Kiss The Sky – Heart, Graham Nash, Joan Jett, orca researchers and more – Sky Church, Seattle

I had the unbelievable good fortune a couple of weeks ago of attending and photographing the historic Kiss The Sky concert put on by the Pacific Whale Watch Association and the Guitar Center. The aim of the event was to promote wild orcas, their care, study and protection in the wild. It brought together some amazing names in rock and roll for a four-hour concert, interspersed with talks from notable orca researchers such as Ken Balcomb and Paul Spong. There are still logistics being worked out about usage rights of the show photos, so I cannot post any of them here yet, but I will do a blog in the future featuring some of them once that is all figured out.

My initial role was to just go down to attend the show while representing Vancouver Whale Watch, a PWWA member company, where I am a wildlife guide for 7 months of the year. However, I made a pitch to the show’s promoter, Michael Harris of Baby Wild Films, that I have many years of experience photographing live music and on the off-chance he didn’t already have dozens of people up his tree about shooting this concert, I would very much be game to do so. The stars aligned – Harris’ team of camerafolk were going to be busy making a film documentary of the event, and he was, indeed, in need of a still photographer.

Heart and Graham Nash during soundcheck
Heart and Graham Nash during soundcheck

So I journeyed down to Seattle to photograph the entire day from set-up to tear down. I was over the moon at the opportunity to photograph legendary artists as well as attend a show in the incredible venue of Sky Church in the Experience Music Project building. If you have never been to EMP, I highly recommend it. There are rotating special showcases and static collections of music memorabilia and rooms where you can crash away with abandon on loads of different instruments, all housed in a Frank Gehry-designed building that looks like a crumpled ball of technicolour tinfoil hucked onto a spare corner of Seattle Center. Sky Church is wide, shallow and TALL – soaring 70 feet with a surround of glass-walled viewing floors, metal, semi-concealed lighting, and a ceiling bedecked with tiny disco balls suspended from undulating jellyfish-like canopies. It is utterly beautiful and state-of-the-art in sound and lighting, with the stage backed by a massive video screen.

First up in the afternoon was the press conference with Harris, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Arielle, Graham Nash, and Country Joe McDonald. Following that and a whirlwind signing session of guitars and posters for the event’s silent auction, I headed over to Sky Church to document the soundcheck. Heart soundchecked first and what a joy it was to be in the room with just a handful of techs, promoters and staff to watch them and Graham Nash playing basically a mini concert while images of whales played across the screen behind them. Another surprise, when one of the musical acts, Andrew Morse, showed up, he had Ian McLagan in tow on keyboards.

Ian McLagan chatting with Andrew Morse during soundcheck
Ian McLagan chatting with Andrew Morse during soundcheck

Around 6pm, there was a meet and greet session in a lounge outside Sky Church for the VIP ticketholders. Ann and Nancy Wilson were stationed at a table while fans filed through to get a photo taken with them. The girls headed off for dinner shortly after while the VIPs hung around in the lounge, sipping beverages and snacking on an impressive spread of catered food. Joan Jett showed up partway through to chat with fans and get photos taken. What a thing, to be following petite Jett around this room snapping her interacting with these people.

Joan Jett and Country Joe McDonald fistbump at the VIP meet and greet.
Joan Jett and Country Joe McDonald fistbump at the VIP meet and greet.

At 7pm, the floodgates opened. By the time I got back into Sky Church, there was already a good chunk of people at stagefront. I secured a spot for shooting the gig and remained there for the duration of the night. It was a fantastic night of music and whales. The audience was die-hard, the music was excellent and energetic, the set was sensational, the speakers tugged on heartstrings and seemed to really get people thinking about conservation. I definitely get the vibe that a lot of people showed up at this concert not knowing it had anything to do with whales, and likely left with an extra understanding. The artists and researchers all spoke passionately about their love of these animals. It was a beautiful thing.

Dr. Paul Spong and Country Joe McDonald on the whale watching boat
Dr. Paul Spong and Country Joe McDonald on the whale watching boat

The next day, there was a whale watching trip run by Island Adventures out of Everett for the VIPs and some of the artists and researchers. The 3 hour trip took us up around the top of Whidbey Island where we spent about 45 minutes watching a well-known grey whale named Patch feeding in the shallow waters over a silty bank.

Patch the grey whale
Patch the grey whale

Brilliant couple of days and I feel very privileged to have been a part of such a groundbreaking event. Stay tuned – I will try to get some photos released soon!

Update: Here they are! All right kids, cursory approvals for posting some of these Kiss the Sky concert images received… enjoy! The players are as follows:

Country Joe McDonald; Emcee Norman B.; Andrew Morse featuring Ian McLagan; Dr. Paul Spong; Arielle; David Phillips; Joan Jett & the Blackhearts; Ken Balcomb; Heart featuring Jami Sieber; Graham Nash; Michael Harris. Truly incredible line-up of speakers and musicians.

 

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