Cole Swindell // Stage Right Secrets

Hunter Airheart   

On March 17, 2016, I had the opportunity to travel to Madison, WI, to photograph Cole Swindell at his concert in the Orpheum Theater. These photos were for Stage Right Secrets (stagerightsecrets.com), an online magazine that features several artists across all genres with hopes to connect the fan to artists on a more personal level. Below I share my experience from start to finish of this trip!

I flew out of Nashville the afternoon of the 17th and with only a few minor roadblocks along the way...five o’clock traffic, forgetting my luggage at security, and being in a full out “Home Alone” sprint through the airport...I arrived in Madison roughly 4 hours before show time. It is always an unique experience working with different artists, particularly if I have never worked with them before. When I approach a new job or client, I do my best to discern the mood and vibe of the setting and artist. Imagine having some random guy who you have never met before be in your face trying to take photos of you before a show...very few people naturally are comfortable with that. In addition, every artist is surrounded by a team of people who not only play crucial roles in their career, but also develop relationships that become familial. They travel, eat, and sleep together months on end throughout the year. As an outsider coming into that family, I want to honor that artist’s space while also working to gain the trust of that person/family. It is an interesting line to maintain, one that I have had to learn and grow in, however Cole and his crew very quickly broke down that barrier.

Prior to any show, my goal is to collect as much behind the scenes content as I can. I walk around the venue, go in all of the green rooms and behind the production table, and even walk through the crowds of people. I am always looking to capture moments that most fans would never have the chance to see unless they were the artist. If I am able to bring people into a room or a moment where they feel as if they are there, a setting that most never know exists unless they see my photo, then I have done my job. Cole’s show was no different. I spent a good bit of time walking around the venue, which was absolutely beautiful, talking with some of his band on the tour bus, and capturing moments where Cole interacted with his fans.

After a few hours of documenting the atmosphere of the venue and the excitement of the fans, it was time for the show to start. I always position myself in a spot where I can capture the moments before an artist goes on stage. Everyone has a different preparation and feels different emotions before going out, which is a cool moment that I get to witness. It’s easy to forget that these “superstars,” as we see them, still get nervous and put so much into each and every show. It looks so easy and effortless when they are on stage, which is what makes them great...particularly with Cole. As he went on stage, I circled around backstage to go into the crowd to photograph the moment he came on. The first note hit...hands going up everywhere and cheers echoing throughout the theater. Cole’s ability to work the crowd, to take them on a journey with him, get loud and crazy, and then the very next song being able to hear a pin drop in the room...it is an art, and when the audience and artist are going through the performance together, it makes for amazing moments to photograph.

Being a photographer in today’s digital age, where everyone has a camera, I challenge myself to push what can be done and how my images are composed. As I said above, my main purpose of photographing these shows, aside from providing content to outlets or social media profiles, is to give fans the opportunity to not only see what the show is like, but also feel as if they are at the show, screaming at the top of their lungs with a cold beer lifted above their heads. Cole’s show was no different. I wanted to give perspectives from as many viewpoints as I could...behind the stage, front of stage, in the balcony, at the sound board, side stage etc. I also love taking the time to photograph the fans as well. Their reactions, singing, dancing, and outfits often prove to provide some of the best shots.

When the show ended, I began to pack up my gear and look through some of the shots I had taken. This concert felt to be one of the best I had ever done, and the images proved that. Check out the article about Cole from Stage Right Secrets (http://www.stagerightsecrets.com/issue2/#) and enjoy some of my favorite shots from this concert.