Starting her concert photo career with Local Spins several years ago, photographer Anna Sink shares her favorite images — her unique take on bands, fans and festivals, and the stories behind those shots.
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The ultimate music and festival maven, Anna Sink adapted her love of concerts into photography shortly after Local Spins launched in early 2012. She’s clearly reveled in the opportunity to capture amazing performances and festivals in images that often focus on faces, fans and the unique milieu that live music creates.
In her own words:
I have had the extraordinary opportunity and pleasure of having the best of both worlds for a concert photographer.
From wildly humbling photo pits for sold-out national acts to secret campsite sets from hometown heroes, experiencing the full spectrum is what I value about being behind the lens, so most of my favorite photos reflect the completely unique never-again moments someone else might never capture.
Some of my “favorites” might not the big-name acts or the closeup shots, but the unique moments or the artistic images and stories they suggest. There are hundreds more in the vault, but for now, here are a few forgotten gems I found while digging my photo mines.”
Here are some her favorites with back stories about the images. There’s also a thumb-slider photo gallery below. And check out other entries in our series showcasing Local Spins photographers: Tony Norkus, Jamie Geysbeek, Kendra Petersen-Kamp and Derek Ketchum.
Editor’s note: Photographers retain copyright to all images. Used with permission.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (Frederik Meijer Gardens 2016) – I’ve cried at every single Magnetic Zeros show I’ve attended. Some people might just think, at surface level, of this band as a cult of trendy homeless people that wrote a couple catchy singalongs for hipsters. But once someone begins going to this band’s live concerts, you immediately see the artistry, talented musicianship and songwriting, and mission of communal experience that Alex Ebert and his band of hippies bring the audience. Crowd interaction is a beautiful part of what they do, and I’m not talking a basic lap-through-the-crowd, Michael Franti-style, I’m talking passing the microphone around for 40 minutes giving fans the chance to tell a life-changing story or to make up their own verse to a song. I’m talking asking everyone in the front row for their alcohol and giving them his drinks, too. This is why, even though I was shooting the show, I waited in line outside Meijer Gardens for four hours to be in the front row for the remainder of the show. Meijer Gardens provided a gorgeous setting for great headshots of Alex, and he returned the favor with a moving musical experience that brought people together.
Sufjan Stevens (Calvin College Covenant Fine Arts Center 2015) – This was one of the shows where I dove deeper into the artist’s library after I attended the show because the live experience moved me incredibly. I’d been listening to Sufjan for years before this, and honestly expected a quiet acoustic show or something, especially with it being held at Calvin. I was blown away by the stage production and how it paired with the songs Stevens chose to play, which sounded a million percent fuller in the fine arts auditorium, enveloping the audience in the dark and filling my body with the sound. It was more to me like a piece of art, and in my memory everything about this show feels like a masterpiece painted with beautiful suffering. He’s also wearing a Zeeland East high school T-shirt, so gotta love the local shoutout.
Del & Dawg (Camp Greensky 2019) – I’ve definitely had my fair share of shooting some old legends – from B.B. King to Santana and so forth – but my experiences in seeing old bluegrass legends have been few and far between. It was such a special experience to see Del & Dawg shoot the breeze together on stage on a sunny day at Camp Greensky. These two musicians are the art from which all our newgrass favorites come from, the heroes of the likes of Billy Strings, Greensky, Stringdusters and Yonder. Getting to see the spectrum from Billy to Del & Dawg all in one weekend was a once-in-a-lifetime, full-circle time.
Shakey Graves (Detroit’s Mo Pop 2016) – I had only listened to a bit of Shakey Graves before this show, the first time I’d seen him, and I remember being wildly impressed with the ease at which he maneuvered his one-man-band contraption along to these relatable and poetic lyrics. A lot of the songs I’d thought were with a full band were in fact just one man alone. Though he did play half the set with a band, the latter half without accompaniment was by far more interesting to me, and I became fascinated with Shakey Graves as an artist from that point on. Throughout both halves of the same set he held an excellently rude rock ‘n’ roll attitude that I fully enjoyed as well, captured in this photo from Mo Pop.
Meditative Dreadlocked Dancer During Dixon’s Violin’s Opening Set (Electric Forest 2017) – As a veteran annual attendee of Electric Forest, every single year at the beginning I make it a point to be at the Dixon’s Violin set, taking a moment to forget about work and existence, center myself, erase the outside world, and be here now, led by the meditative sounds of Dixon’s Violin. Dixon, every single year, has the very first set time and very last set time of the entire festival. Over the years, he has become a spirit guide for not only my experience but for the entire forest. This is a photo from one of Dixon’s first-of-the-weekend sets, where I became mesmerized by this beautiful, dreadlocked, eclectic hippie dancing around me in the sand. I cried.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band (Rockord’s Rogue River Blues Series 2018) – This is another band I’ve shot countless times and whose on-stage animated nature makes my job easy every time. This time, in particular, I was grateful for that because I had just returned home hours earlier from two straight weeks of Electric Forest life, sick with a sinus infection from all that wook dust. One of my favorite national acts happened to be playing in my hometown, five minutes from my parents’ house, across the street from my workplace, so I had to power through to catch this. It was the beginning of what would be some great experiences growing a closer personal bond with a band I’d loved for years. Just a week or so after seeing the Big Damn Band in Rockford, we spent a close weekend bonding together at Beaver Island Music Festival. Another chance to see the Reverend shred on his homemade slide guitar built from an actual axe? Don’t mind if I do.
