Before I get started with the recap of the Saturday Night Special in Dallas, I’d like to say a few words about concert photography. It is, in fact, its own very complex skillset. Not only do you have to anticipate the musicians’ movements, waiting for just the right moment, but you also need to feel the emotion, and then find a way to frame it, to capture it in a way that translates that moment in time. On top of that, there’s the challenge of stage lighting. (insert appropriate gif of me screaming here) Listen, I love the stage lighting for these concerts, I really do. Essentially the center of the stage is well lit, with normal lighting, but the sides of the stage are darker and the lighting is more blue, even purple. It lends to the energy and passion of the music being played on the stage. But let me tell ya, it does prove quite difficult when editing the photos. I could’ve spent days trying to color correct, but alas, I did not. Instead, I just went with the blue and purple hues cast upon the faces of the performers. I actually kinda like it, and I hope the photos in this article will somehow bring you into the moment with me.
I have written many, many recaps/reviews of Louden Swain’s Saturday Night Specials. Sometimes I think that I have exhausted my vocabulary of adjectives and adverbs as I try to explain to you just how much I love Louden Swain. But it’s summertime, so…
When I was a kid – just a few years ago LOL – I loved amusement parks and all the rides: the slower rides, like the bumper cars or the carousel; the water rides, which often left me drenched, a welcome relief from the heat of a summer day; and the thrill rides, like the ones that spin you around to the point of utter dizziness, to the rollercoasters that slowly carry you up the hill then send you flying down the other side, often turning you upside-down and sideways and all of it at heart-stopping speeds. At some point, a waterpark was added, and I loved that too, especially the lazy river… it was so relaxing to just float along the path, to have a quiet moment away from the loud hustle of the rides.
And, of course, I went to the park with friends, often part of a large group, so it was also nice when we’d all meet to eat some lunch, and share stories about having good times with good friends, laughing and screaming and riding the rides.
That, my friends, is a Louden Swain concert. These concerts are an adrenaline-filled thrill ride, with all the energy and excitement of an amusement park – from speeding rollercoasters full of heart-stopping thrills, to lazy rivers that slow things down and soothe one’s soul. These concerts are good times with good friends, from Borja, smiling as he plays bass or keyboards, to Stephen pounding away on the drums in time with the beating of our hearts.
These concerts are Billy, meticulously, methodically, melodiously fingering that guitar, filling us with wave after wave after crashing wave of emotion. (hashtag allthegasms)
These concerts are Rob, playing that guitar, singing those lyrics, taking us on all the rides, leading us upward on the rollercoaster and filling us with anticipation and excitement… speeding downward, knowing the thrill that comes with the speed… then walking with us as we settle into the lazy river, slowing it down with lyrics full of heartbreak and heartache and pain and love. And at the end of the night, Rob is there to light the fireworks and take us through one last moment of excitement and awe. Yes, these concerts are Rob, the true Master of Ceremonies.
I won’t keep going with these metaphors. Instead, I’ll say sit back and relax, and just enjoy this ride.
Louden Swain came onto the stage before the lights came on. They were shadowy figures up there, moving into position. The first chords were played, chords I knew oh so well. Slowly, the stage lights came on, Rob and Billy and Borja softly playing their guitars, Stephen tapping the cymbals. Then Rob began to sing, “There is just one bottle left to open…” And it begins! The song is called “Reunion” and it is one of my favorites! It’s a high energy song, one that builds slowly and erupts into a full out rock song. On top of the music, it has great lyrics. Whenever I’m struggling, these words seep into my mind, into my soul, a constant reminder: “I’m alive and I’m still tryin.” #LifeMotto
Their next song was “Present Time.” Maybe you like Louden Swain for the music, and that is more than okay. But me, I’m a lyrics person. Yes, the music and the vocals need to be rockin or soothing or whatever, but man, the words, that’s what really pulls me into a song. So there’s this one line in this song, “Gonna live my life accordingly.” Think about that for a minute. Live. My. Life. Accordingly. And then add to it, “There ain’t no time like the present time.” Then add the music, and the energy, and you’ve got a fandamntastic Rock Anthem. (Complete with Rock Gods.)
Con photographer Chris Schmelke joined the band for the next song, “Taxi Driver.” Mr. Schmelke played bass guitar. He brings his own brand of energy to the stage, and we are all there, fully there with him, soaking it in.
I’d also like to point out that there is some sort of undertone to this song, something in Rob’s vocals, something in the hum of the bass and the beat of the drum… it’s… it’s… it’s kinda sexy. Like sexy hot. Like, “you drive me wild wild wild” and I think I really need a fic about this.
Matt Cohen came on stage next, a can of Family Business beer in hand, which he handed to Rob. Or maybe Rob took it from him. Either way, call this next photo ‘shameless product placement.’ Lol.
Matt sang “Joker and the Thief.” His songs are always so fun and so full of life and energy. Matt has so much fun up there on stage! By the end of his song, I swear I can feel his energy in my bones. In. My. Boooooooones.
