Band of Joy – The St. Petersburg, Russia Experience Part 2
Now, Back in the US of A
But, where was I before I was so rudely interrupted by transatlantic travel, a handful more shows that need to be covered, and that catch up shuffle that awaits anyone after 5 weeks away? Oh yes, Band of Joy in St. Petersburg. The show, or, “Annaliese vs the bureaucracy without so much as being able to speak more than 5 words of the Russian Language.”
In another setting, my actual experience at the St. Petersburg Ice Palance would have been either a serious disappointment (only photographically mind you), or a tale or the triumph of the work it. However, not only do I not speak Russian, um, people, they have a different alphabet. I can’t even read and translate by phrase book. With that in mind, coupled with the out of city center location and sure to be later hour, I had a guide deliver me and a driver scheduled to pick me up afterward.
After my cuppa with the really wonderful Buddy Miller, I went back to my hotel (the rooms were air conditioned, but the rest of the hotel was not!). I put on my official photographer duds, collected and checked the finer points of my cameras and other bits of gear, and met Gallina in the lobby. She had been my guide the last couple of days, but heading out of city center with her on my own, I was able to learn more about her. Charmingly, it turned out she was a very serious amateur singer in her somewhat younger days, so this was kind of a fun assignment for her. I wish I’d had more time and opportunity to learn more about the folks who helped me out around the city. The people are the lifeblood of any place, and, even as a photographer, it is all about the story for me.
We arrived at the Ice Arena. Igor parked and Gallina informed me he would not move from that spot until he collected me later in the evening. She was ever-so-careful to make sure I knew where he was, which way we were facing, etc. All the service providers I dealt with there were very serious about their work and responsibilities. I suggest to anyone traveling there without connections and/or language skills, that it is worth it to engage guides from a reputable agency for at least some of your time there. We soon ran into another colleague of hers. He was a some time guide and sometime music promoter. He was waiting for a friend of his to arrive. Upon hearing that I was there as a guest of the band he puffed up like a pigeon and started telling me about all his music related exploits. “I showed Pink Floyd around St. Petersburg for 3 days!” “We have a music museum! You should see it!” And, of course, “Will I see you after the how?” “Can you get us something for the music museum.” Uh-huh. It’s the same all over.
Our first official stop was the box office. It seemed remarkably small, low key, and disorganized for the box office for this shining new venue. I gave Gallina my ID, and she spoke with the box office agent. An envelope was found and handed to me. I emptied and shared the contents with Gallina: “OK, this is… my ticket?” It was a simple, flimsy piece of paper with print and stamp on it. “Yes, ticket.” “And, here is my After Show Pass.” Then there was the 2 page photo agreement. Ah. Not unsurprising, considering the profile of the band, but, for a photographer, always disappointing. Ah, well. Rather than being a “get the shot at any cost” kind of photographer, I am much more a “play by the rules and remain welcome for the long haul” in my approach. So, I read it and filled it out. But, where was my PHOTO PASS? Maybe I had to turn in the agreement before getting it? Yes, that must be it. OK, no, not exactly. I had Gallina return to the agent with my completed paperwork, but the agent did not want it. “This is for you.” Gallina totally accepted the agent’s understanding of what this (all English document) was. I tried again. Nope. Not working. Um, OK: “What about my photo pass? There is just this After Show pass.” “No, that will let you take photos, too.” Aiyiyiyi. There was not going to be anything more forth coming from any corner at this point. Fine. I will hold onto the contract – excellent for waving around and gesturing with when my pass did not do the trick for my camera.
Gallina was all set to head home. On our way out, she noticed a small poster for one of the coming attractions in November. Engelbert Humperdinck. Her eyes went misty. Her hand reached out to touch the glass over the flyer. “Oh, I love him.” She turned to me, “Do you know, some people say he has the most beautiful voice in the world?” She may have sighed audibly. When I told this tale to my mother the next day, she asked if there was any way to get a ticket for Gallina. I searched on line, but the date was not yet posted. I am still hoping we can work this tip out. When she had noted the ticket price for this night’s show listed in the box office, she’d had a sharp intake of breath: “The tickets are very expensive. Do you know? They are about a hundred dollars.” I told her that there was no way I could have been at the show without being a photographer and that this was part of why I photographed all the things I love as much as I can.
