Music Tastes Good: A Tale From The Photo Pit

SANTIGOLD; photo Andy Ortega

SANTIGOLD; photo Andy Ortega

It’s about time someone finally brings the greatest things in life together in one place and with this being the 3rd Music Tastes Good Festival, it was done perfectly! This 2-day festival on September 29th and 30th allowed me to stuff my face with delicious food on the way to get photo coverage of the next artist, burn off some calories while dancing and doing photographer jiu-jitsu in the photo pit, then repeat, over and over again! It was glorious!

The event was held in the downtown Long Beach Marina Green area with familiar landmarks in the background such as the Long Beach Convention Center, Queen Mary, Aquarium of the Pacific and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

SHAME; photo Andy Ortega

SHAME; photo Andy Ortega

The first artist I covered was Shame, a UK-based rock band. It was a great way to start my day off right since they brought an amazing energy that kept the audience on their feet, while keeping the photographers in the photo pit on our toes as well. Shame is the type of band that moves all over the place on the stage (well, except for the drummer and keys obviously). It makes it easy to get a “money shot” where the singer’s hair is caught swinging mid-air, or the guitarist is captured leaping off a speaker. This was mid-afternoon in the outdoors on a sunny California day, which means I could get sharp, action pics with my shutter speed as high as 1/500 or 1/1000!

OLIVER TREE; photo Andy Ortega

OLIVER TREE; photo Andy Ortega

The next artist I was covering, Oliver Tree, was performing at the other stage called the Gold Stage. It was at the opposite end of the festival, which meant I would need to traverse through the smoke of food trucks and the central Taste Tent where many people were being trapped with the luring scents coming from within. It took all of my willpower, but I just couldn’t resist.

CHERRY GLAZERR; photo Andy Ortega

CHERRY GLAZERR; photo Andy Ortega

In the Taste Tent, you could get a $5 voucher to try a dish from many of the chefs in attendance. One of the chefs, Nancy Leon of Tijuana, Mexico, was serving Seaweed Baja taco that consisted of snow crab, mackerel w/ avocado, Meyer lemon, crispy panko, and shiso micro greens served with wasabi dressing.

LIZZO; photo Andy Ortega

LIZZO; photo Andy Ortega

Another chef, Sincere Justice of Oakland, California was serving his “BO KHO TACO” with Vietnamese styled braised brisket (bo kho), roasted garlic lebne, lemongrass morita salsa, herbs, and cucumber. Sounds tasty, eh?

As I stumbled out of the Taste Tent, belly full and a slightly uncomfortable grin on my face, I made my way to the Gold Stage just in time for Oliver Tree.

JANELLE MONAE; photo Andy Ortega

JANELLE MONAE; photo Andy Ortega

I covered a few other artists including Cherry Glazerr, Blake Mills and Lizzo. Next up was Santigold! But there was a problem. By this time, the attendance at the festival had swelled. It seemed like everyone that was going to arrive this day had just entered – including a swarm of photographers that had lined up along the side of the stage to get access to Santigold’s performance. The energy for concert goers was at its peak, but for us concert photographers, it was at the point where I was a bit worried. Would the photo pit delve into a barbaric, rude, mosh pit of starving artists competing for the best spot???

BLAKE MILLS; photo Andy Ortega

BLAKE MILLS; photo Andy Ortega

As the music started, the security guard began letting us in. He counted each person and as I approached, I heard him say “… 19, 20, Stop right here, Sir”. Yup, I was number 21 and immediately a shiver ran down my spine. I stuttered, nervous and a little upset, and asked him, “When do the rest of us get in?”. “Two songs, then your group gets to go in for two songs”. I was so relieved! While the photo pit was still quite crowded, I was pleased to see that we were able to squeeze through and get the shots that we were happy with.

NEW ORDER; photo Andy Ortega

NEW ORDER; photo Andy Ortega

Later that night, I enjoyed covering New Order as they played their hit from 1983 “Blue Monday”. Ah good times!

On day 2 of the Music Tastes Good Festival, I covered Sun Kil Moon, Lizzo and Janelle Monae. Ate more food and checked out the shops and art that was displayed throughout. All in all, the Music Tastes Good Festival was a great experience for the foodie, the hard-core festival goer or the music-obsessed family to enjoy a wonderful time.

