CrucialFest and the Nevada Desert

Feeling the need for a good road trip, I pointed my nose east towards the great Salt Lake City to spend a weekend photographing CrucialFest, an eclectic and diverse two-day music festival boasting a list of well known names in heavy music, plus a bunch of local and regional bands spanning multiple genres.  My friends Cult Leader were performing, as well as Neurosis, Chelsea Wolfe, and Russian Circles, all of whom I love and appreciate. I also looked forward to being in a new place checking out new things, if only to feed my desire for novelty. 

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I had a slight time crunch to out there, so I didn’t really stop to photograph anything along the way.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the beautiful drive, up through the Sierras and past Reno down into the Nevada desert.  I was treated to a picture perfect desert sunset (in my rearview mirror) and the cool clean air rushing through my window was like a magic elixir.  I found a place to park along a river outside Elko NV where I enjoyed some dinner, a nighttime stroll in the refreshingly frigid air with a massive blanket of stars overhead.

The next day I drove the remaining few hours to Salt Lake City and spent the day wandering from stage to stage, photographing bands and mostly just keeping to myself.  I managed to find ONE person I knew there, which was a treat.  The day consisted of mostly forgettable bands, and things only started getting interesting for me when UK phenoms Slaves played the smallest stage to about 40 or 50 people.  In Europe, these guys sell out theater-sized venues and it was great to see them playing with maniacal energy and abandon despite the small crowd.  Of course Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe were great, as always.  I especially enjoyed the gorgeous sunset that accompanied the end of Russian Circles’ set.

Day two of CrucialFest was longer, but more relaxed and enjoyable.  Got to hang with my Cult Leader buddies a bit and catch up, and ended up having fewer bands I was actually interested in seeing.  Pig Destroyer (more a fan of the name than the music), Mutoid Man (because they’re funny) and Neurosis (because they’re fucking Neurosis) were the standouts amongst a blur of bands who had their own things going but nothing that grabbed me. 

Happy to be done with wandering the hot and dusty festival grounds, I loaded up and drove to Temple Square in downtown SLC just to check it out.  Any time I think about Mormonism, I remember the fantastic book by John Krakauer called “Under the Banner of Heaven”, which is not only an excellent outline of the history of Mormonism (and fundamentalist Mormonism) but weaves in a story of a faith-based murder of a Mormon woman and her child by her fundamentalist brothers-in-law.  Mormonism is crazy, and the area around Temple Square is a gargantuan citadel dedicated to the Mormon Empire. 

I got the hell outta there and headed out of the city, through the flat Utah desert and back into Nevada, ending up in Winnemucca, a tiny town with a rich history woven into the westerly US expansion in the late 19th century.  I found a spot nestled into the foothills on the eastern side of town and thoroughly enjoyed an amazing sunset before making dinner and settling in for the night.

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I woke well before the sun came up and decided I wanted to spend the day exploring Nevada a bit.  I hadn’t been to the Black Rock Desert area in many years and thought it might be enjoyable to visit there before heading to Pyramid Lake.  Google Maps said I could take the boring old Interstate, or I could take a back route that would be 10 minutes faster, which was a no-brainer.  I always choose the back roads whenever possible. 

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Long story short, I found myself going from well-maintained gravel roads to bumpy and rocky roads to deeply rutted and sandy two-lane tracks through a massive expanse of open high-mountain desert.  No cell service, no sign of humans anywhere and clearly no one had been on these roads for many days.  My poor van had to crawl its way through washes and over rocks, rocking and rattling the whole time.  My stress levels went up enough to where I couldn’t maintain the presence of mind to photograph much, even though the Black Rock Desert is an amazingly gorgeous place.  I couldn’t help imagining the van dying or getting stuck in a rut and leaving me stranded way out in the middle of nowhere.  Ultimately I’d be fine, since I had plenty of water and food and clothes and such.  But it sure would fuck up my schedule for the week if I had to hike 30+ miles to find cell service or a helping hand.  All for nothing too, since I elected to take this road without any good reason to do so.  Luckily I made it through fine, though the last 20 miles was an endurance test over severely washboarded roads that just about shook the fillings from my teeth. 

 Black Rock Desert

Black Rock Desert

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I limped back onto the gloriously paved highway outside Gerlach and headed south towards Pyramid Lake, where I found the parking lots and shoreline packed with people fishing.  I’d never seen so many people at the lake at once, and wondered if there was a special event or something going on.  Decided the crowds were more than I wanted to bear, so I bailed westward, stopping in Tahoe before heading back to the city by the bay.

 Sweet, sweet pavement

Sweet, sweet pavement

 Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

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Music, Mountains & Oceans

Time passes, things seem to move quickly, passing in a blur.  The last month has been so full, and I’m having a tough time keeping up.  Here’s a recap of some of my time since returning from tour.

7/13/18 through 7/23/18

For a number of years, I played drums in my friend Arann Harris’ band on a pretty regular basis.  A little over two years ago, he semi-retired from playing shows with the full band, and I kinda retired with him.  He calls me once or twice a year to play the select show, and this weekend I’d signed up to play with him at the Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. 

We arranged to rehearse at his mom's farm in west Petaluma, which we did.   After putting in a couple of hours, I had to rush off to the coast to photograph the intimate wedding of a friend scheduled to take place around sunset.  The idea was to get some portraits as the sun was going down, but once I got within 1/4 mile of the ocean the fog was pea-soup thick.  Fog and overcast light happens to be pretty great for photography, so I wasn't disappointed at all.  I ended up getting some photos I'm really happy with that have that dreamy, mystical quality that only the fog can give you.

