In September, YouTube served me a recommended video by a channel called Yes Theory. In the video, two vloggers took on the challenge of tagging along on a container ship for a journey. The video was fun, irreverent, and surprisingly heartfelt. From there, I went down the rabbit hole and watched tons of their videos, learning more about the goal of their channel and the videos they make. Their mantra of “We believe life’s greatest moments and deepest connections exist outside of your comfort zone” is something I identify with very much. So many of the most pivotal moments in my life happened because I left my comfort zone and took a leap into the unknown.
I’m not gonna lie, though; sometimes their videos verge on the contrived motivational speaker side of things, which is a bit of a turn-off for me. Nevertheless, I found myself watching more and more videos and learning more about these people. The more I learned, the more I believed their goal wasn’t just a typical social media clout grab but that they genuinely believe that seeking discomfort leads to personal growth and a better understanding of the world and its people. This week, I discovered that they had a podcast as well. In the first episode, guest Ozan Varol (a literal rocket scientist) referenced a poem by Dawna Markova that spoke to me.
Fully Alive by Dawna Markova
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
On the podcast, host and Yes Theory co-founder, Thomas Brag, tells the story of a man named Forrest Fenn. In 2010, Fenn hid a treasure chest containing valuables estimated to be worth more than a million dollars somewhere in the western United States, leaving a trail of clues in his memoirs. Brag’s idea for a covid safe adventure was to set off on a journey to search for the as-yet unfound Fenn treasure.
Yes Theory enlisted the help of long-time Fenn treasure hunter Dal Neitzel for guidance and planning. They pored over clues, planned routes, assembled a film crew, and when they were all set to embark on the epic search when the unbelievable happened. After more than ten years of searching, just two weeks before Yes Theory crew were to embark on their quest, the treasure was found. This news was devastating to Brag and the Yes Theory team, but Neitzel put things in perspective in an interview at the end of the episode, saying, “It isn’t just about the treasure… It’s about the fun. I find lots of little treasures when I’m out looking for the big treasure; that’s what it’s all about.”
While writing and researching for this, Smithsonian Magazine announced that the Fenn Treasure would be auctioned off piece by piece. If you’re interested in owning a piece of the treasure, you can learn more here.
That last line stuck with me. Since I began playing music at ten years old, my “big treasure,” as Neitzel calls it, has always been to make it as a musician (whatever that means these days is up for discussion). So I started asking myself what “little treasures” I accumulated while chasing that dream. For example, through music, I discovered my love of travel and adventure. I bought my first camera (see 2019 Year In Review for the full story) and ignited a passion for photography. I taught myself graphic design to make fliers and websites for my bands. I’ve developed life-long friendships and so much more.
While I never “made it” as a musician, nearly all the things that give me joy today can be tied back to my unsuccessful pursuit of rock stardom. As I close in on my 40th birthday, it’s difficult to imagine the last 30 years of my life without music intricately woven into every aspect of it. It’s been a crazy journey that has rarely gone as planned, but that’s the beauty of a life well lived. The unexpected moments, the triumphs over adversity, that’s where the best memories are. It reminds me a bit of the Japanese art of kintsugi. Kintsugi is the act of repairing broken pottery with precious metals like gold, silver, or platinum. Cracks aren’t hidden in shame. Instead, they are celebrated as part of the story. In life, much like in kintsugi, it’s in the crooked and unplanned cracks where the beauty lies.
After two years of concerts truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 was my first full year of concerts since 2019. I know I said that I would be pacing myself, but with so artists not able to tour for nearly two full years, the concert calendar filled up very quickly as they all scurried to get back to what they love. My calendar was so full this year that I’ve only photographed more artists in a year twice in eleven years, back in 2013 and 2016. In 2022 I photographed shows on 50 days (that’s roughly a show a week), tying my record for most days with a show.
I know that’s a lot of numbers. It might be strange for someone who is moderately creative, but I love data analysis and have been tracking this information since my first few shows. Tracking these numbers helps me to realize the significance of what I’m doing and to appreciate the milestones I cross in the moment rather than only in retrospect. For example, during Forecastle this year, I crossed over the 1,000 bands photographed mark. When I hit it, I felt a sense of accomplishment and appreciation that I wouldn’t have felt had I not been counting down.