The band kept that energy flowing and turned it up, um, like way way up, with their next song, “Bandaged Hand.” Yes, sometimes it is difficult to shoot pics while dancing, but listen, I will surely try. I mean, come on, how can you not just dance right out of your seat during this song?! The song starts a little slow, and a little low, and a little soft, but then it just explodes into this supernova of guitar licks and drum beats and lyrics that leave you twirling and swirling and dancing in your seat!
Following that explosion of energy-fused music, the band slowed things down a bit as they performed another one of my favs, “Rock Song.” This is the acoustic version as found on their newest album, “Splitting the Seams.” This album is an entire collection of acoustic songs, some new, others are older songs re-imagined as acoustic masterpieces. And let me tell ya, this version of “Rock Song” is a friggin mast-er-piece. It echoes. I mean, it literally echoes in the hall… in your ears… in the darkest depths of your mind. It is so powerful, both in the music – the soft keyboard, the slow beat – and in the lyrics, which are just, ugh, gut-wrenching. And oh my heart, there’s Rob, just pouring out his heart as he sings, absolutely crushing my soul with his passionate vocals. I am so completely pulled into his vocals, and these lyrics, and the music, that I become a photographer on auto-pilot, seeing the performance through my lens, consumed by every single word. And when Rob so painfully cries out, “Where are all my friends?” holy heartbreak, I just can’t. The tears come, and I cannot hold them back. And then Rob belts out, “We will be heard” with that in-cred-ible note, and the tears are just falling now. I just wanna hug Rob, ya know? Let him know that his friends are right here, right here with him.
So I’m crying, right? So how do they follow that? Oh yeah, it’s Briana Buckmaster up next, to sing one of her songs from her album, “Better Than That.” She is accompanied by Jason Manns on vocals and Richard Speight Jr. on bass. It’s fine, it’s fine, I don’t need my heart anyway. This ballad is slow, and raw, and gritty, and dripping with emotion – and all of that is due to Briana’s amazing vocals. I mean, she hits every word and every note with an emotion and a tone that just leaves me feeling so incredibly empowered. That might sound crazy, given the lyrics, but that’s how I feel – empowered. There is this sense of vulnerability, of somehow being at the very bottom, and broken, and yet Briana sings with such strength and such power… and somehow I just know that whatever my struggles might be, I can get through it. That, my friends, is the kind of performance that Briana brings every. Single. Time. #Fierce
Richard stayed on stage, playing bass for the band’s next song, “Over Before It Began.” I have not witnessed this song performed live, so this was a treat indeed. It’s sort of a slow song, then more upbeat in the middle, then slower again at the end… kinda like a rollercoaster, but I digress…
As Rob introduced the song, he implied that Richard might give us a little dance, and yes, there was the slightest sway in his hips, probably just enough to make all the Rich!Girls swoon. Rob also said something about “welcome to church.” Listen, if the archangels sway like that, wouldn’t everyone go to church?
[That would be Church of the Holy Dick, am I right? — Lynn]
And then Jensen Ackles joined the stage, to an enthusiastic greeting. The first song he sang was “Heaven.” Listen, the fanfic literally writes itself.
The way he stood on the amp, with his hands over his heart, as if to perhaps say a silent thank you to all of us.
[Several fans said that Rob had mentioned that Jensen wanted to sing this song for the fans, as a message of support and gratitude and shared appreciation for this love we all share for these characters and this show. Hearing that made me even more emotional when I re-watch the video or look at these beautiful photos so full of emotion — Lynn]
And then Jensen peeled off his long sleeved shirt, to just his T-shirt (cue lots more enthusiasm from the audience…), and he sang another song, “Midnight Train to Memphis.” Rob and Billy and Mike and Rich were just having a full out jam session as they played their guitars, with Stephen banging the drums in perfect time. In Sunday’s Gold Panel, one fan commented that she was left in a puddle in her seat during his performance.
[Jensen: Clean up on Aisle 4…]
Listen, Rockstar!Jensen should probably be illegal. #Puddle #PuddlesForEveryone
[Whether it’s the glimpse of tattoo or the arm porn or the neck veins or the jewelry or the voice or just that damn profile, there was something for everyone – reduce everyone to a puddle, that is — Lynn]
Something else happened during Jensen’s performance, something that I both eagerly and yet also hesitantly want to share with you. Y’all may not know this, but I’ve been a photographer for over 25 years. I’ve shot literally hundreds of thousands of photos. I’ve captured little moments, and big victories. But let me tell ya, this photo, This Photo – this is without question, the single greatest photo of my entire career. Thank you, Billy. #ActualGuitarGod #SlashWho
Rob has said this before [what he said next], and tbh, I find it irritating. This time, it was Jason who said it. He said, “how do you follow that (Jensen)?” Listen, Jason, Rob, all of Swain, seriously, you be You. Y’all could follow that with a rockin rendition of the freakin phonebook, and I would gladly, enthusiastically listen. I am 100% here for your choice to follow Jensen’s performance with “Hallelujah,” along with Jason Manns. As Billy strums those first chords, and the echo of the guitar fills the theater, the crowd falls silent. Oh yeah, we are 1000% here for this.