The next day was Rivertown Revival, which is held right on the waterfront near downtown Petaluma and is a kinda quasi-Steampunk thing with vendors and food and live music and people in weird costumes.  I hadn’t been in a while, and it was actually enjoyable (and novel) to be at a music festival as a performer and not as a photographer.  For a few reasons, I consciously decided to not bring my camera at all.  It was pretty nice to just wander and enjoy my surroundings in real time.  I ran into a number of people I love and got to have some quality – if sometimes brief – check-ins.  I even had a total stranger come up and tell me how much she appreciates my photography work and feels inspired by what I do.  I’m always amazed when stuff like that happens, and it’s heart-warming and fortifying. 

We performed as scheduled, and it’s always a treat to play music with these dudes.  Mike James, Jason Carr and Arann are some of my favorite people to play music with, and playing with them is like slipping on a comfortable pair of fur-lined slippers. 

 Pre-game prayer circle with the boys

Pre-game prayer circle with the boys

A couple days later I found myself driving to Reno to film my friend Tyler’s band, Tumbledown House, who were performing in an outdoor amphitheater outside of town.  I left early in the day so I could stop in Tahoe and soak it up for a minute. I’d been pining a Tahoe visit for a while but hadn’t been able to carve out the time just yet.  I stopped at my favorite swimming hole in the South Fork of the American River that runs along Hwy 50 and had a wonderfully refreshing dip.  Made some lunch and talked to my daughter Aurora, who’d been living in NYC for the last number of weeks.  She’s thinking of moving there when she graduates from UC Santa Cruz next year, and the idea of her doing that is exciting.  It means I’ll see her less often (probably), but I think New York has so much to offer her, and I love seeing her get excited about something big and potentially challenging. 

Reno was hot as fuck, and setup/soundcheck time at the venue was pretty intense in that regard.  But after the sun went down, it was pretty gorgeous out.  TDH played a really great set, and the venue looked and sounded great.  It was challenging but fun to figure out how to film them without getting close to them (the stage was big and I couldn’t get near them without being overly obvious and blocking the view of paying attendees), but I think I got some good footage. 

The next day I woke early and headed back through Tahoe again, stopping for a walk up around Kingsbury Pass then taking a long and leisurely drive around the Lake through Tahoe City and around the west side.  This is the area where my parents used to own a cabin, and I always enjoy taking the opportunity to say hello.  I’d spent many a summer and winter there all throughout my childhood and feel a super strong connection to it.  Even early in the morning, some parts of the highway were choked with tourists and RVs, which is tough to take.  I think I’ll head back in the fall when the crowds have thinned out a bit.

Made my way to San Francisco, where I’d scheduled time to see a new therapist.  There’s been a lot of uncomfortable stuff going on in my head and heart for the last month or two, and I realized early on that in order to deal with this stuff, I’m gonna have to get some help from a qualified professional.  The appointment went well, but it made clear how much inner work this could end up being.  I’m glad to do it, but it’s not fun. Met up with Megan and spent an enjoyable evening together, despite my fragile post-therapy state. 

I headed back to the heat miser that is Mendocino County to do a little bit of work, then went to Willits to pick Mickey up and take him out to the coast to escape the heat.  We had a lot of great conversation on the way (as we always do when we take road trips together), and arrived in Mendocino in the late afternoon as the temperature hit the perfect point.  We walked along the beach, enjoying the cold dousing our feet got when the water from the incoming tide gently slid over them.  We walked around town, got some books from the bookstore, then headed to Fort Bragg for some dinner.  Got back to Willits well after the heat of the day had transmuted into the cool of the evening.

But things didn’t stop there.  I headed down to Bodega the next day to film a music video for my friends the Rainbow Girls.  They’d arranged to throw a small party for about 50 close friends, with the event resembling their Bodega Day party that happened back in April.  They wanted to have the video feature their community of musicians/artists/weirdos doing what they love to do… perform and create and celebrate.  I had lots of time in the afternoon to try and figure out what I was going to do (because I’m a noob filmmaker and had no real shot list or game plan or anything that would be something professional), and began capturing footage as soon as people began trickling in.  Around 6:00 or so, the musical performances started in their little barn, and I began the frantic running back and forth trying to capture that, as well as getting footage of people just hanging out and enjoying the party.  

We filmed the girls playing along with the song for the actual music video part of the thing, which can be a little awkward for musicians who aren’t particularly inclined to lipsync their songs.  They were troopers and we ran through the song a few times before resuming the party.  There was another run-through or five of the song later in the night, when there was a substantial crowd to be an audience for the band and the little courtyard outside the barn was beautifully lit and dreamy.   I was glad to get a little assistance from Bradley Cox, an amazing and talented photographer who lives on the property with the girls and offered to film some footage as well.  We wrapped that part of the evening up and the performances resumed.  There were actually performances scheduled to begin every hour or so all through the night, up until 6 AM.  I of course needed to get myself to bed around 11:30 or so, which I did with relish and relief.

I spent all of the next day parked by the ocean, where I sat in the van and worked on photos from the end of tour and started trying to edit video from the tour as well.  It was a pretty enjoyable way to spend the day, listening to the surf pound on the beach below and having some quiet time to focus and work without distraction.  I left Bodega Bay mid-afternoon and made my way down to my parents’ house since I haven’t visited for over a month and felt like I’d enjoy an evening back at the old family house.  I also fully admit that visiting them gives me an opportunity to do some thorough laundry and cleaning out of the van, which I was in desperate need of doing.  I spent some time with them catching up as well and got myself to bed early.

