I missed the whole grunge, punk slam dance thing growing up. Even as a professional in the middle of my career, I never really photographed a punk band or any kind of grunge band for that matter. The only thing I remember about the 1990’s is that some really awful music was spawned during the decade.
BottleRock Napa, in all it’s frenetic, laid back, hip hopped, blue grassed and whatever else music created is the melting pot for music fans. In less than five minutes, you can walk from stage to stage and hear entirely different kinds of music. Music fans of every generation mixed with one another, seemingly enjoying each genre. It was fun to watch and photograph.
Then came Primus, with Sebastopolian front man Les Claypool leading with stylish riffs on one of his numerous bass guitars. In theses situations, photographers are allowed to photograph the first three songs of a performance. I’m not sure where that started, for my ears sake I guess it’s a good thing. (The last heavy metal band I photographed was Twisted Sister, thusly losing partial hearing in my left ear).
Not that Primus is heavy metal. However, being in the pit between the stage and the fans you really couldn’t tell what kind of music was being played, well because the fans were going Cra-zy. During the last song of our three granted, a mosh pit formed in the middle of the crowd, people would circle, slam each other, fall down, get up and repeat. Shortly after, concert goers started to surf above the crowd, snaked along by hundreds of hands to the photo pit.
Let’s just say that this wasn’t the wine and brie crowd.
Security, obviously schooled in the finer repartee of mosh pitting, would dutifully receive the hanging twenty surfer and escort them from the venue. I’m not sure if they were kicked out. Not without controversy, the mosh pit in general has been much maligned over the years. Injuries and even death has occurred.
After our allotted time in the semi-surf photo pit, I asked fellow photog and all around nice guy Paul Kitagaki Jr. of the Sacramento Bee if he wanted to go in to the crowd and photograph the slam dancing. I like to work with a wide angle lens and sometimes get closer than I should. Figuring that I could handle Oakland riots, I could handle moshers.
“Yeah!” He said.
I couldn’t tell if he was apprehensive or excited or just going with the flow. Getting through the crowd, maybe 100 deep, was a challenge of course, but I just kept smiling and saying “excuse me, pardon me, gotta get by you, can I get through here? Cool shirt dude! Hey watch your toes, big guy coming through”. Paul followed in the wake of my excuses. Once in to the mosh, it seemed like pandemonium. Really it’s not, but you can’t be in bad shape either, nor old. if you don’t watch it, you can get clobbered pretty hard. When a mosher fell, fellow moshers hoisted them right up. I was struck by the created insanity and the polite gamesmanship after someone was creamed. It was wine country diplomacy mixed with redneck dichotomy.
After about 10 minutes of shooting and getting shoved pretty hard on several occasions, Paul and I decided we’d had enough. It was a mutual look that did it.
As I edited the photos, dripping sweat everywhere, I couldn’t help but laugh. On the main stage, the Avett Brothers played blue grass. Behind me Primus wrapped up their crazy set. I couldn’t understand any of the music. Where else could this happen? Napa of course.
After all is said and done, I’m off to photograph a wall.