The Best One-Day Music Festival I’ve Ever Been To – The Whitaker Block Party

A little background.

Whiteaker Block Party is a neighborhood event for the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon. This was the 11th year of the block-party. The neighborhood residents and businesses in the hood pull together and volunteer to throw a ten-hour party. Which is more like a music festival than block-party.

I had been approached a few months back by Mick Dägger of the band Dick Dägger to see if I was interested in shooting the Whiteaker Block Party and then he later asked me to manage the photographers. I was excited to volunteer for the job. The word got out that I was working the festival and people I know would come up and be enthusiastic that I was shooting the show. It feels good to know I have fans of your work.

Planning the job.

How do you plan a job like this with two photographers? You have to know the players and the layout of the event you’re shooting. I tried to put a plan together, I had a Google Doc of the bands that needed to be photographed. I planned out different routes between stages where I could get to a good vantage point to photograph the attendees, vendors and volunteers. That was the plan at least. I started my planning process weeks in advance. I needed to prepare and purchase any supplies necessary for the event. I worked on a project a month earlier and already bought extra batteries and memory cards, so I was well equipped in that area. I only brought one too many lenses, which is pretty good for me. I brought a mono-pod and never used it and I didn’t bring a tripod and didn’t miss not having it.

When Tyrone Russ (the other photographer) and I arrived on location at 09:45 we re-evaluated our plan. We decided on a new plan; abandon the orginal plan. New plan: Shoot everything and anything interesting.

How was the music?

The music was amazing. Just amazing. Almost all local acts. There is such a deep talent pool of musicians in this place. It is a little ridiculous. There really was music for everybody, and every musical taste. I just wish the schedules were staggered a little better, but with eleven stages I could see that being difficult. There were a lot of acts that I like that I had never heard of, but I really enjoyed seeing. There were several stages, I couldn’t get to because things were so to tight.

It’s not just about the music.

There was a lot going on the at block-party, more than just music. There were street performers and arts and crafts for the kids and just a bunch of neighbors hanging out together, playing out with their dogs and children. I think I saw some people having a beer together. This event is nothing like I’ve ever been too. Ferry Festa in Dobbs Ferry and Ferrogosto in the Bronx are a lot like a big block-parties, but hanging out in the Whit with these clowns was the highlight of my time in Eugene.

I left at 10:15pm and I woke up at 10:15 the next morning, I walked down to the zone and if I didn’t see the party for myself, I probably would have assumed that it didn’t happen. Man, the cleanup crew really did a great job.

Nice work guys.

Here are more galleries on Facebook:
Off stage
On stage

Good Night Folks

The Domestics at The Doug Fir Lounge

The Domestics are one of my favorite bands. They don’t get that admiration just because of their stellar musicianship and songwriting. They are professionals. They really bust their ass to make it happen. It is different for everybody of course. Leo, Michael, Kyle, Matt and Brad are also friends. So when they call, I come running. Especially when I have the chance to capture the good stuff. You know, the stuff the everyday fan doesn’t get to see.

For some bands, that is view not for fans’ consummation. I unfortunately have seen that attitude all too many times with a lot of bands. Fans like to see that view though. It’s a part of the experience.

The process leading up to the playing of a show is fairly mundane and quite frankly, boring. It doesn’t matter if the band is a popular touring band or a local indie band. There is still a lot of hurry up and wait. I have photographed a lot shows, and I don’t get near enough time alone with a band leading up to a show. This is where the real pictures come from. I like shooting the show itself, but the best stuff is the personal time I get with the bands. The time between load in and sound check is usually a great time for capturing great images. Every musician shows some excitement and anticipation of the upcoming set. This is my favorite time to shoot.

This is how the process works from start to finish:

  1. Load the gear in the vehicle
  2. Drive to the venue
  3. Go inside the venue to get the low down
  4. wait
  5. load in all the gear
  6. wait
  7. set up on the stage
  8. wait
  9. soundcheck
  10. wait
  11. wait some more maybe go get something to eat
  12. you’re still waiting
  13. play your show
  14. pack up your gear and load out
  15. drive home

There is a lot of great images to be captured between items 1 and 13. There are a lot of great opportunities to take pictures and tell a story. Most of the bands that I have met in the last several months don’t really see the importance in telling this story. So they don’t go through the effort. I have to say though, that some of these bands do a great job on their Instagram accounts, trying to convey to world they are indeed people. However, they aren’t photographers. The quality of work may not be very good. I can’t say with any certainty that the fans really care whether the images that are captured are very good. I can say though that I have run into a few bands recently that believe that professional photography dilutes their street cred, so they stick to the DIY approach. In that token, bands need to have a brand identity, and take control of that brand.

Telling a story of a band on any given day does have some value to their fans. It’s just my personal opinion that the images that are captured tell a real story. Sure, live streaming on social media for a few minutes here and there are great, but the story being told there tends to be more “hey, look at me” rather than “hey, this is who we are”. Most times, an outsider’s visual perspective can better tell a beautiful story about interesting people. It’s only boring to the musicians in most cases. To the fan however, it’s pure gold.

