2015—Tiger Lilies

My photography outing with Bruce on Tuesday resulted in an interesting and varied array of photographic options for my blog. We pulled off the Freeway at Emigrant Gap and drove past a place called the Onion Valley Campground to find a large meadow of wild tiger lilies he’d seen in full bloom a few weeks ago. They were beautiful but a bit past their prime according to Bruce. Still, I thought they were gorgeous and focused in on one pair that I struggled to photograph as the breeze was erratic. I was not as prepared as I usually am so much of my gear was at home. Fortunately, on Bruce’s advice, I borrowed a polarizing filter from him that allowed me to capture the stunning beauty of the tiger lilies without the bright, mid-afternoon sun blowing out parts of the photo. With the pine trees as a background, their bright colors pop.

After spending an hour or so photographing the lilies, we decided it was time for a break so we headed back toward the empty Onion Valley Campground to eat our bag lunches. As we drove back, a young black bear cub suddenly sprinted in front of us and scurried across the road. I had my camera in my lap but was not fast enough to get off a shot. He was only a quarter mile or so from the meadow where we’d photographed the lilies and only another quarter mile or so from the campground. I kept alert for him and wary that his mother was also nearby, but we never got another glimpse of him.

Here is the pair of tiger lilies I was happy to finally capture after fighting the breeze, a shot of a single flower, and Bruce photographing the lilies.

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2015—Forty Minutes At The Fountain

This morning was a banner day of sorts, in terms of the array of visitors to the fountain over a short period of time in the morning. It was not particularly a banner day in terms of the quality of the photographs I took, all with the 600mm lens, but I’m practicing and learning about the lens.

It started when I looked out to see a young hawk (I think a juvenile sharp-shinned) on the fence. I’m temporarily down to one camera, which was in my camera bag with the 24-70mm lens attached. I knew I wouldn’t get much of a photo from inside the house with a short lens but I took a few anyway before the hawk flew off. When he left, I scurried to retrieve my tripod and 600mm lens, both inconveniently inside the closet inside other camera bags. I dragged them out and attached the lens to the tripod. Just as I was attaching the camera to the lens, I looked up to see the hawk land on the fountain. But the tripod wasn’t yet in the correct position in the window so things were obscuring my line of sight. Adding to my frenzy was Bobo who was making her hawk warning calls and trying to hide. I didn’t want to lose sight of the hawk and the kitchen table was preventing me from centering the lens in the window so I leaned my hip against the table and shoved as hard as I could to move it out of the way; at the same time, I hooked my foot around the leg of one of the chairs and slid it in the opposite direction.

Despite my efforts, I still didn’t manage to get the focus point on the hawk’s eye. Everything was jiggling because I was still adjusting the position of the lens and the ISO was too low so the shutter speed was also slow. But I managed to get three shots before the hawk flew off again. Within minutes, the male hummer flew into the viewfinder. By now I had adjusted the camera to vertical because the hawk took up half the frame and I thought if he returned I might get a better shot at him in a vertical format. But, I had locked down the panning knob so I couldn’t move the lens easily and while I fumbled with that, the hummer was on the very edge of the viewfinder and not moving into the shot. I clicked 4 shots of the hummer also at a very slow shutter speed.

I made some camera adjustments to get a better shutter speed, returned the camera to horizontal and was getting ready to leave for the gym when I noticed the fountain filling with bushtits. They frolicked in the water for five minutes or so and I took quite a few shots with the lens wide open so I had a better shutter speed but the depth of field was too shallow to get all of the birds in focus at once. When they left, I looked out to see a lone dove laying in the water holding its wings aloft but not flapping. I presume it was trying to cool off since it was already quite warm even though it was only 8:30AM.

Now I realize I will have to leave my lens on the tripod so I can quickly set up if I see action outside. I will also have to wash my windows. But at least I’m getting experience using this lens and hopefully the more I practice, the better my results will be.