We met her colleague (was he another Igor? I can’t recall, but I’m going with that) outside. He puffed up again and offered to see me into the venue. Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK. Gallina looked pleased to place her charge into such self impressed hands, and I figured I was safe with him as far as the door. I said my final good bye to Gallina, as this was the last time I would get to see her. “May I kiss?” A kiss on each cheek. Good bye sweet lady. I hope she does well. And that we figure out how to get her to see her beloved Engelbert in November. I hurried into the venue nodding and smiling at Igor 2. “Yes, yes, happy to meet you. Maybe I’ll see you after. Thank you. Good luck.” SMILE.
And, then the fun really began. I had my pass on my shoulder. My small camera bag around my waist (btw, photogs, I suggest the very large waist pack style camera bags – soooo useful – my Lowepro one holds some fairly heavy duty gear and is often all I will take with me besides the camera strapped to my) and my big old camera strapped on its harness (harness also absolutely required in Annaliese land). First up – ticket taker. She scowled at my camera and said, I imagined, that I could not have it. I pointed to my pass, marked after show but promised to magically allow my camera in. Breathing, and reminding myself that my driver was waiting should everything be mercilessly wrecked), I wondered if this could work. Her expression cleared. She waved me in. Hurdle one cleared.
Next up – security. I stepped up to the first available security staff, he spoke and waved me towards the closest female staff member while simultaneously noticing my camera and deciding it was not allowed. He gestured to it shaking his head. I smiled at her, and pointed at my badge. She nodded me in. Her colleague was skeptical, she nodded me in again, and I was into the venue. Phew!
I people watched and cautiously snapped some pictures of the crowd. I had no idea what was considered within the bounds of acceptable for a photographer. No one in the corridors seemed bothered by my presence. I was early, but I went and found the section my ticket showed. I wanted to have a look at what access that offered, if there would be any opportunity for moving around, etc. Every door had an usher and another security staff, all turned out neatly in suits. I went to the door, ticket in hand and was shoed down to the next one. Oops, mixing up section and seat numbers. I showed the next usher my ticket. She said something and shook her head. Hmmmm. Oh, we were not yet allowed into the arena itself. I got the idea that this would happen at exactly the stroke of 7:30, not a second before, nor one after.
So, I circumnavigated the exterior corridor once more and stepped up to my entrance as they opened the interior door. The usher approved my ticket, but my security staffer had questions. I pointed to pass. He was not impressed. He had enough English to say, “No Photography.” I reached into my bag and pulled out the paperwork. “English, “ I said smiling and shrugging in a bid for a universal what-can-you-do feeling. I pointed to two large words in bold: Photo Shoot. He softened. I was allowed to go to my seat. I pointed to the rail at the end of my aisle, to my camera, and back again. He said yes. Things were looking up.
I settled in by the rail. However, soon a more senior security staffer approached me, older, and wearing a better and more unique suit. Was he telling me I was not allowed at the rail? Or to shoot at all. I puzzled out that it was just the rail from which I was being removed. I really did not want to shoot from within a seating block. That would be no fun for anyone around me. I really do prefer being incredibly inconspicuous, at least for the bulk of my time photographing. I looked for where other press must be. They had to be here. But, I could not see anyone. Not on the various platforms built into the arena, nor by the front of house platform. Argh.
Pointing and his bits of English got me out of the seating block and assigned to a platform at the top of the section. It was far away, but it was big and empty and allowed for some moving around. I had not brought my longest lens with me. It is not great for concert photography, and I have never ever used it for that. This was an exceptional situation, and I was going to miss it. I went up and sat and tried to think it out. I looked for other press. Still no one. It occurred to me that if I tried to work it, that failure was almost certain, and that getting thrown out was not unlikely. This was not like being at home AT ALL. In fact, I wondered at how one might wind up in jail inadvertently. These things really are a whole lot more likely in much of the world, and my being accustomed to not really having to worry over much about any serious trouble should not blind me to that. I had no idea where the line was here. But, I did think getting thrown out would be pretty easy, and if it came down I would have no chance of talking my way out of it. I decided that getting to stay was way more important than a better spot. Besides, the platform was a large slab of concrete and it was cool and lovely to lie on. I had a rail on which to rest my camera, and no one was going to tell me when I could or could not shoot, and it seemed we were past the big question of could I have my camera at all.
