Brian's Photo Blog — Article 371
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Phil Keaggy Concert
Wednesday 28 January 2015   —   Category: Outings
I’m embarrassed to admit that it has been a whole three months since my last blog entry on Halloween. And about half a year since my last new photo album!

It’s not that I’ve been totally neglecting photography. During the past couple of months I have been on a number of photo outings. It’s just that I’ve been so busy writing articles for my Brian’s Bits and Your Islamic Future Web sites that this photography Web site has been relegated to the back burner.

I have photos I took in California earlier this month which I want to process and put into albums, but first I needed to take care of the photos from my last outing for 2014. On my youngest daughter’s 13th birthday, December 4, we got a real treat!

Guitarist extraordinaire for nearly 50 years, Phil Keaggy, was giving a concert in nearby Corvallis on that very evening. This was very fitting, seeing that we named her Olivia after being inspired by the song Phil wrote for his daughter Olivia.

Phil was performing as part of keyboardist Jeff Johnson’s WinterSky Tour, with flutist Brian Dunning and violinist Wendy Goodwin, at the LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus.

In a blog post written during the tour, Wendy aptly describes the highlight of the evening: “Phil is bringing the house down nightly with a pyrotechnic solo set unlike anything I’ve seen on the guitar. The man can sing too... Wow. Wow. Wow!” Here is a photo from a tour concert in Texas.
I had seen Phil Keaggy in concert twice before: once in the mid-1980s at Christian Night at Knott’s Berry Farm in California, and then again in the mid-1990s in Kirchberg, Switzerland — about 12 miles NE of the capital, Bern, and about an hour’s drive from where I used to live in Moutier.

I knew that I wanted to turn this concert into a photo op, but I also knew that I wanted to remain discreet and unobtrusive. Even though my Micro Four Thirds equipment is relatively small compared to APS-C and full-frame camera systems, still, taking my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with my longest telephoto lens, the Panasonic 100-​300​mm, would have made me feel like a sports photographer at the big game!

So I opted for my fairly-capable Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR pocket camera instead. Its 500mm (equivalent) maximum zoom doesn’t have quite the reach of the above-mentioned Panasonic lens’ 600mm (equivalent) maximum, but it is still pretty good. Of course, the image quality of the E-M5 is much better, but at least the F900EXR has RAW-image capability.

I was hoping to take some video footage as well, but right before the concert began, they announced that video recording was prohibited. With hundreds of Phil Keaggy videos on YouTube, this restriction seems just plain silly. But since it was a Christian concert, and since I am a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), obedience was the only option.

Like most digital cameras, the F900EXR beeps each time its focus locks on a target, as well as every time I press the shutter release. Therefore, I was extremely grateful for the “Silent Mode” menu option. I’m sure everyone sitting near me was very grateful as well!

Once the musicians got going, and I got going with my camera, the flame of photographic passion was kindled anew. I don’t remember exactly which row we were sitting in, but it was somewhere between the 10th and 15th — not too far away, but when taking pictures, not near enough either.

The lighting was the biggest challenge. Only a handful of shots were taken at an ISO below 1,000. The vast majority had an ISO of 1,250 or higher, with nearly a quarter of the images using an ISO of 3,200! Obviously, with such a small image sensor, noise becomes a significant problem.

Even at such high ISO settings, the shutter speed was frequently not fast enough to ensure razor-sharp images. But occasionally that worked to my advantage. The blurring of Phil’s hands in certain photos illustrates how fast he sometimes moves his hands as he plays. It’s not by chance that he is a living guitar legend!

I was enjoying the photographic challenges so much that I ended up taking 254 photos during the two-and-a-half-hour concert. When it came time to process them yesterday, I decided to go strictly black and white due to the high level of image noise, as well as the variations in color due to my unfortunate use of auto white balance.

I’m pleased with the 30 resulting photos, which are being presented in my last album of the year: Phil Keaggy 2014. The black and white treatment, combined with the “imperfections” of grain and blur, give the images a gritty, artsy feel which is well suited to these concert photos. Even though the image quality suffered somewhat, I have no regrets about my choice of camera.

Of course, no words I could say or write, or photos I could take, could even come close to doing justice to Phil’s astonishing guitar playing. You’ve got to hear it, and SEE it, to believe it!

Besides his virtuosity on the guitar, he also puts modern electronics to amazing use. Phil will play and record short pieces of music as live loops, and then have his equipment play them back while he plays more music on top of the loops.

But what is really mind-blowing is the type of loops he records, one after another. During the various pieces he performed, Phil recorded a loop of melodic finger-picking, then another loop of him drumming on the guitar body, then another loop of him rattling an egg shaker (and even banging on the strings with it!), and then another loop of a bass line played on the bass strings of his guitar, and then another melodic finger-picking riff.

To top it all off, he sang some background vocals into his guitar for an additional loop or two. Then, when all of these loops were playing back together, he played some amazing guitar solos over it all! They were truly jaw-dropping performances — he’s like a one-man band!

Looking around YouTube, I found a video of a performance Phil gave in 2013 which features “Shades of Green” — the same song he opened with in Corvallis. I don’t think it is quite as good as what he did at the concert I was at, but it gives you an idea of what it was like and what Phil is able to do.

On this video, he creates sets of loops, but then he seems to abandon them and go on to something else without having gotten much use out of them. And he spends quite a bit of time getting his guitar in tune. But with someone as talented as Phil Keaggy, even these things can be musically satisfying!
Here’s another rendition of “Shades of Green” which Phil performed in 2013, which feels a bit more polished:
There are many different YouTube videos of Phil performing just this one song, not to mention hundreds and even thousands of other Phil Keaggy video performances you can enjoy!

For more Phil Keaggy on this Web site, don’t miss the article I wrote last summer which features a video of him performing March of the Clouds.

For reviews of other concerts I have had the privilege of attending while living in Oregon, be sure to check out these articles on my Brian’s Bits Web site:
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 371
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