Jaxx, just outside the beltway in Springfield, VA, is one of my favorite venues to shoot in. This is a little (capacity 500-550) metal club tucked into a corner of a strip mall, an intimate place where European metal bands – often those used to playing huge arenas and open-air festivals on the continent – regularly make their DC-area stops. It is not metro-accessible, but parking is generally plentiful, and it’s a 15 to 20-minute drive from DC with normal traffic. The club layout has a floor area immediately in front of the stage, with raised areas on the remaining three sides, each side with its own bar (at most shows, though, only 1 or 2 of the bars are open). There is limited seating in those raised areas – my hunch is that these areas are intended for parents who come to chaperone their kids, as many shows at Jaxx are all-ages with a fair proportion of high schoolers in attendance.
For photographers, the floor area is where it’s at, of course. The stage is extremely low – just a foot or two – and separated from the audience only by a metal railing. Jaxx has no pit, so getting to the club early is an absolute must for most shows. Being in the first row as opposed to the second or third is a big deal at a venue like this, not just for the unimpeded sight lines but also because being able to brace against the railing is a HUGE help when you’re in the middle of a raging mosh pit. Showing up well before doors open is advisable for popular shows and especially for sold-out shows (really, a good rule of thumb at any no-pit club). The club gets pretty packed in up front even at shows that aren’t anywhere near capacity, so I recommend going light with the gear – avoid having a camera bag, and just carry your body with a lens mounted, and maybe a small prime in your pocket.
Lighting varies wildly. Jaxx has a full-scale lighting rig, and at many shows it is put to great use:
At others, though, especially for opening bands, the lighting techs get lazy and flash some backlights on and off while keeping one or two red-gelled front spots on for the whole show. Obviously, this is no good for photography. And as a general rule, the backlights tend to dominate, with frontlighting not nearly as strong as it could be. Still, for a venue of its size, I’d say Jaxx definitely has above-average lighting, particularly for big-name bands, many of whom bring their own stuff to add to the fun – strobes, floor lights, fog machines and so on. My exposures tend to fluctuate wildly at this venue as a result; sometimes I’m at ISO 800 and f/2.8 and getting good shutter speeds, other times I have to go to ISO 3200 and use my 50/1.8 to get anything good.
Policy-wise, Jaxx has this very helpful statement on their website:
Whether or not cameras of any type are allowed is up to the artist performing. In general there is usually no audio recording or video recording allowed at all. Most artists will allow small digitals or disposable cameras. Flash photography is usually frowned upon, however, all of this can differ from show to show. Professional SLR cameras are usually prohibited. Ask a member of the staff and they will find out for you. There are usually no such restrictions on local shows.
In my experience, bringing an SLR without a photo pass, or written permission from a band representative, publicist or tour manager, is indeed a dicey proposition. I have actually succeeded in shooting a few shows without a pass, using my D70 and 50/1.8, after clearing it with the bands, but anytime I bring in my much larger D300 and 17-55/2.8, the person at the door will say something like, “I hope you have an email or something saying you can have that thing here.” So, long story short: if you want to shoot with a DSLR, get a photo pass or permission beforehand. The good news is, once you’re in, you’re in – I’ve never had any problems shooting whole sets at Jaxx, as no one mentions or enforces any kind of three-song rule.
Ultimately, I love shooting at Jaxx because, even when the lighting isn’t great, it allows for incredible intimacy with very enthusiastic and active bands (as in the first of the two photos above, in which the bassist literally jumped onto the railing separating stage from audience, right in front of me – that’s a full-frame shot at 17mm). Metal is my favorite genre to shoot just because the bands are so energetic, and Jaxx provides a near-ideal space to capture their antics. Just get there early!