The next day I drove down to San Jose to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends, Mike Bruce and his family.  Mike and I met way back in High School, had been roommates for a time, played in a band together, and is one of the only people I’ve sustained a continuous friendship with since the old days.  Seeing him is always a pleasure, and his kids are growing up faster than I can keep up with.  Always so good to see them all.

I headed to San Mateo to meet up with Megan to celebrate the birthday of our friend TJ’s boyfriend Jeff.  There was BBQ oysters, sausage and other yummy foods, plus some interesting conversation.  It’s always a bit awkward feeling when I have to hang out at a family gathering with a family I’ve never met before, but my awkwardness didn’t last long as everyone was super nice and helped me feel at ease.  I did have to excuse myself when the birthday cake was unveiled, since I’ve been unable to eat anything sweet for a few years and this time it was particularly torturous to watch everyone stuff their faces with the delicious looking chocolate layer cake.  Megan and I left the party as it got dark and made our way up to her place in SF to stay for the night.

After spending the morning together, we parted ways and I headed back to Ukiah to do some work, not being stoked at all to be back in the stifling heat.  Luckily I’d arranged to connect with my friend Aviva, a talented musician and fellow Capoerista who’d booked time in a gorgeous house on the top of McNab Ranch to record her first record.  She’d hired me to come up and make some photos of the process and just hang out, which I was glad to do.  The road was rough and steep and I surprised myself by getting my van all the way to the top, not without sustaining a little bit of discombobulation and disarray inside the van from all the jostling though.

The time spent with Aviva and her band, which includes Matt from Marty O’Reilly’s band, was magical.  They were recording in a small wooden outbuilding with full-size sliding doors open on two sides, giving the room a partial outdoor feel and letting in lots of natural light.  The property sits on top of the mountain and is dotted with huge oak and madrone trees and silent in the way that only places far removed from populated areas can be.  Spending time in places like this are what keeps me coming back to Mendocino County over and over again.  There are things about living out in the country that can get old and cumbersome, but relaxing in a hammock suspended between two huge oak trees, surrounded by acres of pristine woods and open meadows with only the sounds of insects and chirping birds never does.

They did some recording, then took a long break for dinner, then resumed recording back in the barn until almost midnight.  The music is sweet and somewhat whimsical, folky and intimate, unique and familiar.  Watching talented musicians work together to create and record a musical moment is something I always appreciate, and making photos of it is something special.

Tour Days - Pt 2

7/9/18 Monday

The first part of my drive today was pretty enjoyable, though after about 10 AM things started getting pretty hot out.  Also, a chunk of land on the California/Oregon border has been on fire for the last week or so and the smoke was thick.  Luckily the freeway was open and that part of the fire had been contained, but it was still pretty crazy to see the acres upon acres of blackened earth and charcoal skeletal trees. Made a bee-line down that doozy of a boring interstate 5, stopping only to gas up, pee and make myself a sandwich.  Arrived in the baking oven that is Sacramento by 4:00 and found the dudes returning after a sweltering walk around the neighborhood.  I took advantage of the Wifi and air conditioning in the bar and worked on editing photos from yesterday, then walked down to a local taqueria for some chow. 

Tonight’s show was just Converge and Amenra, as Neurosis had scheduled this as a day off and the two other bands were in no mood to rest.  The club was pretty small and of course the show was sold out.  It also seemed like the upstairs dressing rooms were the only rooms in the whole building that had no A/C, which was a bummer.  The light in those rooms was gorgeous though, and I took some portraits of the dudes as well taking candid photos as the as the opportunities presented themselves. 

Since the stage was so small, there was barely any room for Amenra’s projected images on the wall behind them.  They opted to have no stage lights and just rely on the projector, which looks pretty great but made it nearly impossible to get any good photos.  I did my best, and enjoyed watching them play again regardless.

The temperature in the venue got swelter-y and gross, and I decided I just didn’t have it in me to get into the mass of sweaty dude bodies to make photos of Converge, even though they thrive in small, packed environments like this and crushed the shit out of it.  I just tried to find cool pockets of air wherever I could, and hung out till the end of the night.  Everyone crashed in the buses outside the venue after the show, so I followed suit.

7/10/18 Tuesday

I attempted to get up early enough to beat traffic into SF but failed.  No matter.  I wasn’t in a hurry anyway.  Joined up with everyone at the UC Theatre in Berkeley late in the morning, just in time to join a few of the Amenra guys to watch the Belgium/France World Cup game in a pizzeria a couple blocks from the venue.  We got there pretty early, which was great considering the place was filled to overflowing capacity within 30 minutes.  The entire place was filled with France fans, including two tables of preppy-looking college age kids right in front of us, all speaking French.  Seemed as though our table of nine or so were the only Belgium fans in the place.  It was OK though, because at our table were the biggest and meanest looking group of dudes, and when the French kids in front of us started yelling insults at the Belgian players on the TV they were quickly silenced by the snarling, mocking response of our Belgians. The kids looked genuinely scared, which I found entertaining.  The game ended with a French victory and we all rose and left immediately, as to prevent any resentful Belgians from starting fights with snotty French kids. 

Hurry-up-and-wait commenced back at the venue, and I took the opportunity to do some video interviews of a few band members in addition to editing photos and taking care of other business. 