Now let’s not forget that this time, this one time, Rob actually forgot the words. Yes, sweet, talented, adorable Robbie forgot the words. And it was absolutely precious. He said he was distracted by the giant poster of Jason hanging at the back of the theater. Rob said he felt like he was singing to Jason’s lost soul. Lol. But no worries, Rob, we got you. Hallelujah indeed.
Let’s also not forget this – Rob and Billy and Jason, they love music. This is their passion. Rob and his reach-into-your-soul-and-hug-it vocals… Jason and his smooth-as-silk vocals… Billy and his truly heart-pulsing guitar… But there’s a beautiful thing that happens during this performance. As Rob and Jason come to the chorus, they both begin the words with volume, singing into the mics… and just as instantly, their voices taper off, and they step away from the mics. And they listen to US. They listen to us as we sing the chorus. And they are filled with joy. You can literally see it on their faces and in their eyes as they listen to us singing back to them. It is such a beautiful moment.
Next, we had one of my favorite Station Breaks songs, “Stowaway,” with Jason and Rob on vocals, and Rich on bass. We had another comedic moment right in the middle of this song, as Jason again commented on the giant banner of himself glowing at the back of the theater. Rob added, “it’s just his sad, sad face, he looks so lost.” Lol, I gotta say the little breaks of comedy are more than just well-timed, they are downright perfect.
And Jason’s note at the end – I just don’t even have words.
Richard Speight Jr. was the next performer to sing. And sing he did. Apparently they chose the song just a few hours before the concert, so major props to all of them for an outstanding performance with little rehearsal! Rich and Rob sang “Sliver” (by Nirvana). Just a good old fashioned rock song, so fun to listen to and to watch as they sang it.
Swain’s next song was one of my favorites, “Amazing.” I know, I know, I keep saying this is my favorite song. But listen, I really mean it. Swain has a lot of songs, so it’s easy to have a lot of favorites. But this time, with “Amazing,” I really mean Favorite. I listen to this song on a daily basis. It’s kinda like my anthem. Those opening notes from Billy and his guitar, ugh, it’s just so raw, and I just can’t breathe for a second. I am so immediately pulled into this song and this moment.
And then it’s Billy’s solo. There’s just something so emotional as he plays that guitar. There’s something in the way the music builds and builds, and builds… it’s like sitting in the front seat of the car, feeling the slow clicks on the rails, as the car climbs that first hill of the coaster, sitting for that brief second at the top of the hill before you go flying down at an incredible speed… yeah, it’s that kind of catch-your-breath Thrill as Billy plays that solo, and Rob belts out and holds the words “Amazing Grace.”
At this point in the concert, the fans showered their love upon the band via a sea of lights. I shot these pics through those lights, as held up by the people sitting in front of me. I think it’s really cool – Billy’s expression as he sees the lights, the emotion on Rob’s face, and the actual lights – all captured and preserved in this moment in time.
They followed that thrill-ride with “This Is How.” Come on friends, sing it with me: ‘I find my voice and sing it from the rooftops / Stand up tall and slowly take a bow / This is how.’ Listen, I may not stand up tall. I may not take a bow. And I am definitely not singing anything on any rooftop. That’s not who I am. But you can be sure that I have found My Voice, and I am saying, “I’m alive and I’m still tryin” and This. Is. How. #LifeMotto
How many people has Louden Swain’s incredible music inspired like this?
The band left the stage. Rob returned a few minutes later to perform the first of three songs in their encore. Rob sang “Fare Thee Well,” a haunting song that echoes throughout the theater.
[He always talks about how much he loved filming that scene in Supernatural, just Rob and his guitar and Curtis Armstrong, and how performing it for us, at a convention for that show we all love, is so special for him. And for u.s — Lynn]
The rest of the band rejoined the stage alongside Rob, and they performed their heartbreaking ballad “She Waits.” Once again, as he does during every performance of this song, Rob bared his heart and soul and scars as he sang the words. And once again, as we always do, we gently picked up his heart and his soul, and we held it. We held it, and we held him, and we did our best to heal those scars. We reminded him, that he’s gonna be okay. And in reminding him, we also remind ourselves that we’re gonna be okay too.
The night ended with “Momma’s Jam.” The house lights came on, and everyone was on their feet, singing and dancing. At one point, both Rob and Billy left the stage, walking down the aisles as they played, and it seemed to add a whole new layer of energy to the show. It was the perfect ending to a perfect night.
Finally, and yes, I’ve said this before, but it is so very true: if you ever have a chance to go to a Saturday Night Special, Go. Go and let the lyrics fill you up to beyond the limits. Let go and get lost in the music. Allow Rob, and Billy, and Mike, and Stephen to pour their energy into your soul and let it consume you. Perhaps you’ll find a little piece of inspiration, a tiny little bit of whatever it is that you need to carry with you, to Carry On.
Additional coverage of DallasCon coming soon,