Curtis Harding: A Tale From The Photo Pit

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

I love the El Rey Theater and taking pics of Curtis Harding’s show there made my day epic. If you’ve never been to the El Rey, it’s on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, around the corner from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a.k.a. LACMA. Getting there is fairly easy. There’s paid parking in the surrounding areas but the El Rey offers valet parking for only $10. There was no line when I arrived at the entrance, so I went straight up to the window and presented my credentials in exchange for the coveted photo pass. Security checked me and my bag thoroughly and then I was in.

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

I made my way into the venue and Algiers was just getting started as the opening band. The El Rey has an open floor for general admission and there’s also a balcony. One of the ushers there told me that VIP ticket holders can get access to the balcony, but they usually come right back down because it gets warm up there.

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

There is no photo pit, which means that photographers don’t have a special spot in front of the stage. Instead, you just need to be in the front early or work your way in. Since the El Rey has the best staff members, one of the usher/security personnel turned on his flashlight and created a path for me to get in front of the stage. Thanks bro!

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

Curtis Harding’s set immediately had fans dancing and moving. As I started to frame my first shot, I was happy to see that the lighting was nice and bright. This gave me the ability to turn up my shutter speed, so I can get clean, sharp pictures. When I wanted to get a different point of view, I gently squeezed my way to the other side of the stage. Once I had enough close-up shots, I moved back and took a few pictures for a wider view so that I could get the whole band. Then I put the lens cap back on my 50-200mm Nikon lens, took off my earplugs and enjoyed the rest of the show.

Japandroids: A Tale From The Photo Pit

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

Japandroids at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever on May 30th was off the hook!

Normally when I do a “Tale from the Photo Pit” article, I’ll share my experience of a show as a photographer. But boy do I need to back up a bit and address the elephant in the room. I’ll just come out and say it – this concert was at a cemetery. That’s right. Now that you know, you won’t be as dumbfounded as I was when I arrived.

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

The guard at the entrance chuckled as I said, “I must be really lost. I’m supposed to be looking for a concert venue”.

Then he let me know that Hollywood Forever is the right place, you can park anywhere (and it’s free parking), and points to the venue entrance. “That’s where you want to go”.

I grab my camera bag and head over while wondering what was in store for me. Would there be some goth girl taking tickets and giving out media passes, or would it be a guy in a suit whispering like they do at funerals?

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

Well, the inside of the Masonic Lodge was a bit spooky but other than that, no ghouls, no Twilight-looking hipsters, no girls wearing all black. Oh wait, I lied. The opening band was just getting started and they actually did fit right in with the venue and vibe. The women of L.A. Witch did a great job to get the good times started.

During the break, a security guard tells me that someone complained about how loud the sound was. This is the second time I reach complete utter confusion today.

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

The time arrives for Japandroids to begin their set. There’s no designated photo pit area at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever so I make my way as close to the stage as possible. Brian King and David Prowse, the two members of Japandroids step onto the stage and the crowd erupts in cheers and applause. The music of Japandroids attracted a full house and lots of energetic fans.

Not all venues have good lighting, but the Masonic Lodge did not disappoint. I was able to get some great pictures with clear detail.

Tale From The Photo Pit: One Love Cali Fest 2018

BREWFISH; photo Andy Ortega

BREWFISH; photo Andy Ortega

Even in SoCal, a February outdoor concert can have its risks with the weather but this year, you couldn’t have asked for anything better at the One Love Cali Reggae Fest. As a concert photographer, if there’s any chance of rain, I’ll need to bring some plastic bags and rubber bands to protect my camera. No need for that this time!

The One Love Cali Reggae Fest was held on the grounds of the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor. I parked at one of the designated areas, then took the free shuttle to the event. Getting in was smooth and quick thanks to the staff and organization. I went to pick up my media and photo passes. From there, I was directed to go through the VIP line and then through security.

The first show I covered was Long Beach’s own BREWFISH at the Flav stage. Since it was still midday, taking photos was a little more tricky than usual. See, when you’re outdoors on a mostly cloudy day you may need to deal with moving clouds. Moving clouds means changes in brightness. I had to change my settings every so often but they were mostly set at f4, 1/1000th ISO 200.

FORTUNATE YOUTH; photo Andy Ortega

FORTUNATE YOUTH; photo Andy Ortega

After that, I headed to the main stage to cover FORTUNATE YOUTH and MATISYAHU. Fortunate Youth did a wonderful job to get the mid-day concert goers dancing and moving. Then came Matisyahu. The photo pit had more photographers by now so I had to practice photo pit courtesy and carefully squeeze through them, sometimes while ducking, when I needed to change my spot.

