Category Archives: G(irl)photographer

G(irl)photographer: 5 Shoots / 5 days

I open my inbox to an intriguing message. 

And that’s how it started. Well twist my arm, then… I thought. My team has a special way of being a little ridiculous on the story pitches, but I was sold. What I didn’t realize? It would also entail an intricate schedule of work, travel, shooting, editing, maybe a little sleep (and I mean little, less than little) and getting up and doing it all over again, day after day. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

👆 actually me after the week…

So it was an ambitious five-day quest to shoot five different concerts, test out some video and photo gear, and write a story about it. Cool. What I wanted to cover was almost entirely up to me. First up, Monday evening would be a local Austin band at a favorite local venue (Come And Take It Live), no less. Following that, my friend Danny (also known as New York rocker Des Rocs) just so happened to be touring through Texas for three consecutive days with The Glorious Sons. A quick text, fingers crossed, and he graciously agreed to let me follow him around with a camera. Four out of my five nights booked, I had just Friday to fill. I looked around and realized I’d been sent a media invite for an intriguing up-and-coming indie band called Brother Moses. Email sent, invite accepted, interview, shoot and review arranged; the week was booked. Mission Accomplished.

Days running up to my 5S/5D (that’s “5 Shoots / 5 Days”), I packed, planned, wrote and reviewed shot lists, met with my assistant photog, scheduled interviews, social and BTS content and tried to rest and prepare myself. One of the biggest challenges of shooting concerts is the extreme physicality of it all. You don’t realize how taxing it is to lug around all that gear for hours on end, and then contort and ‘gimbal’ yourself to manage the perfect shot. Over and over. Five days of that without a break would be interesting. I doubled down on my Pilates the week prior.

Early in the week I headed up to Precision Camera to pick up my gear from the rentals department: a gorgeous new Sony Alpha a9 camera body, an extra-beautiful G-Series f2.8 28-70mm lens (can you tell I have a thing for Sony gear?), a DJI Ronin-S gimbal and all the fixin’s. Because Precision never leaves you high and dry, they literally handed me everything plus the kitchen sink, a UV filter, camera bags, straps, clips, cords and an extra battery grip.

Now I have quite a storied past with camera rentals and I’m known to grab a few extra items when the shoot merits. I’ve had some downright terrible experience with rental gear that is shipped, or ordered online and picked up, only to discover that it’s not what you were hoping for (won’t name names). What I really love about Precision rentals is that they’re A) reliable, super reasonable, and they literally make sure you’ve got more than you need, but also; B) it’s really easy to just cruise up to Anderson Lane and grab what you need, rather than dealing with shipping costs, delivery times and all that junk. Plus they greet you with a smile and a hug. Or maybe it’s secretly an; “Oh, HER again? What crazy sh*t is she asking for this time??”

Read: Why would you rent online when all of this is available right in your very own city?? Also, they’re really very nice and just laugh when I propose the crazy sh*t. Anyways, I grabbed my gear early in the week, thanked my lucky stars that PCV had my back, and headed to Monday’s shoot, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  I was totally ‘ballin with all that gear. I won’t bore you with the play-by-play on every single shoot, so here’s a highlight reel.

Monday: Gimble video fun at my local Austin haunt, Come And Take It Live. My priority act had to cancel due to the Death Flu going around (OK with me, keep your germs away!), so I had to make do with shooting less familiar bands. You win some, you lose some. 

Tuesday: Already sore and tired. Met up with Des Rocs and team, Warehouse Live Houston. Great crowd, lovely venue, high-energy set and a nice crew. Started getting creative with the gimbal, proceeded to wow, awe and inspire said crew with my gimbaling prowess (is that even a word?). I don’t know. It was fun. My arms were toast after two days of gimbaling. And yes, it’s now a word. 

Wednesday: Could barely lift my arms. Bruises appearing in weird places from unknown sources. Another favorite venue: Mohawk Austin, where I learned the true value of this a9 facial recognition technology in a packed crowd with no photo pit during both Des Rocs and The Glorious Sons’ sets. I nailed some crazy shots in ridiculously low light while getting jostled around, elbowed in the head and my toes stomped on somewhere in the rowdy crowd. Thanks to that a9 and my hefty f2.8 70-200mm telephoto lens, which a crew member later dubbed “The Bazooka,” I got some amazing content. Also, Bazooka? That’s gonna stick.

Thursday: Overslept my alarm. More bruises, but at least I know where they came from. Canton Hall Dallas with the Des Rocs crew once again. A new venue for me, but surprisingly nice and with excellent lighting. Due to the (larger) size of the venue, I managed some pretty awesome shots while hopping between a tightly-packed backstage area, the far-off upper back balcony, and a spacious, sizeable photo pit. It’s times like this that I am grateful for two different camera bodies set up and ready to go – allowing me to alternate seamlessly between my Sony a7iii with the 28-70mm lens and the a9 with aforementioned Bazooka, taking my photographic flexibility to new heights. If you’ve never tried shooting with two camera bodies, I highly recommend it (go visit Precision Camera rentals and they’ll help you with that). Bonus? Only once did I *almost* faceplant on stage. Unfortunately, Precision Camera cannot help me on the klutz factor. 

(Not pictured: Bazooka.) And yes, I found a ‘rat’ in the green room.

Friday: My fifth and final evening, spent at Stubbs Austin with indie rock band Brother Moses. Somehow I catch a second wind, super stoked to meet this last band. We started our evening with a video interview backstage, and followed with a classic show shoot-and-review setup. This time, I was thankful for my wide angle (f2.8 16-35mm G-series) lens, helping me to grab a few close-to-the-stage shots in low light. Anyone who’s ever shot at Stubbs indoors knows just how challenging it is. Only great gear, too-high ISO and creativity can get you through it.

What a beautiful week. While I did sacrifice sleep for adventure, it was worth it. I’d trade a week of no sleep, constant shooting, way too many bruises/sore feet/pulled muscles, and never having a second to catch up on much of anything for this thing called ‘real life’ in a heartbeat. So much fun. From testing out my abilities with new/novel camera gear, to having an opportunity to get to know the crew of one of my favorite touring bands. It was a nonstop, jam-packed week of incredible photo opportunities, a lot of travel, crazy crowds and insanely good music. I walked out of there more appreciative of these artists – and what goes into making a tour happen – than when I’d started. 

A special thank you to the Des Rocs crew – you are all incredible, kind, talented and passionate professionals. I appreciate you generously welcoming me into your space. You kept it fun, but you also taught me a lot about what it means to be a hard-working travelling professional. I’ve never met a more dedicated and talented crew. And if you are reading this and have never listened to Des Rocs before, stop immediately and GO LISTEN.  I mean it. If we cross paths in the future and you haven’t listened to his music yet, I will hereby wrestle you to the floor, throw a pair of headphones on you and press play. It’s your choice.

A final thank you must go to Precision Camera for the gear. I do hope you stop over there when you next need some extra items. And do try out running with a second camera body – it will save you a lot of time and lens changes. Tell ‘em Kail sent you… because that’ll make for an interesting conversation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go catch up on some sleep. Stay tuned next week for my second blog and feature on the video/photo content I captured during my 5S/5D.

G(irl)photographer: Nikon Music Video Bootcamp

Precision Camera hosted the three-day Nikon Music Video Bootcamp class last weekend at their north location. It was a jam-packed weekend of inspiration, information and hands-on learning, led by Chicago-based filmmaker, photographer and Nikon Ambassador Chris Hershman

Having worked with bands like Switchfoot and Company of Thieves, Chris has swiftly amassed a portfolio of big names and exceptional work. His work in film is visually engaging, terrifically creative, and stunningly beautiful – an artist and a storyteller who does not need to rely on expensive technology or high-dollar effects. I was stoked and slightly intimidated to be learning from a standout entrepreneur in the industry. But Chris is as approachable as he is brilliant, pairing inspiration and real-life anecdotes with practical, useful material that is valuable for students of all levels. It is clear that he desires to see his students grow and find success in their respective niches.

My interest in the class was a no-brainer, given my personal background in concert photography. I’ve dabbled in film, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am nowhere close to an ‘expert.’ I was suitably excited to expand my filmmaking horizons, particularly with an instructor of such caliber. 

I stepped into our first Friday evening class to discover I was surrounded by an exceptional group of peers, all equally as enthusiastic. Friday’s evening session set the stage for the full-day classes ahead. We learned a little about Chris’ background, discussed some basic principles of film and music video creation, examined production timelines and workflows, and took a behind-the-scenes look into some of Chris’ bigger film projects with Shure, Nikon, and artists Emily Blue and Company of Thieves. His down-to-earth narrative of first-hand experiences made the learning curve surmountable and our class time thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday’s class began with an immersive discussion about camera gear, followed by a walk-through of camera settings appropriate for filming live music videos. Once we’d squared away basics like shutter speed, audio, ISO and aperture, Chris walked us through his own camera rig, patiently explaining how and why he’d built it that way. This segment was particularly valuable in demystifying the technology barrier many of us encountered stepping into this class. Conversation continued; stabilization tools, tripods, gimbals, and techniques for filming with multiple cameras. 