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2015—Where There’s Smoke

On Tuesday, after we photographed the osprey nest in its never-to-be-revealed location, Bruce and I drove toward the Lowell Fire hoping to get photos of air tankers dropping fire retardant, a very dramatic thing to see. We drove up winding Drum Powerhouse Road and stopped on a ridge to watch. It was late afternoon and the big tankers were not in evidence but we watched several helicopters ferry huge buckets of water to the smoky fire beyond the ridge. As I write, the fire has been burning for four days in the steep hollow drainage west of Alta; it has burned more than 2300 acres and is 45% contained. There are more than 2300 personnel fighting the fire with 13 helicopters and 5 air tankers as well as lots of ground equipment. On the day we watched, 4 firefighters were injured and had to be hospitalized.

I used the dehazing filter in Lightroom to eliminate the general haze from these photos but still retaining the smoky appearance of the sky. In the first shot, the helicopter flew directly overhead, suddenly appearing from the ridge behind us. In the second shot, two helicopters can be seen, the second one, just barely a dot, just to the upper right of the larger one.

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2015—But Then We’d Have To Kill You

But they did tell me and I’m still alive! Last week at my Camera Club, after it become known that I had just purchased a new Nikon 600mm lens, there was much talk of an osprey nest, its whereabouts classified and known by only a privileged few. Since I now had a lens that could potentially reach out and almost touch the birds, could I be trusted with the location? I volunteered to be blindfolded and led there, clueless of where I might be. But, they were skeptical. Then, Bruce, one of my friends from the Camera Club, offered to take me there, my vision unobstructed. I never would have found it myself. It was off I-80 at an exit called Yuba Gap. From there we bounced and jostled for at least 20 minutes over a deeply rutted dirt road so narrow that the brush scraped the sides of the truck leaving scratches all down its sides. Bruce didn’t seem to mind, having visited there more than once. When the road came to an abrupt end, we were there. The osprey nest was atop a pine tree that had no top, perhaps the victim of a lightening strike or fire. All the other trees in the area were dead and had turned ghostly white. The nest tree still had brown bark, just no top. We set up our tripods with our cameras and lenses and waited for something to happen.

I have lots to learn about this new lens. First, I had a makeshift plate to hold it to the tripod. I used the plate from my D800 but that plate is too short. It seemed to hold the lens well enough but I was worried about it the entire time. My new lens plate was being delivered by UPS while I waited for action at the osprey nest. It was also quite breezy and I noticed a bit of camera shake from the wind. I used my wireless remote to trigger the camera to avoid any additional movement I might cause. Every time I touched the camera or the lens, it took a while to settle back down and sometimes if I triggered the shutter too quickly, the movement of the mirror caused enough shake to blur the shot. I recall when I used Moose’s 800mm lens in Wyoming, he admonished me to gently rest my hand on top of the lens when I triggered it and huffed at me when I forgot to do it a couple of times. I was afraid to do that at all today but I’m thinking that’s probably something to test out, especially once I get the new, sturdier lens plate attached. I also forgot to bring my 1.4x teleconverter. As it was, with the Nikon D7100, the lens is effectively 900mm. If I’d added the teleconverter, I think it would have been close to a 1200mm lens.

We waited for an hour while the two chicks alternately napped, stretched their wings, or looked around for Mom or Dad to return with lunch. Suddenly, the female flew in with a fish and the real action started. Then the male arrived with a fish. For a brief time all four huge birds were atop the nest. I think they brought in trout to feed the chicks. The shape of the fish the female has looks kind of trout-like to me. The fish the male brought in had a pink side, but the one shot I had of the fish was not in crisp focus. We watched for two hours and decided that there wasn’t a whole lot more to see until next feeding time. We left, but I’m pretty happy with the results. They’re not great shots but they’re decent. I cropped them all but one so you could see what I actually photographed.

This is the very first shot I took; it is cropped. After a couple of shots, I moved the camera to avoid a bush that kept blowing into my photos:

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The uncropped view, after I moved the camera, I changed to a vertical format:

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All the rest of the shots were taken in a vertical format but cropped to a horizontal format.

