O’Reilly’s Oyster Fest- Cake, Jackie Greene , Raveonettes

Oyster Fest

Here are some belated photos from the annual O’Reilly’s Oyster Fest in San Francisco. This used to be a free event in Washington Square Park in North Beach, but moved to Fort Mason, became a ticketed event, and started having much bigger bands. With the right weather, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge can be positively muralistic.

Cake by Dan Dion

This year’s headliner was the Sacramento-baked irono-comic band CAKE. I’m a huge fan. While other bands are spewing cliche-filled “love” songs, Cake says they “want  a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket.”  I can appreciate that in a big way.

The Raveonettes are a Danish band that were cool, and a good bit of variety to a typical festival, but to be honest, really shouldn’t be playing in the daylight.

Also on the bill was Jackie Greene, who has been anointed by the Deadhead set as some kind of second coming. Of what, I’m not sure. He’s talented and can certainly kick out the jams. A few years ago he was sporting black leather jackets, but now seems to be channeling the freewheelin’ spirit of Bob Dylan. His drummer got caught in Bay Bridge traffic, so renaissance man and former Tubes drummer Prairie Prince sat in and did a fantastic job. Mad props to Fiachra O’Shaugnessy, Myles O’Reilly, and O’Reilly’s Irish Bar and Restaurant for pulling of another cool local fest.

Jackie Greene by Dan Dion
Raveonettes by Dan Dion
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Read more.. Saturday, November 27th, 2010

In Praise of Les Paul

In Praise of Les Paul

Les Paul at The Iridium near Lincoln Center in 1998

Les Paul died a year ago today. I wanted to share these two images of him. His passing was the loss of one of the greatest innovators in music, as he created the first solid-body electric guitar, which as I understand it is an instrument that is really starting to catch on.

This first time I saw him was at the original Iridium nightclub in New York in 1998. He was so amazing and spry, busting out licks and dropping Monica Lewinsky jokes between songs. Every once in a while his arthritic hands would seize up on him and he’d have to pull his left hand over the guitar neck and slap his picking hand to get it to release. But he did it so fluidly and in rhythm that it seemed to be part of the song.

I went back to the new Iridium on Times Square almost ten years later and he didn’t seem to be a day older. After each of his weekly performances, he sat at a table to meet every fan that stood in line. What an epic human.

Les Paul at The Iridium in Times Square circa 2007
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Read more.. Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Satiristas in Los Angeles

May 11th

Provenz and I kicked off our book tour in Los Angeles on May 11th at the Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood. It was a beautiful day and the store had us set up outside to do our reading, which doesn’t work so well with a projector before dark, but we made do. We had a decent turn-out and the staff seemed happy. It worked as a kind of dress rehearsal for future readings. Nice to have the first one out of the way, with a very casual vibe all around.

Paul Provenza at UCB for SATIRISTAS show
Paul Provenza at UCB for SATIRISTAS show

I had an automatic slideshow running and we had a very cool moment. Someone had asked who I’d photographed that meant the most to me, and as soon as I said George Carlin, his photo appeared on the screen. He’s one out of 100 images in the slideshow, so the chances of that happening are like, what? One in a thousand? Or one in ten? Dunno. Not so good at math.

And it so happened that in attendance was Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter and a big supporter of everything Paul and I are trying to do. We all piled in to Provenz’ car and we made our way to the The Steve Allen Theater at The Center for Inquiry, trying but failing to catch any of satirista Jamie Kilstein’s LA enflaming set.

The theater still had the stench of agent, as Kilstein was drawing a lot of industry attention, but that was offset by the likes of Rick Overton, who I think sees in Jamie a bit of himself as a lad, and seems have his mentor up when it comes to Kilstein.

Jamie Kilstein at the UCB for a SATIRISTAS show
Jamie Kilstein at the UCB for a SATIRISTAS show
Rick Overton at UCB for a SATIRISTAS show

May 12

The next day was a bit surreal for me, in large part due to the aforementioned Kelly Carlin. May 12th was George’s Birthday, and not to allow a ghoulish marketing opportunity to pass, The Laugh Factory decided to have a birthday show for George, complete with VIP passes, etc. Problem? Didn’t even invite or ask permission of Carlin’s family. Some scumbag publicist who worked with George for a very short time decided he was the guy to bring together such Carlin-esque comics as Tom Arnold, Judy Tenuta, and Tom Green. (Where is Arj Barker’s “sarcastica” font when I need it?)

In far more of a good karma happening, we were invited to Kelly’s house to give a toast to the man on his birthday. Once there, it was very joyful and celebratory, and Kelly led the toast. I’d brought down a very fine bottle of wine, a 1998 Kenwood London Ranch Cab that I’d been saving for our publication, and it was tre delicious. In attendance were satiristas Lee Camp, Jamie Kilstein, and Roseanne Barr, in addition to several members of George’s family and friends.

Lee Camp at UCB for a SATIRISTAS show

Now for the surreal part for me. Over ten years ago I picked up the phone and on the other line was George Carlin. I’d given him a print of a portrait I’d taken of him at Davies Symphony Hall, and he was asking about buying another copy for his daughter. Now, in the world of celebrity there’s this ass-backwards phenomenon where the richer someone is, the more they expect to get for free. George made a strident point that he absolutely insisted on paying me for it, which is a good indicator of what kind of man he was offstage. As a photographer of the famous and talented, sometimes a personal experience with someone you admired as an artist will forever sour you on that person’s work. Then there’s times like these that only reinforce your admiration of someone.

Three weeks before he died George told Paul that my photo was the one he “wanted to be remembered by” which I consider to be the greatest compliment of my career. This night, a day after my book dedicated to him is published, his daughter tells me that it was the “sweetest” photo ever taken of him. I knew that George had given it to her, and coming over to her house I was expecting it to be in a place of prominence among a plethora of George memorabilia, but on her wall of family photos, mine was the sole representative of her dad, which moved me incredibly. Fuck the Laugh Factory and their exploitative “celebration,” — I was riding a wave of validation for the years it took to create the book– with the people George loved most. Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Paul Rodriguez does another cucaracha joke.

May 13

Our first post-publication ¡SATIRISTAS! show, and it was at LA’s best venue, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. I’d approached Upright Citizen Matt Besser a while ago about putting up some work there, and he was very into it, paving the way for my newest LA exhibition– 40 prints of Satiristas lining the hallway into the showroom. UCB just has the perfect simpatico with the book, and the idea of artists owning and running the venue is fantastic. The exhibition is ongoing, and after the book comes out in paperback, we’re going to switch the show out to showcase UCB alum instead- in a year or so.

Marc Maron at UCB for a SATIRISTAS show

We were sandwiched in between two shows, so we had to be really tight, and with the people involved my real accomplishment was not that I created this show, but rather that I was able to bring it in only fifteen minutes over. The line-up was amazing, and full of dudes that go long, so we wisely did the book signing first. But really, how’s this for a killer line-up- Provenz, Lee Camp, David Feldman, Greg Proops, Rick Shapiro, Rick Overton, Jamie Kilstein, and Marc Maron. An epic night of amazing talent, doing fearless comedy to an appreciative audience. Big thank you to the comics and certainly to the staff of UCB.

All our pimping and publicizing seems to have paid off, as we made the LA Times both as a piece in their Op-Ed section as well as the bestseller list for nonfiction.

Stay tuned for accounts of Satiristas in New York and San Francisco, as well as our upcoming Montreal event.

Rick Shapiro at UCB for a Satiristas show.
Greg Proops at UCB for a SATIRISTAS show.
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Read more.. Monday, July 5th, 2010

50 Cent in San Francisco

50 Cent
50 Cent

June 3, 2010
50 Cent at the Warfield Theater. Gotta say I’m never that impressed when I see 50. He doesn’t really sing and he doesn’t play any instruments, just a lot of posing and shouted rhymes. He was on time, but about a dollar short. I was reminded of a time in 2002? that I shot him and Jay-Z at a show in Sacramento, and the disparity between them as artists was so huge.
The togs were in the pit with a three song limit, but I swear it was only two when they pulled us out of there. Hip-hop is one of the hardest genres to shoot, since the MCs are moving fast, all over the stage, and constantly have the mic in front of their face. Coupled with the obligatory baseball cap, which blocks light from the face, it’s a perfect storm of difficult conditions. Did I mention twice as much security in the pit with you? Hectic.