Finally we brought in our guest musician, Houston-based Steven Wells of Birthday Club. Chris walked us through the setup of 3-point lighting on set, as well as how to pair your camera to various color temperatures. This was immeasurably valuable to me, as I’d entirely ‘winged it’ where most previous video lighting was concerned. Good to know I wasn’t completely off-track! Finally, we were set to start filming. A highlight for me was the chance to command Chris’s camera. Sitting behind a ‘real’ camera rig was an opportunity to see myself in a place I’d only ever daydreamed about.

I was effervescently sold on the deal by the time I relinquished that camera to the next student. It was the first time I’d really thought of filmmaking as something truly possible for me, and not just a far-off pipe dream. After numerous takes, several of Steven’s best acoustic renditions of his current hits (the guy is insanely talented – check him out), a handful fails and a few more successes, we wrapped for the day and I headed home with a memory card full of my very own music video content.

I later chatted with Chris, eager to learn a bit more about his background, inspirations and motivation; and, well, figure out how to be exactly like him when I grow up. He chatted enthusiastically through some of his own experiences filmmaking; creating unprecedented concepts, following and documenting the one and only Joe McNally, running high-dollar/high-stress productions, and sharing the joy and successes he’d seen in teaching other aspiring filmmakers. 

I asked him what he hoped to impart on his students, particularly those that felt a little out of their league in taking his class. Without skipping a beat; “I’d tell them that everything is figure-out-able. It’s all possible.” He went on to give examples of his own sources of doubt, stating; “if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.” His unwavering faith in his students’ abilities is a rare trait. I predict that Chris will also see unprecedented success in further educational endeavors – as if he needed to add that to a mountain of accelerating film accolades. 

Sunday was our ‘Post-Production’ day, where we walked through the intricacies and workflow of taking raw video content and transposing it into a work of art with Adobe Premiere. We discussed both hardware and software, efficient workflows and the actual process of piecing together a video. This was the area of filmmaking that I had the most experience, so it was immeasurably useful to tack on Chris’ workflow tips, shortcuts, and expertise to my previous experience. As a self-taught nerd, it also made me feel a little more confident in my own working knowledge, like I was on the right path.

To be entirely honest, the class was over far too soon. I learned so much and could have sat in that classroom a full week. Which probably means that I need to immerse myself in similar classes — which I fully plan on doing. I am incredibly grateful to Precision Camera for bringing us yet another incredible learning opportunity – one that also happened to coincide so relevantly to my own passions in the music world.

As a self-taught and incredibly over-enthusiastic photographer, I generally suffer from impostor syndrome of the worst variety. I know that my passion for photo and video work far outweighs my actual life experience and sometimes I wonder if I deserve to be where I am today. Handling a ‘real’ camera rig and subsequently walking through everything necessary to create a finished product made me feel like this was something I could really, actually do. 

And having the opportunity to sit among others who come from a similar background makes me realize that we’re all on a learning curve, and that it’s okay to know what you don’t know. It’s a good thing. When I can walk out of a classroom and feel more at home in my chosen passion, and more driven to continue learning and growing as a Creative, I can thank only the folk that put together the opportunity in the first place. Classes like this are such a tremendously valuable resource for our creative community. Once again, I am absolutely floored that I can just walk into Precision Camera and take part any time I choose.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go harass all of my music industry friends to find someone who might tolerate me following them around with a camera for a few hours…

G(irl)photographer: New Year’s Resolution

Like most of us, I sat down around New Year and attempted to write out my list of New Year’s Resolutions. They varied from the usual “go running at least three days a week,” “eat healthy” and “drink less wine” (ha… we’ll see how that one goes) to the exceptionally over-ambitious “start an independent media revolution.” But somewhere in-between, sparked partially by my time spent at the Sony Alpha photography classes in late fall, was one simple resolution: 

Learn.

It’s no secret that I’m a total dweeb for educational things. But somehow adulting led me to seriously neglect these things in recent times. That needs to change. So I set out to research some easily accessible, not-too-time-consuming opportunities to get this brain working again. 

  1. Nikon Music Video Bootcamp

As a photographer deeply entrenched in the music world, learning more about music video production is another pursuit I have sorely neglected. And a really fun one. In searching Precision Camera’s database of upcoming classes, I stumbled across the Nikon Music Video Bootcamp and signed up on the spot. It’s a three-day series of classes held at Precision’s North location (did you hear they opened a second store on William Cannon and Manchaca?). It’s hosted by filmmaker and Nikon Ambassador Chris Hershman and covers planning, filming, editing and post-production for music videos. It runs the evening of Jan 17th, and then all day Saturday January 18 and Sunday January 19th. While I’m really not a video guru (though I hope to be one day…), this class sounds rock-solid and I can’t wait to jump in. 

  1. Nerd Nite #122: New Year, Nerd You!

All puns aside, Nerd Nite is amazing. And I kind of think their dad jokes are, too. I’ve loved NN since I first discovered this motley crew of avid learners and self-professed geeks back in, oh, 2017 or so? It’s been a while since my schedule allowed me to attend one of their coveted evenings, but there’s one coming up on Wednesday, January 8th and you can bet I’ll be there. 

Here’s the deets: Head to the North Door for 7:30ish (talks start at 8pm). It’s free, so don’t even worry about breaking the bank. Grab a drink and/or tacos from Pueblo Viejo (you won’t regret it, I promise) and make some new friends. There’s even an Ambassador program, where you can sign up for a friend-making meet & greet prior to the show (NOT speed dating, Full Disclosure). There will be three talks: “The Joy of Eating” by Drew Castillo, “Calming Down Like a Child” by Eley Escandell and “The (Mostly) Painless Way to Improve Your Life And Make it Stick” by Angela Arnold. Read more about all of these here. And since I’ll be there, make sure to say hello if you see me and let’s all have an amazingly nerdy time!

  1. Photo Tour on AirBnB

I’ll be the first to admit I got a little wildly aspirational on this search…. Finding a Photo Tour through the Vatican City in Italy and The Northern Lights Pro Photographer tour will do that to you. But then I also found lots of local (US-based options). Since I love to travel and shoot, why not find a pro who has devoted their business to guiding people unfamiliar with their town to the most photogenic spots available? I say yes. Most of these tours cost between $50-$100, usually depending on the time involved. Since I’ll be in the area later this year, I think I might start with the Miami Design District Photowalk.

As usual, I have a million additional ideas to add to my list. But mom always says “make your goals attainable and you will succeed.” Dangit, you’re right mom… so here we are. This is my to-do list of learning opportunities for the near future. Hope you might consider joining me for some of them.

G(irl)photographer: My Top Shows of 2019

By: Kail Rose, Published 12/31/19 on G(irl)photographer.com

It’s been a wild, jam-packed year. So many amazing opportunities and incredible shows – I’m beyond blessed to have found myself sitting in the pit at each of them, shooting to my heart’s content. As I do every year, here’s a recap of my favorite shows (and festivals) of 2019.

All images on this page available for hi-res download – click through to Patreon.

#1 – Camp Anarchy

For the unexpected, last-minute punk rock awesomeness. Also I got invited backstage for The Offspring (by Lee Ving of FEAR himself), but I’m getting ahead of myself. I literally found out I’d be shooting this one four days prior. Yeah, another one of those

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G(irl)photographer: 001 What's this all about, then?

Musings from my photographic journey; learnings, inspiration, adventures, chance meetings and useful resources. Also probably some overly enthusiastic ramblings about cool things I happen across…

In case it wasn’t already obvious, one of my biggest passions is photography. Captain Obvious has entered the building. To be honest, it’s become a monumentous learning curve that uncovers just how many things I don’t know as I (attempt to) master new skills, dive into new opportunities, projects and classes. I’m also super passionate about networking with other photographers, learning from them, finding new resources and sharing cool and useful sh*t. So I decided to add a new feature to my existing blogs – one that might stray a little more into the personal realm and away from the music, festivals and travel. Welcome to G(irl)photographer. And yes, that (irl) really does stand for “in real life,” because I want to share my real-life experiences with you, first-hand. 

So I’m now going to completely irrelevantly skip to the holiday weekend and Black Friday/Cyber Monday, which I despise in all its’ consumerist glory. But there’s a reason. I wanted to talk about local resources for photographers – specifically one I’ve recently become quite a bit attached to. Austin has this giant photographer’s Mecca off Anderson Lane called Precision Camera, and it’s kind of the holy grail of all things photogeek. And before you proceed, this is not a sponsored post and they are in no way paying me to say any of the following. Nice or otherwise. So if I get my facts wrong or screw up and convince you to buy a brand new camera/lens/anything that you don’t really need, that’s entirely my fault and not theirs. But I do like them, and they probably won’t mind if you do actually buy that camera/lens/anything… so read on, friends. 

It all started about a year and a half ago when I made the decision to switch from Canon to Sony (yikes, ouch, goodbye $$$…). I’d shopped around online and was a little hesitant to drop several thousand dollars online at a gigantic faceless photo megastore and even less enthusiastic about buying from Amazon. So I did some digging and found myself ordering from Precision instead. Best decision ever – they actually helped me set up the camera, snag a few good lenses and learn the new camera menus. Not kidding, that was like learning to ride a bike all over again. But you’re dyslexic, the menu is tiny and complicated and you also lost your glasses. It was SO not anything like any camera I knew and I just glazed over trying to figure it out. Also that was a really shitty bike-riding metaphor. 