Another thunderous, epic show on the part of Amenra tonight, and again I got to shoot/film from the stage and the photo pit both.  They sounded unbelievably good tonight. I have to admit, when I first came across videos of Amenra playing live, I was a little put off by the fact that Colin doesn’t face the audience while he performs.  I later learned it’s his way of communicating that his truth doesn’t have to be your truth, and his performance isn’t as much a performance as it is his own process of experiencing the music. Getting a vantage point that the rest of the audience doesn’t get allowed me to see how much this is true, that he’s not interacting with the audience at all, but submerging himself in the expression of the music and becoming one with it. 

Converge and Neurosis both crushed tonight too, but I absconded before the show was over to head into SF and spend the night with Megan, who I hadn’t seen in a couple weeks.  It was nice to have such a short drive for a change.

7/11/18 Wednesday

It was delightful to sleep in a real bed next to my sweetie last night, and I slept very well.  Got up and walked down to get a shot of espresso from Ritual, which I had also been missing over the last couple of weeks.  Megan and I spent the morning together, catching up and enjoying each other’s company.  I got a text from Colin that the dudes were in the Haight getting coffee, so I packed up my stuff and headed their direction.

We spent a couple hours wandering down Haight Street, doing some shopping and enjoying the unbelievably gorgeous weather.  At one point as we stood outside a shop waiting for Amenra guitarist Mathieu Vandekerckhove to finish buying an amazing Hawaiian shirt, Colin commented that it “doesn’t get much better than this… spending time with friends, enjoying beautiful weather in a beautiful city in a foreign country, without a care in the world”.  I appreciate a person who can appreciate a moment like that.

Back at the venue I managed to find a place to park nearby that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Went to the dressing room to spend some time editing photos and found Amenra’s bass player Levy looking a bit rough around the edges.  I asked if he was OK and he said he was not.  Apparently the buses arrived at the Great American Music Hall last night and the owner brought them inside to do shots, which a couple of them took advantage of.  Now, intense hangovers were being nursed in the little dressing room of this legendary haunted music venue in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

Megan decided to come to the show tonight, and it was delightful to introduce her to everyone.  As with me, they were very kind to her and even gave her some free merch.  Sadly there was no photo pit for tonight’s show, and now that I’m apparently spoiled enough to not want to stand amongst the riff-raff, I opted to shoot primarily video from the side of the stage tonight as well as getting some shots from the back of the ornate and picturesque venue.

It was another epic set by a magnificent group of performers, and I was, again, moved to watch them play.  It was Megan’s first time seeing them, and she was quite impressed as well. It was a little bittersweet to know this was my last night to enjoy this show from this particular vantage point, but that’s how it goes.

Since today was my last show with the tour, it gave me an opportunity to reflect and appreciate the experience I’d had.  I’d been anticipating this day for the last week, anticipating some sadness and FOMO knowing I was going to head back to Ukiah and resume “normal” life again.  by the end of the night I found I was ready to do just that.  It had been a busy, enriching and fulfilling experience, and sometimes those experiences just aren’t meant to last. Also, I was kinda worn out, and needed to rest and regroup after two weeks on the road. 

I made my rounds giving hugs and saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who’d brought me into their world and made me feel so welcome, then hoisted my bags onto my shoulder and walked alone out into the cold San Francisco night.

Tour Days - Pt 1

It’s been almost two weeks since my last blog post, and the last post only covered up to the beginning of July. I’ve become accustomed to chunks of inactivity and quiet between work excursions which is when I usually take the time to write.  The last two-plus weeks have been so full I haven’t had the brain space or time to write and reflect.  Things are finally slowing down, so I’m going to do my best to pull from my often faulty memory and recount my time spent on the road with some of the most respected names in heavy music; Neurosis, Converge and Amenra.

7/6/18

After spending the better part of a week ambling through the beautiful mountains of Wyoming and Montana I made my way west through the baking plains of Idaho and Eastern Washington to Seattle, where I’d arranged to join up with the tour as a guest of Amenra.  Seattle was experiencing its own heat wave, but nothing like what I’d just driven through in Idaho and eastern Washington so I was happy to get a little relief. 

I’d been messaging with Colin, Amenra’s singer and primary creative architect for the last week or two, discussing logistics and some creative collaboration as well.  He was warm, gracious and engaging in a way I hadn’t expected, and it was gratifying to know that he/they appreciated my photography work as well as my willingness to spend time with them making art.  They are a band I love and respect and they’ve worked with some amazingly gifted photographers and filmmakers during the course of their 20+ year career, so in my mind the bar was set pretty high from the get go.

 Colin

Colin

I picked Colin up outside the venue as previously arranged so we could grab some boxes of merch that had been mailed to a nearby UPS store.   After warm hellos and handshakes, we set off across downtown talking about our families and history, diving into real talk right away.  I deeply appreciate a person who tends towards talking about real shit rather than engaging in small talk. 

We grabbed the merch, then dropped it and him back off at the venue.  It was impossible to find myself a parking spot right next to Pike’s Market on a Friday afternoon, so I drove about 10 min away and took a Lyft back to the venue.  Colin introduced me to Neurosis’ and Converge’s tour managers who were very kind and gracious to me.  While Colin worked on setting up the band’s merch table, we talked about art, photography, and many of the things involved in making Amenra’s visual component work for them.  He presented a number of ideas and perspectives that totally shook my creative world and immediately pulled me into new ways of looking at what I do as a photographer.  Knowing they work with a number of amazing and talented photographers on a regular basis made me feel some pressure (the good kind) to step up my game while I have the opportunity to do so. 

