View from the Pit: Twang Thang

Reflex Photography

To say that I am not a fan of country music is an understatement; I have spent most of my life avoiding "twang". I grew up listening to The Who and found my own music when Green Day was kicking the punk scene to the curb. Country and I don't mix, coexist or communicate. We are your dysfunctional parents that haven't been seen in the same room for decades. With this understanding I went and saw Lee Brice at the Madison Theater, a southern rock/contemporary country music up and comer. 

Full disclosure: As a concert photographer I have about 90% say in the shows I shoot. I could have full control but I'll pick up a show for a friend and from time to time I'll pick a band I've never heard of to hear something different or cover a local show to hear what's being created and to find something new. Being a concert photographer is a struggle, the time it takes getting to shows, going into a concert not being guaranteed of what you'll get, not getting paid... It’s a challenge but that comes with the territory and is rewarding in itself (not that I'll ever turndown a paycheck for any of this).

With that I entered a world of flannel, denim and cowboy hats made from cheap beer boxes (shit you not, if I could’ve gotten my camera out I would have gotten a shot of one [if you noticed that right there that would imply there was more than one]). Now my understanding of country is thin, I know it focuses mostly on lyrics based on experience and simple living whereas rock is based around emotion and telling a story (ala Tommy) among many other things.

Because of how late we put the request in I had to find the band's manager directly to get my press pass for the night and I’ve got to say, everybody involved with the show was awesome and willing to help without issue, class acts all around.

To usher me into my first country experience was the Taylor Shannon Band. Even with the country style and occasional moments of "twang" they were pretty damn good and to be honest their balanced rock/folk sound was pretty drawing and easy to follow. Individual talents at each station were also rather impressive. Clean vocals, strong lead and rhythm guitars never seemed to be competing and with an underlining bass performance I was wondering if they were really a country act. With a reserved stage presence they didn't have the same attitude or energy that rock offers but that energy was replaced with more purpose, songs that told a story and engagement with the crowd. The lighting was very effective, focused house lighting isolated the band members and focused your attention to where it needed to be. The band was worth watching and enjoyable to listen to, that can't be said of many opening bands and not all rock acts. 

So my night hadn't started the way I thought, from having to work my way into the door and digging up the manager to actually get a press pass, I honestly did not see myself actually enjoying the music or the show. Life is full of these little moments where you just need to let the night take you where it wants to take you.

Once Brice and company took the stage I was pretty much ready for anything. What I was greeted with was pleasantly surprising. Energy, attitude and a friendly smile, I knew I wasn't where I usually find myself. That isn't to say most of rock acts are angry or hateful to the crowd or their fans, far from it (well sometimes). Honestly though, when was the last time you went to a rock concert and didn't feel your testosterone levels tick up a bit? Country on the other is more about telling their story, blues crossed with folk and a touch of rock and some southern comfort twang thrown in for good measure. Lee Brice is no exception, just with his own flare and one hell of a band. Brice shows the experience of grinding on the road; he identifies himself with his audience and owns the stage. I say that a lot but there's a reason, the bands I write about are worth writing about and that’s because the guy up front doesn't hide. I saw two shows this weekend and I'm only writing one article. One thing that helped Brice stand out, a twin set of manned spot lights which worked well with the balanced stage lighting guiding your attention and holding it. The guy knows his craft and knows it well, he doesn't try to control everyone on stage, and instead he lets the band be the band, its own beast. At one point in the night the band was unleashed, typically left for the closing segment or part of the intro the band members went into individual performances and damn, true professionals of this quality are a sight to see. Over all I was impressed and entertained by the show Lee Brice put on, from the typical country rock/backyard beer songs to the ballads full of twang he's a damn impressive performer.

One thing that really stood out after my shooting time was up was when Brice not only talked about one of his song writers, John Stone but brought their band out, American Young to play a song. What the hell? I've heard of guys thanking bands and writers, give them a second of recognition and then move right on along. No, not this guy, he brought John Stone and Kristy Osmunson on stage to sing their song, that's a pretty stand-up guy.

The night went on and I stood in the crowd just outside the pit and watched. I don't do that often, music photography is a pretty much a hit and run gig, get in; get your 3 songs; go home and edit. There are always exceptions yes but for the most part it’s uncommon that you stick around to watch a full show, tonight I stayed. Mostly because I went to the show with some friends but still I didn't protest. After all that am I a country music fan? No, not a chance. Sorry but if you were expecting me to have some revelation and say country music and clean living is the next great thing it ain't going to happen. I do have to say though I didn't hate my experience and I can see the appeal in this whole country twang thang. 

Check out the photos from the show HERE!