Anyway. They made me feel a little less freaked out about the transition, helped me learn and also gave me that glowing little sensation in my tummy for having put my money where my mouth was, supporting a local business. Win-win. From there, I took off all year merrily photographing lots of things with my new Sony Alpha a7iii all over the country. 

More recently, as I was returning home from said crazy year of travel, festivals, concerts and photography, I saw an Instagram post for their Sony Alpha Experience – a full day of classes taught by three Sony masters. For the grand whopping fee of $19. I signed up on the spot. 

It was like they’d created these three classes just for me; a perfect mix of expert advice, some technical leveling up, breathtakingly incredible images to boost the Inspo Meter, and just enough networking to sell me on this class thing. I met the new owner, Mr Phil Livingston, who is a super cool guy with a very big passion for creating a valuable local photography resource in our humble town. Our first class was Shooting Action with Patrick Murphy-Racey, acclaimed sports photographer, ex-Sports Illustrated photographer and an incredible photojournalist. So much of his content was incredibly relevant to me in concert photography, as very seldom do I find myself snapping a stoic, slow-moving artist (see below, for many nimble, fast-moving creatures I’ve captured). Next up, we heard about the crazy travels and adventures in less-than hospitable locales in a seminar titled The Art of Storytelling with Taylor Rees. The day wrapped with the incomparable energy and enthusiasm of Scott Robert Lim, along with invaluable technical know-how in his class Going Prime Time. I walked out of the store incredibly inspired, with a bunch of new techniques and tools in my nifty little photographer’s toolkit. And bonus? I didn’t actually murder my bank account buying any of those amazing new prime lenses. Yet. 

(HINT: Friends and family – buy me prime lenses for Christmas. You know where to go.)

Ok. No more sharing.

I later sat down with Mr. Phil Livingston and said “How can I help you guys share what you are doing? How can I help local photographers know about the resources available to them? And how can I support Precision as a super-duper awesome local business that really deserves not only recognition for their contributions to the photography community, but a little more recogition for the mere fact that they are not some giant faceless big-box website?” I actually did ask him all of those things, in one very big drawn-out enthusiastic question, and he kind of looked like a deer in the headlights of the Kail Enthusiasm Train. Sorry, Phil. 

But we decided that I could use my supreme Powers of Blogging (AKA the stuff I ramble about, and sometimes people actually read…) to share my experiences and start encouraging you, my readers, to try stuff out as well.

Side note: still not getting paid anything for this… that’s not what this is about.

Also a side note that was probably already pretty apparent: I am a massive supporter of the Shop Local movement and will always put my money where my mouth is. Or my blog, perhaps…

So… aside from sharing this fun experience with you, and begging you to consider grabbing your new camera gear from a local spot, I also wanted to preview what’s next. If you’ve made it this far through the above (slightly irrelevant and possibly nonsensical) post, I want to invite you to the next set of nifty educational opportunities at Precision. Which happen precisely one week from now and will cost you all of zero dollars to attend. 

Yep. Precision Camera is hosting their annual Winter Expo on December 6 and 7th, and it includes two full days of absolutely free classes – everything from nighttime photography, portrait lighting and nature photography to video technique. I will most definitely be catching The Wonders of the Night Sky (this is my newest foray), The Art of Travel and Storytelling (doesn’t that just have my name written all over it??) and By Path or Paddle – Photographing the Natural World. But here’s the full schedule:

I can honestly say that rocking up for the Sony Alpha Experience was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. It gave me an opportunity to learn from some incredible teachers and find inspiration and mojo in tackling grand new photographic adventures. Like so many of you, I’m pretty much just a random newbie who grabbed her camera one day and decided to see what she could do. I still have so many things to learn… and that’s a really good thing. But if there’s anything I can impart upon the photographers reading this, it’s to know your resources, network and learn like a crazy person, and continually challenge yourself to GET BETTER at what you do. Get outside of your comfort zone. The sky is the limit. 

Now get out of here before I start throwing around more cheesy inspirational one-liners. I’ll see you next weekend at the Precision Camera Winter Expo. 

A Traverse City Travel Blog

Traverse City is an incredibly vibrant, diverse and interesting city that caters to a spectrum of visitors every year. Our photographer spent a week there; adventuring, hanging out with rockstars,  taking photos, exploring, and falling in love.

As an adventurous, can’t-sit-still outdoorsy type with a penchant for good food, great wine, a little people-watching and some live music, a late-summer visit to Traverse City proved the perfect escape. Big-box tourist stops are just fine, but they’re really not my thing. I’d be bored and stir-crazy without some grand wilderness adventures and a glass of wine to wash it down. I am entirely into finding the most underrated, “no-one in my friends circle has even heard of this place” -kind of destination. Even better if there is unique local culture, history, and geography to be found.

My week in Traverse City proved precisely that. Situated along the southern shore of Grand Traverse Bay in  Michigan region known as the Upper Peninsula, Traverse City is a vibrant small-town lakefront destination with an incredible variety of getaway options. From romantic luxury to a family escape, “Traverse City brings good things in life together to make a place where you feel truly comfortable and where vacations feel perfect. Here, you’ll find the incredible diversity and beauty across the summer, fall, winter and spring seasons. Whether you are exploring the outdoors at our Sleeping Bear Dunes, sipping our local wine, or enjoying a day at the lakeshore, each day is another chance to find yourself in a pretty great place.” My accommodations for the week were at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, just six miles northeast of Traverse City proper. From dining, spa and golf, to all-season outdoor activities around the lake, this immaculate 900-acre property regularly hosts visitors from all walks of life. My ninth-floor tower room was spacious, comfortable, bright and upscale, with a small kitchenette and a gorgeous oversize designer bathroom. The view over Traverse City and the lake were to die for. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lounge luxuriously on the bed among plush pillows with a glass of wine, just to watch the sun set.

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A hybrid business-leisure “bleisure” approach brought me to the Upper Peninsula in the first place, but it had grown into a week-long adventure. I was there to photograph two Friday evening concerts at Leelanau Sands Showroom, part of the greater Grand Traverse Resort and Spa campus. The resort and it’s sister properties -Leelanau Sands Casino and Turtle Creek Casino- are truly a hidden gem along the Great Lakes in Upper Michigan. It would be a jam-packed week in the U.P. Outdoor adventure, live music, a beautiful golf and spa resort, food and wine, unexpected discoveries, great people-watching, lakefront adventures, vineyards, history, nature and the food, did I mention the amazing food?

​I arrived Friday afternoon after testing out the super-fast direct flights from Dallas to TVC (otherwise known as Cherry Capital Airport), grabbed a rental car and headed up the infamous M-22 to the casino and showroom for my rendezvous with the GTR team and 80’s hair band legends, Skid Row. There as in-house photographer, I was lucky to be shooting both Skid Row and American Idol winner Scotty McCreery on consecutive Friday evenings. I was given a quick tour of the casino and Lodge – who knew such a hidden treasure sat in the picturesque small town of Peshawbestown, just 20 minutes north of Traverse City proper? A full casino, restaurant, lodge, and an exceptional mid-size concert venue amidst the charm of small-town tourist stops; wineries, restaurants, cafes and even a national park close by. I made a mental note to check out as many local spots as possible. 

But it was all business tonight; I was there to photograph. A rowdy, enthusiastic crowd of 80’s hair band fans clutching Bud Light in both hands had convened in the showroom for Skid Row. What a special treat. After an incredible, high-energy show, an accommodating, friendly and professional crew, an energetic crowd (and only one misbehaving audience memeber, who took it upon himself to climb on stage and run his ridiculous self through the set, mid-song), I wrapped the night with some truly spectacular shots. The icing on the cake was shaking the hand of Scotti Hill, ZP Heart, Rob Hammersmith and Rachel Bolan in the green room after their set. Chatting about tour life, photography and legacy, and thanking them profusely for bringing us a raucously wonderful evening of high-energy rock & roll. I drove back to the resort along the lakeshore under a brilliant sky dotted with stars, feeling very thankful that a little photographer from Texas could have an opportunity to explore such a unique part of the world.

​But it was all business tonight; I was there to photograph. A rowdy, enthusiastic crowd of 80’s hair band fans clutching Bud Light in both hands had convened in the showroom for Skid Row. What a special treat. After an incredible, high-energy show, an accommodating, friendly and professional crew, an energetic crowd (and only one misbehaving audience memeber, who took it upon himself to climb on stage and run his ridiculous self through the set, mid-song), I wrapped the night with some truly spectacular shots. The icing on the cake was shaking the hand of Scotti Hill, ZP Heart, Rob Hammersmith and Rachel Bolan in the green room after their set. Chatting about tour life, photography and legacy, and thanking them profusely for bringing us a raucously wonderful evening of high-energy rock & roll. I drove back to the resort along the lakeshore under a brilliant sky dotted with stars, feeling very thankful that a little photographer from Texas could have an opportunity to explore such a unique part of the world.

Rock legends aside, I had an adventurous weekend ahead of me exploring the hidden treasures of the Upper Peninsula. Saturday morning began with a coffee to go and a mini-hike down to the beach, through a small nature preserve just minutes from the entrance of Grand Traverse Resort. I hiked a small, wide trail under towering pines and happened across a 30-foot private beach adjacent to sparkling blue waters, not a soul in sight. A perfect way to soak up the early morning sun in solitude with a great cup of joe and gentle waves lapping at the shore. Batteries charged, I hopped in the car with a hiking pack and my camera and headed toward downtown to get my bearings.

I made a quick detour to a local cafe called Higher Grounds, situated in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. It was a spot I was itching to check out. Known as “a beautiful solution to urban sprawl,” this historic redevelopment (which is fully still in the works, by the way) is ambitiously transforming a hospital compound built in the 1880’s. It sits in the middle of 480

stunning acres of parkland, no less, and bit by bit, the incredible grounds are being repurposed into shops, markets, restaurants, cafes, breweries and event spaces. It hosts farmer’s markets, festivals and historical tours and is quite a spot to wander and (purposely) get lost in. Higher Grounds coffeehouse sits on the hill overlooking the main historical buildings, and an establishment worth mentioning in its’ own merit. With a sustainable, zero-waste “people + planet + profit” coffee mantra, it sets itself aside with a mission statement to be envious of – and a great name. Ordering my fancy coffee, I was pleasantly surprised to be denied a paper to-go cup. Instead, they invited me to take a pretty (and definitely not disposable) ceramic mug, and return it if and when I could.

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It stopped me in my tracks. With a quick change of heart, I decided to take a moment to sit, sip and savor the scene in their sunny coffee garden. I chatted with locals, soaked up some sun, met Franklin; the cutest and friendliest golden retriever on the planet (and his owners too, I guess… but I couldn’t tell you their names if you paid me). I wandered for a bit, snapped photos and read about the history of the compound locals call “The Asylum.” I made a mental note to make a return at some point during my week. 

For now, though, I was off to the northwest side of the peninsula to make good use of my shiny new annual National Parks Pass with a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Along my way, I passed JACOB’S CORN MAZE in all caps and surrounded by wineries. If that’s not a combination worthy of an afternoon adventure, I don’t know what is. After a scenic half-hour drive, I parked, slung my camera on my back, and ambitiously hiked the dunes (barefoot!) for the first stretch of my afternoon. Sleeping Bear dunes offers visitors a literal sand dune mountain climb, hundreds of feet in the sky, with stunning vistas and outlooks at the top. But those are only for the ones who manage to wade up the unforgiving Mount-Everests of sand. I watched many people give up partway. Breathlessly reaching the top of the dune climb (disclaimer: I’m pretty fit, and this was not easy), the views of Glen Lake and Lake Michigan are more than worth it. The delightful trip back down the sandy mountain is akin to a sandy, sunny moonwalk-meets-anti-gravity-moon-dance facilitated by sunshine, soft sand, muscles that are by now jello, and the laws of gravity. Mostly the gravity part, though. And an inexplicable desire to leap, float and frolic all the way back down the dune. I’m sure it looked less graceful than it felt. Did I care? …not in the least. 

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After two hours, many photos and a little too much sun, I packed my weary self back in the car to loop the scenic drive. This is where you can find a number of incredible scenic overlooks, the Pierce Stocking Drive Covered Bridge and the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook; where a dramatic coastline meets catastrophically steep sand dunes towering almost 500 feet above the lake. And naturally, I arrived to find a copious number of tourists doing risky, obnoxious things in the general vicinity of a vertigo-inducing dropoff. With high lake levels and no beach left at the bottom, I was a little surprised to watch adults and children alike, slipping and sliding the treacherous dune descent, down to the water, and having to crawl on hand and knee back up. It had to take an hour to get back up – IF you were nimble enough. Warning signs dotted the overlook, deterring visitors from descending, lest they find themselves unable to get back up and require rescuing, which the signs informed me would cost a pretty penny. Luckily, the vertigo overlooking the massive drop alone was alone enough to stop me from even thinking about making that hike. Or maybe common sense; I don’t know which. But I’ve never seen anything more beautiful; the golden sun long and low over the illuminated turquoise lake colliding with steep dune cliffs.

After cruising through the famed covered bridge and taking 290,107,395 photos, I headed back into town to grab an indulgent Company Burger from Midland Burger Company. I’d heard rumors of how great this local burger joint was. It clearly surpassed all of the glowing reviews and made it into my Top Five Burgers in the World list within the first bite. I had grabbed couple of wine spritzers and the plan was to pack myself, a picnic dinner and my camera to the beach for a sunset picnic shoot. The burger didn’t make it… or rather, I didn’t wait. But the view and the spritzers did not disappoint – nor did the incredible sunset. 

Sunday was another exploring day, this time a leisurely cruise north toward Old Mission Lighthouse, through the middle-most peninsula dotted with sunny farmland and rolling vineyards. Capping the peninsula was an historic lighthouse landmark with a fair bit of history, an incredible beach and some showstopping photos to be taken. I spent as much time admiring the cute, quaint little lighthouse as I did people-watching and playing with rogue visitor’s dogs. Standing atop the lighthouse stair climb was a breathtaking view of the lake; turquoise waters lapping at the white sand beach beneath. Before I knew it, I’d hiked the trails and found myself perusing the beach, searching for petoskey stones while a Canadian couple told colorful stories about the history and unlikely inhabitants of the region.

I have no idea if any of them were true, but they also made several winery recommendations, so it was a productive (if not entertaining) conversation. I found myself heading south to Chateau Chantal winery with a boatload of information, way too many photos and an inkling for a nice crisp Michigan white. After picking the brains of an enthusiastic tasting room server, I sat on the patio overlooking rolling vineyards framed with views of distant crystalline blue lakes. I tasted several varietals, my favorite being the subtle, not-too-dry and not-too-sweet Pinot Grigio with notes of peach, pear and limestone. A perfect reason to kick back in the warmth of the late-afternoon sun and people watch.

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​On Monday morning, I decided to kick the new week in the (figurative) butt, by getting a kickstart with a chilly sunrise photoshoot on the misty western shore of Grand Traverse Bay. Between a marina and the tall ship Manitou, I found an ideal lookout. Mother nature was clearly on my side as lucky flocks of gulls and geese soared across the spectacular pink, purple and peach sunrise. The crisp morning yielded some dramatic sunrise images. One, with a perfect line of Canadian geese silhouetted up the long hued rays of the rising sun would later become my #GTRSunrisetoSunset photo entry and earn me a place in the Top Ten. Satisfied, and no less than a little chilled through, I grabbed a vanilla latte and a hearty breakfast sandwich to go and headed back to the resort. Today was a workday, no less, and I had much to do. 

Monday and Tuesday were spent photographing a variety of locations around the resort – from scenic sunsets reflecting off the glass tower of Grand Traverse Resort, to misty mornings on the chilly golf course, eternalizing the early morning golfers fringed by drifting wispy mists of fog ascending from the many creeks and ponds. In the afternoons, I’d drive into town to check out cafes, shoot lakeview panoramas from Leelanau Sands Lodge, or catch dramatic architectural shots around the city and the resort. It made for a happy photographer; very happy indeed.

Midweek, I met my colleagues for a celebratory group dinner at the top of the tower for an exquisite sixteenth-floor dinner overlooking the lake. Aerie Restaurant features a vibrant, contemporary award-winning menu of bold, eclectic dishes perfectly paired with wine and cocktail offerings. They are presented to you by a personable, knowledgeable local staff. I enjoyed chatting with our server just as much as the buttery fresh salmon served over aromatic risotto that so perfectly paired with Mari Vineyards “Troglodyte Bianco.” And later a bold Stolpman “Para Maria” syrah as I dove enthusiastically into an indulgent vanilla bean Crème Brulee with Chocolate Ganache. PSA: Nobody needs to be a lady when there’s creme brulee to be had. We certainly didn’t leave hungry, nor were we starving for good conversation and breathtaking sunset views. 

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On Wednesday we hit The Wolverine – one of three immaculate golf courses encompassing the resort. I’m no golf pro, but there were photos to be taken, golf carts to commandeer, and beer to be sipped. While the weather didn’t quite cooperate (Read: cold winds were howling the entire time, and we gave up in the rain at lucky hole #13). But no matter, because we headed indoors to clean up, dry off and reconvene downtown. Our group met again at Little Fleet, a Portland-esque indoor/outdoor food truck park with a great bar and people-watching galore. We grabbed beer and cider and gathered just outside (where it had mercifully stopped raining) for conversation and to meet the locals and all of their dogs. But mostly their dogs. Dinner was across the street at a tiny, library-meets-modern-art-gallery cottage of a restaurant called The Cook’s House. And cook they did – we enjoyed a five course extravaganza, a champagne toast, incredible local wine, braised beef over bone marrow mashed potatoes, and shared a few too many desserts. I would travel all the way back to Michigan to visit The Cook’s House again for their artisan cheese plate or the ingenious sesame seed matcha ice-cream sandwich dessert.

