Journalism, Photography

Four days: From punk rock to the president

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From where I sit, three TV stations are shooting live shots and a crew of road-hardened workers is tearing down what’s left of a packed house show.

Over the past four days I’ve covered Weezer, Death Cab For Cutie, Neon Trees and the President of the United States of America.

No, not the band bearing a similar likeness — the real dude.

The majority of the last four days has been spent on my feet, stomach empty and camera in hand.

For the three days preceding this one, my attire consisted of low-top Adidas, khaki cargo shorts and a bandana and Tigers hat combo.

Today I’m decked out in my finest suit.

The only similarity between the two looks? A press pass.

The last 96 hours have been hard on my feet and left me low on sleep, but retroactively, they have been the best I’ve had in some time.

Friday: Yikes

The Bunbury Music Festival began Friday at noon. I headed down to Sawyer Point a little later (at about 1:30 p.m.) because of the free pizza we had at the station.

From the minute a fellow intern and I set foot inside the gates, there wasn’t a thing that went right.

Actually, scratch that. We hadn’t even entered the festival and things were already busting our get in, get footage, get out mentality.

Amanda (the other intern) and I left the station separately because of my hearty all-day ambitions and her dinner plans. Before we even departed from the parking garage, we had made the weekend’s first mistake.

As it turned out, there was no media parking at Bunbury. Of course, we didn’t know that, and were intent on finding it, if only to avoid the $10 upcharge for snagging a SUV-size patch of sunburnt grass.

After trying three different lots, one of which turned out to be private and a pain to navigate in reverse, we gave in and settled in on opposite sides of Pete Rose Way, stuffing our receipts into our bags with the faint hope we could file them as an expense.

The trouble didn’t stop there, though. Since we parked separately, I humped the gear — still camera, video camera, tripod, mics, lighting, etc. — to the media tent on my own. And then, promptly, I lost Amanda.

Several minutes of wandering, two missed calls and a helpful security guard later, we found our way back to square one and set up shop.

It was then we stumbled upon problem No. 2: we were not credentialed as working press; only as press they allowed to get into the event for free. (?)

This discrepancy still is beyond me. I don’t understand the status difference, and sure didn’t at the time.

The fact that it was a muggy 90 degrees and I was fastwalking business casually among groves of underdressed punk rockers made the lack of respect less tolerable.

Nonetheless, we pushed on. Only to stall out within a matter of minutes.

“Hey, do you have the sports camera?”

—   “Uh, let me check. Yeah. Is that a problem?

“Yeah. You need to get that back to the station.”

—   Like, now?

“Like, yeah. It’s urgent.”

There was no get out of jail free card on this one — six miles, a new camera and another $10 donation to the parking big machine led us back to the festival, where we polished off our her stand up and scraped together some b-roll.

Then, somehow, as the temperatures dropped and the sun set, my problems faded away.

Welcome, working weekend.

For the next 48 hours, I laid off the video and stuffed my notepad into my cargo pocket — only to lose it in the slew of people, pot and everything in between — and peeled away the layers of dress clothes to take advantage of my average citizeness, with only a big camera to separate me from the rest of the crowd.

So while all the credentialed press shuffled their way in and out of the front row photographer pit, I shifted to the front of the pack myself, ducking under drunks’ outstretched arms and stepping carefully over carefully positioned family blankets.

For the most part, my efforts proved successful. With the help of a smile, elbow and combination of the two, I managed to make my way to the front row, more or less, for the first three shows I attended.

I hear regularly that hardcore music fans are true to their namesake. It’s not uncommon to hear horror stories of eight-hour concert lines and front-row fights. But surely, the fanatics lived up to their billing. I realized quickly I couldn’t leave my two-by-two patch of soggy grass and find it available upon my return.

On the surface, that’s not such an outrageous thought — a “duh” thought, really.

But when push came to shove — and boy, did it — it seemed some folks’ livelihood was resting on reaching shouting distance to their drumstick-wielding, microphone-touting idols.

