It seems like it’s been forever since last year’s Free Press Houston Summerfest and corresponding post. (Click here to visit last year’s blog post and relive Summerfest 2010) This year sort of snuck up on me. Regardless of my personal thoughts on the actual acts themselves, I’m proud to say that each year since its inception 3 years ago, the fest has gotten bigger and better in the grand scheme. I really appreciate the fact that the festival organizers really put an emphasis on local music. I not only hope that the festival continues to improve and make us Houstonians proud, but keeps the same “local music first” ideals that are apparent now. And with any luck, next year, I will be playing AND shooting. (Omar: Sign Square and Compass up for 2012!)
This year I was on assignment for The Houston Chronicle and their entertainment-driven special publication, 29-95. In past years, I was shooting for different clients that were not on a deadline, which meant that I could concentrate my efforts on shooting the entire show each day and then bother with editing and captioning the next week. For the print edition of the newspaper I had to capture images, download them to a remote laptop that we had set up in 29-95’s vendor booth, edit and transmit the selects to the paper. Ironically, even with the Chronicle building a few blocks away, the poor Internet connection made the transmission process a real headache. I transmitted images to the newspaper’s photo desk for the print edition several times throughout the day since I would not be getting home until after the print deadline.
For 29-95, I sent a healthy amount of selects over each night for use in a web gallery that was live throughout the day. In essence, it was like shooting for two separate clients concurrently. Luckily I had the help of two amazing assistants and a team of editors that made things go smoothly.
Day 1 started at about 10am. After getting outfitted with about 5 or so different wristbands, we set up our laptop station and walked the festival grounds to get an idea of the layout. The festival in general was a lot more spread out than in past years which was a pain since it took a lot longer to walk to between each stage, and since the majority of fans camped out at the main stage, so the exterior stages seemed much more isolated than in past years. You may be asking yourself why I am complaining about a short walk, but it was about 105 degrees F each day, so just being out in the sun, let alone moving is an exhausting task.
After getting the lay of the land, I started looking for details and hot weather features, before heading to the main stage to photograph the live acts. Bun B and Big Boi were the highlights of day 1 putting on amazing performances in the dead heat. I didn’t have any trouble getting access to the stage which was nice. The hip-hop acts were great, but Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings were my favorites for the day for sure. During the golden hour I ventured back into the crowd and made some frames of a bungee attraction in awesome light.
Since we still had a lot of editing to do, we decided to skip Saturday’s headliner, Ween, and head back to the office early to get a jump on things.
Sunday was 110% better for me. After regrouping, I headed into Sunday with cooler clothes, less gear, and a working knowledge of what exactly I wanted to shoot and how the whole festival was laid out.
We started around the same time, at some of the smaller stages enjoying/photographing friends’ The Niceguys and By The End of Tonight before hitting the grounds in search of features. I stumbled on several nice details and a few excellent moments before heading to the main stage where I found local noise/rap/etc artist B L A C K I E Â assembling his own stage props alone. After a few frames and an offer to help, we headed into the crowd to find out they were setting up a paint slide. Last year, the paint slide was replaced by a mud slide after a heavy storm rolled through the festival.
Since it was (mostly) dry this year, a black, vinyl tarp was setup, splattered with paint and hosed down before a line of kids started sliding down. It was definitely fun to witness and photograph even though there are still paint splatters on several of my lenses and clothes. After several frames at the bottom of the slide I decided to trek up the hill to see what it looked like from the top. The first thing I saw was a group of friends in line for the slide, covered in paint, having a great time smearing paint on each other. During the few minutes I spent with the group I photographed a nice sequence. Click on the composite below to see the entire 12 shot sequence together.
After a quick edit/transmission session, we headed over to the main stage for the evening acts. After a few moments, IT happened. What we all thought we had dodged…the rain. Summer downpours have cursed the festival the past two years in a row and just when we thought we were out of the woods, dark clouds circled and opened for several minutes of rain, and like past years, I ventured out to make rain features while most photographers scurried for cover. Unlike past years, the showers were brief and the terribly uncomfortable mugginess that is usually present after a summer shower in Houston was no where to be found. For a time it was actually pleasant.
Right after Chromeo finished up an awesome set, B L A C K I E was set to perform. I was already familiar with his crazy stage presence (especially after playing with him the Thursday prior to the festival) so I knew to be up front and ready to shoot the insanity. The first several rows of mostly Weezer fans didn’t know what hit them when he started into his first jam. The set, although short, was a full frontal assault and was not only fun to shoot, but a challenge as well. The lead off image above is one of my favorites from a sequence of him diving into the crowd and at the same time completely freaking out about a half dozen unsuspecting girls. It was lovely. (Check out some video of the performance including video of myself photographing the set, shot by Houston artist Blak Joens, below!)
Afterwards Cut Copy dove into an awesome set while I ventured out into an impromptu dance circle that I witnessed was started by 1 crazy fan that began dancing on his own. It quickly grew into a huge group of fans dancing like there was no tomorrow. At one point a shirtless guy on crutches hopped into the dance circle much to the excitement of the crowd.
Just as the sun was setting, the festival headliner, Weezer, took the stage and devled into a lengthy set full of old fan favorites from mostly the Pinkerton and Blue Album eras. As a fan of the band, it was awesome to get a chance to photograph them whilst hearing all my favorite jams from back in the day. After photographing the first half of the set from both in front of the stage and a little bit further back, we headed back to the office to edit the days selects.
The entire weekend was long and exhausting and even though I don’t know how I can possibly top last year’s images, I had a blast and came away with some frames I am definitely proud of. The print edition of the paper used 3 of my images on the Monday following the festival. Check out the layout above. As always, a full slideshow of my favorites is below. Check out the images and let me know what you think.
If you know anyone in any of the images, please link them!