Two incredible dinners in two days left me needing a little exercise the following morning. Luckily, an early morning sunrise photoshoot left me with a little time to explore the resort’s health-nut options. To my great surprise, I learned that Grand Traverse Resort fully caters to the active crowd with a 5k running trail. My overachiever self laced up her running shoes, ran the course twice, and then took a sideline around The Bear golf course and up onto the country roads – an incredible morning jog of just over 6 miles. Multiple times during my run, I silently wished I’d discovered this sooner.

Late in the day, the weather turned sour with storm clouds rolling over the bay. Our late afternoon bonfire/Beach Club photoshoot took a turn for the worse, so instead I ventured north to find a more secluded beach or bay. I hoped I might still snap a few sunset merch photos if the winds mellowed and the weather decided to cooperate. I found myself on an immaculate sheltered north-facing beach in the quaint town of Elk Rapids.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, I managed to set up and shoot my staged beach picnic logoed gear; a picnic blanket, wine and wine glasses, mugs, tourist guides… I had just opened a bottle of Shady Lane Cellars Coop de Blanc and poured a single glass, getting super creative with prisms and lighting in front of a dramatic sunset. Golden rays of light peeking through the clouds sparkled artistically through the wine glasses as they simultaneously backlit the wine bottle. This was the pinnacle of art photography; gorgeous, just gorgeous. It was precisely the pinnacle of my admiration over the creative scene in front of my lens when a furry, sandy, lakewater-drenched tornado exploded through my so carefully set scene. It was followed by a screaming teen who body-slammed her rogue canine as she profusely apologized and attempted to right the spilled bottle of wine and sandy glasses. I could do nothing but laugh; at least I’d already gotten my picture. I attempted at least a sip of the sandy white blend before pouring the gritty concoction out, feeling the wind and surf spray pick up, chasing my towel down the beach in the blustery breeze and admitting defeat. I chatted briefly with the locals (guilty doggo included) before I left; they informed me that “up here, the weather changes every ten minutes… be prepared to not be prepared.” Oh yeah? I didn’t notice.

Friday was my last full day in Traverse City, so I made sure to spend a little time downtown with my laptop and camera – finding the perfect workspace -slash- people watching location at BREW, a downtown cafe with great coffee and a front-window table with my name on it. I sat and sipped multiple locally-sourced almond milk lattes (my favorite), ate a leisurely, over-the-top-delicious chef salad lunch and caught up on emails. By late afternoon, I was due back at Leelanau Sands Casino for the Tailgate party hosted by local station WTCM, and then to photograph the Scotty McCreery show as the culmination of the Casino’s 20th Anniversary celebrations.

It struck me again just how diverse the live music and entertainment options were in this region – it was no small feat to host chart-topping country music superstars and 80’s hair band legends, all in the span of a week. But up here, this was a regular thing. It was another exceptional evening; a great show and an almost sold-out crowd. While I’m not a huge country fan, it was a wonderful concert and a treat to see and meet the American Idol star I’d rooted for so many years ago.

On my final morning in Michigan, I made the most of my time and met a colleague for at The Red Spire, a popular brunch spot situated smack-dab in the middle of the labyrinths of the aforementioned Village Commons. We enjoyed a hearty traditional breakfast that was as fresh as it was cheerful, and then wandered the halls of the Commons, learning about the fascinating past of this mini-city compound and its’ secrets from more that a hundred years prior. The Commons offers historical tours, including a walk through the (slightly) creepy underground tunnels. Sad that I learned of this a little too late, I vowed to return one day to take this tour. 

I can’t wait to return. Traverse City is an incredibly vibrant, diverse and interesting city that caters to a spectrum of visitors every year. For a young, outdoorsy adventurer with a penchant for nature, wineries, great food, super photogenic locations left and right, and a little local flavor – it was the perfect place to visit. I found myself wishing repeatedly that I had another full week to explore the vibrant town and the (many) incredible outdoor activities and destinations surrounding. There were so many unexpected music-related destinations and activities. From live music on the beach, to fantastic local bands playing small venues and the surprisingly large international acts making an appearance at Leelanau Sands Showroom. There is a clear priority here for great live music, food and wine, and a vibrant entertainment scene. And the (figurative) cherry on top is the Cherry Capital Airport, which is the easiest and friendliest small-town airport I’ve yet flown through. I mean, making it through security and to your gate in six minutes? With over 20 direct flights to cities such as Dallas, DC, and Sarasota (and more coming soon), it makes flying to TVC an absolute breeze. I will most certainly plan another trip to Traverse City and Grand Traverse Resort, and I’ll be the first to admit that my To Do list for the next trip is probably already too ambitious. 

Levitation 2019

Levitation Music Festival 2019

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Inspired by the creativity, color and music of the 1960’s, Levitation is an annual three-day psych rock music festival held in Austin, TX. In 2008, a creative collective called The Reverberation Appreciation Society banded together to host a one-day festival, then called the Austin Psych Fest in North Austin. It has since grown to a three-day event, renamed Levitation (2014), and hosted annually at venues all over town from art-deco decommissioned Seaholm Power Plant to Carson Creek Ranch, an outdoor venue where camping was made available. When severe weather damaged the festival grounds and caused the cancellation of the 2016 fest (and postponement of 2017’s event), the team decided to relocate back to a more central indoor location. Levitation found its home in the Red River District of downtown Austin, where it has remained since, blossoming into an acclaimed festival attracting attendees from all over the world. 2019’s festival was held the weekend of November 7-10 utilizing beloved Red River venues Stubbs Austin, Mohawk, Empire, Barracuda, Elysium, Cheer Up Charlie’s and expanding to nearby non-Red River venues Central Presbyterian Church and Hotel Vegas. 

Very last-minute, I was invited to attend and photograph the festival on behalf of livingthefestlife.com. Who was I to say no to a colorful, action-packed weekend of great music? So with little notice, I packed my camera bags and set off on Thursday afternoon to collect festival credentials at a little side-venue on East Sixth called Volcom Gardens. This was an experience itself; a small “creative hub” hosting modern interactive art, fun brand activations and free live music. I love the East side of downtown for its’ low-key creative collective feel; Volcom was the embodiment of exactly that. With a shiny new wristband and a handful of show tickets in-hand, I headed back to the central downtown area to attempt to find parking. Blessed to be there a little early, street parking was plentiful and affordable at just $10. Tip: If you attend Levitation or any local Austin event, get there early to nab a spot on the street and you won’t have to worry about expensive parking lots. 

Thursday started out big with stacked sets at Stubb’s Austin, a local BBQ joint that has grown into an infamous music venue with indoor and outdoor stages hosting international acts. I’ve seen everything from Slash, Matisyahu and AWOLnation to Willie Nelson, Vampire Weekend and even Muse on this stage and it’s always an intimate, well-run show with meticulous sound. Our first act of the day was Laetitia Tamko; better known by her stage name Vagabon, a Cameroonian-American multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter. Following this was Devendra Barnhart, a charismatic Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter and visual artist known for a psych folk sound that borders on musical and visual poetry. We wrapped the three-act set with romantic alt-indie folk singer-songwriter Angel Olsen. Her music and her act is silky and sultry, sometimes subtle before accelerating to a hauntingly impactful magnitude with incredible vocals.

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​I grabbed a late-night dinner at my favorite low-key local spot, Koriente; which sits just off the Red River district and serves incredible pan-asian dishes that are fresh, healthy, delicious and quick. I had the spicy chicken with a fried egg and rice medallions, with Boba and their signature (and also free) miso soup. Warmed up and sufficiently recharged, I decided to make one final stop at the opening night of the Waterloo Greenway’s Creek show. An annual local nighttime art installation, the Creek Show partners with Levitation. They had opened their brand-new psychedelic light-based art features spanning several blocks of the Waterloo Greenway creekbed trail in tandem with the opening night of Levitation festival. It was freezing cold by the time I arrived, camera-in-hand, so there were minimal crowds. I perused the art, snapped photos (my favorite pastime is creative low-light fractal photography) and headed home thoroughly cold but warmly fulfilled by the art, color, music, great food and welcoming vibe of Red River’s music scene. 

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On Friday temperatures began to plunge steeply. Too late to nab tickets to many of the sold-out sets at Empire, Barracuda and Mohawk, I headed over to Stubbs where the line for The Flaming Lips’ evening set was already around the block. Instead of waiting in line, I took a quick gander over to Cheer Up Charlie’s where DJs had begun their set. I drowned my no-ticket sorrows with the best sweet potato fries to be found in the city at Arlo’s, an infamous vegan food truck that resides right on Cheer Up’s property. Alex Maas of the Black Angels was scheduled for a pop-up set at the Creek Show, so I took a cruise in that direction before the crowds and cold started to get the better of me. Desperate for a warmer indoor venue, I decided to head over to the east side, where Hotel Vegas would be hosting several artists later in the evening. 

