Backstage Pass: Behind the Lense of Michael Weintrob and Groovetography
As I have begun to settle into the confines of my new home in Boulder, I am enjoying the palpable music community that exists here. Over the course of the past five months I have attended countless gigs at basically every venue in town. The music is kept fresh because of the numerous bands that are based here and the propensity for the musicians to sit in with their friends’ bands. The gigs are always exciting because you never know who might end up on stage. In going to all of these shows (and working with a few local bands: Sonar, billspeering, JIVE, Cabaret Diosa and Chupacabra), I have had the chance to befriend many of the musicians and learn much about the Boulder scene. It wasn’t long before I came into contact with many of the non-musicians in Boulder as well. The agents, band managers, venue managers, talent buyers, photographers and fans are (obviously) just as integral to the community as the musicians themselves.
As I began to frequent show after show, there was one person that I began to see over and over again. This guy (and his camera) seemed to be everywhere. In an effort to give the readers of this site a look at someone on the business side of the music world, I thought it would be fitting to do a profile of photographer Michael Weintrob and his company Groovetography. Weintrob, who is 25 years old, is an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word and in this business that demands a lot of respect (in my mind, anyway).
You have probably seen Weintrob’s work without even realizing it. His photos have graced the covers of many industry publications including Pollstar (four times), Blues Access Magazine, Ujama News and Scene Magazine. Besides these magazines, Weintrob has been featured in High Times Magazine, Downbeat, Strings, Bass Player Magazine and Dirty Linen. To me, however, Weintrob’s story is just as exciting as his accomplishments.
Michael is originally from Alabama and, after two years of college in Florida, he ended up attending Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. Like so many others before him (including myself), Weintrob was lured by the call of the West and the lifestyle that goes with it. “I always felt there was something out in Colorado for me,” Michael told me. In a short time, Weintrob worked his way into the position of house photographer at the Aggie Theater in Ft. Collins. Some of the first bands that he shot included Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Gov’t Mule, Sun Ra Arckestra and Michael Hedges. Weintrob began making frequent trips down to Boulder to photograph bands performing at the Fox Theater and Boulder Theater as well.
Besides having a good eye, Michael seemed to have an early understanding of the importance of having relationships with the musicians. It is one thing to be a venue’s house photographer, but you still have to get permission from the bands to shoot the show. Weintrob has a personable attitude and is almost always given permission to take photos of a band’s live show. Weintrob is an artist, make no mistake about it, but he also enjoys the business aspect of his craft. A good photographer with no business sense is going to get as far as a great band with horrible management: nowhere. As he told me: “Photographers are always getting taken advantage of especially in the music business. You can not be afraid to charge for your services.”
One way that Weintrob has earned the good graces of a handful of musicians is by sending them photos that most photographers don’t even think to capture. This isn’t a regular practice of his, but something he has done on occasion. Weintrob will photograph a musician or a band in a casual setting (backstage with their families, for example) and get a great candid shot. As an offer of friendship (and to undoubtedly show-off his photo skills) Weintrob will then frame the photo and send it off to the musician with a personal note. Even better is when he has the opportunity to hand the photo to the musician in person on their next trip through town. A perfect example of this is the photo that Michael took of Roger Lewis (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) and his daughter at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. About four months later, the Dirty Dozen was playing in Boulder and Weintrob gave the photo to Lewis as a gift before they played the Fox Theater. Lewis, who began to cry, told Michael that he had not been in the best mood for the past week and the photo had lifted his spirits.
Groovetography is the company that Michael formed officially in September of 2000. Besides taking live shots of bands, Weintrob also offers many other services to bands including press shots, album cover photography and licensing of his images. He has also been the staff photographer at numerous music festivals (Denver Blues and Bones, Denver LoDo Music Festival and High Sierra Music Festival) and even at Pollstar’s C.I.C Convention last year in Las Vegas. At present, Weintrob is one of seven staff photographers for the City of Denver Theaters and Arenas Division which includes Red Rocks among other venues. And, as an interesting side note, Groovetography’s logo was designed by Michael Everitt who is best known for designing poster art for the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends, Yonder Mountain String Band and many others.
Just to make something clear, Weintrob is not a strict jamband photographer. If you go to his web site, you can access images of the best bands in the world of rock, pop, jazz, bluegrass and jambands. I think my personal favorite is his shot of Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in full rock-out mode. Weintrob’s collection of jazz artists is equally impressive. In fact, he has done so much work in the jazz realm that NPR Jazz Online recently ran a feature on his work.
In an interesting twist of fate, this article was originally going to be about Michael’s biggest achievement to date, a photo published in Rolling Stone Magazine. Weintrob was dispatched to Red Rocks to shoot James Taylor and a photo editor had told him that one of his images would be selected to accompany an article on Taylor in issue #880. In talking with Michael, he glowed when referring to this achievement and could barely wait for the issue to hit the newsstands. A major milestone was just around the corner for him. Then came the events of September 11. If any of you have seen the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, you’ll see that there isn’t much mention of music. Because of the terrorist attacks on our nation, the magazine chose to scrap much of it’s planned content for the issue and instead created a special issue.
So, that milestone will have to wait for now. In talking with Weintrob, I sense that he knows it’s only a matter of time before he finally gets a photo run in Rolling Stone. And then it will be on to the next accomplishment. Weintrob strikes me as the kind of person who won’t be satisfied for a while and that relentless attitude is imperative in the music industry. There is a no definition of success and no limits on where you can take things in this business. Weintrob said it well when he told me: “I just want to keep doing what I love and see where it takes me.”
Lee Seelig likes to take photos some times too.