Billy Strings & Don Julin (Founders Brewing Co. 2014) – This was during a pretty awesome prime time period of the Billy Strings and Don Julin partnership. They were playing out in Michigan a lot and booking the best festivals and really heating up, packing small venues and turning heads, and definitely becoming a huge part in changing what I thought I knew about bluegrass. Having them in their groove at a hometown place like Founders just felt so good and I think it shows in their faces from this photo and the rest from that show. It’s exciting to look at where our favorite hometown artists have been before becoming big-time Nashville stars, and fun to know we were along for the ride.
Sad Spiderman Kid (Wheatland Music Festival 2017) – Little known fun fact about Wheatland: One can see just as much spontaneous randomness, just as many crazy outfits and glowsticks, and just as much nudity as at a place like Electric Forest. Add in the extra variable of kids of all ages running around, and it’s almost more crazy electic. I love capturing images in the festival/wilderness that other people may not be looking at. This photo says it all about the feeling of waking up on Day 3 at a festival. One has to wonder: Is Spiderman Kid sad? Or is he exhausted? Why is he sad? Where are his shoes, and why is he not wearing them near the porta-potties? Why is he Spiderman? Is he just sleeping? Photos that spark these questions and ignite a story are my favorites of all time.
Billie Eilish (Detroit’s Mo Pop 2018) – When I saw Eilish at Mo Pop I had no idea who she was. Then, she came out on stage in her all green outfit and started swearing and acting batshit crazy and jumping around and I was like alright, I can definitely get down with this, and proceeded to attempt a photo without her moving. I just think shooting Billie was especially visually interesting despite her minimalistic staging. Once she gained massive popularity, I appreciated the opportunity to have had shot her in her early days.
Woodland Fairy (Electric Forest’s Sherwood Forest 2017) – This forest fairy was one of my favorite subjects at the festival. This photo makes me warm inside because this fairy’s face, every time he looked into my lens, exuded sheer bliss, genuine happiness, the warm feeling of being at home, and I love that his home is flapping his wings of glitter, galavanting through the trees on stilts smiling at strangers. This is what makes the Forest so beautiful to me.
Mystery Sax Player (Elevation 2019) – I love a great closeup sax shot. I especially love this photo because I shoot this musician all the time — including some outlandish stage attire — and I find it amusing that though this may be a minimalist outfit, the player is almost unrecognizable! Can you guess this local saxophonist?! The first person to email email@example.com with the correct answer will win a free gift from Local Spins.
Paul Hoffman with Child (Camp Greensky 2019) – Greensky Bluegrass, known for its visually striking stage production and epic live jams, consistently provides me with amazing photos. I could easily choose any of my Greensky photos of incredible jam moments, but this photo is more special than any of the many stage shots I’ve taken of this band over the years. This is Greensky mandolinist Paul Hoffman peacefully listening to the beautiful sounds of Seth Bernard and Jordan Hamilton on the main stage on a sunny Sunday morning with his newborn daughter. This is what Michigan festivals are about at their core: spending time with those you love, living in the present moment through musicians who are like your family.
Forest Electric/Rainbow Sculpture (Electric Forest 2018) – This photo is a time-painting from life, brought to you from the Forest, by way of my camera lens. More than a photographer, I am an artist who takes photos. When I see something in the middle of the forest like a giant sculpture made of rainbow colored panes of angled glass, using nature’s light to illuminate its panes, I begin viewing the living world around me through that vivid, kaleidoscopic filter. And I immediately see the image I want to explain an experience like Forest, which for many is inexplicable in words. The times I can make a photo a piece of abstract art while at the same time still an event photo, those are the golden moments I really find magical.
Bon Iver (Detroit’s Mo Pop 2018) – I love this photo because it reminds me of Justin Vernon’s humble presence at the show that night, a major contrast to the enormous surrounding of sound he brought to the huge Mo Pop stage. I remember after the show thinking I knew he was good, but I didn’t even know Bon Iver could sound like that. The way he manipulated old songs of his, played them with new perspective, was ingenious, unexpected, perfect. I’ve been a Bon Iver fan since “Skinny Love,” throughout the changes in sound, and after this show, I’ve never had more respect for Justin Vernon as a musician.
Sunrise in the Ozarks (Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival in Arkansas 2015) – After working hard for nearly a week with Wakarusa’s photo/video crew, the last home stretch was this sunrise image from the festival site in the Ozark Mountains on the last day of the festival. Sleep deprived and likely dehydrated among other things, it felt like it was all made worth it because of this one photo we waited for with a camera. It truly shows to me the value of an image and the emotional or creative impact it can have on a person’s experience with live music.
