Interview with Concert Photographer C. Michael Stewart
When WFPK is in need of some good photos from one of our concerts, we often turn to concert photographer C. Michael Stewart. He grew up in Sellersburg, Indiana then moved to Louisville and now resides in New Albany, IN. He says "I am co - owner of Voluforms, a local Print and Marketing Company. I am married to my great partner Susie and have 3 grown sons. I am a professional photographer and feel very fortunate to be able to combine my love for music, nature, sports and family to create special moments in my life. I am house photographer for 3 local venues and represent several music magazines, web sites and a local newspaper. I cover as many festivals as I can fit into my schedule each year but just keeping up with the local music scene provides me with ample opportunities to capture great musicians and bands." Radio host Laura Shine caught up with Michael recently to find out more about why he does what he does and what his job is like.
1. When did you start photographing concerts and what got you hooked?
CMS: I started seriously taking music photos in 2004 and I was instantly hooked. Concerts are in my opinion the most difficult type of photography. You normally get the first three songs with no flash. You have to deal with lighting changes, moving targets, and in many cases the audience. Its never the same but I love the challenge! As a music lover, it doesn't hurt that you are closer than the best seats in the venue for the first 3 songs! It's a thrill to capture and share the memories of a show especially if it's one of your favorite artists.
An added bonus is the people you meet. Not only some of the artists but the people who make these shows happen, promoters, venue employees, my media outlets, fellow photographers, and the venue security staff. These people make it possible for me to get access and do the job. I have made wonderful friends all over the country who I cherish, but would have never met if not for my music photography.
2. Roughly, how many concerts do you think you've been to in your lifetime? What are your top 5 shows you've seen?
CMS: My first concert was 3 Dog Night in 1972. My parents were very supportive and dropped my best friend and me off to shows for almost a year. We made about 90% of Louisville shows through the early 80’s! I think Louisville Gardens is my all time favorite venue. I saw so many great shows there. Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton and Humble Pie to name a few. I am going to guess I have seen 2000 to 2500 concerts. The past 4 years, with my house photo jobs, I do 100-150 per year. I have nine full scrapbooks of tickets, photos and memorabilia from the shows.
It's impossible to narrow my all time favorite shows to single digits but here are some that are in that group:
Eric Clapton's Crossroads 2010 (for sure one of my photo highlights)
The Allmän Brothers 40 yr Anniversary run at The Beacon Theater NY, NY. I saw all 3 nights.
Queen/ Thin Lizzy Louisville Gardens 1/27/77
The Rolling Stones 1975 (Bloomington & Louisville) Tickets $8.50
Michael Jackson Bad Tour Freedom Hall 1988
Led Zeppelin 4/25/1977 Freedom Hall ($8.50)
Pink Floyd Animals Tour, 6/17/1977 Freedom Hall Tickets $8.50
Prince, Louisville Gardens 5/18/1997 and The Louisville Palace 2015
Bruce Springsteen 8/5/1978 Louisville Gardens
Rush/Kiss 4/21/1975 Memorial Auditorium, Louisville, Ky
My Morning Jacket Bonnaroo 2007-This show raised the bar for Bonnaroo performers and put MMJ on everyone's radar!
Paul McCartney at Bonnaroo with my 3 sons on Fathers Day weekend.
I am leaving out so many other great ones.
My greatest regrets are never seeing David Bowie or George Harrison.
3. What's the craziest thing you've ever done to get "the shot"?
CMS: I hangout in the rafter box at Headliners quite often. It's a scary climb to get there but the shots are worth it! I have been on the roof of Slugger Field which is the steepest climb I have made! And I once leaned out of a small plane in Alaska to photograph Grizzly Bears with the lens and part of me out the window while flying over streams full of salmon and bears. The rules are so strict at most shows anymore, I don't push it out of respect to the venues.
4. What's are some of the craziest things you've witnessed at concerts?
CMS: I am sure I am forgetting some but these come to mind:
Sept 30, 1974 at Louisville Gardens - An on-stage fight between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult that cut the sound off on Freebird .
June 16, 2007 Bonnaroo - Lewis Black appeared on stage with Gov’t Mule and was quickly hit in the head by a water bottle tossed from the audience. His explosive tirade was a classic.
July 17, 2015 Forecastle Festival - A popup windstorm that blasted Sam Smith’s performance and forced the evacuation of Forecastle. It was a very frightening experience.
I was in Naples Florida returning from the beach with my wife and 3 sleeping children when I passed The Oasis, a small bar with a billboard stating 'Tonight Leon Russell and The Tumbling Dice Band (Mick Taylor and Bobby Keys)'. I quickly pulled in and bought a ticket from the club owner. We had a nice chat and when I was leaving Leon Russell’s bus pulled in with Leon driving! That night I went alone to the show and after Mick Taylor’s band finished the manager walked up to me and asked me to help him. I followed him to the stage where he handed me Mick’s guitar and told me to take it to the dressing room. So I walked to the dressing room carrying a Rolling Stone’s guitar and handed it to Mick. I thought 'how awesome is this?' But then realized no one I know is here and they will never believe me!
The craziest Festival I have ever attended was the Hydroglobe Music Festival 1976 in Eastwood Lake Park, Dayton, Ohio. It was held on an island in the park and once you crossed the bridge it was anything goes. It was a mini-Woodstock complete with nude lake swimming. Over half the people were passed out by the third band. It was the only time I got to see the great Rory Gallagher and Aerosmith was just hitting their prime. I still have the shirt but you wouldn't want to see me wear it!
5. Describe a photograph from one of the shows you've been to and why it's your fave?
BB King - I spent 45 minutes doing a meet and Greet with him on his bus. He is a talker and told many great stories. I gave him the photo of him and Eric Clapton. He said "Eric, that boy! I was in England and saw 'Clapton is God' painted on a wall. Years later, I couldn’t get him to finish our album, Riding with the King. So I called him up and said 'Hey God, we going to finish this record or not!'"
Mick Jagger, Nashville, 2015 - Its always a thrill when an artist interacts with you. Especially when it's Jagger! I would say Mick, Kiss and Taylor Swift are the best at playing to the camera.
Mumford and Sons at The Waterfront, Louisville, Ky, 2012 - A beautiful evening and I feel this photo captured the show perfectly.
Grace Potter at Forecastle 2010 when she took a drink, looked at me, winked, and spit the water towards me. Luckily, I caught the moment.
You can see more of C. Michael Stewart's photos here.