Colin is a deep thinker, connected to his emotional reality and how it relates to his creative process, and very open about what makes him tick, creatively speaking.  His authenticity is refreshing and unique among artists and people in general.  Also, being invited into Amenra’s little world for a while feels like a unique privilege and some kind of validation of my own work. 

 Neurosis soundcheck

Neurosis soundcheck

The afternoon drifted into evening as soundchecks were done and dinners were eaten, and Colin manned the Amenra merch booth for the entirety of the show, save the time he was playing.  This struck me as unusual, especially because it seemed like he would need some time to get into the space that performing requires.  But nope.  He can get himself there just fine. 

 Colin, just before going onstage

Colin, just before going onstage

Amenra only have 35 minutes to play, which is challenging logistically (they tend to have fairly long songs) and frustrating for those of us who want to hear them play for much longer.  I was fortunate to be the only photographer in the little photo pit for the entire evening (still not sure why), so I was able to film and photograph Amenra for their whole set.  Their sheer intensity and raw power are almost distracting in a way… I had to remember to keep shooting and not just stand and stare. 

Converge are a different kind of animal… born from the Boston hardcore scene in the early/mid-90’s, they’re one of the seminal heavy music bands that straddle the lines of metal and punk, though they do it in a way that’s uniquely their own and free from the ugly musical pitfalls many of their successors fall into.  They seem to be getting heavier and more compelling with each album as well, and their reputation as a live juggernaut is still well deserved.

Whereas Amenra’s delivery and performance is solemn, sonically monolithic and visually ritualistic, Converge are the raging animal brain, prowling the stage and provoking the writhing, shoving mass of rabid minions below.  These guys know what they’re doing, and they do it well.

Neurosis are the granddaddies of them all, having established themselves back in the late 80’s and pretty much inventing a genre of metal that countless bands have emulated (and sometimes straight-up imitated).  Their live shows are more subdued now than they were 20 years ago, but the energy that was previously devoted to overwhelming people with volume and visuals and hurling bodies is now concentrated on performing intricate and extensive pieces of music with precision and perfection.  They’re still just as fucking heavy too.

Because all the bands are traveling in buses, this presents a logistical problem for me, generally speaking.  At the end of the night, the bands load up and are driven to the next city while they all sleep on the bus.  Since I can’t do that, I have to leave the show early and try to go to bed early so I can get up early to meet with them later the next day.  Tonight, however, they were heading to Vancouver BC and I wasn’t joining them since I hadn’t got my passport renewed in time for this trip.  At least I was able to drive half a mile or so to my favorite neighborhood to crash in and settled in for the night.

7/7/18 Saturday

Today was a “day off” in Seattle, so I spent the better part of the day parked in a café editing photos and catching up on some other work.  I’d slept poorly last night, having stayed up till 1:30 after weeks of going to bed between 9:30-10:30.  I decided I needed a good jolt of caffeine, so I got a huge Americano and sat down to work.  About 2 hours later I was feeling pretty terrible and couldn’t figure out why until I realized I’d had too much caffeine and my body was freaking out.  I’m pretty sensitive in general, so I’m usually careful about what I put into my body.  Somehow I’d crossed the line and I was feeling sick enough to need to just head back to the van and lay down until the feelings subsided.  It was a bummer to feel like I’d spent most of a gorgeous afternoon in Seattle just sitting in the van, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  I spent the evening hanging out with my friend Nica, enjoying local tacos and deep conversations well into the evening.  Since the bands were going to be in Portland by early morning tomorrow, I decided to split my drive and head south tonight, stopping about an hour north of Portland and parking in an empty lot to crash. 

7/8/18 Sunday

Woke as planned and got myself down to Portland by 10 AM.  Stopped at my bestie Jeanette’s house to have a long-deserved shower and to hang with her for a little bit.  We had an enjoyable morning and early afternoon together before I headed to the venue to join the dudes in taking a walk around the neighborhood.  We checked out some used clothing stores, a huge bookstore, and managed to find a Hawaiian-style shave ice shop, where Colin waited in line for almost 30 min to get himself a towering hulk of fruity goodness.  Back at the venue, soundchecks were done, merch was hung, phones were stared at, and the familiar hurry-up-and-wait scenario unfolded. I managed to spend some time talking with a few folks from the crew and other bands, edited some photos from the last few days, and appreciated the fact there was next to the tour buses for me to pull my van in and park for the evening. 

Tonight’s show was another one for the books.  I was able to shoot Amenra from onstage as well as the photo pit in front of the stage, which is my favorite place to shoot from.  I love getting shots of the audience watching the show, and I also love getting shots of Colin performing with his back to the audience (which he does for 85% of their shows) but facing me.  The entire band is magnetic and a joy to photograph, and I love trying to figure out new ways to shoot them every night. 

The next show is Sacramento and those bus-riding boys were gonna be driven down there after the show.  It’s a nine-hour drive, so I opted to split it up and leave the show a bit early to drive part way again.  Driving that long, straight stretch of the 5 through southern Oregon isn’t quite as bad at night as it is during the day.  With some good music and snacks, I drove till 1 AM and parked myself near a gas station in some anonymous little town.

In Between Days

7/2/18 Monday

It got pretty cold last night, but I was happy I’d stayed pretty warm.  I got up early and snuck out to the highway, heading back into Jackson to do some errands before getting back on the road.  I found a laundromat with Wifi, which was awesome.  Got groceries and propane and a few other tidbits, then got on the road.  I noticed a pretty high number of grumpy-ass drivers in this town.  I’d imagine locals get pretty annoyed at all the tourists clogging streets and sidewalks, but damn.  Some grumpy motherfuckers.