The year 2022 was filled with even more significant moments. Nelsonville Music Festival moved to the fall and a new location. Forecastle announced they were taking 2023 off to regroup (I have high hopes of a return in 2024, but who knows). The Brady Music Center opened on the Ohio side of the river. MegaCorp Pavilion (yes, that’s the actual name) opened on the Kentucky side of the river. I passed the 1,000 bands photographed milestone. And most excitingly, I and a few SlyVinyl alums spun off a new online music magazine called The Hot Mic.
In February 2016, I covered the first concert for SlyVinyl. Quickly, our team grew to 16 photographers covering roughly 20 markets. We covered more than 400 concerts and festivals in just over six years. Then, in the early summer of 2022, I was made aware that SlyVinyl would be pivoting away from the music news and vinyl tips to focus all efforts on the growth of SlyVinyl Records. I was bummed that all that we grew for Sly would be going away, but it allowed me to take on a new challenge and start something new. Thus, The Hot Mic was born.
I reached out to a few regular SlyVinyl contributors to ask if they were interested in partnering in a spin-off to carry on the legacy of SlyVinyl and allow us to branch out into more diverse coverage. So, with a team of six music fanatics onboard, we planned coverage, wrote articles, designed a logo, developed a website, and launched TheHotMic.com on August 1st.
So what sets The Hot Mic apart from hundreds (maybe even thousands) of music resources available on the internet? Unlike many music journalists, we don’t claim to be experts on anything. We’re just a handful of passionate music fans doing what we do best, talking about music! So far, we’ve published concert photos (obviously), multiple podcast episodes, retro reviews, recommended-if-you-like playlists, concert reviews, and more.
So, with all the changes in 2022, what’s next?
All this talk of seeking discomfort and looking for beauty in the unexpected has me looking inward. I photographed a lot of concerts this year, nearly all of them in just a handful of venues in Cincinnati. As a result, I’ve become very familiar with the venues in the area. When I photograph a show at one of them, I know what to expect, and I rarely am met with a surprise that challenges me to change how I approach photographing a show. To a certain extent, this allows me to explore new ideas when I’m shooting instead of worrying about my settings, which lenses to bring, whether my car is parked legally, etc. But, deep down, I know I sometimes use that familiarity as a crutch, and that’s a rut I want to break out of going forward.
For 2023, my goal is to seek new music photography experiences. I’ve begun making a list of venues I’d like to travel to and photograph. I’ve started thinking about new festivals to cover. I’ve begun brainstorming ways to continue the growth of The Hot Mic. I may not achieve all these goals next year, but remember, that’s ok! It’s the small treasures along the way that make the journey worth taking.
MENTAL HEALTH MINUTE
From a mental-health standpoint, this year was pretty healthy for me. One of the things I focused on heavily was being very intentional about my relationships. I’ve been putting extra effort into those that add value to my life. For example, my grandma is 99, and, as sad as it is, she won’t be around forever. So for the last few months, I’ve been taking a few Friday nights a month to spend the evening with her. We eat dinner, talk about life, watch tv, play games, and laugh. I also regularly call my parents, who live in South Carolina most of the year, to make sure I talk to them at least every few days. Most of the time, we don’t talk about anything special, just catching up and seeing what’s happening in each other’s lives. In simple ways like these, my connections with my friends and family are stronger than ever, and with them in my corner, I’m never more than a phone call, text, or short drive away from someone who builds me up.
I recently watched Stutz, a movie by Jonah Hill, profiling his therapist, Phil Stutz, and the sometimes unconventional ways they have approached mental health. It was fascinating and rife with tools to help make it through the complications and challenges life throws at us. I’m not going to summarize it any further because I’d do a terrible job. Instead, take my word for it and watch it with an open mind. Hopefully, you will find it as helpful as I did.
As we work our way through the holiday season, I’d be remiss not to mention the mental health minefield that this time of year is for me. This Christmas Eve is the seventeenth anniversary of the day that a drunk driver took the life of my friend John and sent me on a dark path of depression, alcohol abuse, and thoughts of suicide. I won’t rehash the whole story here, but if you’re interested, you can read it in my 2017 Year In Review.