J BOOG; photo Andy Ortega

J BOOG; photo Andy Ortega

Another challenge when shooting an outdoor stage comes during sunset. During J BOOG‘s set, I had to update my Nikon’s settings every couple of minutes. Shutter speed goes down, ISO goes up. By the time night has settled in, I was at f2.8, 1/250th, ISO 2500-3200 and stayed there for most of the night.


COLLIE BUDDZ; photo Andy Ortega

For the rest of the performances on the main stage including COLLIE BUDDZ, IRATION and REBELUTION, the photo pit was much busier. It always helps to say “hi” to other photographers and introduce yourself because we’re only able to stay in the photo pit for three songs (unless you have a coveted all-access photo pass) and it’s much easier to work among friends instead bumping and squeezing around strangers.

I’ve got to give it to the One Love Cali Reggae production team. My experience this year was perfect! No photo pass issues, easy entrance, clear and standard photo pit rules, and great security. There was no confusion from staff or security, which happens at large events sometimes.

One Love Reggae Festival Day 1: Tale from the Photo Pit

slightly stoopid

Slightly Stoopid at One Love Cali Reggae Fest Day 1; photo Andy Ortega

It was quite the adventure getting into the One Love Cali Reggae Fest at the Queen Mary in Long Beach on opening night. It was raining the entire evening, which is pretty special for Southern California, and I’m guessing it wasn’t expected by the promoters – or anybody else. Either way, it didn’t stop attendees from having an experience that had everyone feeling “irie”.

Once I made my way through the line at the entrance, I breathed a deep sigh of relief and immediately had the sensation of pure relaxation. Then I realized that along with the deep sigh of relief, there were massive clouds of smoke that also may have helped me relax a bit as I walked past a group of concert goers with dreadlocks. The ganja was flowing freely everywhere I looked.

There were two stages at this massive event. There was the main stage, which was labeled the “One Love” stage on the One Love Cali Fest website and there was the second stage labeled the “Queen Mary” stage.

The Aggrolites were just starting at the second stage and to my surprise, it wasn’t very crowded. I say that because there were people everywhere else and later I saw that a majority of people were at the main stage. They sure missed out because there was some good dancing at The Aggrolites’ performance. People were singing along and cheering. It was more like a wild party.

The Aggrolites

The Aggrolites at One Love Cali Reggae Fest Day 1; photo Andy Ortega

After that, Fishbone played on the same stage. Yeah, Fishbone is playing at this reggae fest and they do have a reggae-esque sound but I kept thinking, “Wait, is this reggae?” Fishbone fans know that they have a unique style and they’ve changed over the years from ska to funk to rock. I guess you could say they do “skunk rock”?

Next, I got the munchies. The One Love Cali Reggae Fest was the best place to be for that. I was tempted to get something from the Pink Taco Food Truck or Chronic Tacos but instead went for a plain teriyaki bowl from some place that didn’t have such a creative name.

As I headed to the main stage, I came around the corner and saw a sea of people ahead of me. These crazy, fun-loving, hippies did not care one bit about the rain, the mud, or the stinky greenish haze.

SOJA was playing as I entered the photo pit in front of the main stage. They released their first album, Peace in a Time of War, in 2002 and have four more albums after that so they’ve been around the block a bit.

The headlining band that night on the main stage was Slightly Stoopid. I don’t mean that in a negative way, they’re actually


SOJA at One Love Cali Reggae Fest Day 1; photo Andy Ortega

awesome and that’s their real band name. Maybe they were at a previous One Love concert in the middle of that thick haze

when they thought of the name, but they’re rad and the roar of the crowd as they walked out proves it. Slightly Stoopid offers a fusion of ska, metal, punk, hip-hop and funk. I’m not going to try to name their style like I did with Fishbone – you get the idea. I can tell you that anyone born and raised in California is familiar with this style.

At the end of the night, I found myself happy and feeling right at home here on this rainy SoCal evening, right next to the Queen Mary and with all my reggae brothas and sistas!

Temper Trap: A Tale From The Photo Pit

Temper Trap

Temper Trap at the Observatory; photo Andy Ortega

There have been times at The Observatory in Santa Ana where I could barely make it through the crowd of concert goers. This time, while it was still mostly full, I was able to move around fairly comfortably for the Temper Trap concert.

I got the sense that there were many fans of the opener, Coast Modern, in the audience, as well. During their last song, I could see and hear people singing along to their laid back tunes such as “Hollow Life”. Coast Modern was a great warm-up before the main show.