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East sixth street is my low-key favorite part of town; one many would argue is a little more “Austin” and a little less “tourist.” (Tip: definitely check this area out if you want something a little less mainstream/cosmopolitan) There are incredible bars, restaurants and food trucks, plus my favorite little dive bar, Violet Crown, which hosts great drink specials, really good beer, plays movies like Step Brothers and always promises great people-watching. But I (sadly) wasn’t headed there – I was on a mission to catch Aquarian Blood and Hash Redactor at Hotel Vegas. The venue was packed, and rightfully so – the alt, indie garage rock goodness was overwhelmingly excellent. Husband-and-wife duo Laurel & JB made the performance of Aquarian Blood probably a favorite of the evening. All was not lost with the sold out shows, because ending up at Hotel Vegas was a blessing in disguise.

​Saturday started with a set in the Central Presbyterian Church; arguably the most beautiful live music venue I’d ever experienced. Ioanna Gika and Chelsea Wolfe’s sets were nothing short of otherworldly; a breathtaking, uplifting spectacle bordering on religious. As in: music is my religion. I departed a little early to catch dinner with a dear writer friend who was in town for Levitation. We met at one of Austin’s best (and arguably most underrated) sushi spots, BarChi. Situated on Colorado and Second street, the downtown restaurant offers a dynamic menu of sushi, small plates and a really great Happy Hour. Honestly, what more do you need? The food is always super fresh and reliably on par with other sushi joints that charge significantly more. It’s my local haunt and it’s truly excellent. Tip: if you like sushi, don’t miss BarChi.

With full bellies, we hit Red River district again to catch The Well, Zig Zags and Acid King at Barracuda. Bouncing between indoor and outdoor stages to catch acts on each stage, we sipped Austin Eastciders and perused the indoor art market as a great local DJ spun records in between sets.

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With my friend occupied with artist interviews for several hours, I decided to head back over to the east side, where Hotel Vegas would again be hosting several can’t-miss artists later on. Walking across town, I made a pit-stop at The North Door, who was hosting a fundraiser Launch Event for a brand new music nonprofit in town, the Austin Music Export. Wanting to learn more, I spent a couple of hours there. It was time well-spent meeting local music supporters, catching local Austin artists Syndey Wright, Jeff Plankenhorn and Donovan Keith’s wonderfully upbeat sets and winning a gorgeous handmade necklace by a local artist in the silent auction, benefitting the AME directly. I also enjoyed a Citrus Mule made with Austin’s own Deep Eddy vodka and the spiciest, most delicious ginger beer that they wouldn’t disclose the source of (darn you, craft cocktail connoisseurs…) and snacked on tacos and nachos from North Door’s Pueblo Viejo kitchen. To wrap the evening, I managed to get to Hotel Vegas in time to see Richard Vain, Flipper and Richard Rose before dragging my deliciously tired self home for the evening. 

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Sunday was my fourth and final day, and it was a chilly one. With so many incredible shows under my belt (and enough blisters to verify my ambitious festival schedule), I decided to keep the evening fairly low-key and catch acts at just Stubb’s and Mohawk, right across the road. I began the evening with American alt rock classic, Dinosaur Jr., who had been on my list to see for many, many years. Photographing the set from the pit was a particular pleasure and I stayed to enjoy the remainder of the act with a Deep Eddy in one hand and a hand-warmer in the other. It was another chilly, freezing night. Between sets, I dashed across the road to Mohawk as I’d heard the venue had some incredible light art installations that shouldn’t be missed. I did not disappoint – both the stage, adjacent walls and surrounding area were lit up with psychedelic projected light patterns that evolved as the night and the music changed. Visually stunning, and a perfect backdrop to the psychedelic, experimental synth-pop of Dallas Acid. I ran back over to Stubbs in time to catch Kurt Vile and the Violators. Vile is the former lead guitarist of The War on Drugs and an incredible singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. His happy indie rock set was the perfect, mellow end to my Levitation 2019 experience. 


Tips for attending Levitation:

This festival isn’t your typical all-in-one, single-venue music fest. It spans multiple venues in several downtown areas with different capacities, schedules and ticketing. To get the most of it, the secret is to plan ahead. Write out a little schedule, know where your chosen venues are and what acts you want to catch ahead of time. Since there’s a significant distance between many of the venues, you will need to know where you’re headed and when. There might be a wait for an Uber or a delay finding parking at peak hours. Pay attention to how the wristbands and ticket levels actually work in order to avoid any nasty surprises. Not all venues are guaranteed access and not all wristbands get you in to every venue on the schedule. The regular 4-day wristband ($395) gets you in to Stubbs, Mohawk, Empire and Barracuda, but not the other venues which are ticketed separately. There is also a less expensive wristband option ($165) to get access to only the Stubbs shows for all four days. You can also pick and choose, buying shows individually (price varies) but since many shows were 100% Sold Out by day-of-show, make sure you purchase ahead. 

It is a great festival with flexible options for attending – as long as you don’t leave the decision-making to the last minute – which is kind of what I did, and that didn’t pan out as well as I’d hoped. The Red River district is truly a unique area of Austin with so many great surrounding food trucks, restaurants, pop-ups and venues to check out. The concurrent Creek Show is an absolute treat to see, and if you pair that with a very uniquely Austin atmosphere, music to please even the most discerning of tastes, endless popup art, culture and music features, and the guarantee of great people-watching, Levitation is a can’t miss Austin tradition.


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River Revival Music Fest: Texas’ best-kept festival secret (…ssshhh!!)

It’s roughly 3pm, though you’re not entirely sure because your cell phone battery died hours ago and you made the decision to leave it somewhere in the backseat of your car after unpacking the tent, cooler and camp chairs. Cell phones aren’t needed here. A gentle breeze whispers through the cypress and your feet dangle over the side of your hammock in the dappled sun.
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The river’s edge below you trickles and bubbles, interrupted only by the sound of children shrieking and splashing in the shallows on the far shore. There’s a bikini-clad trio bobbing haphazardly in their colorful donut-, octopus- and unicorn-shaped tubes; caught from the mid-river current by a rustic rope harness slung around river boulders. They laugh in unison, an Austin Eastcider in one hand while the other trails in the cool river current. The numbing of your Lone Star beer in one hand reminds you to take a chilly sip. Somewhere up on the hill, behind you, there’s an indie rock band starting soundcheck. Faint wisps of barbecue-y smoke waft down from the kitchen, where Team Little Chef HTX is whipping up something surely magnificent for your evening feast. 

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Now in it’s fifth year, River Revival 2019 is not just another music festival. It’s a mash-up of handpicked Texan music, the tried-and-true summer tradition of floating down the river, a camp out, a cookout, and a family retreat. It’s a 750-strong community of folks collecting on the Guadalupe River at KL Ranch Camp just outside of New Braunfels, TX for good music and a low-key river weekend. And 2019 was sold-out – testament to its’ untold secret status within the Texas music fest scene.

Bringing in culinary talent courtesy of Little Kitchen HTX, and vendors and artists such as @Babeswith_braids, Black Swan Yoga on the lawn, mind-bending interactive art by @1nput0utput and of course amazing drinks, cocktails, micheladas, mimosas and anything else you could dream up from sponsors Austin Eastciders, Lone Star, Dulce Vida, Waterloo and TLC Vodka. It is the remedy to the stresses of everyday adulting and it’s also the perfect place to escape; to celebrate just how wonderfully diverse and talented our musicians are, here at home, in the middle of Texas. The best part? Your ticket was all-inclusive: camping, floating, music, food and drinks (yes, an open-bar for those 21+) was all included in the price of your ticket. If that’s not an incredible deal, I don’t know what is.​

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The lineup featured a veritable rainbow of Texan talent; from soulful, sultry Madeline Edwards, the powerhouse vocals of Walk Talk to the upbeat and contagious energy of Sweet Crude, Shinyribs or Golden Dawn Arkestra. We got outrageous with Pinata Protest, danced into the wee hours of the morning with Pearl Earl and celebrated Sunday morning like no other with a Gospel Brunch on the lawn. Our chefs kept bellies happy with River Scramble brunches, BBQ feasts, taco night, Mediterranean dinners, and even some late night treats. There was yoga in the morning, Micheladas by noon, a river float parade (or just a good old-fashioned soak in the river “rapids”), more than enough time to relax in your hammock with a cold beer, and then an evening of dancing, entertainment (no mouse traps were harmed in the making), hula-hoops, fire-dancing and many a bare-foot-picnic-blanket-chill-zone. 

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Reflecting back on the weekend, giving you a succinct list of festival highlights is next to impossible. From the incredible music, family feel and the beautiful river and campgrounds; there was hardly a moment that was less than perfect. Our central campground area was set up communally; some chose to bring everything and the kitchen sink along with their oversized RV, while many others (ourselves included) chose primitive camping along the river’s edge. It was clean, friendly and safe; nothing of the chaotic, dusty, dirty, drunken college-kid large-fest campgrounds I saw at bigger festivals this summer. KL Ranch Camp is absolutely immaculate and with a (relatively) small number of attendees, the entire venue truly felt like one giant, friendly, family camp out. Where my neighbor invites me over to try his secretly-sourced local craft beer just after we split queso and chips and argue over who’s going to grill for whom that lunchtime. Some brought their kids, who kept themselves busy on the river – playing just how kids should play, sans technology and screens. And at the end of a long, wonderful day of music, food, floating and friends, absolutely nothing can compare to that pleasantly tired, sun-toasted haze that takes over just as you climb into your tent. Where you drift off to sleep with the sound of the river bubbling nearby and the stars twinkling overhead.