The female arrives with fish for lunch:

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The chicks devour the fish while the female waits for the male:

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The male flies in about 90 seconds later with another fish:

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The male drops his fish and flies off just seconds after arriving:

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The female and the two chicks watch as male flies off to another tree:

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The male in a nearby tree, looks back toward the nest:

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2015—Comfort Food

When I visited The Bird Shop Monday afternoon to replenish Bobo’s supply of Harrison’s Bird Food, I came across a shelf with a large display of Nutriberries, a bird treat that I used to buy for Bobo all the time but stopped buying them when I started baking my own recipe for Parrot Pot Pies. Nutriberries are indeed a treat for Bobo and I’m sure she considers them comfort food. They are essentially balls of seeds held together by a binder. Usually, Bobo’s seeds are carefully rationed to her and seed treats are rare. For the past 12 years, she has been limited to 1 teaspoon of seed PER WEEK. Bobo became very ill 12 years ago and was diagnosed with Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition brought on by a lifetime of a bad, all seed diet fed to her by her original owner for 17 years, then by me in ignorance for another year. It was quite a challenge to wean Bobo off seeds and convert her diet to a more nutritious diet of pellets prepared specifically for large birds but she responded to the change and transitioned to the new food in less than two weeks. The transformation was astounding. When we used to give Bobo spray baths, her malnourished feathers soaked up the water and she looked like a drowning rat. Her body quickly began to respond to good nutrition, she became more active, and now when given a spray bath, the water just beads up and rolls off. Although Nutriberries are seed based treats, they are more nutritious than seeds alone because they are prepared with other things besides seeds. I decided to treat Bobo with some Nutriberries so I came home with a tub of them.

I placed a single Nutriberry in the “treat drawer” that Bobo has to open in order to access whatever is inside. Within a couple of minutes, she had extricated the treat and was happily munching away without stopping. Parrots are incredibly messy creatures and they’ll take a bite of something then drop it. Not the precious Nutriberry. She grasped it tightly in her talon and seemed to savor every bite. It took her almost 15 minutes for her to delicately devour the treat, more than enough time for me to set up the camera and take a few shots of her. She was so intent on eating her treat that she ignored me and my camera.

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2015—Cassiopeia

My nephew Michael, who gazes at stars through telescopes, not camera lenses, has annotated the photograph of the night sky that I posted earlier today. In case you were wondering what I was focused on, Cassiopeia is smack dab in the center…not that I knew it at the time. The only constellations that I recognize are the Big Dipper and Orion. I was at Blue Bird Camp at age 8 years old when I remember first hearing of the constellation Cassiopeia which was pointed out to me and I was told she was sitting in her chair. I could never find it again.

It’s kind of fun to see a map of the stars superimposed on my own photo. It makes me want to go out and do some more night photography. We have so much light pollution around my house, though, that even the new Lightroom Dehazing slider couldn’t help.

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2015—Night Skies At Arches

My friend Richard sent me a link to remind me of one of the new features of both Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC…the dehazing slider that removes haze and enhances night skies. He suggested that he might have to redo some of his photos from our Moab trip this past April. I responded that since most of my photos from Moab sucked, there was little point. But, this morning I started fiddling with some of them and the filter really does help. I also went back to my photos from Moab in 2014 with Moose. Here are two of my dehazed shots.

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2015—Tips And Tails

In photography, unintentionally cutting off the wingtips or tails of either a bird or a plane (or, I suppose, Superman’s fingers or feet as his body is stretched out in flight), is frowned upon. Likewise, unintentionally capturing a tail as it leaves the frame is also a “no-no” when the focus is on something else. I have discovered that composition in bird photography is extremely difficult, partly because birds are almost constantly in motion. My long time goal has been capturing birds in flight and in focus and completely in the frame. It has also been a rare achievement for me.

I am excited to practice bird photography with my new 600mm lens. This lens is phenomenal, fabulous, and very daunting. I have ordered a gimbal head for it but in the meantime, I’m using my ball head and the plate from my D800 which I have sent to Nikon for servicing to hold the 600mm lens on the tripod. It is not the right plate but it seems to be doing the job for now.

When I focused on the fountain from inside my house, the baby scrub jays, with their Walt Disney beaks, were exploring it. But, I wasn’t fast enough to compose the shot properly so I ended up with lots of tips and tails either missing or unwanted.

Again, these shots are uncropped from about 30 feet away inside the house. I should have changed the ISO because at ISO 1600, and f/4, the shutter speed was 1/1600.

