Look Music Aficionado, I took a similar image to the one you used from Getty Images.
This article about 19 classic rock bands discusses the number of original members on tour with them today. In many cases these old bands only have 1 or 2 original members but still tour under the name that brought them fame and success in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s very factual, but doesn’t answer the question of “does it matter?”. For these bands, and for me, the answer is not really.
Chris Thile and Bela Fleck played a prime-time slot at this year’s Grey Fox Bluegrass festival. There is little debate that they are currently the most proficient musicians on their instrument; mandolin and banjo respectively. If they were replaced with the banjo player from Mumford and Sons, and the mandolin player from R.E.M., it would not go unnoticed. They are players that are not easily replaceable. They achieved their fame not because of their image, but because of their mind-blowing ability to play their instruments in a way that redefined a genre of music. I, for one, would be disappointed if there were substitutions.
The same could be said for a local, independent band. There’s a certain charm to seeing a local band in a small venue and crafting their backstory. They are a group of people who met at a local music school and for the love of music got together and started a 5-piece Americana band. They struggle with rent and bills, but that’s not important. They could technically be replaced by studio musicians; the same studio musicians that played on the latest P!ink album. They don’t have the same fictional backstory that I can easily apply to the group of young, struggling musicians. I, for one, would be disappointed if these were the substitutions.
But Classic Rock is different. The band names are household names that outrank any individual contributor. Would I care if the bass player from Kansas was replaced with a teenager who borrowed a bass from his cousin and looked up the Kansas tabs on ultimate-guitar.com? Probably not. Would I notice if the original drummer for Deep Purple was replaced by a robotic manikin and a drum machine. Possible not. But the key is, I don’t think I’d really care.
A good photo of a fiddler should convey some sort of emotion, but what does that mean exactly, besides sounding kind of obnoxious. I’m not saying that a fiddler is lazy, but they tend to have the most downtime. They may be vamping, which for non-musicians just means they’re pretending to play so they don’t have to leave the stage and sit with the road or kitchen staff. Or they may be smiling and looking at the ground; holding the fiddle by their chin just in case they want to jump in and contribute. They also may be playing which is the ideal time to take their photo. That’s lesson #1. The fiddler should be, or pretending to be, playing and/or otherwise engaged.
An active fiddler makes a lower-case “r” shape. The fiddle is the shoulder and the tuning pegs/scroll is the terminal. For those that have forgotten the anatomy of a lower-case “r”, here’s a refresher. Since the stem (human body) is much longer than the shoulder (fiddle), and the fiddler tends to stand-up, the simplest photo is taken vertically. This captures the entire subject, and since the subject takes up the majority of the frame, the focus is forgiving. But these full-body photos tend to be boring, and have a snap-shot feel to them. For example:
July 2015. Brittany Hass with Tony Trischka and Territory at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.
It’s a fine image, but it looks like a photo that her aunt could have taken with her iPhone if she snuck up close enough (“hey, I’m her aunt”). So to get a more interesting photo, and ideally the preferred horizontal frame, one must get closer, chopping off the unnecessary legs of the fiddler.
July 2016. Kimber Ludiker with Della Mae at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.
July 2015. Kids at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Oak Hill, NY.
July 2015. Sara Milonovich with Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.
July 2016. Kate Lee with The Mark O’Connor Band at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.
July 2016. Maya de Vitry with the Stray Birds at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY.
While those photos don’t look like they were taken with an iPhone, they are also not entirely interesting. I want to get closer, and have a photo with true depth. A fiddle, a face and 2 hands are what’s important here as all other body parts are non-vital to the fiddle playing, and therefore non-vital to my opinion of fiddler photography.
When I find myself with a camera at summer parades, festival and walk-abouts, there’s typically a hula-hooper that finds their way to the receiving end of my camera lens. But what makes for a good hula-hooper photo? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I don’t have the answer, but that won’t stop me from making something up. All photos are my own and taken between 2010 and 2016.
If pressed to answer this question I’d come up with a few quick rules, or at least things I instinctively think about when shooting the subject.
The face should the the focal point, and any movement/blur should be with the hoop itself, or the body.
The entirety of the the hoop should be in frame.
The photo should be landscape/horizontal when possible.
The eyes should either be showing, in sunglasses, or clearly looking a certain direction, but the subject shouldn’t be looking at the camera. Basically no mid-blinking shots .
In reality I would never follow those rules, especially since the window of opportunity may be relatively small to take the shot.
To start, here are some shots the follow the 4 rules:
I created the draft for this entry before the 2014 edition was published. At one point it seemed like a daunting task to catch up and something I’d never pick back up. But alas I keep going. The dangers of stopping this project are too great, if not unclear and un-present.
