For several months I have been having this strange craving to reconnect with nature. I have tried to mitigate this with trail runs, short visits to local state parks, and, more recently, with music. Of course, the quick fix is to make a trip somewhere, however leaving Texas is it's own daunting task. Especially when driving. (If you have ever driven through Texas, you know what I mean and how large this state is.) Since I haven't been able to travel as much as I would like, through music I am hoping to calm the itch until I can get back on the road or in the air.
With thoughts of mountains and forests, I found myself scrolling playlists in my mornings, drinking my cold brew, searching for something to settle me into the imaginative space. After digging deep into stuff like Tycho, I knew I needed something more. Somehow, I found myself peeking through the Folk and Americana playlists on Spotify which for me, is hella weird. After experimenting with music waaay outside of my realm and norm, sifting through different Folk playlists, I realized I was on the right track. The sounds of acoustic guitars and mandolins instantly put me into the whimsical mountainous space I needed. I tuned in to the Indie Bluegrass playlist and one song in particular caught me ear and, dare I say, my soul as well.
Jacob Sharp leads vocals with back up from Joseph Terrell and Libby Rodenbough.
Enter "Louise" by Mipso. The North Carolina-based 4-piece band has a magical bluegrass sound that immediately captured something within me. I found myself in a trance while I listened to this song, quickly searching for more when it was over. Bluegrass is so far of a stretch from my usual hip hop or heavy metal mindset yet, like the Siren's call, I could not resist and found my home filled with this Appalachian sound almost every morning. After about two weeks of aimless listening, I stumbled upon a tour date here in Austin and reached out to the band to make some photos of their show. Mipso's mandolin player Jacob was gracious enough to grant me a pass, literally a few hours before the show was set to start. How dope is that?
Austin's own Tony Kamel performed a solo set that was captivating and powerful.
I arrived to a packed room at the intimate space of the Cactus Cafe & Bar halfway through Austin's very own Tony Kamel (Wood & Wire) blessing the crowd with his amazing voice. If there's one thing I have come to really appreciate about live shows it is the supporting acts on these tours. Through supporting acts of some of my favorite bands I have discovered gems like Bishop Briggs and Dem Atlas. Tony Kamel is now on that list. With a powerful voice and the finger-pickings of a madman, Kamel's solo set was super impressive, alternating from guitar to banjo with ease, leaving a strong imprint in me ears.
Mipso took the stage shortly after with a fifth member on drums, settling into their instruments and into an quietly anxious crowd. As Mipso began to play, the Bluegrass sounds of North Carolina filled the room and ultimately my soul. It has been a really long time since a live performance has touched me in such a way, especially from musicians I am hardly familiar with. But the beauty of Mipso is their harmony in vocals. Each member brings a vocal element to their music and I loved watching them trade verses and harmonies with hardly a lead taken. Rather than one person standing out, instead I witnessed a mesh of melody and rhythm among five people working together to achieve an ultimate and grand sound.
Joseph and Libby perform an incredibly moving duet on a superb microphone.
I left the show inspired and my heart with a bit of a rest. While my internal urges for the mountains and woods are hardly quelled, I am definitely filled with the spirit of nature through Mipso's performance. Whether it is their intention or not, their sound puts my mind in a really great and natural space, free of the busy metropolitan land I live in. Mipso's melodies transpose me into a land with cooler temperatures and crisper air where I am cruising along the cliche winding road, surrounded by coniferous trees. For this I am thankful. Take a listen for yourself and let me know how you feel about their sound and the emotions it evokes within you.
Mipso is joined on stage with opener Tony Kamel and touring manager/sound engineer Wilson Ferdinand Greene IV.
You can find Mipso's new album Coming Down The Mountain from the band directly or on Spotify, iTunes, and other major platforms. Support these amazing musicians!
Deftones return to COTA in a couple of days. In celebration, I wanted to share this film photo with all of you from their last visit to the amphitheater. See my digital images from that show right here and I hope to see you all there!
Arm bars, heel hooks, triangle chokes, tap outs. Welcome to the world of jjitsu. If you are a fan of mixed martial arts fighting (UFC, Bellator, etc), then you are all too familiar with jiu jitsu. If the term is foreign to you, watch closely. For several years, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (or BJJ, but usually simply referred to as just "jiu jitsu") has become increasingly popular in the world of martial arts and fighting. As with most things, the evolution of the human body and mind is exposing the limits of past thinking. It used to be considered that big brawlers were at the top of the food chain of fighting. That is, until UFC introduced the world to Royce Gracie. In the primitive days of cage fighting, there were no weight classes, there were no rules. It was in this venue that Royce brought light to a form of martial arts that would go on to influence MMA fighting still to this day. Royce, weighing in around 175 pounds, not only won the first tournament submitting his opponent of over 200 pounds, but he continued to win the UFC 2 and UFC 4 tournaments.
Spirit is a muscle.
Today, jiu jitsu is as commonplace in the cage as any punch or kick. It has also become competitive in its own regard outside of the cage. Last month I gave you a glimpse into this world at the Onnit Invitational inside 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu located at the Onnit Academy here in Austin, TX. Earlier this month, I was given an opportunity to photograph the next tournament, the Onnit World Open. This event was much bigger and included one of my favorite parts of any big martial arts tournament--the kid's division! There's something inspiring watching youngblood battle it out and push each other to extreme physical limits. Plus, it's just fun watching those little rugrats wrestle each other down into mini-arm bars and such.