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2015—”Doo Doo Doo, Lookin’ Out My Back Door”

Early this morning, I noticed the hummer bathing and I decided to set up my tripod and camera with Big Bertha (the name may change, but it’s what comes to mind right now) inside the house looking toward the fountain, about 30 feet away. Of course, the hummer was gone by the time I set up the camera but minutes later he returned and because I had the camera already set up and focused, I was able to trigger the remote and take a sequence of shots. The blog title occurred to me as I was driving to the gym and Creedence was singing on the radio, “Doo Doo Doo, lookin’ out my back door.” Light bulb moment for me. I was literally looking out my back door when I took the shots. I’m pretty happy with the results and as I get more familiar with Big Bertha, I hope to get better shots.

It was only 6:30 am, the fountain was in deep shade, and the camera was inside the house, so I increased the ISO to 1600 and opened the lens to its maximum aperture, f/4, to get a decent shutter speed (1/125). I took these shots with the D7100 because Nikon hasn’t returned my D800 yet, so the effective focal length is 900mm. I think I mentioned in my last post that it was 840mm with the crop frame camera, but Nikon says it’s 900mm. Wow. I’m impressed. As I mentioned, I was at least 30 feet away from the fountain.

I decided to try making a time lapse out of eleven shots but couldn’t figure out how to show it in slow motion, so today’s offering is one still shot and a video created from 11 sequential shots. And, don’t blink. This video goes really fast!!

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2015—Moon Shadow, Moon Shadow

What an exciting day I had on Tuesday. Action Camera called to tell me that my new Nikon 600mm f/4 lens had arrived. The new lens was announced a few weeks ago and I immediately ordered one because I have at least 5 birding trips coming up in the next year and I thought owning one was a better idea than renting one over and over. I don’t have to have it until November when I’m scheduled to go to Alaska with friends to photograph bald eagles, and I didn’t expect the lens to arrive before September, so I certainly didn’t expect to be one of the first to receive it. Charlie, the owner of Action Camera, kept in close touch with his Nikon rep and succeeded in securing one for me. I would have had it last Friday but Nikon sent the 500mm lens, not the 600mm lens he’d ordered for me. Nikon had to overnight my 600mm lens. I opened it at the camera store with the help of Action Camera’s Charlie, Melinda, and Pete. As we unwrapped it, it felt like Christmas for everyone there, not just me. I don’t even know how to describe this lens except to say that it is huge, it comes with its own hard sided suitcase, and it has a lens hood the size of a 3 pound coffee can. But the new lens is 3 pounds lighter than its predecessor. In fact, when it arrived at Action Camera, they were concerned that the lens wasn’t in the box because it was so much lighter than expected.

I didn’t do more than set it on the tripod when I got home. Then, Tuesday evening, I had my camera club meeting. When I got home from the meeting, I was itching to see something from the lens. I decided my only option this late in the evening was to photograph the moon. So I traipsed outside with it to capture the rapidly setting waxing crescent moon. It was quite breezy and the lens was vibrating from the wind; Italian cypress trees were swaying back and forth blocking the moon; and then wave after wave of wispy clouds drifted by, creating a shadow on the moon. I have been singing “moon shadow, moon shadow” over and over ever since. Cat Stevens (or is it Yusuf Islam still?) would probably not approve. Here are two shots that I took with the clouds obscuring parts of the moon. And, a shot that Melinda at Action Camera took of me as I hefted the lens for the first time.

I took the two moon shots (an appropriate subject because it was actually Moon Walk Day —July 21— when I took these shots) at ISO 320, f/8, 1/100 using the D7100. On this crop frame camera, the lens in effect has a focal length of 840mm. Neither shot is cropped.

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2015—Future BLT

The hot weather has not been kind to my tomato crop. The excessive heat causes the flowers to wither and dry on the vine before setting fruit. I do have a few full size tomatoes, though, including this lovely Brandy Boy specimen. I see a BLT in its future.

