I had just spent four hot and glorious days at the Nelsonville Music Festival. Unfortunately, the hard drive on which I had been storing all my event photos failed. I lost half of everything. Now I’ll have to spend big cash money to recover those files. I was exhausted and deflated, but you know, There Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked. In an effort to shake it off, I went straight from Nelsonville to Express Live to photograph Cage the Elephant.
Holy smokes!!! This is not how I expected my day to go. I had photographed Cage the Elephant once before as part of the Bunbury Festival in 2014. I thought I knew what to expect. How could I assume I knew what to expect from the only performer to crowd surf the entirety of the Red Rocks Amphitheater?
I usually review the entire experience, but I missed the opening two bands (Twin Peaks and Portugal, The Man). At every event I photograph, I also try to catch a candid hug. Many photographers have something unique that they shoot—shoes, guitars, the marquee. For me it is hugs. Shortly after I got there, I snapped a shot of an embrace, but it wasn’t a hug at all.
A well-known fact about music photography inside the business is that we usually get the first three songs in the pit to photograph each band—“Three songs, no flash” they say. Some of the smaller bands aren’t even aware of this. It differs from venue to venue. Some will allow me to take photos the entire show, but only the first three from inside the photo pit. It has been instilled as a policy for most venues and a courtesy to performers (extended from when people used to need flashes to take professional photographs). Mike Shultz and the boys are very much aware of this policy and graciously invited the photographers back for their encore. Joey Teale, Marketing Manager for Promowest (and Frontman for Pace of Glaciers) approached me to tell me the good news!
We were ushered in a few minutes before Brian addressed the crowd on the mic.
One by one, the band entered the stage. Matt came in on a rolling start, straight for the edge of the stage. He took to the runway at Express Live and danced his way to the edge.
Making sure no one in the crowd had a bad position, Matt made his rounds from one point of the stage to the other side. During the entire performance, he made eye contact and reached out to fans at every point.
They wrapped up the end of Spiderhead, the crowd roared in unison, and we were escorted out of the pit. It all happened so quickly. The sun had gone down behind the audience. There was no way I was going to get my hug now, but who cares? We had three more songs to photograph. With our excitement levels high, the other photographers and I compare notes.
I can’t think of a show where it pays off more to come early and be in the front row. I couldn’t wait to get out there again, but I’m complying with the venues policy. I couldn’t take photos again until we go out to the pit. I keep an eye on the stage and Matt’s interaction with the crowd. It’s more than ever! Matt stage dived from the catwalk into the audience while Brian used the photo pit for moving in, around, and through the crowd.
They ran through some of my favorites—Mess Around, Telescope, and Back Against the Wall. My only complaint was that Alison Mosshart wasn’t waiting backstage for her role in It’s Just Forever. Maybe that’s overzealous for Ohio, but this show has raised my expectations. At the end of Come A Little Closer, symbolically they allow us to the front of the show again and we’re greeted by Matt smiling at his mic stand, ready to blow our minds.
Just before the last song, Matt leans in and whispers something to a fellow photographer who has traveled from Seattle just to photograph this show. He says, “Get your camera ready. I’m going to jump into the crowd.” A few moments later, Matt launches himself into the audience and the security teams rush to
The crew rolled him back onto the stage where Matt took a breif respite before finishing off the high-energy Teeth to end the night.
Big brother Brian came out to the catwalk one last time for a celebratory moment with Mike at the end of the performance.
As an act of thanks, Matt took multiple trips removing the handfuls of guitar picks from the stage and just as much time placing them in the hands of the most deserving fans within reach. It’s the little things like that which add up.
I had no idea what to expect from their performance. Exiting the event, I had a sense of surreal uncertainty. Did all that just happen? It was hard to leave to the chattering of praise and delight from the audience where so much had just gone on around me moments before.
Part of what makes them all such great performers is how genuine they are. They are pleased with the crowd, and love being out there working the fans. This is work for them, and it never seemed laborious. I had enough residual joy from the show that I felt like I was probably going to wake up from this dream at any moment. As I looked down to scroll through a few photos on my camera, I realized they gave me something else I thought I had missed out on. I got my hug.