I struck off towards Bozeman with plan to drive through Yellowstone.  I’d debated about that move, knowing the roads would be clogged full of tourists and did I really want to deal with that?  I decided I’d feel stupid being so close and not visiting, so on I went.  I soon regretted it, because due to my not paying attention, I paid $35 to go through Grand Teton National Forest thinking it was Yellowstone, then go to the gate of Yellowstone and had to pay another $35.  Duh.  Then there was the traffic.  And the tourists.  I made a couple quick stops to check out some of the geysers and a lake, but that was about all I could handle.  Just before leaving the west entrance I found a quiet pulloff next to a small river and decided it was time to “shower”.  It was awesome, and getting into the cold mountain water was invigorating.  Felt good to get some of the grime off too. 

 My "shower"

My "shower"

I drove down the highway, down winding roads in deep valleys lined by thick forest, past Big Sky and through the Galatin National Forest during a torrential downpour.  The air was warm and smelled sweetly of pine and wet dirt, so kept my window down despite the rain.  I arrived in Bozeman around 6:00, took a short walk around downtown, then drove around trying to find a place to park and cook some dinner.  The section of town I’m guessing is the old town is full of grand 19th century homes and rolling, green lawns.  A few blocks past those homes things start looking pretty janky pretty quick. There are a lot of cookie-cutter neighborhoods on the outskirt I drove through, and back towards the north end of downtown is Montana State University housing.  I found a nook to park in and make dinner, then noticed I was situated right next to a beautiful park just uphill from me.  I drove up and found the town cemetery, as well as a gorgeous park with rolling hills, perfectly manicured lawn, towering trees and tastefully placed benches.  I walked up the hill to the cemetery and wandered the rows of headstones placed amongst the trees, enjoying the fact that I was the only soul there. 

I decided to stay in town tonight, not really wanting to get back on the road and knowing I could get some work done in the morning if I found a café.  I cruised around and found a little park on a quiet street, and that was where I rested for the night.

7/3/18 Tuesday

Well, I did just what I’d planned to do the night before.  Got up early and walked a few blocks to a nice little café and spent the entire morning working and getting blasted on coffee.  Cruised outta there a bit before noon and made myself a sandwich in the van before getting back on the road.  Pointed my nose towards Helena, which was only an hour or so away. 

I parked and walked around downtown Helena, checking out a few shops and getting a feel for the place.  People were nice, but there weren’t many of them out on the street for it being midday on a Tuesday and all. 

Got back in the van & decided to check out the Helena National Forest and maybe spend the night there.  Not knowing jack shit about the place, I followed my maps directions to the forest entrance, then started heading up a road that sure didn’t look like an entrance to the forest, but there was a little sign there so I continued.  The road quickly turned to dirt and curled through a couple small enclaves of houses that looked old and weather-worn, like they’ve endured dozens of frigid Montana winters.  I had to wonder if people lived in those spots year round or if they’re just summer places. 

The road got steeper and rougher and as I passed a driveway here and there, most leading to small homesteads visible from the road through the thick trees.  Reminded me of mining cabins. I couldn’t help feeling like I was trespassing, though.  I know how hill people feel about strangers randomly bumbling down their roads and I hoped no one would get annoyed by my presence.  The van faithfully crept up the road, rocking back and forth, clanging all my belongings around and depositing some on the floor after particularly deep potholes.  I finally hit a “road closed” sign that I’m sure a neighbor put up just to keep people like me from driving past their house.  I turned around and ambled back down the mountain, back onto the pavement, then rolled the dice on another National Forest road that said it lead to some lake.

This road was a bit easier, but stretched on for many miles up and around mountains that looked like they’d endured a huge fire not long ago.  There weren’t many places to pull out and camp, so I kept on, hoping to find the right spot.  I went a long, long way.  Got to the top of the mountain and came across a sign marking the Continental Divide trail that I imagine runs along the ridges of those mountain ranges.  The road continued down the other side, but was clearly in super shitty condition, only usable by high-clearance 4wd vehicles.  It was cold and windy up there too, so my option was to turn around. 

I walked around to stretch my legs and take a few photos, and a young couple in a truck pulled up to ask me about where the road lead to.  I admitted my ignorance, explaining I was just cruising around looking for a place to park.  They said they were just cruising too, and said if I didn’t find a spot up there I should go to the campground they’re staying at a few miles away.  Right then, that sounded appealing. We parted ways and I found another road to explore, but I was overcome with the feeling that I was way too far out on this mountaintop, and at that very moment it made me uncomfortable.  Nervous, even.  Sometimes that happens, me thinking I want to be as far away from other humans as I can be, then kinda freaking out and not wanting to be THAT far away from other humans.

Back down the mountain I went, and once back on pavement I came to a little campground next to a rushing creek.  It was only $5 a night and there was a nice space waiting for me, so I said fuck it.  Settled in for the evening, cooking some dinner and enjoying a book before doing some more photo editing and putty my ass to bed.

 

Fire In the Mountains

6/30/18 Saturday

Woke to find it rained heavily last night, and the steep driveway leading into the festival grounds was a slick of mud, not allowing anyone to get up or down without a heavy duty 4wd vehicle.  Made me worry about more rain and potentially getting stuck here.  Eventually I clomped my way over to the campgrounds to take some photos and saw some sadly soggy people and tents.  But at least the morning was magnificent and sunny, even though it was still pretty cold out.  Spent the morning wandering and taking photos, chatting with a few people, and editing photos from yesterday.  Around 2:00 they started serving their farm-to-festival meal, and I was stoked to find that media and bands ate for free.  It was pretty frickin’ good too.  Music was due to start at 4:00, and the crew had still been trying to finish building the stage all morning.  Not sure why they didn’t do it yesterday, but whatever. 

 Aerial Ruin

Aerial Ruin

Things started a little late, and the show opener was my old friend and former Epidemic bandmate, Erik Moggridge, who performs as Aerial Ruin.  It’s mournful acoustic music, with layered vocals that bring to mind monastic chanting and mideval hymns.  With the Tetons in the background and a cool breeze blowing over the assembled audience, it was quite a beautiful moment.  There were a slew of Black/Doom/Whatever metal bands playing throughout the day, and though sometimes they can be interesting to photograph (sometimes they’re boring as shit to photograph), the music does absolutely nothing for me.  I wandered back and forth from the van to the stage throughout the day, feeling grateful I had homebase so close by.  I wish I’d had a pedometer running today, because I probably walked a dozen miles between the ranch (where I had a little cell reception), the stage and the van. 

The evening culminated with my longtime favorites Wovenhand, playing just as the sun dipped behind the western hills (if only they’d started 30 minutes sooner the lighting would have been perfect).  David Eugene Edwards is mesmerizing to watch, and his performances are never, ever faked.  His music took a stylistic shift a few years back, going from  a beautiful and melancholic goth-folk to driving hard rock, and I hate to say it but I can’t connect with the new music at all. His older work lives in my bones and has been the soundtrack to the last 20 years of my life, but I suppose that musical era is over now.  I appreciate his sticking to his creative drive and doing what feels good, but I’m a bit sad that his new stuff doesn’t move me.

As it got dark, the cold settled in and I retreated to the van, the heater, and a good book. 

 

7/1/18 Sunday

I was awakened at 1 AM to someone knocking on the van door.  I didn’t answer it, feeling a bit freaked out and not knowing who the hell would be knocking on my door.  The cops would have identified themselves, but all I saw was a flashlight beam bouncing off the windshield and two male voices talking.  Probably just drunk assholes.

Woke to a grey, quiet morning feeling pretty burnt out and not that excited about spending another day watching bands I don’t give a shit about.  There wasn’t anyone on the bill today that I felt psyched to watch.  After breakfast I took a walk up to the lodge to get some cell service and check texts/emails, then back to the van to edit photos from yesterday.  What I really wanted was a goddamn shower, seeing as I haven’t had one since Monday.  It’s not a huge deal, as I’m not much of a sweater and don’t really stink ever, plus the weather has been on the cold side which is helpful.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any facilities available to non-ranch guests, so I’m gonna have to figure something else out. Maybe actually have to shell out cash for a real campground with real showers.  Yuck. 

Early afternoon they fired up the farm-to-festival food situation, and again it was really good.  Got to spend some time hanging out with Erik and catching up some, then the Black Metal resumed.  There was actually a country-metal band who were interesting, but that was about it. I feel kinda bad I’m not a bigger fan of this particular brand of metal, but oh well. 

Just before the last band started I had a guy come up to me and ask me if I was Bobby.  When I responded I was indeed Bobby, he replied that he’s inspired by the photography work I do and he has to try hard to not copy my style.  It was an incredibly wonderful thing to hear, to know that other photographers appreciate what I do and find inspiration in it.  Panopticon was the last band, and the audience was pumped to see them.  The sun finally went down behind the mountain and the mosquitoes came out in full force, but didn’t last for long because it soon got pretty damn cold.  Just as the band started their last song, a bonfire was lit in the middle of the field and people swarmed around quickly, warming themselves and soaking up the undeniable pagan vibe.  Pretty spectacular.  I decided it was a good time to wrap up the evening and headed back to the van for some food before snuggling up into bed.

 Panopticon

Panopticon

Wyoming & Heart Six Ranch

6/29/18

Slept in sweet silence that only the wilderness can provide and woke feeling refreshed.  Awoke to find I’d camped in a spot with a sweeping view of the Tetons on one side and forested mountains on the other.  It was windy and much colder out than I’ve experienced in weeks (months?), so I put on my warm weather clothes and ran up a nearby hill to make some photos of the stunning scenery.  After breakfast and coffee, I decided I needed to drive to the top of the hill to see what Jeremy was talking about.  The van demanded I drive at a snail-like pace due to the ruts and boulders and potholes that crowded the road, but I was rewarded with a most spectacular view.  Spent a good, long time soaking it in, making some photos, and just enjoying the silence. 

I spent some time walking up the steeper roads and trails, wanting to explore the mountains and get back into the wilderness, but I’m not physically able to do that yet.  My Lyme disease (and other complications) provide me with quite small and inconsistent amounts of physical energy, and I’m just not able to hike.  This made me sad, but it could always be worse.

I slowly ambled back down the mountain and into town in search of a place to get online and some chow.  Midday Friday in Jackson is a clusterfuck of tourists, filling sidewalks and jamming roads with massive RVs and utility vehicles.  Downtown is a mass of tourist shops hocking old west curios and souvenirs, expensive jewelry and jewel encrusted clothing with a smattering of shops catering to the many outdoor activities this area has to offer.  The cafes in town were jam-packed so I let go of the idea of getting online and went in search of a good burger.  Found one, stuffed my face, then took a short walk around town. The town square has four identical arches about 20 feet tall and placed in each corner, made solely of elk antlers.  This reminds me of the old photographs I’ve seen of buffalo skulls piled in massive pyramids, a testament to the wholesale slaughter of the herds that used to roam unimpeded across the plains.  Again, my disdain and resentment of white settlers and the mindless destruction left in their wake filled me with sadness.  I had to laugh at the busloads of tourists who swarmed and jostled for photo ops in front of the arches, determined to photograph as much as humanly possible in a short amount of time. 