​Reflecting back on the weekend, giving you a succinct list of festival highlights is next to impossible. From the incredible music, family feel and the beautiful river and campgrounds; there was hardly a moment that was less than perfect. Our central campground area was set up communally; some chose to bring everything and the kitchen sink along with their oversized RV, while many others (ourselves included) chose primitive camping along the river’s edge. It was clean, friendly and safe; nothing of the chaotic, dusty, dirty, drunken college-kid large-fest campgrounds I saw at bigger festivals this summer. KL Ranch Camp is absolutely immaculate and with a (relatively) small number of attendees, the entire venue truly felt like one giant, friendly, family camp out. Where my neighbor invites me over to try his secretly-sourced local craft beer just after we split queso and chips and argue over who’s going to grill for whom that lunchtime. Some brought their kids, who kept themselves busy on the river – playing just how kids should play, sans technology and screens. And at the end of a long, wonderful day of music, food, floating and friends, absolutely nothing can compare to that pleasantly tired, sun-toasted haze that takes over just as you climb into your tent. Where you drift off to sleep with the sound of the river bubbling nearby and the stars twinkling overhead.

I feel like I found a new family that weekend; a very big, mostly barefoot, sometimes silly, and definitely relaxed extended family. I am so grateful for the festival’s founders, the inimitable and ambitious Shaun Brennan and his team at Splice Records. And to the sponsors, volunteers, donors, artists and those who just brought an ice chest, a picnic blanket and vast quantities of welcoming friendliness (if that can be quantified; it was copious). I almost didn’t want to tell people about River Revival once I got back home, lest they find out about it and ruin the secret. So save me a ticket next year, Team RR; I’ll be back. And to the rest of you… don’t tell anyone else, but be sure to stay tuned for 2020 tickets and meet me on the Guadalupe river. I’m looking forward to River Revival 2020 already.

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Blog #3917: Sparrow in the Engine

I just had a massive reality check. Life is so weird sometimes. I found myself having just boarded a plane in Austin, ready to fly out for a week-long trip to Traverse City, MI. It would be a jam-packed week ahead; two concerts to photograph, a blog story, business meetings, dinners, brunches and breakfasts planned and some resort photography. And when I say “some,” I really mean; “a list ridiculously long and probably somewhat unattainable.” It wouldn’t be a dull week. After checking my to-do list and stowing my carry-on, I had precisely twenty-three seconds of elation. I’d been a stress-head for months over a variety of quasi-inconsequential things. But the universe had just planted in front of me an opportunity to take on some really cool photoshoots that could potentially open new doors for me, help a client greatly, and help along some existing projects and personal goals. I was being flown from Austin to Michigan to shoot in-house for Grand Traverse Resort, the pinnacle of this being the one-and-only 80’s hair band Skid Row performing at GTR’s Leelanau Sands Casino that very same evening. Skid Row was entirely a bucket-list shoot. It not only suited my penchant for dramatic concert photography, but placed my photos in the hands of the right people. It was a bright opportunity for me to show what I could do, and people were watching.

I sat down in my seat on the first leg of my trip, Austin-Dallas. After a very early start, leaving my brand new rescue pup at a pet motel in a guilt-ridden haze. And after endless sleepless nights, crippling anxiety, packing, checking, re-packing, and re-checking all over again (O.C.D. is my middle name), and about as much scrimping and saving as I can bear to tell you about, I was on my way. I’ll be the first one to tell you that I spend too much time worrying and even more time stressing. And absolutely never enough time actually enjoying the experience. But this time, I decided to allow the joy and excitement to wash over me. To bask, to relish; whatever you want to call it. For all twenty-three seconds of it.

At second twenty-four of my indulgent elation, our pilot comes on the intercom. “Folks, I’m afraid our plane has a maintenance issue following a bird strike and before we can fly, we’ll need to pass a series of FAA inspections and file the necessary paperwork. It’ll take at least an hour. If you have a connection you might miss and want to deplane, now is your chance.” With a tight 30-minute connection in Dallas, my first thought was; “what about all of my checked luggage and gear?!” A snippy flight attendant informed me that there was no way to pull luggage off the plane. It would automatically be sent on to my destination at a later unspecified point, should we miss the connection.

Just.

Wonderful.

Was this the universe telling me I really needed to think about an alternative, less ambitious career move? Fate was laughing at me gleefully like a fat kid downing their fourth Mountain Dew and binge-watching Jackass. Burp. Who was I to think it’d all be that easy? Here I am, stuck on a plane, stuck without knowing if I can get to Michigan in time for Skid Row.

I sat in my seat and I just hoped.

Picture

Our pilot and crew made an incredible effort, completed the inspection and got us to Dallas late. But not entirely too late. Slightly less late than my worst-case-scenario brain would lead me to expect. As we parked at the gate, we played the aisle-crushing “we all must get off this plane immediately, so it’ll help if we ALL try to stand in the aisle all at once” dance. I glanced at my phone. My next flight was boarding and gates close in eighteen minutes. I was three terminals away.

I grabbed my bags, managed not to hit anyone on the way out, and I ran.

Except it wasn’t quite that elegant. I flapped, tripped, weaved and dodged, and attempted not to barrel over stray children and the darling elderly in a busy airport. With an oversized camera gear pack on my back and a second shoulder bag packed to the hilt, it was a little bit like dressing up a tortoise as a pack mule, throwing him in cute kitten heels and asking him to sprint a 10k. In a crowded airport. I hopped on a tram, hopped off the tram two gates too early, was SO sure of a shortcut, took that shortcut at a less-than-coordinated gait, learned that all of the moving walkways on my shortcut were out of order, then realized the shortcut took me to the wrong gate. My plane was no longer departing from B4, but instead it was now B21. I kept running, developed some nice blisters, lost a shoe, grabbed that shoe and somehow got it back on my foot as I was hopping down an escalator (now one-footed, bags flapping wildly), and hauled myself and my two bags through the gate as they closed the doors. The stewardess just stepped back and let hurricane Me fly by. I sat down in my seat, every bit the flustered, profusely sweating crazy person who almost missed their flight – the ones that you see in the airport from time to time and always hope it’ll never be you. Think Home Alone, but this is 2019 and the haircuts are a little bit better. 

As I cranked the overhead fan and caught my breath (while apologizing to my seat mate for the kerfuffle, disorganization and possible stench), I had two thoughts.

Firstly, it was: “Huh! Now when someone asks me why I’m so committed as a runner, why I spend so many hours training for a sport that’s never going to take me anywhere close to a competitive outlet (I’m slower than a f’n snail..)… now I have an answer.” Cool. 

I also just felt super badass. I realized that with a little grit and determination (Ok, and a little cardiovascular conditioning), things that might seem impossible are worth holding on to – worth trying, really trying for. Even when it seems a little unlikely. And I realized that I had seriously neglected to give myself credit in similar cases in the past; where I did what was necessary when things got tough or challenging or unlikely. I tried, dammit. Regardless of the outcome, I was cheating myself by not giving myself credit.

And if that’s not a life lesson, I don’t know what is.

The kicker? I made it to that concert and shot some of the best photos of my life.

Camp Anarchy 2019

Camp Anarchy has compiled the best of punk rock culture and history into one weekend, a getaway of sorts. From craft beer, to giant beer pong and dodgeball. Plus a killer lineup featuring The Offspring, X, Rancid, Pennywise, NOFX and Bad Religion – what’s not to love?

A highlight of my year: attending Camp Anarchy just outside of Thornville, Ohio. When I told people where I was going (a lone female photojournalist, no less…), I was met with concerned stares; “are you feeling okay?” and expressions of mild alarm; “are you sure that’s a good idea?” I assured them it was. While punk culture is very okay with being those kids your daddy warned you about, there’s really so much more to it. I stepped onto the festival grounds Day One armed with wild curiosity, my Doc Martens and just enough of my own tattoos to play the part. Little did I realize, I didn’t need to pretend. 

In it’s very first year, Camp Anarchy has proven a vibrant collection of people poignantly committed to celebrating the culture and history of punk rock. It’s not just a ragtag group of misfits; it’s an outrageous celebration of a multi-generational underground culture that is just as colorful as it is misunderstood. It really is quite a wonderful space. It’s the mysterious misfit “new kid” in the festival scene, but it is also just the bratty little brother of its predecessor, Camp Punk in Drublic. Either way, it made an impression as newer, shinier, more polished version of this multifaceted, multi-country homage to the punk rock scene. With camping, a great craft beer festival, and a lineup featuring legends of punk rock left and right. Where else can you play dodgeball and giant beer pong when you’re not in the front row for Pennywise? It’s everything you wanted when you were fifteen years old, clad in Doc Martens, denim on denim and a couple of spiked pleather wrist cuffs, firmly committed to that ‘borrowed’ Bud Light enjoyed behind the highschool gym while Bad Religion’s Punk Rock Song rang out on a cheap tinny portable stereo.

