Thursday, June 30, 2011

A recent experience as a photographer left me puzzled...

Miranda Lambert played her only club date of the year in Chicago at Joe's Bar June 23, to a sold out crowd who bought up tickets in record time and waited outside for hours before the show. Not at all surprising since she has escalated to the top of the country music world winning every award available over the recent year and selling millions of copies of her "Revolution" album. Most of what Nashville calls country music these days i don't ever listen to but Miranda is one of the few that i still look forward to seeing and hearing and one of the few i will continue to support by purchasing her records.

The only downside to her popularity (and this is not meant in any way as negative commentary towards Miranda as all big name artists have been, will and are being handled this way) is that her image is closely guarded by her publicists. Front Page Publicity has a contract to sign if you are a professional photographer, this is nothing new, i knew i would be sent a copy to sign before the show, or given one when i arrived as i had to sign one last year. These contracts are nothing new but over the last few years they have become increasingly strict and have infringed on the rights of the photographer with some contracts going so far as to state that said photographer must give up the copyrights to all photos taken and that the artist may reproduce those photos by any means, anywhere with out credit or compensation given to the photographer. The only way these contracts will go away is if every photographer that is presented a restrictive contract simply refuses to sign it. Now that being said, i did sign this one, why? Because i was being employed by the venue to photograph the show strictly for them so they may post the photos on their website. I had no interest in trying to profit from the photos or send them to any publication. Plus by signing that contract i am not allowed to post the photos anywhere, not here, not even for use in my own personal portfolio. So if i wasn't hired to photograph this show by the venue, i would not have had any reason to even attend the show except that i happen to love Miranda's music. Now some may say but if you don't attend then you miss the chance that you may get a shot that might be worthy of seeking approval from Front Page Publicity, true under some circumstances but not this one, not with this contract. As a photographer i was restricted to shooting photos only during the first two songs (the standard is three) and only from FOH, front of house, which means from the sound board behind the crowd. From that location you are pretty much guaranteed to get shots at one angle, many times with the microphone right in front of the singers face leaving every shot looking two dimensional and flat. So here is where things stop making sense, why are professional photographers, hired to do a specific job faced with so many restrictions? Miranda's contract is actually not that bad, take Beyonce for instance, her contract only allows photographers to shoot the first 60 to 90 seconds of a show from one angle. Katy Perry's tour is not allowing any photos but the company that bid on or won the rights to do so will be the only ones allowed during the entire tour. I can go on and on, years ago no one was allowed to bring a camera into a concert unless you were a pre approved professional, now it is the opposite, anyone that is not a professional may bring in a point & shoot camera or phone that not only is capable of taking a half way decent photo but they also shoot video, some even shoot high definition video that can be edited in the phone and posted on the web before the next song starts. So why bother with restricting a professional who as a professional should be concerned about what images he or she allows the public to see? Most photographers worth anything, edit their photos meticulously and are very careful not to post an unflattering shot. Whereas most people with a point & shoot camera in the audience could care less, what ever happened to going to a show and enjoying the music you paid to see? Now a days it seems that people go to these shows to be seen themselves instead of going to seriously listen to live music. One interesting point i found on a legendary photographers blog brought up a great point. Most of the photographers with credentials such as his are keeping busy these days providing manufacturers of retrospective CD and LP box sets and galleries with prints from their vast archives they built up over the years when a photographer was allowed to shoot an entire show. They were able to capture those moments at the peak of energy in an artists performance, those moments never happen during the first three songs. Which brings up another valid point, right now photographers that were able to photograph those iconic moments forty years ago, 20 years ago, maybe even five years ago are providing the public with photos on these box sets, t-shirts and merchandise and their work is on display in various galleries. Twenty five years from now when a label or publicists needs photos from a show that happened yesterday, what will they have to work with? Either a photo taken by a professional that did the best he or she could, which is two dimensional and flat or they will have to pull a photo off some ones Facebook page that may or may not even be in focus, let alone flattering. So now i am left wondering, if i had a decent point & shoot camera, could i have put my professional camera away and could i have pushed my way up to the front and taken photos (maybe even with a flash) the rest of the show? That probably would have enabled me to send the venue better shots than what i got them from FOH.