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2015—Backdrop

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a portable paper backdrop set to use both at home and any time I need a solid white background, which seems to be more frequent as I do product photography for Vaneli’s Handcrafted Coffees. It consists of two stands with a connecting rod and a roll of 53 inch wide stiff paper. It’s much better than the Rube Goldberg contraptions I usually set up with inadequate clamps attached to flimsy trifold foam core boards that hold thin, wrinkly freezer paper strips and that collapse around my subject just as I trigger the shutter. I thought I’d try it out today because the room that I am slowly converting to a photography studio of sorts, was free enough of unrelated clutter for me to set it up.

I had picked up a few Packham pears (marketed that way but on closer examination are really Autumn Bartletts from either Argentina or Chile—I guess California pears aren’t ripening yet) and decided the trio of pears (pun intended) would make a good subject for the new backdrop. It’s nice not to have to Photoshop out lines and seams.

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2015—PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT!!!

The written depiction of a Bronx cheer, a raspberry, a general dissatisfaction with a situation or person, is something like this: PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT!!! It has a dual meaning for me today. I took a few shots of one of the baby scrub jays (there seem to be at least two now and maybe three) as it attempted bathing and it did manage to do a little splashing but when I looked at this shot, with its tongue protruding from its beak, I couldn’t help but think “raspberry.” And, never having seen a jay’s tongue before today, I thought of my continual quest for a gesture in the wild subjects I follow around and felt this was a pretty good one, as gestures go. Or, perhaps I should say as MY capturing of gestures goes.

The other meaning for me is my own Bronx cheer, directed at my Mac, my Lightroom program, and my Xfinity internet connection, none of which is working properly despite numerous reboots. I couldn’t get anything via wifi on my iPhone either and since my AT&T cell service at my house is practically nonexistent, when I’m at home, texting and calling is spotty at best. When I couldn’t download photos through Lightroom, I booted the MacBookAir. Lightroom seemed to function properly on it and I was able to download photos quickly. But, when I went on-line to write my blog, the photos wouldn’t upload properly and I couldn’t get them to appear in the post. Another rebooting of the MacBookAir helped and suddenly, everything seemed to be back to normal, on that computer at least. My frustration continues but at least I have an option now.

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2015—Big Erik

Once again I have taken no photographs today. Instead, I spent much of the day looking for this photograph of my great grandfather, Magnus Erik Magnusson. After spending the day with my cousin Lynda yesterday, I have been thinking nonstop about the Ericksons and what little I know about my mother’s side of the family. Yesterday, Lynda and I realized that the birth certificates for her father and my mother both state Grandma’s name as Emma Manganson not Magnusson as we’d always been told. When Grandma arrived in the United States through Ellis Island in 1903, the ship’s manifest lists her name as Emma Kristina Magnuson. Grandma came to the US alone as a teenager. What courage. I have a letter written in 1985 to my mother from a man in Sweden that says the photograph was taken in 1887 and that the men are “Big Erik,” my grandmother’s father, on the left and Olav Larsson on the right in their Swedish Army uniforms. The man, who was about 80 when he wrote the letter, was Olav’s son Edvin Olson, but unfortunately, he doesn’t mention Big Erik’s last name.

The photograph was probably a copy of a copy and I have no idea what the original format might have been, so I used Perfect Suite B&W and chose a Tin Type filter to enhance the shot.

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2015—The Ericksons

I took no photographs today. Today’s blog photo is one I scanned after finding it in a scrapbook that belonged to my mother. The photograph was developed (according to the information on its reverse) on January 5, 1938, by the Bear Photo Service. It is a photograph of my mother’s family standing in front of the little house my grandfather built (probably from a Sears Roebuck kit) in 1920 in Escalon, California. They raised chickens and almonds on the property, across the street from the railroad tracks. Left to right, my grandfather, Nels Erickson, my grandmother, Emma Magnusson Erickson, my Uncle Roy, my mother, Evelyn, and my Aunt Ethel. My grandparents both immigrated from Sweden in the early 1900’s arriving at Ellis Island as teenagers a couple of years apart. I don’t know how they met. I think the three siblings (at least Evelyn and Roy) were born in Wyoming where Grandpa worked building trestles for the railroad.

