BluesFest 2011: Day 6 – Tuesday 26.04.2011

Having had a relaxing and leisurely long-weekend, the last day of BluesFest, Day Six, is when I go to work.

Compared to the rest of the weekend, the day starts early with Osibisa in the Mojo Tent before Tim Finn over on the Crossroads stage.  Last time I saw Tim Finn was at The Troubadour, so it’s a different experience seeing him play such a large stage and in front of such a big crowd.  photographing him is harder than you would have hoped thanks to all the backlighting.  With the fifteen minute meeting time before each band, much of the early afternoon is spent either in the photo pit or waiting in the media tent to be escorted to the next act.  Buffy Sainte-Marie follows and then Leon Russell.  Leon Russell makes it hard by (a) being a keyboard player, my least favourite musician to photograph because it’s so hard to get good photographs of keyboard players; (b) being sat at the side of the stage and right next to the stairs up to the stage from the photo pit, which makes getting a good angle difficult, especially given the amount of photographers in the photo pit; (c) also having a laptop set up in front of him, further hiding away from the photographers’ lenses; and (d) wearing a pair of dark glasses throughout.  After a few shots I just try and challenge myself to get a good reflection in his glasses and also at least one decent photograph where he’s not right up against his mic.  Sometimes, quite often I guess, I do set myself challenges in the photo pit to either get a certain type of shot of one sort or the other.  I sometimes just do it when I’m confident that I’ve got enough ‘good’ shots and have spare song time to play around a bit for my own enjoyment.

By the time of Paul Kelly’s set the other photographers have come out of the woodwork and so it’s back to being split up into groups and getting one song each.  For once I’m actually in the first group but it’s no better than being in any of the other groups and after a relaxing afternoon of three songs it all becomes a rush and I don’t get anything I really like.  The last couple of times I’ve photographed him, at Splendour In The Grass and at Sunset Sounds he seemed to be a lot more animated than he is tonight, and he’s much easier to photograph when he’s waving his hands around more than he does tonight.  Once again, one song just isn’t enough and I barely get a single shot of anyone else in his band.

Elvis Costello’s second set of the weekend is next.  I did wonder if it would be a repeat performance of the previous evening but he’s got enough songs in his canon to play a completely different set of songs, not that I stay beyond three song or four songs.  To be honest he is one of those people that I’ve never quite ‘got’ (also see The Clash, Talking Heads and many more).

Despite the photographer groupings and one song allocation for Paul Kelly and Elvis Costello, for Gurrumul there’s no restrictions, probably because this is his second set of the weekend, having already played the night before.  Although there are three songs on offer, it’s more than enough for the seated Gurrumul and it’s also incredibly hard not to just stand still and watch and listen to him.  His music is so powerful that it’s hard not to feel totally overwhelmed by it.

Tuesday does have an apparent glitch in the timetabling, with George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic and Grace Jones both scheduled to start at the same time, 8:15pm.  However, given Ms Jones’ previous BluesFest form, when she was 45 minutes late, the sensible approach is to go and photograph George Clinton on the Jambalaya stage first and by the time that’s finished they’ll still be plenty of time to walk back to Crossroads for Grace Jones.  That’s the plan anyway.  At the media tent we’re told that similar to BB King, the band play a warm up song before George Clinton makes his appearance.  As I’m in the first group I get to photograph the warm up song and also the second song for when Clinton is on stage.  It all sounds good to me.  The trouble is that the first song, the warm up song for the band lasts for about 30 minutes.  And the second song goes for at least 15 minutes before I decide that I’ve taken way more photos than I could ever use and I probably should try and get back to Grace Jones.  However, by now it’s way too late to photograph Grace Jones.  Unlike Friday night she managed to make it to the stage a lot less than 45 minutes behind her scheduled time.  In some ways I shouldn’t complain; George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic were astounding and amazingly photogenic, it’s just that after Friday night I was really excited at another chance to photograph Grace Jones.

Having missed my chance of a second shoot with Grace Jones, I head back to the Mojo tent for a second look at Bob Dylan, this time heading around to the far side of the tent and getting a lot closer than previous night’s vantage point on the road between stages.  I am a bit surprised, given his reputation for really mixing up his set lists, that there’s a lot of songs that he played on the first night.  There are some changes but there’s still a number of core songs: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, Tangled Up In Blue, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Simple Twist of Fate, Highway 61 Revisited, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone and Forever Young.  Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking opened both nights and the last five of the core songs ended the set, with Ballad Of A Thin Man the last song of the main set the standout song of both evenings. Despite being closer and having the benefit of better sound by being on the edge of the tent, the second night just isn’t the same as the first.  The excitement and anticipation isn’t there for the second night, even though there’s a change in six of the fourteen songs played on the second night from the fourteen played on the first night.

Last year I had a really great time at BluesFest and kicked myself for having never applied to go before.  This time I had a lot less enjoyable time.  Getting a +1 last year made a big difference; being away from home for six days is a lot to ask, especially when you’re not exactly getting paid for being there and when the cost of accommodation and being there means you’re basically paying for the honour of being able to photograph.  It would have been a slightly different story if the photography had been fun and enjoyable, after all that’s the reason I do it, but the ridiculous numbers of photographers that had been accredited made it an annoying and disappointing experience over the whole weekend.  To me, there are easy and obvious fixes to the problem.  The festival doesn’t need to have five of its own photographers with pit passes; it’s only got four stages and you could easily cover every band over the weekend with two photographers.  Some publications also had more than one accredited photographer, but again it wasn’t like the schedule was being split up between photographers, with everyone turning up to shoot the big(ger) acts.

Looking at the list of the publications that were given media accreditation, BluesFest is the festival that is most generous when compared to other major festivals; if you’ve got a camera, of any size, shape, variety, even if it’s a compact, you’ve got a good chance of getting accreditation.  That’s not to say that I necessarily should get a pass.  At some of the times when they needed to split the photographers into groups, they left it to the photographers to sort themselves out but made sure that everyone knew that they had a list of photographers divided up into an A List and a B List and if they thought that people were not adequately sorting themselves into groups they would do it with the help of their list.  I’m not sure if Rave, who I was photographing the festival for, are A List or B List.  I would assume that they’re B List as they’re not a major/daily paper or a national magazine.  If the organisers decided that they needed to cull their numbers of accredited photographers for next year I would be ok with not getting a photo pass if my publication was deemed not important enough.  If they culled to number of accredited photos with pit passes by half from this year, I would much prefer that the photographers who get accredited all have a really great time instead of (almost) 100% of the photographers having a frustrating and miserable experience this year.  Maybe they could use all those media passes that they’ve saved and give all the photographers +1s so that they could spend their downtime at the festival hanging out with someone.

Whether I head back to BluesFest next year will depend a lot on the lineup, and while they always manage to get a few big names and exciting draw card acts, they’ll be hard pushed to better some of the acts they’ve put on it 2011.  But whether I head back will also depend on my memories of photographing this year when it comes around to applying for the 2012 BluesFest.  Maybe the memories will have faded and it won’t seem too bad,  maybe the organisers will put the word out that after this year they’re being a lot stricter in giving out pit passes, or maybe they’ll get an act or two that are just too tempting to turn down.

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