Hammerfest 2008 in Chicago

When I interviewed the Lovehammers back in early 2006, I remember being impressed by the way they talked about their fans and the huge shows they put on in their hometown of Chicago. And I sort of decided then that if I ever got the chance to shoot one of those big shows, I’d take it! I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago…

The opportunity came last weekend – two years after that interview – some things are worth waiting for! Hammerfest is a big deal and this year it was at the House of Blues in downtown Chicago. Great venue! All brick, two balconies that circle around the floor, and it feels small and intimate yet holds a LOT of people. I went with five friends – two who live in Chicago, and three others that flew in for the weekend. We spent the whole weekend together, but they were good sports when I abandoned them during the show.

Shooting any show is always intense – but the Lovehammers multiply that intensity by ten. Their shows are incredibly passionate and vital, and there’s movement and color and action everywhere. It’s an amazing thing to see live – and capturing some of that magic in a still photograph is one of the most satisfying things I can think of to do. They create magic onstage, and I tired to tap into that vein, and mine some of their magic in my images. It was a blast!

This image is one of my favorites because of the orange and violet lighting – the colors of RockBandLounge – and to see Marty Casey, our RBL Ultimate Rock Star bathed in those colors was great fun!

To see more images from the show, go to:

Lukas Rossi at the Viper Room

I got the opportunity to shoot Lukas Rossi at the Viper Room last night for ROCKBANDLOUNGE.COM, and it was such a great show!

Lukas is sounding better than ever. His voice has always been extremely expressive, but I think some of that got lost on TV. But live, on his own, with just a guitar and one other musician onstage, you really get the best of Lukas. It was a very memorable night!

Lukas Rossi at the Viper Room // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsLukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsLukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsLukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lukas Rossi at the Viper Room // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lukas Rossi // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Discuss this Photo Essay at ROCKBANDLOUNGE.COM

INXS at Valley Center

As soon as I committed to going to Canada to see INXS in early July, they announced a handful of dates in California in late August. The very last show, for that leg of the tour was in Sault Saint Marie in July, and I was there. And the very first show, after a five week break, was August 24th at Harrah’s Casino in Valley Center, and I was there too.

The two shows were very different. Sault Saint Marie was a lot of fun – it was my favorite of the Canada shows – but it wasn’t that memorable. Valley Center on the other hand, was very memorable! I think time off is good for anyone, and it seemed to be be very good for INXS. Where the Sault Saint Marie show was a tiny bit slick and predictable, the Valley Center show seemed fresh. And JD was his saucy best that night. It was a serious turn on!

One of my East Coast friends came out for the concert and to spend a few days in San Diego, and we met up with some other friends at the venue. After the concert we wanted a drink, and as we headed to the bar we ran straight into Kirk and JD on their way to the elevator. Kirk made a quick exit, but JD was willing to be delayed, so I shot a few images with my iPhone as he interacted with one of my friends, but the casino was so dark, it was hard to get anything good. Other people started to notice him at this point, and a crowd was starting to form, so I wanted out – somehow being in a big crowd pushing toward a rock star is not my idea of fun! But before I went, I wanted to thank him, and he was listening intently to a guy drone on about the show. So I reached out and touched his stomach to get his attention and said “You were great tonight” and I intended then to move on, but he turned to me with this blindingly beautiful smile and said “Thank you” and then he pushed against my hand with his stomach muscles, making his abs ripple beneath my fingers. I just laughed, and said thanks, and slipped away. It was just such an aggressively flirtatious move, and it was fun! Somehow, every time I interact with JD I leave feeling really good. It’s a true rock star that can make that happen!

We then made our way to the restaurant, and soon after we saw Jon wander by alone. And when a fan stopped him, he was more than willing to stop and talk. More people approached and he ended up staying about twenty minutes, talking to people in the restaurant, until the band’s tour manager came and got him. I didn’t talk to him, I was happy at our table, but it was fun to see him be so relaxed and willing to just chat.

It was a fun night. The concert was one of the best I’ve seen, and after the concert wasn’t too bad either!

INXS in Canada!

Note: The first three photos in this post were shot with my iPhone – when you don’t have a real camera with you, it’s cool to have something, anything to shoot with – and the iPhone actually does a pretty good job! The last image was shot with a “real” camera.

As soon as my seminar in Atlantic City ended, I hopped on a plane for Ottawa. One of the members of RockBandLounge.com had arranged a BIG party at the Ottawa Bluesfest, the night INXS was headlining. She’d convinced them to give us a corporate box, complete with our own private bartenders, plus catering. I just couldn’t miss that!

I wanted to see INXS, but the real draw for me was meeting the Canadian members of the forum. Over the last two years I’ve become really close to some of them, and it was starting to seem really odd that we’d never met in person. It was just time to make that happen! And I wasn’t the only American who felt that way – we ended up with two of us from California, one from Seattle, one from Texas, and half-a-dozen from the East Coast of the United States – plus a lot of Canadians!