Another Great Pancho Show

There is a huge difference between shooting live music and experiencing a show. I photograph a lot of shows. There are some acts that I put more work into than others. Some bands put more work into their show than others. So how I approach each set is different. To me there’s more to a good show than just good songs. When I go to show, I think I want a little more.

Pancho + The Factory is one of those acts that I love to shoot and love watching. However, photographing a show can really separate you from the experience. When I’m photographing Pancho, I shoot a lot of frames, but I do my best to experience the show as well. This last show happened to be on my birthday. I don’t work on my birthday, but I love these guys so much, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I had great access to the stage and to the photo-pit, so getting some good images was easier. There were a lot of people at this show. Pancho opened for Ty Segal at the Hi-Fi Music Hall. Navigating the crowd wasn’t easy at all. I don’t mind working for it though. I think there is something special gets translated into images when the photographer likes the music.

I will have more images published in Fade In Chorus next week with a show review.

Live Music at Conor O’Neill’s

Music is a big attraction for Conor O’Neill’s

There is music three nights per week. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings is a raucous time at the Irish Pub. The main room gets really packed, especially when the university is in session.
By most accounts Boulder Colorado doesn’t have a very big a music scene, despite having a lot of music fans.

Last week the owners of Conor O’Neill’s announced they were going to close after 17 years. The word on the street, was the building owner raised rent 30% or so. Well, I guess some things have changed and now they are going to stay open. If the pub had closed it would have put a huge hole in the already tiny music scene. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the hordes were kept at bay.

Let the music roar on…

A Soundcheck

Soundcheck is both the most important and the least exciting part of a live performance.

The soundcheck is always my favorite time with the bands. In my case I get to hang out with friends, but it’s great to get a preview of the set. The other advantage for being around for soundcheck, is getting a preview of the sound and all the angles on the stage.

In all my time shooting bands at their shows, I never see other photographers at a soundcheck. That’s right, NEVER. I don’t think they know what they are missing.

This evening’s shoot takes place at The Liquor Store in Portland to photograph Surfs Drugs who were billed with Weezy Ford and Kyle Craft. During this particular soundcheck, Kyle Craft did have his whole band and Surfs Drugs only had two members, so their soundcheck was short.

A soundcheck is very straight forward. Set up the stage as it would be for the show. The sound engineer checks that every cable is working. Then each instrument and mic has its level set one at time. The band will then run through a few songs next. Each channel will get tweaked while band plays. It is at this point that every player tells the sound engineer what they want to hear and what volume they would like their monitor set at. If the venue has a dedicated monitor engineer then that would be a different engineer. A dedicated monitor engineer is rare luxury in smaller venues.

That’s pretty much it.

Boring? Oh yeah, it’s boring because it’s not a show. It’s set up.

There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and getting to know how things work at a live show is very helpful for planning. Getting to know the players doesn’t hurt either. There are opportunities for getting great images when the band has their guard down. However, there are some musicians that are nervous wreck and there is no way a photographer is coming in to catch them at their least perfect. Fortunately for me, my friends are not nearly as uptight.

Soundcheck with Kyle Craft at The Liquor Store.

Mississippi Studios, My Favorite Music Venue

Why is Mississippi Studios my favorite venue?

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I just like everything about it. MS is not very big, but still has a balcony. They have a great bar inside the music room. The restaurant Bar Bar has great food, a good selection of beer on tap. I love the outdoor patio with the bonfire going strong on chillier nights. The crowd is generally really chill. The staff is absolutely professional. I’m just very comfortable there.

The main room has the balcony above that overlooks the main floor and the stage. The stage is damn near the perfect height. You can still get a good view from the rear of the room, but not so high that the band seems far away. They also keep a rope about 3 feet from the stage. The rope gives photographers a little room to navigate from one end of the stage to the other. I like to get there early to grab a beer or two and post up as close to the middle of the stage as I can get. I try to avoid standing directly in front a mic stand to get a clear view of the whole band. Unless it’s a paid job to photograph a band, I’m happy just standing in the middle as not to disturb my fellow show-goers.

I’ve photographed my fair share of live music, and Portland is my favorite place to see shows. With so many interesting bands and venues, there are many options for photographers, shooting live music is fairly easy to do. If you can get on the guest list, great. Paying the cover is almost always worth it.

Most venues will not have issues with photographers shooting most local bands. I did say most venues will not have issues with shooting live music. A photographer is going to have a hard time shooting at the Crystal Ballroom without a photo-pass, and the Star Theater won’t let photographers bring in camera bags. Most other places are pretty laid back of course. There is just one rule every photographer needs to heed when shooting in any venue. Don’t be a dick!