And I was in the middle of it all, backpack slung over my shoulder and earplugs resting safely in my pocket, ready to rock out with my camera out.

Surprisingly, I was more successful at doing so than my previously discouraged self thought I’d be. A sea of fist pumping is more visually appealing when you’re in the middle of it than when looking through a lens from afar. There’s a few (hundred) more blurry shots to sort through that made me let out an audible “huh?” but all it took was a couple to bring a smile to my face.

Thank goodness I had something to cheer me up Friday night, because headliner Jane’s Addiction was downright terrible.

Remember that band that hung out in your high school parking lot? That, mixed with Rocky Horror Picture Show, is the hardly socially acceptable picture Jane’s Addiction paints.

But once the lights flickered on and the sun sunk behind Great American Ballpark, the guitar riffs were flowing freely, and my trigger finger was set on rapid fire.

Within the hour I could tolerate the headliners’ screeching sexcapades, I snapped 10 shots better than anything I’d ever made before; at least as far as event photography goes.

By the time I made it home and began ingesting my photos, the shower was calling my name, but my feet were screaming for a break. I compromised mind and matter, — er, sleep and stench — and sprawled out on the shower floor for 15 minutes before ending my night.

Saturday: Unexpected gems

The next day brought more of the same, except for one fundamental difference: the sparse crowds of the day past were anything but the second time around. Bunbury was packed wall-to-wall despite the pounding rain, and the festival’s crew proved up to task by ramping up the sound.

I walked into the festival confidently, as if Friday’s events prepared me for anything life threw my way.

Partially, I was right. Mostly, I was wrong.

This time, there were no major snafus, just a fundamental lack of judgment.

When I walked into the festival, I went straight for the main stage, as I had the day before, prepared to catch the most extravagant act with the biggest sounds and highest profile.

On the way there, I passed a smaller setup with a less excellent performer, and bypassed even checking out the two minor shows on the other end of the park.

It took me until between prominent acts to realize there was good stuff to be had away from the crowds and confusion.

For the rest of the weekend, the most gratifying shots I got were taken from directly in front of the performers on the smaller stages. I didn’t have to throw ‘bows to get there, either.

But as the sun crept closer to the horizon, I slid back to the main stage, with the intention of working my way to acceptable distance for my 24-70mm lens. I ended up camped within 10 yards of where I set up shop, left-center of the stage, for the next five(ish) hours.

I walked away, feet pulsating, with a renewed ringing in my ears, a full memory card and a diamond ring.

Really.

Somewhere in the mix of beer, sweat and whatever the guy that dropped unconsciously at my feet while being escorted from the crowd by a frantic security guard was on, someone lost a diamond ring.

How, I asked myself, do you lose a diamond ring? Beyond that matter, why would you wear your diamond ring into a glorified slip-n-slide mosh pit of a music festival?

When I picked up surveyed my find with the dude (emphasis on dude) next to me, he gave me a single bit of advice: don’t put it back down.

Later, he added: sell it if you want.

I followed the first bit and felt too guilty to follow through with the second, and as I exited the park I gave it to a female security guard, leaving her with a quip about how it looked “expensive and shiny.”

Sunday: Is it tomorrow yet?

I woke up with an enthusiastic roll to my right to check the time on my phone. One look at its screen, and I rolled left, slightly less enthusiastically.

The clock already read noon, and the band whose awesomeness I’d been prepping for all weekend had cancelled its set because of sickness.

My third day of festing suddenly looked a bit more bleak, especially considering it was costing me $20 to go to work each day, gas and parking included.

I was able to pull myself out of bed, plop myself in the car and head downtown once again, nonetheless.

Even though my camera battery made a full overnight recharge, I had done anything but, and was more than ready to get in, get pictures and get out.

I was mentally done with the physical struggle that was covering a music festival.

But, as coaches and parents always said, there’s something to be said for perseverance. The hard work paid off as I pushed through the burn and kept on smiling as I finished what I started.

I hope you realize the last sentence was intended to be cliché.