It was a magical night. The venue was really beautiful, and the sky though filled with storm clouds in the distance was completely clear over the concert. No rain at all! And so many people! The crowd was really huge, and soooo enthusiastic. It was my first INXS concert in over a year, so I really enjoyed it. Plus it was kind of fun to sing along to those songs with people that I shared Rock Star with – and who agonized over who INXS should choose, and would their “guy” win. They’re a passionate crowd – my kind of people!

And the tickets? They were printed with RockBandLounge.com on them! How fun is that? The girls above are two of my favorite Canadians!

The audience was invited to submit text messages that scrolled by on a big billboard on one side of the stage – and there were a lot of messages about our group. It was obvious we were having a lot of fun, and people noticed! There were messages asking if any of us were single, if we wanted company, and the messages got progressively saucier as the night wore on. Anyone with a General Admission ticket couldn’t get up to where we were, but people in the other corporate boxes could, and some of them left their own groups to come dance with us. It was that much fun!

Ottawa was great! We even went to high tea at the Fairmont Hotel – very, very classy!

And since I was going all the way to Canada, it made sense to go to more than one concert – there were three all within driving distance, so several of us planned to hit all three. But as the planning progressed, and the dates got closer, the thought of that much driving seemed like a bit much to some of the group, so we decided to fly instead. I was sort of looking forward to seeing more of the country, so flying wasn’t my first choice, but it turned out to be a smart decision, since we then had more time in each place to explore.

It was my first time on a tiny little plane – you know the kind you have to walk out onto the runway, and then climb stairs to get to? And there are only ten rows of seats? And they go bump, bump, bump, and knock, knock, knock? At first it was a little scary, but after I got used to it, I actually enjoyed it. Especially flying over the lakes – so much water you’d swear it was an ocean.

I had a front row ticket for Barrie, Ontario, and second row for Sault Saint Marie – so I definitely got my INXS fix! All of the shows were a lot of fun, but I think the highlight of the trip (after the socializing) might be discovering Sault Saint Marie.

If it didn’t get cold in Sault Saint Marie, I’d be seriously considering moving. Such a beautiful little town with a great concert venue, and a real downtown area with little shops, and lots and lots and lots of old houses that are in perfect condition, and wild flowers everywhere you look. I just have to keep telling myself that snow and ice and cold are coming, and it’s not always a perfect summer day there. In San Diego, it is pretty perfect all the time, so I’m definitely spoiled! But if it was summer year-round in Sault Saint Marie, I’d be very tempted…

I finished out my trip with a couple of days in Toronto – a very nice city – but Ottawa and Sault Saint Marie are so special, it’s hard for Toronto to compete in my mind!

Ryan Star at the House of Blues in San Diego

The best thing about last night? Ryan’s voice after about the third song. Before that point it was the same voice I heard on Rock Star – but a few songs in, he got looser and fuller and the way he played with the tempo felt less studied and more inspired. We got to see a lot of him this summer, but it was all one song at a time – there’s just something about seeing a full set – the minutes just add up to something entirely different – and great!

So Ryan comes out and the start is fairly low key, and he does the first three or so songs with the keys, then he gets his guitar and that’s when the show got good as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s great how Ryan can fill the stage all by himself, and create a sound that *sounds* bigger than just one guy onstage with one instrument – but if it is only one instrument I’m always going to prefer guitar to keyboards! But my big wish would be to see him with a full band – one of his friends kept pimping the big show in NYC – the homecoming show – and if there’s going to be a full band there it might be worth flying for!

There were times when Ryan would use his feet to pound the floor – an improvised drum! I loved that! Another time he forgot he was tethered to the mic stand and he came out in front and then had to sing doubly loud to make up for it – but he went for it!

As for the songs – I loved them. He played a new song “11:59” and the lyrics go over familiar ground – but Ryan’s spin on a familiar theme is so devoid of cliché, you really believe him. I think he’s gifted lyrically – but it’s the music itself that really gets me. (But I want to hear it with a full band… I know, be happy with what you get, but I really really want to hear it with a full band!)

After the show we went to Stingaree, a nightclub a few blocks away from the HOB – one of Ryan’s friends was a regular on ROCKBAND.COM during Rock Star, and so invited us to join them. It’s an interesting club with a great rooftop bar, but unfortunately it was raining hard, we didn’t spend much time up there – but I would like to go back on a clear night!

Ryan Star backstage at Rock Star: Supernova // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsAt one point I made a comment to Ryan about “shooting him” the next time he’s in San Diego or Southern California, and he nodded affirmatively, then he leaned in and half-whispered, “Don’t you mean shoe me?” – which make me laugh. It’s a running joke on ROCKBAND.COM that Ryan has big feet, and well, you know what that means. It totally cracked me up that he not only knew all about it, but he was also okay with it and saw the humor in it. ‘Cause every reference is always made with much affection, I’m sure!