The youth are the future. And I find it extremely gratifying when I see kids pushed in such a positive direction as martial arts. Martial arts increases focus, discipline, and drive--without medication. I've seen troubled or hyperactive kids shift gears into more positive directions in life because they train so rigorously. It transfers that unfocused energy into something that promotes better brain development and body growth. It was a pleasure photographing these kids and teens in their element of dominance and self-improvement.
Of course, no tournament is complete without watching the ladies and girls dominate in their own right! These girls and women are TOUGH.
Cora Sek staying calm in the pocket.
Rhodes Faraday with an armbar attempt.
Overall, it was difficult to capture everything with so much action on multiple mats but super fun nonetheless. It was an intense day of chokes and submissions with a good change in pace from the last tournament, photographing more of the youth this time around. Big shouts to Onnit for all of the amazing work you do and big shout out to 10th Planet ATX for training such wonderful athletes. I am stoked to have been part of y'alls journey.
Twiztid performing at Come and Take It Live (formerly Grizzly Hall).
There's a dark side to Detroit's underground music scene that many steer clear from. In fact, there's an entire genre of rap music that many fear or distaste simply because they cannot relate to it (or choose not to, take your pick). Horrorcore aka the Wicked Shit, made famous by the likes of Esham, the Insane Clown Posse, King Gordy, Prozak, and many others, is a vein of rap music rife with blood, violence, self infliction, and the darker edges of the human psyche. So you can see why so few relate to it. But honestly, I think it is a part of the brain that is quite interesting to explore. A lot of horrorcore delves into the darker sides of the mind we like to ignore and pretend aren't there. Those who choose to embrace these ideas and explore these thoughts are often marked as outcasts and shunned from society. When more often than not, they are simply misunderstood or labeled improperly. Horrorcore often finds us in our youth, our days of angst and aggression. While some resort to fighting or full-contact sports, some take a different route all together and explore that aggression inwardly through music like this.
Twiztid is a rap duo from the East Side of Detroit who most know as the sidekicks to the infamous Insane Clown Posse. Twiztid's fans, much like ICP's, are labeled as Juggalos and if you are familiar with that term, I am sure it paints a rather vivid picture to you which may likely be inaccurate of what a Juggalo actually is. Yes, they are strange, weird, and off the wall. They have embraced all that other's hate about them and found others like themselves who are outcast and treated differently because of how they dress, the music they listen to, or their apathy in what others think of them. I feel this is where aggression is taken out on Juggalos not because of their differences or strange behavior necessarily, but because they've found a freedom so many of us are afraid to explore for fear of what others may think about us if we truly be ourselves. And they've found a huge click of others brave enough to embrace that same lifestyle that is totally against the grain of "normal". They've found family.
Twiztid still commands the crowd through energy, theatrics, and mutual respect.
When I first discovered Twiztid, I was a huge ICP fan and rabid Juggalo. It was easy to embrace their sound at the time, wrestling with my own adolescent demons, searching for clarity in life. I attended countless concerts of theirs, often making the trip here to Austin since they rarely came to San Antonio (where I am originally from). I was enamored by the theatrics; the face paint, the silent performers dressed as famed serial killers Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, the costumes, the blacklights and vivid colors. It was always more than just two guys exchanging sides of the stage, it was a full on theatrical performance. Twiztid definitely gave you your money's worth every single time, delivering a powerful and fun show every night.
Over the following years, Twiztid became my preference over the clowns. There is a deep mental dissection in Twitid's music and lyrics that I found fascinating as I grew older and it was more natural to relate to than (IMO) the unchanging sound of ICP. There was a sense of growth, even if the subject matter stayed relatively the same. Eventually, Twiztid moved from the clowns' shadows and began experiencing much success on their own, headlining their own tours across the U.S., releasing powerhouse records over the years. Twiztid ultimately left the label they were formed on all together and created their own label, Majik Ninja Entertainment.
G-Mo Skee, one of the acts signed to Twiztid's label, MNE.
While I am nowhere near in touch with those darker sides I once was, having since worked out a lot of those murky emotions and angst, I still find myself looking for Twiztid's music from time to time. Especially when I'm having a "fuck-you-just-leave-me-alone-today" kind of day. For about a decade I photographed Twiztid, like so many other bands in my youth, from the crowd; mashed up against people twice my size and barely able to hold my camera steady. Today, I make a lot of concert photos from the pit area with plenty of room to make a great photograph. It was a rather surreal moment to make these images up close with room to breathe and compose properly. Although their music doesn't strike such a strong chord within me as it once did, for a few moments this night the 16-year old me was having a blast, singing along while snapping away.
Twiztid have come miles along since rapping in the shadows of Detroit's underground kings, ICP. The shows may have gotten smaller, but the performances are just as strong. The duo now has supporting acts from their own MNE imprint and their show is now rounded out with a dope live drummer, Drayven Davidson. I spent the first part of this night next door at Emo's photographing Kehlani. It was super dope (and a little odd in some ways) to walk a few feet from her show, full of teens and tweens singing about love and sex, to this dark side of rap where the outcast crowd sang along to blood and guts. My life has some pretty bizarre moments lately and this night for sure was toward the top of strangeness this year. But I love that I get to explore so many facets of life. We may sing along to different music, wear different clothes, or smoke different things, but at the end of the day we are all human and I am happy I get to examine the different sides of the human psyche through shows like this.
To all my fellow Juggalos worldwide, I hope you enjoy these images and I hope you stay true to who you are. I've found Juggalos to be some of the bravest people in life and some of the realest. I think everyone can benefit from taking the same IDGAF approach to their own life. Let's all live with a little less judgement and a lot more curiosity.