By Jay Brown
My early experiences photographing shows in the mid-1980s and early 1990s were formative. To give an example, at a club like Stache’s I had the chance to photograph bands like Pavement, Cosmic Psychos, Camper Van Beethoven, Samhain, Redd Kross, White Zombie, and countless others. When I first saw Nirvana there in 1990, only 40 people showed up, with half the crowd leaving after the local opening band finished their set. The next year, however, Nirvana sold the venue out (pictured above). There were probably more than 250 people packed in a place that maxed-out at half that number—though over the years it feels like I’ve talked to about 3,000 people who say they were there.
Photographing shows can get chaotic. I’ve had flashes ripped off my camera as stage divers flew over head. A friend standing next to me was buried by a stage diver and came out of the pile with a broken jaw. Another time, a guy next to me had some teeth knocked out by a passing boot. My first camera was hit by an errant pitcher of beer thrown into the crowd and was never the same afterwards. One of my most infamous photos is of Bob Pollard from Guided By Voicesspitting beer on a man in the crowd. What you don’t see is the dousing Bob had received leading up to that moment.
I often joke that I take loud photos, but in essence that is part of what I’m trying to capture, those unique moments in a concert experience: the emotions, the movement, the sweat, the facial expressions, the flying beer. I not only want you to see my photos, I want you to hear them too.
Jay Brown (aka jfotoman) is a Cleveland-based photographer who has chronicled the independent music scenes in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania since the mid-1980s. His photos have appeared on numerous record sleeves, as well as biographies of such bands as Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., The White Stripes, Guided by Voices, The Black Keys, and many more. His work has also been featured in numerous publications including Guitar World, The New York Times Magazine, Maximum Rock’n’Roll, Alternative Press, and Magnet, as well as the documentaries Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways and The Color of Noise, which centers on the career of Tom Hazelmyer, founder of Ampetamine Reptile Records. His photographs have been showcased in solo and group exhibitions in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Akron, with his next solo exhibition slated to open at The Beachland Ballroom’s Space: ROCK Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 2, 2015. For more information, visit jfotoman.com. You can also follow his work on Twitter and Facebook.
This essay was a finalist for a 2016 Golden Quill Award recognizing excellence in regional journalism.
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