It’s over. Well, it’s been done for nearly a week, but I finally feel like I’ve recovered from Hopscotch. Going into this year’s festival I made what preparations I could based off last year’s experiences. Good running shoes, check. Colorful ear plugs, three pair, check. Place to crash at in Raleigh, check. Though I still had a hard time finding the right house number on a dimly lit and foreign street at six in the morning. I’ll blame it on the 2x2x2 special at IHOP.
Even though I was knackerd by Sunday, it was hard to imagine what else there was to do but run around making photos while listening to new, loud, live music while enjoying the hell out of myself in the company of friends. But there was a deadline to meet by Monday and a boat-load of images to sort through. Since the INDY is responsible for putting on the show, I felt that it was only appropriate that we cover it from start to finish, top to bottom. So I set out to assemble a team of ace photographers in the weeks leading up to the festival, look out Murdock.
In looking at the roster from last year, I immediately scratched out Lalitree (newborn baby) and Graham (on tour with some boo hoo band). It didn’t take long to get commitments from Abby and Brian and it was a relief to know that my cohort Jeremy would be around this time. I picked up our stellar summer intern Adam Kissick and Carrboro man-about-town Mike Benson. Now it was time to schedule out the three days of music and six different photographers — go go magic highlighters.
Naturally, I couldn’t make sense of this thing by Saturday, which is why I left it at home. Here’s the thing with music festivals though, it’s not about shooting every band that you can up on stage mean mugging and slaying on the guitar. There will be some nice moments up on stage, but the vast majority of live music photography is a lot like the vast majority of peak action sports photos — they have a short shelf life and lack any real distinction apart from the millions of images made before or after. The one thing that makes a difference is the same thing that always makes a difference, does the image tells a story?
Removed from the roar of the music or the sound of a crowd, most images fail to translate any portion of the thrill in the experience being depicted or convey a compelling story. On top of that, Hopscotch is not really the place for overly flashy performances, except of course, for the psychedelic eye-candy blowout lovingly provided by The Flaming Lips.
A maelstrom of confetti, lights and color raining down on a sold-out crowd makes for an easy photo most anytime. The excitement of the audience is apparent and surprisingly I can only find one raised cell phone camera (do you see it?). Wayne Coyne and Co. put on quite a show, but what about a solo guitarist who builds lush soundscapes over the course of twenty minutes? In this case, one frame may not be enough to convey the vibe of this type of experience.
Sometimes two frames next to one another (a diptych) tells more of a complete story than one. Would some photo purists think this approach is unfair? Sure, if they think that there is only one way to tell a story. There is a panoramic feel that helps carry the distance between the audience and the artist. The diverging light reflections on the floor also help give the pairing continuity.
In the next diptych, of Robert Pollard playing what is supposedly the last show ever for his prolific indie low-fi rock outfit Guided By Voices, the perspective does not shift in favor of another moment after the moment everyone else experiences in the spotlight.
This diptych benefits from something that can help any live music photography situation; access. There were over 80 photography passes for Hopscotch and the standard “three songs and your done” rule applied for those willing to throw ‘bows in the pit bellow the main stage in City Plaza. Myself and Jeremy were the only two photographers granted backstage access because we work on staff for the folks organizing the festival.
This gave us a unique perspective and unfettered access to the show, but this arrangement was also something I worked hard to secure long before the festival started. If there’s a band coming to a venue, contact the label or management days ahead of time and specifically request permission. You may not get it, but you’ve got to work the angles if you go in expecting different results.
While we’re at it, here are some other lessons I’ve learned covering live music festivals.
- If you can help it, stay away from other photographers. You’ll end up half-heartily making photos, mostly of one another.
- Show up early and set up a portable strobe that you can use wirelessly if you know a venue has awful lighting. This small bit of preparation has saved me several times. Use a Manfrotto Magic Arm, Joby Gorillapod or the little plastic foot piece that comes with strobe to mount it to a secure spot out of the way, but still positioned to create dynamic light (high angles).
- Stay late. There will be another party or chance to tell a story of a place alive long after most reasonable folks have gone to bed. I always hated running back to the daily paper to make a deadline long before the show was over. Enjoy yourself, make acquaintances and have odd conversations about the benifits of a talisman.
- If you’re friends with anyone int the band, cherish it, make pictures of them. You won’t always be young and rare is the friendship that knows no end. Honor their music and enrich both of your lives by making artifacts of a time and a place.
By the end of this year’s festival I had shot around 64GB worth of photos and videos — of which I’ll be sifting through and piecing together in the quiet of my house while getting plenty of rest. The Hopscotch Photo Team (mascot suggestions?) kicked some serious ass this year. I waded through everyone’s submissions and assembled a three page spread of the results in this week’s INDY.
Editing together a photo layout still thrills me to no end. I’d love to have six pages of photos to fill for next year. Big ups to all the photographers who contributed photos this year. I ran into my old APAD friend Tim Lytvineko after The Flaming Lips show and he contributed some stellar snaps to the cause, thanks dude! Please feel free to include a link to your Hopscotch photos in the comments section as well. In addition to the printed photo essay we also assembled some online galleries;
Finally, we edited a visual digest of 30 photos to convey the full range of stories and experiences that defined this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival, which was a huge success for both the INDY and the live music community of The Triangle. See you next year.