As my one year anniversary as Living Las Vegas’ Photo Diva arrives I can’t help but look back at this past year in amazement. I have been given a unique opportunity to share my thoughts on the Las Vegas live music scene and to share my images with you. And it has opened many doors for me as a concert photographer (thank you Mark…I am eternally grateful). I never would have thought I would be doing things like shooting performers like No Doubt from the photo pit of The Joint or getting pointers and shooting alongside the extraordinary local photographer Erik Kabik while waiting for a show to start or even meeting and shaking the hand of rock photography icon (and my idol) Robert Knight at the opening of his gallery at the Hilton. What an amazing year it has been!
I have to say, though, I just got back from the most remarkable and extraordinary thing that this diva has ever done — and something that wouldn’t have even entered my mind just one short year ago — I flew halfway around the world to a small town outside of Copenhagen Denmark to shoot the legendary Roskilde Festival. I know….crazy, right?
So what possessed me to renew my passport, pack my camera gear and fly 5,000 miles each way just to shoot bands that have (or probably will at some point) come through Las Vegas? One word: Prince. Yes, The Purple One who hasn’t played Vegas since his residency at the Rio ended a couple of years ago was to be the closing performer of the festival and since it’s unlikely he’ll play at a Vegas venue any time in the near future I went for it. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Roskilde is the stereotypical European music festival: a week long event where tens of thousands of festival goers camp out in massive fields under the never-gets-completely-dark Danish sky, beginning on a Saturday night with lots of pre-concert activities prior to gates opening to the real festivities Thursday through Sunday. (Think contemporary Scandinavian Woodstock.) I started entertaining the thought of going when I met the sound guys from Muse a couple of months ago (read that review here) but when I heard that Prince would be the closing act I just had to go.
Now, it wasn’t like I dropped myself into the middle of the Danish countryside alone. In what is becoming a common occurrence for many of us (especially for moi), I recently reconnected with an old college friend (OK, actually more like a fling turned friend. Hey, it was college…) who had married a Dane and moved to Copenhagen in the early ‘90s. My friend Sam is also a photographer and he agreed to meet me and help me find my way around. Now, I was nowhere near the diva I am now back in college. This kind of mojo takes time to develop. Poor Sam had no idea what he was in for…
I arrived on Wednesday night and checked into my hotel which was just a couple blocks from the Copenhagen central train station. (Camping? Sleeping on the ground outside under the stars in the clear but cool Danish night? Um, no. Divas do NOT camp.) I chose that particular hotel so I’d have an easy commute back and forth to the festival site and for the most part that worked out really well.
For the most part. When I arrived, Sam met me at the airport and said to me “You know that hotel is hooker central, right?” OK, that is not information they include on Expedia so, um, no, I did not know that there were working girls lining the street outside the hotel. Nor did I know that the festival coincides with the Danish version of Fleet Week. It was like walking on the Strip at night during a big contractor’s convention or something.
Besides the colorful sidewalk entertainment outside my hotel, there were some minor snafus with train schedules and having platforms switched on me at the last second so I’d have to sprint through a huge station only to miss my ride but it really only made me miss one performance that I wanted to shoot: Vampire Weekend (they will play The Pearl at the Palms on September 29 so hopefully I’ll get to catch them then).
Thursday morning came quickly (did it ever get dark?) and I schlepped my gear via train and a 1.5 mile walk through the town of Roskilde to the check-in area just outside the festival gates where I ran into my first and only real hassle. It seems my media accreditation did not include a photo pass. Really. I had asked multiple times prior to leaving the states for confirmation and everything seemed fine until I got there and the sweet check-in girl told me that, no, my wristband did not get me into the pit.
We had a mostly civil discussion in which she explained that they only issue a limited number of pit passes and I explained that I did not drag myself 5000 miles to be denied the access I expected. I won’t get into the details but she eventually saw the light as it were and switched out my pass with a minimum of bloodshed. Once I was finally onto the festival grounds and stowing my gear in the media center it was smooth sailing…well almost.
