Back in September, I covered a show that was such a big deal to me, I've been struggling to find the words to describe it. While I love concert photography and try to put my all in every show I cover, there are artists that I hold in higher regard. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are one of the bands that make up the soundtrack to my teenage years. I saw them only once before this, when I was 14 for their Dogs with Wings tour, supporting the album Wildflowers. That album is in my all time top five favorites and it means so much to me there is no possible way for me to put it into words. That concert was the first time where I was in the same room as musicians I adored, albeit so far from the stage, they looked like tiny dots. After the concert, my mother cut out a photograph that ran in our local newspaper for me and I remember thinking, "Wow! People actually get to take pictures of musicians?" Remember, this was the 90's and I was pretty young! My thoughts quickly turned to how cool it would be if I could take pictures of the people that had such a profound influence on me. I've been slowly working towards that childhood dream and for this night, I lived it.
I sent out the photo request back when the tour was announced, something like May, and got a quick response of, yeah, sure, remind me when it is closer to the date. Near the end of August I sent a follow up email and then heard nothing. I was downright depressed when I thought I would miss out on this opportunity, when I got a response one night before the concert. I was in. I really couldn't believe it.
Of course, then the nerves set in. I've shot in a few larger venues before, but I hadn't been to the XL Center in Hartford, so I didn't know what I'd be walking into. Thankfully, the staff was wonderful and the lighting was perfection. The photo pit was a bit tight and we had to work around video guys shooting for the big screen, but I was so excited it didn't even phase me.
Steve Winwood's set was much more entertaining than I expected. I view the opening act as a chance to test out the light, get a feel for the angles, try out a few lenses and work through my nerves. That's exactly what happened and I felt much more comfortable after those three songs. I returned to my seat since I was writing a formal review for Surviving the Golden Age after the first three songs I'm allowed to shoot.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty came out all smiles and launched into a cover of the Byrd's So You Want to Be a Rock N Roll Star. I was grinning from ear to ear; I'd watched them perform this from Pack Up the Plantation: Live! so many times I'm surprised the VCR tape didn't melt. It was incredible to photograph and band that I loved play a song I was so familiar with.
Positioning and lighting are the most important parts of concert photography. When I'm going to shoot a band, I do a little research before hand to see how they move on stage so I'm sure I'll get the best photographs possible. If I know a band well, I'll go right into a zone where I don't even have to think, I'm just there. To me, the band members are just as important as the front man. While the majority of the other photographers flocked to Petty, I hung in front of lead guitarist Mike Campbell. Campbell is one of the best guitarists around; he is effortlessly brilliant. I also know that Petty will often walk over to Campbell during guitar solos and jam, so I wanted to be sure I caught that moment. Once I felt that shot was covered, I ventured further into the pit.
The other band member that has been in the Heartbreakers throughout is piano guru Benmont Tench. He's a living jukebox and can play any song you can throw at him. He's played with pretty much everyone and just released his first solo album in 2014 called You Should Be So Lucky. I've adored his live performances with Jon Brion over the years and I never really see great shots of him live. I wanted to make sure I got a few of those.
Campbell and Petty
Ron Blair, the original bassist for the Heartbreakers
The second song was Mary Jane's Last Dance, which was the song (more so the video) that got me hooked on the band. I love this shot with Tench singing harmonies in the background.
So, the biggest night of shooting in my career and right at this point, guess what happens? My contact lens in my shooting eye pops right out! I'm totally blind in my right eye and my vision is so bad that the camera diopter won't even bring things into focus. I keep a set of back up glasses in my car, but it's not like I can go out and get them, so I continued to shoot the rest of the 1.5 songs with my left eye. It gave the whole experience an even more surreal effect; it's like being right handed and being forced to write left handed.
I was so into getting this epic shot of Campbell, that I didn't even notice Petty as he approached. He came from my newly blind right side and just appeared in my frame with a sly smile like he knew he had snuck up on me.
This fan in the background helped make this one of my favorite shots of the night
Petty was playful as he addressed the audience and the whole band seemed to be having a blast on stage.
I took a couple shots with the EOS M from my seat to show a couple of interaction moments, but other than that, I enjoyed the performance looking like a pirate with my right eye shut.
All in all, it was a great night and one I know I'll never forget. It's still mind blowing to me that I'm able to cover the musicians that I do, especially one that pretty much is the reason I'm a concert photographer. Thanks to Adam from Surviving the Golden Age for getting me access, my Mom for taking me to the first Tom Petty concert 20 years ago and to the band for still rocking.