The lights were dimmed down a notch as Dougy Mandagi and the rest of the Temper Trap band walked onto the stage. They opened with “Thick As Thieves”, the title track from their latest album and closed with “Sweet Disposition” from their 2009 album, Conditions.

However, as the show progressed, the lights didn’t get much brighter. I think it’s safe to say that they didn’t want bright, or really any lights. My camera was a little sad about that because light is his friend but I was still able to get some decent shots.

Wyatt Blair: A Tale From The Photo Pit

Wyatt Blair

Wyatt Blair played The Wayfarer Jul 31; photo Andy Ortega

When Wyatt Blair jumped onto the stage at The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa, I admit, I had to pause for a minute in shock. Wyatt Blair was the real deal. My 80’s childhood began to flash before my eyes. Was he really wearing one of those long dangling silver earrings on his left ear? You know, the ones all the cool class of 1987 kids wore? Yes, it was really happening and it was totally awesome.

The Wayfarer was previously known as Detroit Bar until 2014 when it changed owners and its name. It was my first time at The Wayfarer since the change. As I walked in, I noticed that they removed some walls which made it feel more spacious. They definitely made some great improvements that turned this venue into a modern, trendy, live music bar.

Wyatt Blair

Wyatt Blair played The Wayfarer Jul 31; photo Andy Ortega

There isn’t a photo pit at this venue, which means that you’ll need to get there early if you want to get close-up photos or you’ll need to squeeze through the crowd as best as you can. The lighting here has been upgraded and it’s now top notch. I can name a few concert venues that don’t compare to The Wayfarer’s lights. For photography, this means I can lower my ISO settings and increase my shutter speed for more crisp, colorful shots.

Wyatt Blair’s music has been compared to the sound of the movie Top Guns’ soundtrack. That was the exact impression I had as they started their set. The band included a guitarist, a bass guitarist and of course, a keyboardist. Can’t leave out those synths, sound effects and electronic drums in an 80’s band, right? The entire band was clad in 80’s-style pastel colors and jean jackets, with the female bass guitarist donning a side ponytail.

The Griswold’s Energetic Show Viewed Through A Lens

Chris Whitehall The Griswolds

Chris Whitehall (The Griswolds) at The Observatory Jul 6 photo: Andy Ortega

By the time The Griswolds began their July 6 show, The Observatory in Santa Ana was almost completely full and pulsing with energy. The audience was singing along with the warm up music that was playing while the sound was getting checked. It was a Monday night but tonight, it was still the weekend.

As the show began, there was a deafening roar/scream as Daniel Duque-Perez stepped out onto the stage and in front of his synthesizer. That’s the reminder for us photographers to put in those earplugs.

Next came Christopher Whitehall with his trademark shaggy blonde hair. He steps up to the microphone, waves and smiles. Again, audience cheers and the show kicks off!

The Griswolds band members are great at moving around to different parts of the stage. When you’re in the audience, especially if you’re on the shorter side, it’s cool when you can see the band members without having to squeeze through a crowd. Whitehall stood on the edge of the stage many times and interacted with the audience very well too.

Katchafire: Pacific Coast Reggae Comes To House Of Blues Anaheim


Katchafire plays the House of Blues Anaheim on Jan 8

Formed in 1997 as a covers band with a name inspired by The Wailers’ debut album Catch a Fire, to their current status as troubadours of Pacific spirit, Katchafire have refined their craft with their latest offering – a testament to organic Aotearoa reggae.

Katchafire are no strangers to success, they are truly ‘World Famous in New Zealand’ with a double platinum debut album Revival, a platinum follow up Slow Burning, 2003’s highest selling single ‘Giddy Up’ and the critically acclaimed 2007 release Say What You’re Thinking. They are also revered throughout the Pacific and are part of the staple diet in the Californian reggae scene.

Recorded at the familiar hunting grounds of Revolver Studios in Waiuku, Katchafire consists of father, Grenville Bell (guitar), Haani Totorewa (keyboards, vocals) Tere Ngarua (bass guitar), Logan Bell (guitar, lead vocals), Jordan Bell (drums), Jamey Ferguson (keyboards, sax, lead vocals) and Leon Davey (vocals, percussion). The album is a finely tuned result of brothers with a constant vibe and consciousness of their travels: both physical and spiritual. Logan Bell offers some insight to OC Concert Guide on how the process worked this time round.

