How I found creative inspiration in a gritty bar

Joy on Fire. No cymbals were harmed in the making of this photo. 

These bleak mid-winter days can leave me feeling uninspired and stuck in a rut. In order to combat this, I decided to get out more, no matter how cold it is, and keep my creative juices flowing. I’ve been wanting to go deeper into photo documentary and I had the chance this weekend - but I got so much more, as well.

On Saturday my musician friends from The Silo Studio hosted a show featuring some bands I like, so I made the schlep over to Long Island. I got there a little late and missed a few of the bands (giving up Diet Coke for two weeks has had its disadvantages). You can click on these links to check them out: All Out Riot, Heartless Devils, Finn & His Rustkickers, and BlueBlack.

I’ve been obsessed with shooting live bands because it is such a challenge for me. I’m outgrowing my camera, and will soon need to upgrade. Capturing crisp images in low light situations is difficult with the equipment I have. For this series, I decided to take a different approach. I wanted to add a raw, messy grittiness to my images. I mean...late night bar scene, Long Island, loud rock music. It doesn’t get much grittier than that.

I got there just in time for Pandafan, an indie-folk trio of goddesses - Delaney, Grace and Stella. Normally they perform as an acoustic vocal trio but have recently added bass and drums to the mix. The result is beautiful and artistically poetic. Their voices are so smooth, it will make you want to roll in a pool filled with whipped butter.

L-R Stella, Delaney, and Grace of Pandafan

Their track “Peter” is one of my favorites. The haunting melody will bring tears to your eyes. It's hard to believe these are college-aged women. They sing with such depth and passion that it will make you reevaluate your very existence.

 

Next up was classic rock band The Black River Republic. I’ve never seen them play live so naturally I was thrilled at the chance. My personal favorite: “This Summer’s on Fire.” Click here to listen. Chris’ drum beat comes in full force like some kind of percussion typhoon. You may want to clutch your pearls, cause trust me...you ain’t ready. Bill comes in with that big rock power chord and you start bobbing your head saying “Yeah, I dig.” Delaney singing the chorus made me feel like doing endless twirls in field of wildflowers donning a circle skirt.

Bill and Chris of The Black River Republic tearing it up at The Silo Show. 

Joy on Fire was up next. The name speaks for itself. I’ve seen them play live many times before, and each time is more euphoric than the last. They describe their sound as “Punk Jazz / Zeppelin meets Coltrane.” I call it music that's on a whole other level. The minute they play, your jaw is literally on the floor and your eyes are protruding out of your head. The thing with them is you can’t predict where a song is going to go musically like you can with many other bands. They are the exception to the norm. Take “Double Dub” for example. You’re just sitting there minding your business grooving to that bass line John lays out. Then Anna comes in with a sax solo and you feel like you are one of those cobras coming out of a wicker basket to the snake-charmer’s song. You start moving to the groove. When Chris comes in playing this silkscreen with sea shells contraption, your hips start moving something fierce, then Anna does a trill with the sax, cueing the others that “it's go time.” Chris puts the silk screen down and lays on the drums with wild abandon. John lays it down heavy on the bass, Anna takes it to another dimension, and you feel like you are transported to some musical zen planet in another galaxy.

 John of Joy on Fire, commanding the stage with his killer bass beat. 

On the drive home, I sat in a wondrous stupor. I thought about how amazing it was to be in the presence of such great commitment. Some of these artists drove hundreds of miles just to play one short set for little to no money, then drive through the night to get back home. I felt especially bad for the last few bands that played. It was getting late, and people started to leave. The thing that impressed me the most was that those last few bands played like they were playing to a stadium of thousands. I mean, they could have been discouraged by all of those factors. They weren’t - they gave it their all and left it all on stage.

Anna of Joy on Fire, wailing on the sax and leaving it all on the stage. 

My takeaway was: “That’s what it means to be an artist.”  It means, no matter what, you do what you love come hell or high water. Often I get caught in the rut of comparison. It has been said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s true. Just like the different genres of music that were played, we all have different gifts to bring to the table. These photos may not be my normal “style.” Not everything has to be clean and pretty. There is beauty and power in raw, dark and gritty images.


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