One particularly beautiful Sunday late last month was perfect for some surf rock courtesy of Grand Rapids band The Concussions. I’ve seen them play a few times before, but this was definitely the best performance of theirs that I’ve caught. It was high energy and you could tell they were having a lot of fun on the tiny stage — even with those rubber skull masks on. And the venue was perfect, too: Creston Brewery.
A bit of history. This brewery occupies an old furniture store in the city’s Creston district, so named for the high school (my alma mater) that anchors the neighborhood. The school has since transitioned to Grand Rapids City High/Middle, a prestigious institution that sucks the resources from the rest of the district and moves from one building to the next like a swarm of locusts every few years. But that’s another story for another day. Back to the brewery. I’ve driven past the building for years and thought it was such a shame that it sat vacant for so long. It has tons of natural light, gorgeous structural details inside and has a ton of personality to spare. I remember going in there a few times as a kid and just being amazed by the view of the neighborhood that the upstairs offered.
The brewery opened late last year and without a doubt, it’s one of my favorites in the city. Particularly because of its location and history. The fact that the owners were keen to maintain as much of the building’s character as possible doesn’t hurt either.
The beer selection is killer and the food is pretty unique. It’s all about tacos and other Mexican fare, but not in the ways you might expect. For example, the menu’s fish bowl. The food isn’t exactly representative of the neighborhood — something other breweries try to do — but it works. What really sets it apart are the house-made hot sauces varying in heat and flavor; they all compliment the grub in ways I didn’t expect. No matter which one I’ve sampled, it’s been delicious and made whatever I was about to stuff in my face taste better than it did un-sauced.
My only gripe is that Creston opened well after I moved out of the neighborhood, so I don’t get over there as much as I’d like. Whenever I’m in the taproom, though, I’m always having a good time.
Judging by the expressions I caught with my camera, that’s something I’m not alone in. The crowd seemed to be having just as much fun as I was, and their smiles were as abundant as the sun coming in through the massive windows. I’ve wanted to get into more challenging photo situations as a way to push myself into different directions and expand my comfort zone. Particularly, I want to get better at candid photography and taking pictures of people. My aim was to capture a comprehensive view of the day, looking at not only the band but everyone in the brewery as well. The Concussions’ show was a perfect way to do all of that.
All that light proved somewhat challenging to work with. While it was indeed bright, it wasn’t bright enough to make shooting indoors without a flash or a slower shutter speed than I’d have liked very easy — especially as the day wore on. And it also worked against me in terms of blowing out the highlights and leaving my subjects in shadow. But I was able to work around it and found some silver lining to slower shutter speeds: I was able to convey the energy of the band and audience with motion blur. Seeing how the band’s monochrome stage outfits came alive in black and white caught me off guard, as well. A few shots even remind me of concert photos I admired as a teenager.
What started out as a batch of 400 exposures (oh hi, burst mode) eventually made its way down to 86. That’s when the editing process got harder and I had to rely on the editing skills I’ve developed over the years as a writer. Namely, looking at my work objectively and killing the darlings that didn’t quite fit or work for what I was trying to achieve.
I wound up axing a bunch of shots where the band wasn’t doing anything interesting on stage, or someone in the crowd I focused on wasn’t looking particularly amused (there were a few). Next came deleting an abundance of black and whites that all looked pretty similar and didn’t add much to the set’s vibe. Overall, I think I succeeded in distilling the mood for the most part, but then again, this set is still over 60 shots, so maybe I’m not as disciplined as I thought.