For more reviews of Ryan Star in San Diego, go to:
Or go to the ROCKBAND.COM Ryan Star Lounge!

Juke Kartel at the Viper Room, Hollywood

I thought I *got* Toby Rand. He’s cute, he’s fun, he’s wholesome, he’s young, he’s talented. Yeah Toby! And I did love him on the Rock Star: Supernova.

But last night? Whoa! I saw Toby with his band – Juke Kartel – and they were phenomenal. You can’t help but be turned on when you watch them onstage – all of them. They just burn up the stage. It was amazing.

Toby is a monster. He just slayed the women around me. He has so much talent he never got to show on the TV show. His voice – well I always loved it – but it’s better than I knew.

Tommy, the bass player really knows how to play – and how to hold a bass guitar. I loved it when TLee talked about low-slung guitars on Rock Star because it’s a huge deal with me! It’s gotta be low, or it’s just not sexy. And can Tommy play? It was active and vital playing – hard to explain, but he makes the band in some ways. He’s great! And he’s fun. And he’s fun in the way he interacts with Toby and Todd.

Todd is so cute – I love the hair. And I loved the way his guitar sounded. Talk about fullness…

Dale played a guitar solo – so he’s okay in my book! I was mere inches from his fingers. He could do no wrong after that.

I couldn’t see Eddie, the drummer much during the set, but I got to talk to him after the show, and he’s very very cute. He was completely baffled by my friends – but he was very patient with them. How can you not love that? He also told us about how he gets his hair to look that way – it’s a combination of wax and hairspray.

Oh, and one of the best parts? When Dale and Tommy sang backup on a slower song. It was beautiful.

The photo to the right was taken by a friend – it’s me and Tommy after the show, in the downstairs bar. It was a fun night!

For more reviews on Juke Kartel, go to:
Or go to the ROCKBAND.COM Juke Kartel Lounge!

My INXS Vacation

I actually went to five stops on the INXS tour last week – totally over the top, but so much fun! I went with a bunch of friends and we stayed at the Bel Age Hotel in LA and saw two concerts at The Greek – which is the best venue for sound. I was in the pit the first night , and further back the second night – I think it was the third row behind the pit, so still fairly close but the sound was so much better – and I thought the sound was great the first night! Seriously, The Greek is the place to go for a concert – it’s beautiful and the sound is awesome! Rachel Hunter was across the aisle from me, Dave Goffin and Paul Mirkovich were right behind us. We heard Deanna Johnston was there too, but I never ran into her.

So LA was great, but that was only the first two of five concerts in one week! The next stop was Hemet and frankly I wasn’t expecting as much from that show, but front row tickets were cheap. I love Hemet, but how is Hemet supposed to compete with LA? Well I was wrong. Where the shows in LA were slick and professional and totally moving, the show in Hemet was hot, hot, hot. My theory is that after two shows in the entertainment capital of the world, the guys were ready to have some fun. It was the sexiest show I’ve ever seen – by far!

Next up was Pala – which is just a few miles from my home. I had a press pass for Pala – the other concerts I was just there to have fun, but at Pala I was there to work! The area for press is directly in front of the front row, and at this venue it was only about three feet deep and there were six photographers, so we were definitely tripping over each other! The best positions on the right and left were both staked out by the guys shooting video for the big screens, so I started down center – I don’t mind shooting straight up the band member’s noses! Later I moved right and then left, but I think my favorite shots were from the very center – especially when JD and then later Kirk got really really close – the shot looking up at JD with the cigarette is one of my favorites, and I was right under him. Great show too!

The last show for my friends and I was San Diego – right on the Bay. Beautiful venue! Insane crowd though… Several friends flew in for this concert from out of state, but one had to cancel at the last minute, so I got to use her front row center ticket instead of my own third row ticket – which was very cool! My friends were all staying at Hotel Solamar, a fabulous four-star hotel in the Gaslamp District, so after the concert we went back there since they have a fabulous rooftop bar – and who showed up later? INXS. The band was there with friends and we were having a great time already, so we didn’t interact much, but Kirk did come over to say hi. It was a fun evening, and a great way to cap off a great week!

INXS at Pala Casino

I finally got to shoot INXS – and it was great! JD, Kirk, and Jon all played directly to my camera – which I was not expecting at all. With all the shows these guys play, and all the photographers following them, I assumed they’d be completely blasé about it – but they’re not!

JD FortuneJD Fortune

Tim FarrissKirk Pengilly

JD FortuneKirk Pengilly

JD FortuneJD Fortune

To see this Photo Essay of INXS at Pala on 6/20/2006 at ROCKBAND.COM, go to: