Courtney and I go back to the West Texas days of middle school volleyball games, drinking cherry pepsi’s when we weren’t supposed to, playing ping-pong, making animal bead chains when we went camping with our families, and most importantly, Sim Farm. In a few short weeks, I get to photograph her wedding and some days back I got to photograph Kyle, her too legit to quit fiance, and Courtney together. Words can’t express the level of love I have for this lady, Courtney and I’m so glad she’s back in Houston. Congratulations you two and there is nowhere else I would rather be on your wedding day.
Bud Light’s Whatever USA contest kicked off with an ad campaign during last year’s Super Bowl featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though the commercial was clever and entertaining, I didn’t think much about it, assuming it to be the same smoke and mirrors that is most things advertising.
Then there was this day. It started with answering one question for Bud Light at a local bar on a typical afternoon, (“If you could do anything for a living what what you do?”) Naturally, for anyone who knows me, I answered a Rock Star, you know, the next Tommy Lee. Then I went back to my typical afternoon at the bar. Sometime later, long after I’d forgotten about the interview, I received an e-mail with a 2 hour deadline to accept an invitation for departure to Whatever USA. Departure was less than 2 days away and they didn’t actually say where Whatever USA was, just asked if I was up for the trip. Though hella gimmicky, I accepted the invitation knowing I had nothing to lose. If this ended up being a mass kidnapping, at least I’d have a story to tell, or someone would. What happened next may end up being the most eventful weekend of my life.
We whipped into the airport before the city of Houston woke and flew the friendly skies to Denver where we were then loaded into a charter plane with at least a hundred others, just like us. While waiting to load, we all began introducing ourselves, hoping to gain some sort of insight about the weekend that we didn’t already know from all the “true” things on the internet. We had suddenly become Facebook in real life and probably for others, Tinder, walking around swiping the air left or right. Greeted by Bud Light paraphernalia throughout the plane (these guys went all out), everyone was pleasantly surprised to find a Bud Light in their seat. Cracking open our beers in unison to taste the first sips of the weekend were met with Lil Jon’s “Turned Down for What” over the speaker system, a foreshadowing to the weekend ahead that many of us didn’t catch on to at the time. Have you ever done “the wave” on a plane, front to back and back again? Geezus. Turnt up.
As our destination approached, we all looked out the window in amazement of what became the breathtaking Gunnison, Colorado landscape. Once landed, we were greeted with four Bud Light charter buses, a Bud Light Monster Truck and smiling Bud Light representatives everywhere. The anticipation for the weekend’s events was building inside all of us and so were our blood-alcohol content levels. We traveled another 30 minutes to our final destination which is where the story truly begins.
Day 1 – 5:00P
Crowded into the Main Street of Crested Butte as the Mayor of Whatever USA paced the catwalk, we waited in anticipation of what lay beyond the Blue Tarp. Beers in hand, the tarp dropped and #BudLightLand began…It was like the Wizard of Bud, a road painted Bud Light blue, a gigantic director’s chair, a mariachi band (wtf?!), beach balls and blow up aliens all airborne, the mayor of Whatever USA on a blue plastic horse, mini horses, llamas, a huge camera, massive gorilla, a beach with a King Kong sized boom box, local bars/restaurants that finally culminated into a massive stage at the very end of the road. Lil Jon rose on stage and the place erupted. You couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off a monumental weekend of partying, complimentary at that.
7:00P The “Red Room”
As Lil Jon continued to roll through his set, we moved on to absorb the sites around us. Making our way back to the middle of Main Street, Whatever USA, there it was. A human bowling ball that only needed a human inside to steer it. Shoes off, head first in, rolling away to knock over some pins. Seeming to find ourselves in the right place at the right time, we were approached by an individual who tipped us off that the “biggest hype man of all time” would be performing in the Red Room. A short line separated us from a small door when we got there that led downstairs into a New Orleans looking hole in the wall. One couch fit the width of the front of this tiny stage, and that is right where we parked it to watch 30 minutes of excruciating Hip-Hop Karaoke. All those off-tune lyrics sounded more like a cry for help and their cries were answered as the “biggest hype man” of all time appeared from the shadows. Expecting to see Flava Flav, all 100 people (at best) who were crammed shoulder to shoulder erupted once more to see instead, Lil Jon, an arms length away, there to save us from the wrath of no rhythm. Lil Jon asked all the ladies to give a twerk sample. Maigen’s countless hours of practicing the twerk from YouTube videos (yes, I believe she has a problem) paid off as she caught Lil Jon’s eye who then pulled her up on stage to continue the show. A most proud moment of my life.
10:00P DJ Alesso
After the twerk-out, we slowly collected ourselves and headed to The Arena for Light the Night where we were separated into lines for small, medium, large, or x-large coats. Grabbing another IV of Bud Light we made our way into the venue where house music had the whole place in a trance. When DJ Alesso made his appearance, all of our jackets lit up and began changing colors. It was one of the most surreal live shows we had ever been to. Exhausted by 1:00 a.m, we cashed in. 16 hours of drinking was more than enough for both of us that day.
Day 2 – 10:00A
The next morning we were awaken by a personal alarm clock which was actually evangelists of #BudLightLand pounding on the door. Little did they expect, some people answer the door naked and drink Bud Light Lime for breakfast. Already wide-eyed, we went to see the chaos outside. We rode the ski-lift to the top of the mountain with no snow on it, (far scarier than when there is snow) jumped off a 30 foot high platform into a massive blow up pit, and checked out the 7-11 tent which had Bud Light Strawberry infused Slurpees = sugar rush from hell.
