Being a music festival photographer ain’t easy. OK. Yes, it is.
I WAS LUCKY enough to have been invited by the Sarawak Tourism Board to head to Miri, Malaysia for the international jazz festival, Borneo Jazz (formerly known as the Miri International Jazz Fesitval). From May 12-15, 2011, the Parkplace Everly Hotel’s back yard was converted to festival grounds. This year was the sixth for the fest, each one bigger than the last.
It was the first music festival I covered and I was pretty stoked about the access to the photographer’s press pit (like a mosh pit, only much less people, closer to the stage, and less elbows in the ribs and fingers in the eye). Aside from the jazz festival, Malaysia on the island of Borneo is a pretty sweet place to visit. I have it on good authority, from peninsular Malaysians, that the islanders live a much more laid-back lifestyle than those in Kuala Lumpur.
If you’re in the area come jazz festival time, it could be worth your while to hop on over. This coming July 8-10 the Rainforest World Music Festival will take place in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. This festival has been voted in the Top 25 Best International Festivals by Songlines magazine.
And don’t miss my interview with Maria Muldaur.
Flower garden in Miri
Downtown Miri is a series of shops, restaurants, and shopping malls. If you love shopping and love eating, you'd probably like Miri. The Flower Garden provides some respite from the concrete, traffic, and material goods.
Tree planting ceremony
The day before the festival began there was a tree planting ceremony. It was an event to symbolize the jazz festival's dedication to being as green as it can be. This was held on the grounds of Curtin University, a satellite campus of the Australian school.
The first night of the jazz festival was held off grounds at the Marina Bay Seafood Restaurant. It opened with some traditional music and cultural dancing.
Smoke machine for Dhruv
Headlining the opening night was Dhruv, a three-piece band - guitarist, bassist, and drummer - from India. Here I get the POV of the "smoke machine."
Cass Lam of SIU2 on sanxien
It was truly an international jazz festival with performers from all over the globe. The band SIU2 from Hong Kong included some traditional instruments, like this sanxien played by Cass Lam.
Ng Cheuk-yin of SIU2 on mouth organ
The front man of SIU2, Ng Cheuk-yin, played this sheng (mouth organ), a traditional Chinese instrument that's been around for about, oh, 3000 years.
There was plenty of room on the grounds of the Parkplace Everly hotel. Towards the back and away from the stage were several food tents and these tables where one could relax and have a bite and a beer. Large screens were also spread around to keep an eye on the action on stage.
Aussie jazz dj Systa BB
Australian, Kate Welshman (aka Systa BB), is a well-regarded jazz DJ at home. She showed off her skills in between sets, keeping the music going and the people dancing.
The dancing and dining pavillion was, thankfully, air conditioned and gave a good break from the heat and humidity when needed. Of course, things could easily be heated up again by busting out some dance moves, like this guy is doing.
John Hammond closeup
One of the headliners of the festival, John Hammond from the USA, blows on his harmonica. He plays blues guitar and the harp like they're an extension of his body. He's a legend in the blues scene; a Grammy winner and recent inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame.
John Hammond wide angle
John Hammond has performed with folks like Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Tom Waits, and John Lee Hooker. He's also been credited with putting the band together for a young Jimi Hendrix that helped him launch his music career.
Les Doigts de L'Homme
Les Doigts de L'Homme is a band from, you guessed it, France. They play gypsy jazz, an energetic and frenetic style. They dedicated several of their songs to the gypsies in Europe who, they say, are having an especially hard time right now with governments wanting them to "settle down."
Les Doigts de L'Homme
Les Doigts de L'Homme consisted of four members, one rhythm guitarist, two guitar soloists, and this stand-up bass player. Not only were they excellent musicians, they were funny and charming, especially during the press conferences.
Stands placed around the grounds sold various souvenirs for concert-goers. Here the vendor finishes up applying a temporary tattoo to this young woman's back. I overheard that these tattoos stay on for about two weeks.
A challenge for photographers (well, me at least) is the lighting at night, and especially when you have musicians moving the way they do. But it's also fun to play around with the stage lighting; you can end up with some pretty cool shots.
State of Monc
The Dutch band, State of Monc, was led by the charismatic Arthur Flink on trumpet. The band combined traditional jazz sounds with a electronic backbeats played off a Macbook. It was said they sell out clubs all over, and I could see why. They're a fun band to dance to.
Here someone rallies the crowd and gets them dancing and throwing their hands up in the air. And waving them like they just don't care.
Daniel Joseph Caron, guitarist for Maria Muldaur
The guitarist for blues diva Maria Muldaur, Daniel Joseph Caron, had some of the best guitar faces I've seen in a while. And very tasty licks.
Maria Muldaur is probably best known for her 1970s hit Midnight at the Oasis. She hasn't stopped, releasing 35 records since then and getting several Grammy nominations. She knows how to work a crowd.
At the end of the festival, all the members of all the bands hit the stage and played in one massive mess of a jam. They took turns plugging in and showcasing their talents. They looked like they were having fun. The crowd certainly was.