I bounced around from stage-to-stage, and I swear I saw my RA. The only real spectacularness came in the form of a wickedly awesome lead singer of a folky rock band previously unknown to me who was a one-woman wrecking crew; covering the length of the stage, unleashing bursts of cannon-like fury ending in a rock star-esque kneeling, guitar-screeching power riffs.

That, and the egocentric, futuristically pessimistic singer from Neon Trees put on a rocking show as well.

But, as an email heading dampened the beginning of my day, another brightened its ending. As I walked through the Sawyer Point gate for the last time and crossed onto the footbridge to Newport, Ky., I scrolled through a message from the Obama campaign, which laid out where and when media should arrive for the president’s town hall downtown the following day.

And if that didn’t do it for me, the pasta dish* I crafted that night sure did.

Monday: Obama declared war on Samoa(s)

When I left the station at 10:30 a.m., I was under the impression Obama would take the floor within a couple hours, and Secret Service would have the check-in process down to a smoothly oiled machine.

I was wrong on both accounts, per what has begun to seem like the usual.

After paying to park (one thing I take for granted either walking to events on campus or receiving parking credentials for out-of-town games) we bounced from one faux check-in point to another until someone looking more official than “Obama Volunteer So-and-So” finally told us to sit still.

“We” and “us” refer to a body of largely experienced reporters and photographers that were jaded, more or less, about the rally, because they had covered so many in the past already. Something in the back of my mind makes me think they like to have a couple interns around for events like that, because we always treat it like the next big thing. It is, for us.

The town hall itself was less than spectacular. The president answered questions from a hilariously diverse — in terms of age, gender and skin color — crop of supporters, and walked through his plans for the county, backed by a chorus of “yes sir” and “amen” mumbles at the conclusion of his every sentence.

I’ve heard time and time again how good of a speaker Obama is, but I didn’t gain an appreciation for his eloquence until I heard him talk in person. Granted, he only put a Cincinnati spin on the same information he had parleyed many times before, but he did it without breaking stride or eye contact, and didn’t pause awkwardly even once.

As I said at the time, it was surreal to be in the same room with the most important person in the country. Regardless of what you believe, politically or otherwise, that’s pretty damn cool.

It was one of those days where you can eat lunch at 7:45 p.m. and be ok with it — A day where you look back and smile because you did something that day most will never get to do.

Now: Treading water

It’s Wednesday night, and since returning from Bunbury, I haven’t done a single thing except type on a computer and work on things I can type on my computer, save showering, eating and dressing myself.

It’s exhausting, at times.

I chat with my friends who are safely tucked in their homes for the summer, working their high school jobs and reuniting with their high school friends. And sometimes I’m jealous, because I know my high school job and high school friends and family and house and old life is waiting for me if I ever decide to come home for more than a couple days.

Sometimes I feel like I’m running in circles until I go back to school and drive myself utterly insane for 15 weeks.

I know I write a lot about what I learn. But it’s stretches like these, where I feel like it’s time to give in, go home and slink my way on to mediocrity, only to have one day that turns it around and makes the struggle worthwhile — one moment where sit back and smile because I know tomorrow’s going to come at me even harder, but I’m up to the task.

I’ve come to the realization every day won’t leave me feeling that way, no matter what roads I choose. This is a blessing in disguise, because if I’m hitting .300, my life’s pretty freaking awesome regardless.

This job will break me down and build me up; make me feel small and, at times, give me the platform to scream from the journalistic equivalent of a mountaintop. This weekend was a beautiful blend of the three.

So even when it feels like I’m treading water, what I’m really doing is making sure I won’t stay at sea level too long.

Covering both the vice president and president in a span of five months? I can dig it.

*The pasta I made Sunday night consisted of reheated ziti with reheated brats and canned pasta sauce. However, I had the wherewithal to put them all together. Brilliance, I say.

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My name is Jim Ryan, and I'm a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian and OregonLive in Portland. I'm an Ohio University graduate from Gaylord, Michigan.

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