Shooting a huge summer music festival was a dream come true but not without it’s challenges. Once I got past the complete lack of personal space (especially in the photo pits where 75-80 of us — nearly all large/tall European men — were shoved into a space smaller than most European budget hotel rooms and only allowed to shoot the first two or three songs, no flash), the constant buzz of voices speaking at least six languages all at once (none of which I understood) and some equipment failures (had a CF card go belly up mid shoot but I always have a spare on me) I managed to get into the zone and shoot some of my best work yet.
An aside: We were maybe 10 feet away from the performers. Why did those large (and frankly by the time the headliners were onstage, smelly) men need a huge 300mm lens? Were they trying to shoot nose hairs or was the length of the lens compensating for something else, if you know what I mean? And why am I the only girl in the pit?
Since there were a total of five stages with overlapping schedules I had to plan carefully and focused in on the acts on the two main stages: the Arena stage (an approximately 21,100 square foot tented area that held about 17,000 party people) and the Orange stage (the symbol of the Roskilde Festival since 1978, the approximately 3,900 square foot orange tented stage overlooks an area that holds 60,000 festival goers). I got to see, hear and shoot outstanding performances by the legendary Alice In Chains, rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, Scandinavian pop diva Robyn and the up-and-coming bands Paramore and Kasabian. I also got to see, hear and shoot solid performances by mega-headliners Gorillaz (my daughter was so jealous. She actually likes these guys.) and Muse (whom I thought actually performed better here at Manadaly Bay than at Roskilde) but we all know why I was really there…
Prince…oh Prince. My dream concert shoot. The photos that would make my concert photography career take off. The intimate images of an icon that would be worthy of hanging up on the Hard Rock’s photo wall. The photos that I would cherish for a lifetime…the ones that would be under my pillow at night…
Just to make sure I got the best spot possible I got to the entrance of the photo pit for the Orange stage four hours prior to Prince’s scheduled downbeat time of 10pm only to find out that The Purple One has proclaimed “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” for his set. Nooooo! This can’t be! Was my dream shoot really not going to happen? Well, the security guys who I had befriended over my four days at the pit suggested I find a spot among the great unwashed and shoot from there so I called Sam on the cell, screaming obscenities and hysterically sobbing (told you he had no idea what he was in for), ran out and tried to find the perfect spot…and so were 60,000 other people. I fought my way through the crowds and secured a spot off center but near the sound booth and waited.
As a rabid fan, seeing and hearing Prince perform is always a thrill and he is still at the top of his game and the band (Cora Coleman Dunham on Drums, Josh Dunham on Bass, Cassandra O’Neal and Morris Hayes on Keyboards, Frederic Yonnet on Harmonica and back up vocalists Shelby Johnson, Liv Warfield and Las Vegas local Elisa Fiorillo Dease) was absolutely smoking hot. It was musical perfection but, alas, my photos were not. It’s really hard to get anything usable when you’re holding your camera with a 3 lb lens attached to it up over your head for 40 minutes straight, basically just holding the button down and shooting blind. So my dream of shooting Prince is still largely unfulfilled.
Once I got home I had the opportunity to do an email interview with backup singer and Vegas local Elisa Fiorillo Dease while she was in France on the next stop of Prince’s European tour (for more on Elisa read Diane Taylor’s article here) and I discovered that the Roskilde Festival experience is just as magical from the stage as it is from the audience and from the photo pit. One of her favorite moments from their set was also one of mine: their rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms Of An Angel” and we talked about how the line from the song that goes “Spend all your time waiting for that second chance…for a break that would make it OK” chokes us both up. (For more of the interview, click here.)
When all is said and done, my Roskilde Festival experience will be one that I will never forget and has changed me forever, both personally and professionally. I am a better photographer because of the lessons learned and even though my dream shoot has yet to be realized, Roskilde was more than I could have ever hoped for. And as for Prince… I will continue to spend all my time waiting for that second chance…for a break that will make it OK. Hey Prince, why don’t you give another Vegas girl a second chance.