Being able to photograph Riot Fest every September is a special time for me. As a die-hard music fan not only do I get to see and photograph a lot of my favorite bands in the span of three days, but it also allows me to get away from the demands of the wedding season for a weekend. There honestly is no better feeling than running around from stage to stage trying to photograph as much as possible while carrying two camera bodies, four lenses, five batteries, and a couple of energy drinks to keep me going.
If you want to photograph and people watch, this is the place to be. The nature of the festival brings out acts that vary from genres such as Punk, Metal, Alternative, Hip-hop, etc. You’ll even see older musicians that paved the way as opening acts, but revered like they’re the headliner by the actual headliners. And sometimes both old fans and bands will even show these whippersnappers a thing or two when it comes to performing and partying.
While covering three years of Riot Fest Denver for Iheart Media, I got to know the pit/stage managers by chatting them up and bringing them Red Bulls when they looked exhausted. When Riot Fest Chicago 2016 needed an extra photographer, they floated my name and had me send some examples of my work. So with a couple of emails and two days notice, I was hired and on a plane to the Windy City.
I ended up working for the publicity side of the festival. This means that three other photographers (whose work made me feel inferior) and myself would split up and shoot all of the bands at the various stages. As the low man on the totem pole, I would photograph the up and coming bands on the small stage, but would still be able to cover the big bands in between my assignments. Since the publicist needs photos for media outlets to post, we have to constantly edit, and then upload to a dropbox folder that the outlets are given access to. Even after the headliner is done, we’ll still be there editing photos for a while, and then back at the venue early the next morning to do it all over again.
The perks of working for the festival, besides getting paid, are that you get a lot of access whether it be photographing well after the first three songs, having stage access, and being able to traverse the entire backstage area. All of that area (which I call warp zones) is connected, and comes in handy when you have to run from one act to the other and not fight crowds. While wandering around back there I’ve found myself taking portraits of Fitz and the Tantrums one day, accidentally stepping on Jack Black’s foot another, bullshitting with Paramore, and rocking out next to Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age while photographing an opening band (no he didn’t kick me in the face). Oh and we get free beer. In fact the entire press area gets free beer.
At the end of the weekend I probably take a little more than 10,000 photos, and sleep maybe twelve hours in those three days. The only bad part is the post festival depression that sets in as soon as the last act finishes up. It honestly sucks having to jump back on a plane after working one of your dream gigs, but there’s always next year.