Why you still doing this daddy?
But this one’s different, and I’ve detailed why in previous posts. Because of Apple Music, no one is counting my plays, so I need to pick the albums based on importance to me. They weren’t necessarily the best albums of the year, that’s a pompous statement to make. But, they’re the albums I’m choosing to talk about now, and play a song on the piano from. The order is meaningless, and numbered for convenience only.
1) Stricking Matches “Nothing But the Silence”
The parallels to The Civil Wars are almost too obvious to note. The main difference is that they probably hate each other less. The title track “Nothing but the Silence” repeats the line “There’s nothing but the silence in between that hasn’t already been broken”. It’s reminiscent of The Civil Wars song Poison & Wine. Both sound like they were written by a teenage girl in her room on her iphone. While she won’t admit it, and doesn’t fully realize it, she’s full of angst in part because her dad’s working late in order to afford the iPhone she’s angst-ing on.
2) Della Mae “Della Mae”
Seeing Della Mae at the Sinclair in June made me appreciate this album as it puts new visuals on the music I was already becoming familiar with. Kimber Ludiker jolts from out of nowhere to rip into a fiddle solo, followed by an awkward, sideways smirk. Celia Woodsmith storms up to the microphone, channeling a Steven Tyler size grin. Jenni Lyn Gardner approaches the microphone with a southern-bell two-step. Courtney Hartman just sticks around the microphone, conveniently.
The album starts with the redundantly-titled “Boston Town”, which is their best attempt at a radio hit if there were any radio stations that would play Della Mae. It’s an easily digestible and fun song and makes a perfect introduction to the more complex and interesting songs coined by Courtney.
3) Barnstar! “Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!”
My banjo career is full of peaks and valleys. At the time of this writing it’s sitting pretty in the Red River Valley, with two small kids to blame. But I feel like I listen to banjo playing with the ear of a banjo player, whether deserved or not. Charlie Rose is the banjo player for the people. While I would never compare myself to him as a player, I understand what he’s doing. If forced to sit in a room with this recording I could eventually pick out his playing. I like my prog metal to melt my mind, but I want my bluegrass music approachable. It’s the reason Noam Pikelny and the Punch Brothers loses me at times. I have no clue what he’s doing and never will.
Jake and Mark used to put out consistent solo material. Mark hasn’t had a solo release in a few years, while Jake seems to be rebelling against his pop-singer/songwriter past. It’s nice to get both of them back together every few years for Barnstar!
4) Robert Earl Keen “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions”
I had the same thoughts regarding this one as I did the Barnstar! album… banjo that I can actually understand. Rob’s not trying to make these Bluegrass staples his own in an intentional sort of way. His laid-back, southern draw does the work for him.
5) Nora Jane Strutters & the Party Line “Wake”
Do I love this album as much as meat loves salt? Probably not, but it’s hard not to like anything the Nora Jones puts out.
6) Brandi Carlile “The Firewatcher’s Daughter”
I expect artists to change with the times, especially those that have been around for a decade. But for singer-songwriters that emerged a decade ago there’s a risk that the times will them. Brandi’s song that attempts to keep up with the times is “Blood Muscle Skin & Bones“, and the low point of the album. It falls into the modern trend of cranking the reverb up to 11 and layering non-harmonizing vocals. In general her music is timeliness, but this song will date this albums in 10 years.
7) Garfunkel & Oates “Secretions”
These gals are tacky at the surface, but after continued listens, there is some depth to it. It’s often predictable and overly-scripted humor, but it’s strong points out-weigh the weak. I especially liked Go Sports Go for bluntly describing my current apathy towards professional sports.
8) Neal Morse “The Grand Experiment”
Neal can’t do prog wrong in my book. The grand experiment, in this case, was the fact that the “album was composed and recorded over a short period of time, with no preparation work before entering the studio.” But in the end it still sounds like Neal Morse, which is always a good thing. I don’t know why he decided to consider the last few tracks “bonus tracks”. To me they are simply a continuation of a great album.
9) Steven Wilson “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”
Steven Wilson is the face of modern prog today. He’s a household name in those households where prog is worshiped. If the face of modern prog was a democracy my vote goes to Neal Morse, but I’m happy with the current regime.
10) Ghost “Meliora”
The best thing about this Ghost album was it could be listened to at loud volumes without sounding hot. The sound quality was much improved over “Infestissumam”, and the song-writing was on par. It’s nice that the Grammy awards are recognizing a rock artist that isn’t Dave Grohl, but it seems a bit meaningless without acknowledging any other rock/metal artists on this list.