Eventually I saw where there were some more press photographers. They were indeed on a platform behind front-of-house now. Eh, they were center, but they were not any closer than me. And, I knew that they would be escorted out after three songs. I was content with my cool concrete slab and peaceable space. I watched the space filling up. The entire arena floor was standing room. It gradually filled, eventually being full more than half way back. I loved my slab even more imagining being in the sea of humanity in this hot Russian night.
The crowd was low key. They were not overly demonstrative, but they had many shout out for openers the Brothers Dickinson. I could sense that this crowd was ready for serious guitar when the cheers rang out around some of their best licks.
I am, of course, familiar with the reputation of Robert Plant’s magnetic performances, but I had never seen him before. I was so thrilled to be in this unimaginable situation. Photographing Band of Joy in St. Petersburg, Russia? How lucky was I? Of course the show was great. As everyone here will know, the band is tight as a drum, and all got a chance to step into the spotlight and show off their particular chops. And, Mr. Plant did not disappoint his Russian fans, nor myself. Defining the concept of charismatic and theatrical front man, he was also happy to step back and sing harmony, play harp/harmonic (rather fantastically, I have to say), and strum an acoustic guitar when his bandmates to center stage. And, when he says he was happy to be there and proud to be making this music, I believe it. The set list, as shown at setlist.fm, appears to have been the bedrock for this tour:
1. Black Dog (Led Zeppelin song)
2. Down to the Sea
3. Angel Dance (Los Lobos cover)
4. Houses of the Holy (Led Zeppelin song)
5. House of Cards (Richard & Linda Thompson cover)
6. Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go (Buddy Miller cover)
7. Monkey (Low cover)
8. A Satisfied Mind (Porter Wagoner cover)
9. Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (Uncle Tupelo cover)
10. Getting Ready (Patty Griffin cover) (Sung by Patty Griffin)
11. Thank You (Led Zeppelin song)
12. Black Country Woman
13. In the Mood
14. Please Read the Letter (Jimmy Page & Robert Plant cover)
15. Misty Mountain Hop (Led Zeppelin song)
16. Ramble On (Led Zeppelin song)
17. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp (Led Zeppelin song)
18. Gallows Pole (Led Zeppelin song)
I slipped backstage during the encores to avoid getting stuck in the mass exodus. I chatted with the bands very amiable tour manager (that’s gotta be some job, huh?). After hours of not being able to communicate with anyone adequately, when he raised his eyebrow at me, I pointed to my pass, yet again. “A backstage pass?” I nodded. “With a camera?” Uh-oh. But, at that point I could tell he was a native English speaker. “I’m with Buddy.” Relief and a smile spread across his face. “oh good… Have you met Robert Yet?” No, I had not. Worry crossed his face. “Well… make sure… it will be fine once you… have Buddy introduce you.” I knew the deal. “Yes, I’m good. I know. He’ll hate me on sight until then. I’d zip it up in my bag if it fit in there.” “Oh, it will be fine, it’s just anyone he does not go with a camera…” I get it. I am sure it exhausting. As I mentioned, I’d really rather be welcome than thrown out with maybe one special shot. I slid the harnessed and shot off behemoth behind my back a bit. “Just have Buddy introduce you.” Yes, I’ll make sure to do so. As it turned out, I did not have enough time to hang out and wait for everyone to come out. I got to say thanks and good night to Buddy, but I was already making my driver wait well past his contracted time. “I want to see you guys somewhere in NOT an ice arena.”
Hey, it looks like I may get my chance. Just announced – Band of Joy headlines (if anyone really headlines) at Hardy Strictly this year. I was thinking of missing it for a friend’s wedding. I think it will be more of a red eye to DC and U-turn kind of thing now.
This life. I tell you. You never know. Plant the seeds. Keep your eyes open. Embrace what you love. It will grow in ways you cannot imagine. So, while I did not get the jaw dropping pictures I am always hoping to pull off, it was an amazing night. I photographed Robert Plant and Band of Joy in St. Petersburg, Russia. And, they played House of Cards, their cover of my favorite, Richard Thompson. He’ll be the subject of my next post. Then the Sadies tearing it up, here at home in the Bay Area. Have a fine week, people.