As time has passed and I’ve become more adept at managing my mental health, my struggles with depression and alcohol abuse seem to be further in the rearview each year. Of course, there’s still the occasional bout of depression, but with the support of my friends and family and the tools I learned in therapy, I feel well-equipped to navigate any ups and downs life throws my way.
it’s ok to not be ok.
It’s strong to ask for help.
It’s never too late to make a change for the better.
TOP ALBUMS OF 2022
Here are my top albums of 2022. Did I miss your favorite? Did you discover anyone from my list?
- Angel Olsen – Big Time
- Alvvays – Blue Rev
- Wet Leg – Wet Leg
- Mitski – Laurel Hell
- Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Heart Aglow
- Bartees Strange – Farm to Table
- Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
- Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century
- Khruangbin & Vieux Farka Touré – Ali
- Madison Cunningham – Revealer
- The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field
- Dawes – The Misadventures of Doomscroller
- Arlo McKinley – This Mess We’re In
- S.G. Goodman – Teeth Marks
- Orville Peck – Bronco
- Andrew Bird – Inside Problems
- Destroyer – Labrynthitis
- Arctic Monkeys – The Car
- Bonny Light Horeseman – Rolling Golden Holy
- Spoon – Lucifer On The Sofa
- Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever
- The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out
- Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance
- The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
- Broken Bells – Into The Blue
LISTEN ON SPOTIFY
RUBATO BY THE NUMBERS
THE BIG PICTURE
- 1088 Artists photographed
- 19,757 Photos posted
- 38 Music Festivals photographed
- 343 Individual events photographed
- 417 Days shooting shows
- 1,466 Sets of music photographed
- 253 Artists nominated for at least 1 Grammy Award
- 1,945 Total Grammy nominations by those 253 artists
- 138 Artists have won at least 1 Grammy Award
- 518 Total Grammy Award wins by those 138 artists
- 83 of those 138 have won multiple Grammy Awards
- 42 artists photographed are in Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAMERS PHOTOGRAPHED
- Alice Cooper
- BB King
- Beach Boys
- Billy Joel
- Brian Wilson
- Buddy Guy
- Cheap Trick
- David Byrne (Talking Heads)
- Dead & Co. (Grateful Dead Members)
- Dolly Parton
- Doobie Brothers
- Dr John
- Earth Wind & Fire
- Elvis Costello
- Graham Nash (CSNY and The Hollies)
- Green Day
- Gregg Allman
- Hall & Oates
- Jack Casady / Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane)
- Jackson Browne
- James Taylor
- Jeff Beck (Solo and in Yardbirds)
- John Mellencamp
- Judas Priest
- Lionel Richie
- Mavis Staples (Staple Singers)
- Neil Young (solo and Buffalo Springfield)
- Parliament Funkadelic
- Pearl Jam
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Rod Stewart (Solo and Faces/Small Faces)
- Steely Dan
- Steve Miller
- The Temptations
- Todd Rundgren
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
- Van Halen
MOST GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
- Chick Corea – 71 nominations
- Willie Nelson – 56 nominations
- Dolly Parton – 49 nominations
- Emmylou Harris – 47 nominations
- Allison Kraus – 44 nominations
- Taylor Swift – 42 nominations
MOST GRAMMY WINS
- Alison Kraus – 28 wins
- Chick Corea – 24 wins
- Yo Yo Ma – 21 wins
- Pat Metheney – 20 wins
- BB King – 16 wins
- Bela Fleck – 15 wins
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED ARTISTS
- Jason Isbell – 9 shows
- Dawes – 8 shows
- The National – 6 shows
- Walk The Moon – 6 shows
- Wood Brothers – 6 shows
- Cheap Trick – 6 shows
- Saintseneca – 5 shows
- Father John Misty – 5 shows
- John Moreland – 5 shows
- The Lone Bellow – 5 shows
- Anderson East – 5 shows
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED VENUES
- Riverbend Music Center/PNC Pavilion – 68 shows
- Taft Theatre and Ballroom – 62 shows
- Southgate House Revival – 28 shows
- Brady Music Center – 28 shows
- Memorial Hall – 20 shows
- Madison Theater – 16 shows
- Heritage Bank Center – 15 shows