When my mother died in March, five days shy of her 98th birthday, instead of losing a family member, I regained family. I didn’t realize that her passing would result in the family coming closer together, but that is exactly what has happened. I’m sharing this photo because today I reconnected with my cousin Lynda, Roy’s daughter, after probably 50 years. We met in Walnut Creek for lunch. Our cousin Penny, Ethel’s daughter, was supposed to join us but at the last minute she had to cancel. We’ve already scheduled another get-together for the three of us. What fun to reminisce and compare notes. So much of our family history is a mystery…those stoic Swedes were tight lipped.

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2015—Fledgling Instinct

The baby scrub jay that my neighbor saved from certain death (click here) has fledged and is spending lots of time in the shrubs in my backyard while his parents try to teach him how to survive. Baby birds are irresistible to me. Their exaggerated Walt Disney cartoon beaks are so cute. I watched Monday afternoon as the little guy tried unsuccessfully to figure out how to bathe in the cool waters of the fountain. He couldn’t  coordinate his body movements to get the bath he seemed to want so badly. But, his instincts kicked in when a hapless honeybee flew into his mouth. 

In the first shot the bird cocks  his head a bit as the bee flies directly at him.  Next,  the baby bird had enough instinct to clamp his beak down on the bee but sadly, not enough instinct to hang on and swallow. In the final shot, the bee makes a quick getaway and is seen as a blur flying out of  the beak. The good news is that the little jay finally did manage to splash a bit of water on his body so at least some of his instincts finally kicked in.

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2015—Brandy Boy

I have a long history with Brandy Boy. For many years, I competed with my dentist for bragging rights to the best Brandy Boy harvest, and I had to grow this Brandywine-Better Boy tomato hybrid from seed back then. I haven’t had a garden in many years and now I can buy Brandy Boy seedlings. When I grew it from seed, I had so many starts that I couldn’t give them away and I felt such guilt letting them die. I have a few green tomatoes on this vine but I loved the morning backlighting on these leaves. A recent Flickr Daily Challenge was “gardening” and because I haven’t participated in that group for quite a while, I decided to take up the challenge.

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2015—Van Who??

Thursday night, my friend Annie and I drove to the Concord Pavilion to a Van Halen concert with Kenny Wayne Shepherd first on the program. I won tickets, donated by Sacramento Classic Rock Station The Eagle, on the Fourth of July in a drawing that benefited the Forgotten Veterans’ Program in Auburn. The seats weren’t really seats at all, just space on the lawn but Annie and I were game for a fun adventure. We brought lawn chairs and blankets and umbrellas and rain jackets. Sometimes California’s drought doesn’t seem like a drought at all. Since when do we get rain in July? After the hour and a half drive down to Concord, we were early so we found a place to have a glass or two or wine and something to eat. When we arrived at the Pavilion, we parked in the public lot but no one asked us to pay and we saw no pay stations, so not only were the tickets free, so was the parking. We were early enough that we were able to settle in center stage just a few feet away from the railing. Others were already seated partially in front of us but the slope on the lawn provides ample viewing area. Despite the spitting sky, Annie and I settled in and met lots of fun people.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a blues/rock guitarist, was phenomenal. We couldn’t keep still while he performed and his set turned out to be the highlight of the evening. Once Van Halen hit the stage, we no longer had any line of sight because people crowded in front of us to get to the railing. Even standing wouldn’t let Annie see; she’s a head shorter than I am and I couldn’t see. We could barely see the Jumbotrons which didn’t seem exactly jumbo from up on the grassy knoll. When their singing was so off key in one song that we began to laugh, when the sound became so loud that it was distorted and it became impossible to hear anything, when the sky continued to spit on us, Annie and I decided to pick up our chairs and blankets, fight our way through the crowd, and make a getaway. My guess is that we saw 3/4 of the concert. Since I wasn’t a Van Halen fan to begin with, I don’t think I missed anything. I’m really glad I got to see and hear Kenny Wayne Shepherd, though. He is awesome!

The venue does not allow changeable lens cameras and so I left Big Nik at home and resurrected my Canon point and shoot. I was glad I did because they searched us as we entered the Pavilion. Here is Annie giving the Rock and Roll Salute before the concert started, and a shot of what we were able to see of Van Halen on stage before we made our getaway You can barely make out David Lee Roth strutting on the Jumbotron.

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