Wowzers, what a weekend. It was a whirlwind from start to finish. We left early on Friday morning and arrived at the media check-in at 10:30. Then to the campsite, which really was kinda roughin’ it. We set up our tent over dandelions in close quarters with other campers. It was hot. The whole weekend was hot. I didn’t stop sweating the entire time. Around 2:30 we got aboard the camp shuttle to bring us to the festival, and promptly went to the media tent so I could get my gear on. I had with my 2 Canon 70Ds (I rented a second one, no use in learning how to use a new body super fast) with my trusty Sigma Art 18-35 1.8 *and* I rented the phenomenal Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II which I was really nervous about using. It’s so heavy; I was worried it wouldn’t be nimble enough to shoot concerts, or rather, I wouldn’t have enough strength to use it for prolonged periods. I was totally wrong. While it’s a tank, it was also extremely easy to use. I mostly paired it with my own camera body, and the results are fantastic. I’m sold on the lens, and now it’s on my list of must-buys. The EXC branding was everywhere, and I’m really a fan. This is the first Eaux Claires festival, and it was incredibly well designed and lovingly crafted by everyone involved. It felt like a special place, and in such an idyllic setting – the Chippewa Valley. Lush and green, with hills and trees and water everywhere. A perfect setting for some indie rock.These kids.I stumbled my way into a new developing preset for this series. I call it “Outdoor Show IV”. All my presets are VSCO-based, but usually heavily modified.I was very stoked to photograph Spoon. They were at Rock the Garden last year and put on one of the most killer sets. Britt Daniel is also very cute, and has lots of charisma. I don’t mean to sound prideful, but a year ago, I had just a fraction of the know-how I have now, and what I have right now is not much. I shoot in manual and sort of know about lenses. Maybe in a year I’ll know exponentially more. But I couldn’t believe that I was there in the pit with a select few, shooting these amazing bands, for this incredible festival! Definitely a “pinch me” moment. By the time the sun finally went down, it was a great relief. We’d found some friends and I’d shed my gear and had some fun walking around and snapping photos with not pressure. Then The National came on, and the crowd was more than ready for them. Those kids again!! I loved the giant video screen backdrop. For a visual journalist, it only enhances the experience of documentation. I didn’t get to about 1/3 of the shows I wanted to shoot. It’s a much, much harder gig than I thought, and I tried to pace myself as well as I could. After the first day, which had me stay out until midnight (a 10-hour day in the heat, carting around a ton of gear), I decided to take it easy and only shoot three bands in the later part of Saturday. And, after an early morning (or late night I suppose, since I hadn’t fallen asleep yet) storm swept through the campgrounds, I told Alan I thought we should leave after the festival that night and go straight home, and he agreed. It did mean that I would have to miss the bulk of Bon Iver’s set though, which, for me, was sort of what this whole experience was leading to. I don’t know if this tent actually got blown over in the storm, or if its owner wanted to somehow dry it out, but it was a funny scene out of context. The campgrounds were MASSIVE, and I loved the touches of wooden signs everywhere. It was like a giant summer camp, but for drunk hipsters. They had a little coffee shop (whose Lattes I couldn’t get enough on, both at the site and on festival grounds) open 24 hours (a terrific feature), plus a camp store where we procured two icy cans of pop for the drive home. Heaven. And the camp showers, which don’t need much description, except for the lines were long, and the water was ice cold. The first day, I didn’t even get over to the banks of the river to see, even though that was a heavily hyped feature of the festival location. It really was this blue, I swear. I took one picture and deemed it perfect, which is sometimes a disappointment, as it made it unnecessary to take more. This guy (Drew Christopherson, Poliça) was in my graduating portfolio class. He’s on to bigger things (well, I think he already was at the time). Sufjan played quiet and heart aching melodies as the sun went down. I couldn’t think of a more ideal location to see Bon Iver than the deep woods of Wisconsin. There’s an area south of the Twin Cities which is sort of wild. It’s by no means rural, but it’s hilly and it’s full of big leafy trees. I was driving around that area one hot summer morning last year and listening to Bon Iver and I felt like the lush greenery and warm air of my surroundings were ideal. That same day, we went camping in Wisconsin, and so I’ve always associated the two things. The atmosphere of the festival was heady, reverent, generous and hazy. A perfect environment for a Bon Iver concert. Unfortunately I didn’t have pit access for this one, which is where the telephoto lens REALLY came in handy. Since we were on a strict time budget, I didn’t get to stay for Bonny Bear (as he will never not be known to me) very long, but the first few songs caught me off guard. I knew I was excited about the show, but the culmination of the entire two days was wrapped up in this super ethereal performance. It was loud and warm, and it had resounding spirit. I thought about Justin Vernon, and what this must’ve meant to him, to curate a giant music festival in your beloved hometown. I got feels. You could tell that the whole purpose of this festival was for the people, not necessarily for the people running it, but they had just as much of an emotional stake in it as well. It was a truly special and meaningful event, and I can’t believe I got to be there, documenting the whole thing.
Thank you, Eaux Claires!
I’ll do another post talking about all the gear and stuff I had, and how my experience as a festival photographer felt. Soon.