OCCG: I understand that Katchafire consists of a father and two sons besides the other band members. How long have you been playing together as a family and before Katchafire?
LB: Dad played when we were kids – till I (Logan) was about 8 – then mum made him get a real job. Then when Jordan and I were about 18 we started studying music and we all started a reggae band – with dad, which was the start of Katchafire. That was 20 yrs. ago

OCCG: When writing new songs, is it usually one of you doing that or does the band contribute?
LB: We all write separately – one of us has a whole idea, but sometime combinations also – we have a lot of songwriters in the band, and singers:)

OCCG: What’s the story behind the name “Katchafire”?
LB: Pulled it out of a hat!!

OCCG: Your music is obviously influenced by reggae. are you ever influenced by other music genres?
LB: Yes!! Like Hip-Hop, R-n-B, Funk, Jazz, anything sexy.

OCCG: Got any crazy adventure stories about something that happened while on tour?
LB: Oh man, we got stranded in Saipan die to wrong advice from us consulate in NZ – so many things!!! It’s been years – anyway we ended up having the governor’s daughter help us via Facebook!! We had dinner with them

OCCG: Favorite city to play in the US?
LB: Favorite in the world? San Fran!!! Amsterdam :))

OCCG: When you’re on tour, what do you miss most about New Zealand, your home?
LB: My kids!!!

OCCG: What’s going on with Katchafire after this tour?
LB: Staying in New Zealand for a while and get this album finished finally. Then off to Europe in July, lots of new stuff on the horizon, collaborations and things:))

Alternative Dance Vibes From A Land Down Under

Gold Fields

Catch Gold Fields at the Constellation Room Sept. 9.

Australian band, Gold Fields, will be performing their “80s, new wave-influenced, dance-pop” music on Monday, Sept. 9 in the Constellation Room in Santa Ana. Formed in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia in 2010, Gold Fields feature vocalist, Mark Robert Fuller; guitarist, Vin Andanar; keyboardist, Rob Clifton; bassist, Luke Peldys and drummer, Ryan D’Sylva.

The band released their first self-titled EP in 2011. In 2013, Gold Fields delivered their debut full-length album; Black Sun. OC Concert Guide spoke with the band’s vocalist as they head back to the U.S. after successful tour with Capital Cities last spring.

OCCG: Can you introduce yourselves, your part in the band and where you were born?
MRF: Yeah it’s Mark (Fuller), I was born in Ballarat and I sing in Gold Fields.

OCCG: Which genre would you say your music is in?
MRF: We think about it as dance music, especially when it comes to the live show. We’re starting to write new music at the moment so it’s hard to say where it’s heading after Black Sun.

OCCG: Your music has very strong percussion. What or who influenced this?
MRF: Yeah Ryan writes all the drum parts. I think because he knows he’s got Rob to help him play the stuff live, he can write things as complex as he likes and they’ll always figure out a way to pull it off live. It’s good fun for the rest of us to watch at practice. Having a big percussion set up definitely makes the live show more interesting for us too.

OCCG: What was your biggest struggle after forming Gold Fields?
MRF: For me it’s being away from home so much. We’ve spent a lot of time away over the past couple of years an its tough leaving girlfriends and friends and family for months on end to tour.

OCCG: Do you have a theme or message in your debut album, Black Sun?
MRF: Not an intentional one. Listening back, lyrically I actually think the album is really self-absorbed. The whole record is in a way. We were only thinking about ourselves when we made it. Trying to come out with something we liked.

OCCG: What’s the process like when putting a new song together?
MRF: It changes every time. Ry or Vin might program an instrumental, we’ll record vocals on it then take it into a jam room and play it out till it feels right.

OCCG: You’ve been touring through several countries now. Is there a particular city or country that’s been your favorite?
MRF: Yeah I really like San Diego. Pretty much anywhere in California and around LA. Our shows in New York have been highlights. Portland and Seattle, and also any shows in Australia are always great.

OCCG: What can we expect in the future from Gold Fields? Is there another album in the works?
MRF: After this US tour, we’re going to start writing properly again. Not 100% sure at this stage but after this tour, the next thing you’ll hear from Gold Fields will probably be some new music early next year maybe. I think we’re sort of looking at next year as the next chapter, so to speak.

OCCG: Can you give some advice to up-and-coming artists or bands?
MRF: Well we’re still up and coming ourselves so not really. But anything that’s ever worked out for us is the result of some pretty hard work. So I guess just work a lot and make sure you love what you’re making