* This photo posted here was taken by me in 2008 with a point & shoot camera, not my best work but Miranda loved it and it's still posted on her website. One other photo i took at that show with that same camera is hanging in Miranda and Blake Shelton's ranch house in Oklahoma.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gary Allan @ B-93 Birthday Bash.

A friend of mine called and said she had a few extra "free" tickets for Sunday's second day of the B-93 Birthday Bash held at Martin's US 131 Drag way. Earlier in the week i attempted to contact the appropriate people at the radio station to line up a photo pass, after getting a little bit of run around i was told that they "were all set" so i debated about even going at all but decided to give it a try walking through the photo line for fans. I wrote free in quotations because only the tickets were free, handed out at various locations weeks in advance, parking was twenty dollars per day, seriously? Food and drinks were available on the dreaded ticket system and drinks including light beer worked out to be five dollars per ticket. Food was a different matter, four tickets for five dollars and conveniently your always short a ticket or two or are left over with a few. After parking and a beer it became harder to part with anymore cash. The Bash was also held on Saturday, the day before, i didn't attend but followed what was going on using Twitter and Facebook. A record crowd of over 60,000 people attended Saturday, traffic was backed up along US 131 for over eight miles with more than a two hour wait just to get off the highway but Sunday was completely the opposite probably because it
was fathers day or because Saturdays attendees were broke. I hate to complain about the heat because
temps in the eighties really isn't that hot but when you have to sit in the blazing sun all day with no shade in site it can really take it's toll and in fact a few people were treated for heat exhaustion
Anyone who knows me knows i am not a fan of pop country and i don't listen to the radio except for a couple stations online like KNBT in New Braunfels Texas or 95.9 The Ranch in Fort Worth so i was not familiar at all with most of the acts playing all weekend. The only reason i went was to see Gary Allan, who i still like because he has an edge and is still country to me.
I left before the headliner Josh Turner took the stage because we didn't want to wait in traffic. Had i known the traffic going in on Sunday wasn't bad at all we probably would have just shown up later for Gary. I am thankful at least to find that B-93 still had a photo line for fans to walk through as in years past, although they herd you through like cattle and don't let you stand long enough to compose a shot i was able to get some pretty good photos sometimes having to ignore the distracting taps on the shoulder telling me to move along. I know i'm complaining quite a bit and if i was a fan of pop country, had plenty of money and was impervious to sun burns i would have probably been able to enjoy the day and i know that i am in the minority up here in Michigan when i admit that this just isn't my kind of music festival anymore. The days line up included Kip Moore, Randy Montana, Ashton Shepherd, Josh Kelly and Gary Allan followed by Josh Turner. Click here for more photos.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ronnie Dunn @ Joe's Bar

If you tuned your radio into a country music station at anytime in the last two decades the voice of half the duo of Brooks & Dunn, Ronnie Dunn is a very familiar sound and instantly recognizable. He is also someone recognizable in any other medium, his looks have not changed much over the years, still has that same hair cut and facial hair, he's gotten a little older and so have we who grew up on his music but his voice has remained as youthful as when we first heard hits like "My Next Broken Heart" and "Boot Scootin Boogie" back in the early nineties.
One of the most popular duos in the history of Country music, winning nearly every award up for grabs, Brooks & Dunn called it quits and performed their last concert in September of 2010 and Ronnie Dunn has gone back to doing what he did
before those days, being a solo artists. Ronnie released his first solo album in over 20 years simply entitled "Ronnie Dunn" on Sony
Records and things have a way of coming back around because this show at Joe's Bar in Chicago was also Ronnie's first club appearance in over 20 years. Drawing on singles from that new release like "Singer in a Cowboy Band" and "Bleed Red" as well as songs from the fourteen plus albums recorded with Kix Brooks in Brooks & Dunn, the show clocked in at a little over 75 minutes and was a run through the greatest hits of some of the
best and most popular country songs written for modern
country radio. The days of Brooks & Dunn as a duo maybe over but that familiar voice still is heard over the airwaves and that's the "Honky Tonk Truth". Thank you to Chicago's premier country radio station US99 for bringing lucky ticket winners another big show at Joe's.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Texas Part IV

