that I need to say why BB King made the list. He’s BB King. He was so gracious and kind to the audience, throwing picks out and making sure that a little kid at the show got one. He smiled, told stories and carressed his Les Paul, Lucielle and all was right with the world. Frampton however, is no slouch of a guitar player either. He may be most known for his use of a talkbox, but the guy can really play and is a hell of an entertainer.
GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD: TROY STOPOVER
8.30.13 – 8.31.13 – Troy Memorial Stadium. Troy, OH
Why its on the list: When I first heard that the Gentlemen Of The Road festival had a stop in Troy, OH (about an hour and a half north of Cincy) I knew I would be going. I bought a ticket and a camping pass thinking that I would be going just to enjoy the concerts but as luck would have it Cincymusic was approved for a photo pass and I was the only one available to shoot the whole weekend. This was also my first time shooting a multi-day festival while camping. I worried at first that I wouldn’t get good enough rest sleeping on the ground after such a long day on my feet, but I was so exhausted that it didn’t make a difference, haha!
Phosphorescent (above left) was a bit of a strange fit at the festival with their very chill music and long songs. I heard more than a few people bemoaning the pace and wanting things to be a bit more lively, but I for one loved the set and have liked Phosphorescent for a while now. I posted that photo just to show my support!
The other three above are all of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. First off, how adorable are those two when they sing to each other? I can’t decide if it’s cute or makes me ill, haha. I’ll leave that decision to you. The lower right photo is when Alex came into the photo pit to let a girl in the front row sing part of a song. I’m not sure if it was planned or random, but the girl knew all the words and had a really good voice. Excuse the grain, there was very little light, but I really thought it was a cool moment and worth sharing anyway.
Obviously, to the left is Marcus Mumford. I love this photo because of the heavy contrast of the shadows. This look was a style of light known as Chiaroscuro or Rembrandt Lighting that is used to create tension and emotion in paintings, photography and videography. It was heavily utilized by renaissance painter Rembrandt, thus giving it the colloquial moniker of Rembrandt lighting. Aside from the lighting, I also included this photo because Mumford and Sons are now on an indefinite hiatus, so this may be the last we see of them for a while.
As a graphic designer I was blown away by the attention to detail in every aspect of this festival. Truly every sign was designed to fit the aesthetic of the festival. Most prominent though were the backdrops for each band that were individually designed. You can see part of one of them behind Justin Townes Earle in the above right photo. Also, if you’re not familiar with Justin’s music, you must take a listen. He’s every bit the troubadour his father Steve Earle is.
If I hear the song Wagon Wheel again I may just go insane. That song has metastasized into a monster that ins nearly inescapable. It’s not a bad song, not at all. In fact I actually like the song the first few times I heard it. Sadly though there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear this song a few times at restaurants, in office building hallways, at open mic nights, in bars, etc. We’ve hit the threshold and now it’s just annoying. When a band blows up in popularity so quickly, I liken it to a business that suddenly has a top selling product. It’s easy to see the first success and try to immediately replicate and expand upon it. However, many startups and small business fail not because they couldn’t sell a product, but because they grew too quickly. Hopefully Old Crow Medicine Show can weather the storm of popularity and the eventual fallout that comes with a song that is so pervasive in our everyday lives, because, if you can get past that song to the rest of their catalog, they’re actually really awesome. Also, just look at the face in that photo. How in the hell could I not share that with the world, haha!
WALK THE MOON
9.6.13 – University of Cincinnati, Sigma Sigma Commons. Cincinnati, OH
Why it’s on the list: I know what you’re thinking… “seriously, another Walk The Moon Show?” I can’t help it, they are just so fun to photograph and I had to include these because they show off their new stage setup complete with lighted trees to match their album cover. Ok, I’m done posting photos of them for now, haha!
MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL
9.26.13 – 9.29.13 – Over The Rhine, various venues. Cincinnati, OH
Why it’s on the list: I have a number of tie-ins with Cincinnati’s Midpoint Music Festival, from playing the first four years to volunteering as a stage manager to photographing the fest. Covering a festival like Midpoint is difficult logistically because there are numerous venues and all of them have music going all evening and night. I find that the best practice is to make a spreadsheet of the bands and list those I consider must-sees and make plan my route in the festival around them. It’s a really rewarding feeling when you make it to that last show of the weekend, finish shooting and crack open a beer and share stories with other photographers and festival goers.
Kurt Vile’s newest album Wakin On A Pretty Daze made my top 10 albums of the year list so it seemed appropriate to include him here. With all that hair, he’s a difficult man to photograph!
For the rest of the photos I chose to show a number of different venues and highlight the differences in setup, lighting and feel from venue to venue. Shooting MPMF definitely keeps your on your toes as the conditions are constantly changing each show.
TWENTY ONE PILOTS
10.26.13 – Bogart’s. Cincinnati, OH
Why it’s on the list: During Bunbury Music Festival this year I photographed Twenty One Pilots for the first time. At the beginning of the show they started out with a drum solo, I know, weird right? What I didn’t know was that Tyler, the multi-instrumentalist and singer was readying himself for a vault from the piano to the font of the stage. I heard the crowd start cheering and realize that something was happening to my left. I turned and clicked. The shot that came out was ok, but wasn’t well framed and had the lens hoods and lenses of other photographers blocking the bottom of the shot.
When I was asked to shoot them for day two of their weekend at Bogart’s in Cincinnati I had one goal… get that damn shot. The show began with nearly no front lighting, leaving everything in silhouette. At the time I was pretty frustrated, but I think the end result turned out pretty well. I found a spot that I thought would be a good one to catch the jump from and didn’t stray far from it. I wanted that shot.
When it finally came, I managed to catch the strobe flash as well, so the bottom half is a bit blown out, but I still think it really brings the show to life. I think the tough lighting made me look at the show a bit differently and it definitely has a unique feel that is different than the rest of the photos I’ve posted here. I suppose that is what their lighting director was going for.
Hey, you actually read all the way to the bottom! Good on you and thanks for that. I can’t express my appreciation for all who have made these opportunities available including but not limited to Cincymusic photo editor Kelly Painter, Cincymusic owner Ian Bolender, tour managers, PR reps, security guards, bands and last but certainly not least, the rest of the Cincymusic photo team and the Alliance Of Ohio Music Photographers for helping keep me on my toes and giving me someone to have a beer with after a shoot.
Life’s good. Bring it 2014.