Night #3: Saturday
Meadows of Dan, Virginia
It was Saturday at Floydfest and we still had emails to send, pictures to parse, and other assorted tasks. This time we decided to roll the dice on the WiFi and charging center the event organizers had setup near the main stage at Floydfest. There was still a chance of rain, but early afternoon showed signs of the weather letting up for the rest of the evening. We headed down to the venue, grabbed lunch and set up shop right outside the WiFi and charging tent, mostly occupied by bored teenagers desperate for a link to their social sphere.
I managed to get a bit of writing done while listening to Xavier Rudd, Railroad Earth (who we had seen recently at Dark Star Jubilee), and Rising Appalachia. This made for a nice afternoon of reasonable productivity with the background of mellower music to enjoy but not be distracted by. As usual, we were saving up our energy and attention for the later acts that I was particularly looking forward to this evening.
We left the main stage area around 9pm with devices and back up batteries charged to full, heading to (once again) the Pink Floyd Beer Garden stage to see one of Cleveland’s most successful and entertaining bands on the circuit today – Broccoli Samurai. I first met these guys only a few months ago, when they were kind enough to let me shoot from the pit at the House of Blues in Cleveland when they were warming up the crowd for another local legend – Tropidelic. Bruce, the keyboard player of Broccoli Samurai, is a staple of the Cleveland music scene, booking talent for the Beachland Ballroom and rocking-the-fuck out in Broccoli Samurai in his spare time. Unfortunately, I did not get to see their second set of the weekend, which happened to be the closing set of music for Floydfest this year. I have no doubt that they killed it.
Broccoli Samurai hold a special place in my heart as they helped me bridge the gap between the older genre of electronic music that I grew up with (like Ozric Tentacles and Tangerine Dream) with the newer and multi-faceted world of electronic music, often labeled and even dismissed by many as “EDM”. I love seeing a band with such a varied and interesting electronic sound, but still mastering classic rock instruments. The only disappointment of Broccoli Samurai is that I have yet to shoot them in a well-lit venue, sans the presence of ubiquitous green or red gels washing everyone and everything on stage in one solid, all-encompassing color. It’s great for the occasional “artsy” shot, but not great for crisp and varied pictures. I’ve now made it my life mission to get one amazing shoot with these guys. I’ll be back to try once again, rest assured.
Right around the time Broccoli Samurai were closing up their set the rain started to fall. We decided that rather than sheltering around tree trunks or fighting the small pockets of people scrambling for shelter under the vendor tent awnings, we would this time make a break in the direction of the stage where Buffalo Mountain Jam, Featuring Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, Railroad Earth, Larry Keel, Xavier Rudd, Shook Twins & more were due to play.
As we walked out of the Pink Floyd Garden, the rain volume increased in one last effort of annoyance and discomfort, so we decided to ditch into the nearest stage, with a large rubber white tent awning over the front, and a large group of people assembled seemingly with no purpose other than staying dry and having fun talking with one another, though I suspected they were waiting for the next band to take the stage.
Moments after we were under the tent, an announcement from the stage asked all people standing beneath the lip of the stage to take a few steps in or out so they could “prepare.” We had no idea what they were preparing for, but moments later when the silk ribbons dropped from the peak of the tent we were excited to be seeing the performance from this close vantage point. We started watching from the inside, but with the rain now just barely misting, I wanted to get outside to position myself strategically close and symmetrically centered to take some pictures with my ultra-wide-angle lens. What I had not seen appropriately from the inside was the digital pattern projections being shot from the front and the lights inside combining to make a psychedelic and beautiful scene, framing the performers. I drooled a little at the photographic opportunity.
I was thrilled to be in the right place at the right time to grab this series of shots which I find more mesmerizing each time I look at and tweak them. Thanks, rain. Sometimes you’re not all that bad.
The rain abetting, we then managed to wind our way easily to the front right of the main stage for Buffalo Mountain Jam. I readied to take some good shots of this impromptu band as they opened the set, explaining the collaboration would be a tribute to the late, great Gregg Allman. They opened the set with a beautiful and haunting Midnight Rider. Unfortunately I only got to snap off about ten pics, still adjusting the lens and light settings when the rain started coming down harder than I felt comfortable being in with the protection I had available for both my body and my camera. We decid
ed to head to the nearest beer garden, well within range of the stage to hear the show and even see a little bit of the stage.
Although crowded at first, we found a seat and table where I decided to unload pictures from camera storage to the laptop. I found myself in an awkward conversation with a slightly inebriated young woman who seemed to have no regard for the fact that my (obviously and loudly stated) girlfriend was right there with me. To her credit, she may not have been able to resist as I had something going on this day, with this encounter being the third time I was outwardly flirted with since arriving at the festival grounds (the first two being at the WiFi tent while working, furiously typing away on my laptop, while Andie was away fetching the ever-crucial dessert). You should understand that this never ever happens to me. I have no game, but whatever I was putting down that day the ladies were picking up. My girlfriend Andie, not one to calmly entertain flirtatious behavior with her boyfriend, was about to pick her up by the throat in a Darth Vader-like show of power and domination.
Relief set in when both the awkward conversation and the rain broke, and we made our way towards the other end of the festival grounds where St. Paul and the Broken Bones were due to close out the night, and given my several near-misses with this band in the past I wanted to be there on time, front and center.
Finally we were making our way to the Hill Holler stage (again) for what had been the most anticipated set of music for me this summer – St. Paul and the Broken Bones. I had only really seen them once, in a very crowded Jazzfest weekend set in New Orleans at Tipitina’s uptown. That was a great show, but lacked the intimacy of a smaller, less-crowded venue and a
visible line to Paul Janeway, which I now realize is paramount to truly experiencing this act. I caught them briefly for the end of their set at Mountain Jam earlier this summer and scored a great shot of Paul, jumping from the front of the stage, purely by accident.
I had a handful of other opportunities to see them (including opening for the Rolling Stones in Buffalo, and a solo night in Cincinnati) with each falling through for one reason or another. All I can say now is I am thrilled that this late night set at Floydfest was the culmination of my St. Paul longings, because the intimacy of the show, the outdoor venue, and the energies of the crowd and the band all culminated in an incredible experience neither Andie or I will forget.
I always imagined what it must have been like to see Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin perform live early in their career. Would you know? Could you feel that they were different? legendary? special? I imagine you could, because those voices were undeniably graced with something more than a fair share of born talent or the honing of the vocal instrument through years of training. These voices were gifts to us from someone beyond. They were supernatural and timeless. That is what Paul Janeway has, and the privilege of hearing him and seeing him perform at close range is something every true lover of music should get to have in their collective of experiences.
I had been listening to St. Paul and the Broken Bones for a couple of years and I was already an avid fan. I already knew this band was great …special, even. They still managed to blow away every expectation I had of them. Paul is a voice unlike any other and he is an entertainer of epic proportions. The band members are an assembly of some of the best musicians I have seen perform live, and I have to give a special nod to the Hammond player, Al Gamble, for becoming what may well be my absolute favorite Hammond B-3 player of this generation (Sorry, Melvin).
There couldn’t have been a better musical finale to night three of Floydfest, and to make things even better, I found that the St. Paul shoot turned out to be some of my best concert/live music work to date. It certainly improved my groove having a guy like Paul Janeway in my lens.