Thursday i woke up surprisingly early, for me anyway
and i made some good coffee i had left over from camping in New Braunfels, and brought a cup over to Jeff Mack who was already hard at work a couple hours
making sure the video for the day was prepared. I was anxious to see what i got the night before so i worked on some photos and made my way to the Allsup's acoustic stage to see Max Stalling
and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. The crowd grew larger as the day progressed and by the time Kyle Park opened up the main stage they were expanding to the left and right of the stage and back and the beer was flowing. Kyle's music is something i have never really paid any attention too, nothing ground breaking but enjoyable and listenable Texas country.
I already knew the rest of the day was gonna rock With the Departed, Josh Abbott, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers closing out the evening.
Cody Canada and the Departed face the task of ask of shaking off the old and bringing on the new with their decidedly more mature approach.
Fans of old
Cross Canadian Ragweed need to realize people grow
up, the party songs
have outgrown
themselves and a new band of five rejuvenated serious musicians has arrived,
it is obvious that the Departed
is full of new life and new found energy and they are doing what they love to do again. The songs
may not be familiar right now unless you grew up with or explored Oklahoma music but they are a look back at the rich history of what the
state where red dirt music originally came from
has contributed over all. The hecklers will find someone else to
complain about
and new
fans will be taken in. I can't wait for "This is Indian Land" to come out in a couple weeks, i pre ordered my copy a month ago and i can't wait to see what they do when
Cody Canada & the Departed
becomes just the Departed and also becomes
the full fledged
rock & Roll monster they set out to be. One of the bigge
st drawing bands currently
in the state of Texas, the Josh Abbott band was on stage next. Josh has risen to the top at a head spinning rate, comparisons to other top acts in the Lone Star state seem to have faded and Josh has a firm command of a huge audience with his infectious melodies and entertaining sets. A beer bong was passed to the stage and Josh slammed a couple beers with it, Charla Corn made an appearance to sing a song too. He has become a favorite all over the state and is making good headway elsewhere. Josh has been debuting new songs and has a new album in the works and he has even organized his own festival, JAB fest is in Lubbock June 18th.

Wade Bowen was on next and by this time the sun was down, the lights were up and the beer was going everywhere including towards the stage, i had to keep my camera in mind while i was shooting so that it didn't get as soaked as i was, someone threw nearly a full beer and it hit me on the head and it fell at my feet. I remembered seeing signs stating that anyone throwing objects will be removed from the festival but how do you point out who threw what in a crowd of 20,000 people? Well i didn't remember that sign myself because i picked up the beer at my feet and tossed it over my shoulder back into the crowd, i didn't intentionally throw it, i tossed it high into the air and then realized i shouldn't have done that. It got the other photographers talking but i never heard anything later so i guess i was alright and i did get hit again later, when Randy Rogers was on and Brady Black being the stand up guy he is, walked over to the sound board and tossed me a towel, thanks Brady! The Randy Rogers band were having fun with the crowd, coming out to the edge of the stage, Randy was trying on hats passed up to him and smiling, having a good time and later shared the stage with band members from the acts who played earlier in the day. After the show i stumbled around for a while and ended up in front of Stoney LaRue's bus listening to him and Larry Joe Taylor trade dirty jokes and i got to meet Ben Dorcy otherwise known as "Lovey". Ben is known as the worlds oldest roadie, having gotten his start in 1950 he has worked and is still working with the biggest names in Texas and Nashville country music. A documentary about his life and the true and not so true stories of the road has been produced and is set for release soon. A few minutes later i was invited to go on a hayride with the Randy Rogers band, Wade Bowen and Josh Abbott and friends, guitars in hand we rode around through the camp sites and made our way to the stage where Radney Foster and it all started on Tuesday night for a song swap with Matt Wayne, Kyle Park, Josh and Wade and a few other singer songwriters. I think i finally turned in around 4 am even though i knew i had to drive to east Texas for another festival in the morning and it wasn't long before i was questioning why i ever left.