Nine out of ten shutterbugs photographing live music in Portland are not shooting for a publication, there is no real need to bully your way around a venue to “get the shot“. I understand we as photographers have a desire to do capture the best images. We need to be conscientious to the people around us. I’ve had many people try to clear a path for me in the audience, but I don’t want to affect the dynamic too much. When I need to get closer, I try to be as patient as possible and move up as people start to shift.

Lighting is the most important thing to me.

Without good lighting, getting a good images is very difficult. Mississippi has above average lighting. Despite being mostly LED, the lighting is very good. I don’t like LED lighting. Some photographers say they can’t tell the difference between LED and other types of lighting, but I certainly can. The overall quality of LED is just not there. The light is flat and lifeless and doesn’t look as clean.

As with most venues on a multi-band night, the opening acts don’t get much attention with the lighting treatment as the headlining act does. That’s fine for me, as long as it’s bright enough on the stage to get good shots. Now there is one particular musician in Portland that attempts to build a closeness with the audience by having the lights turned down as low as possible. At that point I put my camera away and just enjoy the set. At the end of the night, the most important thing is the band puts on a great show and we shouldn’t whine about it.

Magenta lighting is the photographers worst enemy, in my opinion of course.

I’ve found that Mississippi Studios doesn’t use nearly as much magenta as some of other venues, but they still use it far too much for my liking. When watching the show, magenta light look just fine, as long as there is some lighting dynamics. When shooting the show, magenta is just terrible. Skin tones are NOT enhanced by magenta. I just cringe when I see it.

As long as newbie and veteran photographers can keep it together and not disrupt shows, we should be able to as often as we want. Mississippi has been really cool with us coming and shooting, I would hate to see that end.

Here is a small selection of my favorite shows.

Four Bands at The Boreal

Living in the Pacific Northwest affords me with the opportunity to catch independent music almost any night of the week. Last night in Eugene was another great evening of music. Berg and I hit up The Boreal to see some friends and four great bands perform. The bands hail from Eugene and Portland, so some homegrown music was on the menu. I had a lot of fun, the music was loud, the scene was chill and everybody seemed to love the music and the venue. The show was definitely worth the $5 cover.

Last night’s bands; Cheesepuff (eug), Killed by Health (pdx), Hey Lover (pdx), and VCR (eug).

Photographing Bands in a Crowded Bar

There are a lot of bars that have live music. Photographing at these venues has some challenges as well as some advantages compared to shooting at large music clubs.

First I want to break down specifics of pros and cons of shooting in small crowded bar. In bars that play music there inevitably a lot of people drinking and at first this seems like an obstacle. I don’t find that this is more of challenge that can be overcome. Most people who go to see live shows in a crowded bar, go because it’s fun. So, most people are in a pretty good mood. So grabbing a good spot to shoot from isn’t really that difficult. You should be familiar with the small venue that you are shooting from.

Lighting is a big issue. Bars generally don’t have any stage lighting. If they do, then it’s not very good. Sometimes I will use an on-camera flash. Usually on its lowest power setting and set up for bounce flash of a wall or ceiling. When using a flash you have to be as respectful. So, don’t over do it. Flash is irritating for patrons and musicians.

First thing, get there early find a place to stash your bag out-of-the-way, yet someplace you can keep your eye on. If you are in a sketchy neighborhood, then you don’t leave your bag alone, ever. When I’m shooting in Boulder this is not as big of an issue. When I’m shooting in Portland, my bag is never left alone. This is something to just keep in mind. I always carry a bag but I don’t like to carry it in the crowd. It’s really impolite to bump into people with it.

It helps to know the bar and the bands that you are shooting. It doesn’t hurt to even be familiar with the door guys and bar staff. All the bands I shoot, I’ll usually know someone in the band. It doesn’t hurt to talk to someone in the band and touch base and exchange contact info. Especially on social media. Most musicians understand the importance of getting images up online. Especially if the images are of high quality. Will it get you paid work? Yeah, maybe. This is usually not why you do it though.

Once the show starts people will start to funnel in and it could be tough to get to your spot. Be patient, don’t be pushy and if you’re carrying a camera, most people are very gracious as long as you are polite. I often approach shooting every show as if I were actually on a job. If you can keep a professional stance the people around you will usually respond positively.

The goal is to get great images, enjoy the people around you and have a couple of beers.

These images from Mumbouli’s St. Patrick’s Day Show at Conor O’Niell’s. This is a very small bar, with a very small stage. You can imagine, how crowded an Irish bar is on St. Paddy’s.

A Night at Old Nick’s Pub

I had some friends playing a show at Old Nick’s Pub in Eugene Oregon. The music venue opened about a year ago and has been a go-to spot for live music the Whiteacre neighborhood.
My buddy Chase plays in a band called VCR and they opened the three band show. Next up a brilliant three piece from Portland Oregon called Chocolate Cool But Rude. The final act up was local Eugene legends, The Blimp. It was definitely a solid show. You gotta love a bar that has $2 Tallboy Rainier cans.