Somehow in spring and summer 2010 I became the Washington Post’s go-to shooter for big country music events. I ended up shooting Brad Paisley and several other country megastars, but the craziest event I covered was something called Country Throwdown 2010. By the end of it all I became convinced that big country shows are some of the most fun concerts to cover - the production values are amazing, the stars are practiced and professional entertainers, the fans are enthusiastic, etc etc.
The festival, headlined by Montgomery Gentry, had two stages - the Jiffy Lube Live main stage and a little secondary stage off to one side - and all kinds of booths and merch tables. I had a blast shooting all the acts; the headline shot above is Eric Church on the main stage. I also spent some time in the parking lot shooting tailgating fans (although, as it turned out, the venue management didn’t really want me out there and eventually shooed me back into the venue proper). Some samples of both musicians and fans are after the jump.
First up on the main stage was Lost Trailers, above. The lighting in the main stage was a nice mix of diffuse ambient daylight and colorful stage lights, and I got some nice shots of a very expressive lead singer. The ambient light was particularly important for filling in the shadows underneath that enormous hat.
Out on the secondary stage, Emily West was performing to a much smaller but very enthusiastic crowd. She was quite active onstage and the more open setup out here made for easy shooting, lit solely by the available daylight (thankfully diffused by cloud cover).
The Post was pretty keen on getting good shots of Ryan Bingham; unfortunately, compared to the first two performers I’d shot, Bingham’s stage presence was completely subdued. I did catch this one shot of him laughing with one of his bandmates, but overall my shots of him were some of the least interesting of the day.
Jack Ingram, on the other hand, really knew how to put on a show. The stage at Jiffy Lube Live is incredibly high - probably six feet - but (probably to the chagrin of some of the security staff) Ingram invited fans to come up to the edge and egg him on throughout his performance. At one point in his set he actually leapt down from the stage and performed from the crowd, something I hadn’t seen before at this particular venue; unfortunately, I was out of position and wasn’t able to get good shots of that.
Eric Church headlines this whole post at the top there; he was another energetic performer, although his tic seemed to be yelling at nothing in particular while jamming on his guitar. His set made the most copious use of smoke machines I’ve ever seen outside a Sunn O))) show, as in the shot above.
Next up was Little Big Town, who were a challenging shoot because they had four members lining the front of the stage, with no clear frontman or frontwoman. I had a tough time finding good angles with all four members in the same shot, particularly given the angles I had with that high stage. Definitely got some good ones of individual members, but the shot above is the best group shot I managed. (Note gorgeous Jiffy Lube Live lighting.)
Jamey Johnson was who I was really there to shoot (as evidenced by a feature-length story on him in the Post that ran several months later and used one of my photos). Unfortunately, he literally asked for all the stage lights to be turned off, and played lit only by deeply colored backlights. Needless to say, I was pissed. I finally managed to get one reasonably good shot, as seen in the linked post above, but it was disconcerting that the two performers I was there to shoot turned out to be, by far, the least photogenic in any conventional sense.
Last up was Montgomery Gentry; another challenge but in an entirely different sense. These guys were active performers, all over the stage at all times; but exposure was difficult at best because the two namesakes of the band were dressed in all black and bright white respectively. It was like the exposure difficulties of shooting a bride and groom together, with the bride and groom also happening to bounce around stage nonstop. And the groom wearing a wide-brimmed hat that cast huge shadows over his face!
So those were all the bands I shot. I’ll leave off this post with a few shots of the atmosphere around the festival and some portraits of festivalgoers. There’s a rather large full photoset over at Flickr if somehow you want to see even more.