I went back to the van to edit some photos and take a nap, then drove the 45 minutes to Heart Six Ranch where the Fire In The Mountains festival was to be held.  Massive rainstorms dumped on the surrounding mountains and scattered showers across the valley and I couldn’t help but wonder how this rain was going to affect things on the ranch.  I arrived and attempted to find Jeremy to figure out my parking spot for the weekend, and once I did I was slightly dismayed to find my options were not as I’d expected.  It was also obvious that there was a lack of organization and people-power to help guide arriving attendees to their camping and parking areas.  I’m glad I had my self-sufficient little unit to stay in, even though I didn’t know where I’d end up parking.  I lingered as the day wore on, watching people hump their camping gear up a significant hill, only to have to park their cars a half-mile away at the event grounds.  To travel between camping and music, you have to hike 20 minutes across a muddy field.  Made me glad I wasn’t camping. 

The rain cleared as the afternoon turned to evening, and the sunset was spectacular.  The weekend kickoff was an acoustic performance by Austin Lunn, the founder of the pagan/black metal band Panopticon.  He’s a humble and amicable guy, and he laughed and joked with attendees as they circled up around a campfire to listen to him play some country classics and original folk songs.  It warmed my heart to see all the metalheads sitting quietly and thoroughly enjoying the intimate performance.  

I took a moment to grab my van and drive it down to the performance grounds, where I figured it would be flat and close enough to all the activities to not require I hike a great deal.  As I made my way back to the campfire I ran into the members of Wovenhand, a band I’ve loved for years and the headliner of tomorrow’s show.  I’d met the guitar player Chuck a handful of times so we chatted a bit.  I met David Eugene Edwards, the singer/songwriter/bandleader whose music I’ve long admired for the last 20 years.  I wanted to gush like a teenage fanboy about how much his music has meant to me over the years, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself nor lose the professional decorum I need to maintain as a photographer.  Maybe at some point I’ll be able to convey to him the effect his music has had on my life, but maybe I’ll just have to keep that to myself. 

As the sun went down, I retreated to the van for some dinner and more photo editing, enjoying the comfy warmth as the air cooled rapidly outside.  I even had to break out my propane heater for a bit, which I haven’t had to do since early April.  I hoped to be able to take some long-exposure nighttime shots, but the moon is almost full and rose so bright it almost looked like daytime.  Fun to do anyway.  Off to bed.

Heading East

6/27/18 Wednesday

Up bright and early today, managed to eat and get myself on the road by 6:30.  Drove through a part of Lake County that’s on fire, and can’t stop thinking this is how it’s gonna be from now on.  Fires all summer long.  Headed up the 5 to Redding, then cut over the 299.  There’s nothing about the landscape in that part of California that interests me, so I never photograph it.  Maybe I should just so people who’ve never been can know how completely uninteresting it is. 

As I got deeper into Shasta County, then Modoc County, I drove through tiny hamlets that for all intents and purposes, look like ghost towns.  There are the little farm towns, and the little towns that must be there for a reason but that reason was probably forgotten long ago, and the sporadic homesteads.  There are abandoned farms, decaying bridges, railroad tracks overgrown with weeds, and long stretches of highway bisecting them.  I kept telling myself to stop at one of these places to make some abandoned building porn, but I had to make miles today and didn’t have time to snoop around.

I drove past a huge lake that looks manmade, but I can’t tell. It was kinda pretty though. I passed from California into Oregon, winding down a long stretch of highway (The Great Basin?) that looked eerily like Nevada… places where the highway pointed arrow-straight across long valleys, nothing but scrub brush, dust and hills off in the hazy distance, hot.  I guess as the crow flies I wasn’t that far away from Nevada… maybe about 100 miles?  Well, climates don’t give a shit about state lines anyway.   

I had a worrisome dash light come on (not out in the desert, please!), so I pulled over and looked it up in my book, then called my mechanic.  He said it might be nothing, but it might be my oil pump malfunctioning.  I’ll just have to spend the next however many hours driving with the paranoia that I might have to stop driving and have the van towed to Boise, about 140 miles away.  That would suck.  I drove on and the light never came back on, but I abandoned my plan to drive 20 miles off the highway to camp at a lake tonight, just in case. 

I pulled off the highway on a little dirt road that wound alongside a river (the Ogden?), took a walk around trying to find a place where the river was accessible through the weeds and rocks that lined the bank.  Finally did and gave myself a good splash-off to get rid of the sweat and grime from the day.  Did I mention it’s hot here?  It’s probably in the mid 80’s at 9 PM.  Luckily Wyoming will be cooler. 

I made myself some dinner and took a walk, realizing there are some hot springs nearby.  Do I want to sit in hot springs?  Nope.  There are some people there too, and I’m not in the mood.  I’m parked just off the road that leads to the hot springs, so I’ve had a couple cars drive by and stare into my open door which makes me feel oddly exposed.  But I imagine there won’t be many more, so I’m probably OK.

The plan tomorrow is to top in Boise and find a European car mechanic to run a diagnostic on the van to make sure I don’t have some bomb waiting to explode under the hood.  I’ve got too much good shit going on to be waylaid by car problems.