Every time my friends and I went to spend the summer holidays on Elba, a small island in northern Italy, we would listen to the Eagles’ Hotel California when we drove our car off the ferry and onto that little paradise. This song embodies summer for me, and it is loaded to the brink with fond and melancholic memories. Whenever I hear that piece it takes me away to someplace completely else, more so than any other song. I guess I won’t exaggerate if I call it my absolute, all-time favorite.
So when I learned that the Eagles were coming to play in Columbia, it was clear that I had to get to that concert somehow. I just wanted to hear that song live once in my lifetime. However, with ticket prices starting at $90.00, the Eagles aren’t really meeting my budget. So what to do?
That’s where my current staff photography course at the Columbia Missourian comes in. A call from the editors and the little plastic ID card that we got with the three magic words on it (“working press corps”) can work miracles. And so, after I was officially admitted as a photographer for the Vox Magazine and the Columbia Missourian, I really did get to go to that concert.
Together with Clare, a fellow shooter at the Missourian, I went to the Mizzou Arena one and a half hours ahead of time. There was a huge crowd waiting at the gates, and most of the people were old enough to be my parents (or even grand-parents).
When the media personnel of the Arena finally picked us up to equip us with our press credentials, they told us that we were only allowed to be in the concert hall for the first three songs. After that, we would have to pack our gear and leave immediately. I asked them if they knew where Hotel California was on the set list, and they said that it would be the fifth song. However, if we walked really, really slow on our way out, we might get to hear the beginning of it. Then they escorted us to our stands on the floor.
Well, coming to think of it, “stands” might be an exaggeration. Rather, we were perched between the fence enclosing the sound booth and the back row of the floor seats in a small alley that was continuously frequented by latecomers making their way to their seats. In order to get above people’s heads and get a clear shot of the band, I had to climb on the fence and sit up there, holding as still as possible while balancing my camera with the heavy 300 mm lens on it.
During the three songs we were allowed to shoot, I spread out every single piece of equipment that I had as far as I could around me. The strobe, the cord, every lens and even the lens caps were placed strategically, so that it would take me a long, long time to gather my stuff together once the third song was finished.
The concert was mind blowing, and they had put together an incredible light show. After they started off with How Long, Don Henley welcomed the crowd and introduced the tour as “the Eagles’ assisted living tour,” harvesting cheers and laughter. They continued with I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore and Guilty Of The Crime, and then Bill Armstrong played his trumpet solo that lead up to Hotel California.
We had to get ready to leave now, and I clumsily started to scramble my stuff together, taking as much time as I could without making it look too obvious. I “accidentally” got tangled up in my flash cord and of course I had to rearrange my lenses a few times before I could close the camera bag. I successfully managed to kill enough time that the trumpet solo was finished, and when we turned around to make our (escorted) way out, they started playing it. Hotel California. I couldn’t believe that I was finally getting to hear that song live, from the hands and the mouths of the very geniuses who wrote it. The crowd went frantic, and the first riffs of the guitar sent a shudder down my back. I walked as slowly as possible behind our escort, all the while absorbing every tiny little bit of this bitter-sweet acoustic miracle.
Finally we reached the exit, and then there was no way of delaying it any longer. After letting a few more latecomers pass through the narrow stair case into the hall, we had to leave the arena. I didn’t get to hear the guitar solo at the end of the song anymore, at least not from inside the hall. But that didn’t really matter to me anymore. Hearing Hotel California live at last had shot me to cloud nine within seconds, and there was nothing that could bring me down from there.