Chandler Holt, Chatham County Line, 2010.
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Even the dingiest backstage, supplied with a comfy sofa, can feel like a pharaoh’s chamber when you’re a bit weary from touring. Hot coffee, cold beer, and a fresh piece of fruit can temporarily change your world.
—Chandler Holt, Chatham County Line
The backstage area has long held a fascination for music fans. There is a mystique about being “with the band” and allowed in places where fans rarely get to go. Despite the perceived glamour of backstage life, however, the backstage area is often just a momentary rest stop for the artist.
Back rooms, catering areas, and the club owner’s office typically make up a venue’s backstage—if the venue has a “backstage” at all. Showers and loading docks often serve as the place to tune up, work on songs, check phone or email messages, and generally take a moment away from the world. It is these moments, before or after a show, that make up a huge part of the musician’s daily life.
A lifelong interest in musicians and their process—how the music is created and presented—drew me backstage. I wanted to document musicians’ day-to-day experiences and their travels, as well as my own. Over time, my subjects also became my friends. Here are some of my friends, all in moments away from the audience, but never too far away from the music. [End Page 25]
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Chris Phillips, Squirrel Nut Zippers: “Touring has its ups and downs, for sure. For some it has all the hallmarks of hell on earth. For others it is a vast wilderness of adventure, fun, and hi-jinks. But many would agree that the typical backstage dressing room is a gruesome dungeon of horrors. I suppose at the top levels they are quite nice and some club owners actually do make efforts to provide an actual heated or air-conditioned room that has been made habitable for humans. But most are abandoned relics of the Dark Ages. Forgotten broom closets wet with yesterday’s mop water, covered in sadistic and eerily repetitive graffiti, and stubbornly occupied by swayback couches and stacks of broken chairs. While I do love the front of the stage, I go gray at the thought of another backstage dressing room. Let them eat rock . . .”
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Maurice Williams (left, in 2009): “The backstage area is very important. It’s nice to have a place to relax before the show, to have some quiet time. You can meditate, or say prayers. We say prayers before we go on stage. The backstage area really hasn’t changed while I’ve been performing. I first played at the Apollo Theater in 1961, and their backstage area is the same now as it was then. You sit down back there, you’re waiting to go on, and then you’re on stage.
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Caitlin Cary (pictured with Mike Daly, in 2000): “Backstage is most assuredly not one thing, and every musician who’s not playing arenas has run the gamut, from smutty to sterile. So of course we use backstage in all kinds of different ways. Sometimes it’s a great place to hang out and warm up; sometimes you’d rather change in the back of the van (which I’ve done many times, with varying results). In the sweet spots, on the sweet nights, backstage is a gratifying hang with people who understand your way of life—a chance to shake off the doldrums of the hella-long van ride, to catch up with old friends, maybe even to write a few great lines with someone you admire, or learn to sing their song so you can join them onstage later. This picture looks...