Nostalgia aside, it’s a chance for those fifteen year-olds – now all grown up (how the hell did that happen?) – to explore a new place and a curated cultural experience on a farm so picturesque, it’s actually kind of ridiculous. The lineup of old and new; from Voodoo Glow Skulls and Sick of It All to Rancid, NOFX and Bad Religion, is really just the delicious icing on the cake. This years’ festival proved to uphold the Punk in Drublic legacy with an added element of history and nostalgia, incorporating genre-defining acts like X and FEAR.

But it’s so much more than just a really great music festival. It’s a relaxing craft beer savored next to a campfire overlooking an incredible scene of rebellious music, vibrant color and nonstop action. From the dodgeball tournament happening on up on the hill, to the muddy stage-front circle pit in perpetual motion. It’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s also the perfect escape from the rigors and routine of modern life. It’s the shedding of your proper adulting self and all the responsibilities that go along with that nonsense. It’s the chance to groove along to the Offspring in the front row, beer in the air, your inner thirteen-year old self so incredibly stoked that you’re here, that you’re finally standing front-row, an arm’s reach from Dexter himself.

It’s also a scene of kindness, acceptance and generosity. Of the sort when a great number of people who never quite fit in congregate in a safe space; to be themselves, to love who they are and what they stand for, and to celebrate their differences. But also their love of a certain genre of music – because these aren’t just great bands. The likes of The Offspring, X, Rancid and Bad Religion are genre-defining cultural icons, and that’s worth celebrating.

The venue itself deserves some serious mention, too. Hosted at Legend Valley campground, this camping-slash-ranch-slash-festival ground-zero is absolutely stunning. It sets the standard impossibly high for all other beautiful festival locations. Legend Valley is purpose-built with an impeccable permanent stage, expansive central grounds and gentle green slopes overshadowed by pine trees to stage left and right, ascending back toward the campgrounds. There’s a craft beer park at the top; brewery tents and kegs placed neatly in rows. In the middle, green grass and market stalls, and food vendors on the eastern slope. Spotted many times throughout the weekend are two gents cruising around in outrageous outfits, with a staple gun and dollar bills tacked to the larger of the two. People line up to attach their own dollars, fives, tens and twenties. Dodgeball, giant beer pong and cornhole are also at the top, adjacent to the craft beer park, and the entire setting is surrounded – literally and figuratively – by camping areas from basic tents to upscale RV. The scene was comfortable and tidy; breezy, with shade, ample amenities and a congenial, organized air. This camp? …anything but Anarchy.

Which brings me to the next honorable mention. Arriving at a large festival campground is always anxiety-inducing; will I wait in line for hours? Is traffic going to be obscene? What have I forgotten? What have I brought that I will later find out is prohibited? Is my camp stove allowed? Is there a limit on beer per person? Will the entry gates be complete and utter chaos? Given the name of this festival, I braced myself for the worst. Entry can be a harrowing initiation to your festival weekend. And it is telling of the degree to which festival management have planned, organized and strategized for the logistical implications of thousands upon thousands of campers all arriving at the exact same moment. 

My fears were all for nothing. After my media passes were located, I was through the gates and sitting, somewhat surprised, in my little camping spot adjacent to the forest in 35 minutes. Surprised, I found myself wondering what just happened. Camp Anarchy was sofar proving to be anything but; a breeze from ticket purchase to setting up camp. Throughout the weekend, I was continually surprised at just how efficient, friendly and on top of it the crew were. 

I consistently find that the punk rock crowd defies my expectations. For a group with a decidedly bad reputation, they’re incredibly wonderful to spend time with. I witness over and over; kindness, selflessness and a community air that is decidedly lacking in other festival genres. The short girl craning to see the stage gets brought to the front; the 12-year old kid just learning about punk rock history finds himself and his bright red mini-hawk shaking hands with Noodles of the Offspring, who’s asking what other bands he’s into, and did he enjoy seeing FEAR earlier? 

I could have spent all day in the beer festival on Saturday and again on Sunday; chatting with friendly vendors, even friendlier patrons and sampling everything from hoppy local IPAs to bright California pear and pineapple ciders. I didn’t find a single subpar brew. I left only for the calling of Voodoo Glow Skulls; arguably one of California’s best ska-punk exports. But this is not a land of comparison – every single act on the stage has, in some way, earned a very loyal following and deserves their place on the Camp Anarchy stage. It’s a truly phenomenal lineup, reflective of a vibrant and diverse genre.

Even the wildest parts of a punk rock show aren’t quite what they seem. I realize partway through the afternoon that our not-quite mosh-pit, now dubbed the “circle pit” is really just a place for fully grown adult men and women to dance around in the mud, to jostle and to generally lose all semblance of composure. To throw back a beer, shed inhibitions and dance (flail?) like nobody is watching. But when someone trips and falls, you also help them up. In this place, it’s perfectly okay to rock out obnoxiously, throw your hands joyously in the air (we see you, turquoise ‘hawk), to flip off the heavens, scream f*ck yeah!, and let off a little steam.

At one point, I’m ambushed by my favorite dodgeball team, The Buttholes, whom I photographed earlier. As you can imagine, it’s a rowdy bunch of ex-frat guys, most of whom are shirtless by now (some have also lost a shoe or two), and who’ve consumed a keg or three. Each. They are heartily engaged in the nostalgia on stage and as the act comes to and end, all five of them (it was six… one of them had recently crowd surfed to the front and was temporarily misplaced) proclaim “let’s grab this photographer a beer!” I acquiesce, if only to learn just a little more about these robustly cheerful mud-splattered humans. ​

All those things that my dad warned me about, though? A bright green mohawk, tattoos from head to toe, lip ring and studded leather biker vest…? Loud fast music and rowdy crowds? They might just be the escape from societal normalcy that I didn’t even know I needed. Sorry dad, but… live a little. If I needed any further confirmation of the virtues of these crazy punks, I realize this is actually one giant community who have a lot in common. I’m consistently hit with a pervasively unifying message; “we all don’t quite fit in/agree with things/have the same views, but we’re all in this together, so let’s circle-pit it out and hug each other at the end.” This sentiment is the entire scene, the entire crowd. We down a beer, Bam Bam crushes the can on his tattooed skull, and we proceed to celebrate our differences by slinging pleather-cuffed arms in the air, middle fingers protruding, as Fat Mike of NOFX celebrates his rebellious dress-clad self with a cheeky guitar solo. Later in the night, Bam Bam slings a beefy tattooed arm around my shoulders, proclaiming, “you’re allriiiight, Texas, ya know that? I’m glad you came out to join us.” With that, he’s off to the campgrounds and the night wraps.

I spend part of my time the next day rehashing crazy stories from the campground last night – it’s almost a: “this one time, at band camp…?”  Hilarious and harmless; sightings of a streaker, a rogue big band musician or two joining us at the camp for a beer, and so-and so got too drunk and fell through his neighbor’s tent. I also catch up with my new friend, the incredible human behind the T-rex at last year’s Punk In Drublic. Yes, T-Rex is here, and T-Rex is back in the circle pit at Camp Anarchy. This most wonderful individual spends their time making prehistoric-inspired appearances at punk rock festivals across the country. My dear: thank you for your service to our community.

And so the weekend goes; meeting people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the country. Many have traveled a great distance to partake in this particular punk rock celebration. A great number are regulars; committed wholeheartedly to this annual celebration. What a crowd. I leave with many, many new friends. 

It’s amazing to me that the stereotypes persist, that some people might not consider coming to a similar fest. Those who look like they might punch you in the nose and steal your lunch money? When you’re in the pit, it’s these same generous people that ask you if you’d like to stand in front of them, because you’re kind of short and you might not be able to see very well. It’s security guards called Bubba, who tell you that if you need a lift up to get a better photo, or you’d like to snap from their vantage point, just tap him on the shoulder and he’ll make that happen. He tells me later that his favorite part of the job is making sure the crowd surfers get out of there safely.  It’s anything but Anarchy; perhaps contained chaos, but dammit, I like these people. 

Camp Anarchy is a chance to partake: by shedding your preconceived notions and immersing yourself in the exuberant color and culture of a group of people who love their high-energy music and neon-hued hair. So what if the person next to you is covered in tattoos, looks like a biker gang linchpin, and may be a dude/may be a woman? Who cares? It’s the greatest possible display of acceptance and the most oddly beautiful unruly crowd I’ve met. So what if it’s a little unorthodox, wild at times, and definitely outside of the norm?  

It’s a hidden gem, a coveted secret. I almost don’t want to share just how wonderful the punk rock scene is, how good these people are. And how well Camp Anarchy has compiled the best of it into one weekend, a getaway of sorts. Folks piling into the grounds; studded vests, colorful mohawks, tattoos and Doc Martens; the people-watching alone is an all-consuming endeavor. It is quite literally punks of all ages; from the blue-haired kid in a denim vest emblazoned with old-school punk logos, to the couple in their seventies; hands in each other’s back pockets, beer in the other, nodding along to the opening riffs of X’s Los Angeles. In true contradiction to all assumed reputations, this crowd is so easy to spend a weekend with. They’re kind, they’re outrageous, and they’re accepting. And as I’ve experienced in similar punk festivals past, I feel like I’ve found my tribe.