Editor’s Note: This year, we asked our bloggers to name their Top 10 shows of 2019 or choose their Top 10 photos of the year. We will run them over the course of mid-December as our Best of the Year posts.
Thinking ahead often begins by looking back. It’s a humbling exercise to reflect on the ups and downs from a year reaching its end. The decisions we made, the consequences, and how we can do things better next time.
Concert photography is the perfect analogy for that process. The tricky lighting, tight quarters, and time constraints to get the perfect shot (typically the first three songs of a performance) makes it the most challenging types of photography. Yet, if you learn from your mistakes, it can be the most rewarding. Thus is life.
The following collection of 2019 concert reviews are a mix of the special moments that contributed to my growth as a photographer and writer. I still have a ton to learn, but as I look back I can’t help but be stoked for the year ahead.
Some may assume that the concerts I cover are a reflection of my musical tastes. They would be right on most days, but the Santana concert was mostly for my Dad. Growing up, I don’t remember him being a music guy. He preferred the radio “off” when he was behind the wheel. Yet, I recall with great fondness his love of the Miami Vice soundtrack and Santana. He’s still not a music guy but did reply, “that’s my man,” when I recently told him about covering the Santana show. I know Dad.
Covering concerts is fun, for sure. Yet, it’s not as glamorous as my friends may think. We wait a lot. Typically, we’re among the first wave of people to enter a venue. That’s to account for any potential issues with our press credentials and to stake out prime real estate if there’s no photo pit.
This particular night I found myself seated in a reception area with a couple of newbie RT (Russia Today) reporters and an older gentleman with strong opinions about trap music. I mention this in my concert review, but I didn’t write about the regret I felt for not having a stronger counterargument to his blanket statement that all rappers degrade women. My bad, Bad Bunny. I’ll get ‘em next time!
There’s no feeling like covering a sold-out show. The fervor builds as fans eagerly await the headliner. Adrenaline particles drift in and out of air ducts infecting everyone. Performers are the most susceptible — the viral energy courses through their veins like glucose. The result is a dynamic performance that leaves the audience in a state of near combustion. That was certainly the case during the Burna Boy show.
Side note: I had an opportunity to spit some bars during the show. Burna Boy dropped his microphone mid-performance. It landed at my feet as I was snapping pictures. I cooly picked it up, cleared my throat, and handed it back to the “African Giant.”
Not many artists can get me out on treacherous roads after a snowstorm. Anderson .Paak is one. Good news, I didn’t die! Would I do it again? Hell, yes! Will I have another opportunity? Perhaps. The Free Nationals, known primarily as Anderson .Paak’s backing band recently released their highly anticipated solo album. It may be Déjà vu all over again if they go on tour this winter!
Stream the self-titled album by the Free Nationals on Spotify:
My Caribbean and Latin American upbringing have left indelible imprints on my DNA. Ska, Roots Reggae, and Dancehall all reach a part of me reserved for home. Arroz con pollo for the soul. You can imagine the excitement when I saw the powerhouse line-up of Spragga Benz, Sizzla Kalonji, and Damian Marley. The three represent decades of the best in dancehall reggae.
Concerts are opportunities to connect with our favorite musician on levels that extend beyond music. One of my favorite moments from the Ibeyi show is captured in the above picture. Towards the end of their brilliant performance, the sisters noticed a mom holding her baby near the front row. Naomi Díaz reached into the crowd and pulled the child into her arms. This tender moment further endeared the duo to the audience and likely converted the mom into a lifelong fan.
I love being the person who recommends an artist, and months later, the musician blows up. It didn’t go that way with Tobe Nwigwe. My fiancée, Tiffany, put me onto the ascending Houston rapper.
In June, three months after the Silver Spring show, Tobe created a buzz at the 12th-annual Roots Picnic in Philly. It was there that he was brought onstage to freestyle with Black Thought, Yasiin Bey, and Pharoah Monch. Many people read into Yasiin Bey handing Tobe his vintage mic. Was it a coronation? Hip hop royalty handing the mantle to the next generation lyricist? You be the judge. Give Tobe Nwigwe’s music a listen. You can thank Tiffany.
A$AP Rocky has had a roller coaster year. It kicked off with the Injured Generation Tour (which was a blast to cover), but by July, he was in a Swedish jail cell facing up two years after a street brawl. The arrest sparked torrents of social media posts pleading for Pretty Flackos release. Video footage of the altercation appeared to show that the rapper, his entourage, and bodyguards were being harassed by a pair who eventually took a step too far.
Five weeks after his arrest, the Harlem emcee was found guilty, but instead of additional jail time, he was slapped with fines and allowed to return to the U.S. Earlier this month A$AP Rocky went back to Sweden for the first time since his arrest. He performed on an elaborate stage made to look like a massive prison cell. Touché Rocky, touché.
I first heard of bounce music and Big Freedia during a conversation at Creative Mornings, which is a monthly lecture series designed for the creative community. The person spoke with such passion about the “Queen of Bounce” that I had to see for myself.
Leading up to the show, my fiancée and I started binge-watching “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” on Amazon Prime. We were hooked. It took us no time to finish all six seasons of the series. We have since added Big Freedia’s catchphrase “you already knoooow” to our catalog of inside jokes/quips.
I’ve recently become obsessed with the blues. It only took one step for me to fall into the rabbit hole of soulful storytelling that characterizes the genre. The more I learned about the music, the more I realized its importance. There would be no Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, or Black Keys if it weren’t for artists like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy.
Before I sign off for the year I’d like to thank Parklife (shout out Mickey) for providing an incredible platform for music journalism and photography. I’m going on my second year as a correspondent/photographer, and it has been a hell of a ride.
Also, big thanks to you, the reader. Please add a comment if there’s a show that you’d like me to cover in 2020. I got you! 😉
Cheers, and happy new year!