50 Cent ©Dan Dion
50 Cent ©Dan Dion
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Read more.. Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Lush Life Exhibition

What follows is a first-person account of how I came to work at The Fillmore, and what it’s like shooting touring musicians at this historic venue. It was written for The New Fillmore newspaper to coincide with my 15-Year retrospective of being the house photographer, which was shown at the Lush Life Gallery in San Francisco. The print version can be downloaded here.


In 1993 I was 22 years old and standing on the corner of Fillmore and Geary, looking up at rock music’s most holy house, which had just begun its phoenix-like restoration.  The Loma Prieta earthquake that damaged the Bay Bridge had also knocked The Fillmore Auditorium out of commission –a brutal hit to the local music scene. But the contractor trucks and seismic upgrade materials in the adjacent lot were signs that music would once again grace the stage of the ‘Mo.

“I’m going to work here,” I vowed to the universe and myself. At the time I was fresh out of college, working on staff at the Holy City Zoo comedy club in the Richmond, and shooting at Candlestick as an assistant photographer for the San Francisco Giants. Since I had no photo approval, when I went to concerts I often snuck my camera body into the show in a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, with my telephoto lens wrapped in deli paper to resemble a sandwich. Unauthorized photography has a certain excitement to it, with a cat-and-mouse element with security, but I was about to go legit.

Reopening The Fillmore was always on Bill Graham’s to-do list, and following his death in a helicopter accident in 1991, the staff of Bill Graham Presents took up the mantle. I had a friend who worked at the company, and he got me a meeting to pitch my idea to photograph the restoration project. I’m a sucker for old buildings, and this one, soaked in psychedelic history, was just begging to be documented. The real plan, however, was to maneuver myself to be in position to shoot shows once it reopened.

That’s how I found myself, in April 1994, representing The Fillmore as its house photographer- the greatest job I, or practically anyone else, has ever had. Here’s how it works. The club gets the credential for me to shoot the performance itself, and it is up to me try to get a backstage session. The music world is increasingly controlled by managers and publicists, who if you try to arrange a shoot in advance, start issuing their demands, limitations, and rights of approval of what shots get used and where.

I quickly learned that the key to access was held by the road manager, who’s job it is to make sure the show happens on time, with a happy band, crew, and audience. One of the great benefits of shooting for The Fillmore, as compared to any other venue, is that performers want to be part of the photographic record; they feel a kinship with past performers, and feel honored if their images grace the walls of the lobby.

The road manager is the only one who can get the band together before or after the show for a quick shoot. And to be sure, these shoots are quick. It was in shooting these dynamic and elusive artists that I developed what multiple subjects have described as a “painless” shooting style. Just before or after a performance, the last thing these people want is a drawn-out photo session shooting a hundred frames. So I developed a modus operendi centered around being totally prepared- locations determined, tests shots taken, and a portable flash system with a near-instant recharge time, because any delays when you’ve got a celebrity sitting for you is just death- figuratively for you and literally for your photographs. Annoyance isn’t a complimentary facial expression.

Cut to fifteen years later. If one can be said to write a love letter to a building, this exhibition is mine. Assembled is a kaleidoscope of musical performers and genres, with assorted other characters like the Jim Rose Circus and Zach Galifianakis thrown in for good measure. The aggregate talent on display is truly mind boggling from Pete Townsend, to BB King, to David Byrne. And there are the bittersweet images of those who’ve left us- Tito Puente, John Lee Hooker, Norton Buffalo, Ken Kesey, Mark Sandman, and Johnny Cash.

But it’s really not about individual performers. It’s about creating a testament to music and free expression, and placing it all within the context of one magical building- four seismically reinforced brick walls from which emanate the sounds of transcendent spirit.

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Read more.. Tuesday, June 29th, 2010