Cage The Elephant (DeltaPlex Arena 2016) – This photo was somewhat of a fluke. The band was gracious enough to allow us to shoot the whole show instead of just the beginning. So, I ended up being able to capture a number of moments the frontman had with the band all night on a unique stage built to encourage entry into the crowd. When I look at this photo, I can seriously hear how loud it was at that moment.
Marilyn Manson (20 Monroe Live 2018) – I really only include this photo in this series because I’ve never been filled with more genuine fear in a photo pit than when shooting Marilyn Manson. (The only other time I was close to any kind of fear in a photo pit was nearly getting my head taken off by a giant confetti blaster in the main stage pit at Electric Forest.) Having learned just minutes before showtime about Manson’s infamous history of photographer abuse – like spitting on them and their cameras, breaking their equipment, blowing harmful powders into lenses, etc – I also learned that only me and one other photographer were granted access to the pit. I assumed that’s just because Manson is so scary. When the show started, the pit immediately filled with so much fog I couldn’t see a foot in front of me. The other photographer disappeared into the fog as the blinding strobes began and not only did I fear I would never get a visible photo of the artist, I also feared Manson was about to jump out of the fog to attack me and shatter my camera in an explosive entrance. I eventually entered the fog with no defense but my earplugs and glad I did, because I think his brass-knuckle microphone situation is a pretty badass image.
Molly with Graham Parsons (Earthwork Harvest Gathering 2019) – Molly and Graham are both amazing musicians and photo subjects who I’ve photographed countless times. Seeing them in the wild at a festival, just chillin’, makes me happy. This festival in particular makes everyone there your family, musicians included. I love capturing local musicians in scenes everyone hasn’t seen them in before.
Missing Hula Hoop Flyer (Wheatland Music Festival 2019) – This photo is a hidden gem that will always make me laugh when I find it buried in my music festival archives. It’s something you’d only see at a music festival, but that is also probably totally serious and I do hope they found their hula hoops. I love documenting images like this, something that might make people smile as they walk past it on the trail to camp. They’re a perfect explanation of certain festival vibes as well as one of those fun story-sparking mystery images.
Beats Antique (The Intersection 2014) – Early on in event photography, I was gifted with this visual treat at my first Beats Antique show. To this day, Beats Antique is probably my favorite band to shoot, and it doesn’t hurt that I enjoy their music in addition to their theatrical live performances. Since then I’ve seen them on huge stages with much larger production capabilities for their variety of setups, and it still impresses me how they were able to squeeze such crazy props, dancers, and etcetera curiosities on the Intersection’s stage. I love to shoot them over and over again because their performers, props and choreography differ every single time and even varies show to show within their different tour concepts. I personally find their music to be just as awesome as their wild shows, and to me that’s what sets them apart in their genre — and makes them especially fun as a photographer.
People’s Blues of Richmond (Founders Fest 2016) – This was a time I didn’t do any research about this band before seeing them, which can make for a really fun and exciting surprise, just like this show. I truly was expecting some assemblage of elderly Southern men singing some gospel songs. What exploded on the Founders Fest stage was more like a sweaty, raunchy, bluesy diary of a rock ‘n’ roll tour coming from three guys in their 20s. It was killer, and visually colorful, and really stands out in my memory.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires (The Eddy during ArtPrize 2015) – I’m always grateful to have gotten the opportunity to shoot artists before they pass, and this musician is no different. For those who weren’t around or don’t remember, The Eddy during Artprize was a variable, touch-and-go cluster of confusion, with uncertainty about whether or not the event would even continue. However, when Charles Bradley took this stage, everyone present was grateful that at least the festival was functioning enough to bring us the funk. This show took away all the frustration any patrons were holding inside about the value of the event, and every single person present just started dancing.
Candy Girl (Electric Forest 2018) – I do not know what types of substances these front-row Forest-goers were influenced by at this show, but wow, they were being hilarious. At a primarily-EDM fest like Forest, the vibes of the crowd in the front row may vary depending the specific show. You may risk a dirty dreadlock whipping into your camera or eye. This time, I don’t even remember the DJ playing, but I enjoyed the animated enthusiasm these rail-breakers brought to my camera lens. This front row group also brought me images of friend-making with security guards, destruction of the metal barricade, and some bare female nipples. This girl, nameless Candy girl, was a great subject. May the Forest be with her.
Member of Greensky Bluegrass on a Golf Cart (Hoxeyville Music Festival 2016) – Since taking it in 2016, this has been one of my favorite photos of all time. I was at Hoxeyville, just strolling back to my campsite, when all of a sudden the golf cart zooming toward me with a videographer hanging on the front is actually a golf cart filled with Greensky. Just sippin’ beers, doing some cart laps around the festival site. Something about the members of GSBG clearly making the festival their home, having fun with their friends like everyone else, made this one of the moments that first really showed me the closeness and community value of the Michigan music festival scene. It made me feel at home.
PHOTO GALLERY: A sampling of the best of Anna Sink
The gallery begins with a vendor sign and “rainbow Cowpie eye” at Cowpie Music Festival, followed by a Blissfest forest flyer.