2:30P Vanilla Ice
We checked our Whatever USA app which outlined where events were happening all weekend and headed off to Mountain Music Hall for the Big Sound, Small Space show or at least we thought. We waited patiently for what we thought was going to be the arrival of Vanilla Ice at one of the small local bars off of Main Street. We noticed many folks on the balcony pointing that he was riding up in an ice cream truck and was handing out ice cream to all of the party-goers. Continuing to wait in the bar as if we had arrived on the short bus, we realized that he had boycotted the small stage and was heading to the main stage for his time in the sun, so we rushed down the stairs and up to the stage as fast as we could. He ran through classics while the crowd singed along to “Ice Ice Baby” and “Go Ninja Go.” Once again, Maigen’s passion for tweeting (at least she wasn’t twerking this time) had her shrieking when Vanilla Ice retweeted a panoramic she took at the concert.
After day dreaming about the days of parachute pants, pogs, and slap bracelets we answered our hunger at Maxwell’s Steakhouse. We were told that Maxwell’s had the best steak in town and everyone was right. Not only did they have the best food that we had so far on the trip, but the owners were extremely accommodating and just so happened to be from the Dallas, Texas area.
Back on the street, we noticed cameras and a director shooting commercials for Comedy Central. We walked by slowly, deliberately, and lit up to see our master plan worked as they asked if we would be in a commercial. Since I hate attention so much, I was reluctant (insert sarcasm). The general premise of the commercial was to get our reaction about what we thought of the trip. I told Maigen to do what she does best (twerk) anytime the mic went her way. To our surprise, we found the director and camera crew loving the twerk-up. The joke turned when they asked me to join in on the twerk but it turns out, I’m better than Maigen!
Once filming concluded on the commercial that may really catapult my career in the Energy Industry, we headed back to the resort to change into our Saturday Night Fever outfits that we were instructed to select out of a basement full of 70’s clothing upon arrival to the resort. Bound for #BudLightLand, once more, we went back downtown to have dinner with 1,000 other people on Main Street. They had two forever long tables lined in parallel down the street with more Bud Light than we had ever seen. The restaurants that lined Main Street served collective family style plates all while drones flew high and low around us.
9:00P KC & the Sunshine Band
Once full, the main attraction for Saturday night rolled out, on one big motorized skate shoe; KC & the Sunshine Band. For those of you that don’t know who they are or what they play you can probably ask your Mom. My Mom loves this group and I wasn’t sure what to expect from their show, but free Bud Lights later, we were up for “Whatever”. We hypnotically followed a huge motorized roller skate to The Arena where they would be playing and man, the puff of the 70’s that came out of that arena made us think we’d fallen back into time. They ran through classics like “Get Down Tonight”, “Play the Funky Music White Boy”, and I am going to go out on a limb here but Maigen’s favorite “Shake Your Booty”. We had now officially covered the 70’s, 90’s, 00’s, 10’s on this trip! Staying low to the floor, we again shut the night down around 1:00A but only first after a sea-sickening carnival ride and a couple shots of whiskey and coke with some locals at the Main Street Bars.
Day 3 – 10:00A
We woke up on what we believed would be the final day of our trip. Hungry and hungover, we found our way to a Mardi Gras brunch that was setup at one of the local restaurants with performers, beads thrown everywhere, a house band and more Cajun food than we could eat.
The time had finally come for us to pack up our bags and head back to reality where you can’t just walk into a bar and swipe a free beer off the bar of hundreds more. When we arrived at the small Gunnison Airport we noticed four other buses in front of us and quickly realized there was a problem with getting everyone through the security at the airport. Let Huffington Post tell you more about that chaos –> (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/bud-light-ad-stuck_n_5781810.html).
Twerked out, Maigen decided to nap on the sidewalk as the departure for our flight from Denver grew closer. The only problem was, we weren’t in the Denver airport. We were stuck an hour away at a smaller airport. You’d think some of the people on those buses with us weren’t going to see a tomorrow being stranded that way. Talk about people watching. Needless to say, we missed our flight out of Denver, and although being stuck in Denver for the night was an inconvenience, we would have done it all over again. (Maigen says) It was amusing to watch the media work to rail Bud Light for the hiccup that was induced by our government.
Weekend Take Away
Overall, the Bud Light Whatever experience was an amazing one and Crested Butte would be a great vacation spot for skiing, mountain biking or just for relaxing. The town had amazing food and all of the business-owning locals were very welcoming.
To our surprise, most of the Crested Butte Millennials were acting more like Crusted Butts as they heckled the residents of Whatever USA the entire weekend. (Maigen says,) Young bartenders, namely at the Wooden Nickel, exuberated sheer frustration when we standardly asked for a beer, and overcharged us from the prices on their menus when we ordered anything but beer. Oddly enough, it didn’t stop many of them from drinking Whatever’s complimentary Bud Light, riding the free chartered transportation, or enjoying the incredible shows.
The older generations of Crested Butte understood that the economic upside for Crested Butte was worth putting up with 1,000 contest winners in their town for 2 ½ days. Although, most of the millennials weren’t happy with us being guests in “their” self-proclaimed town, we met a few locals our age that were super cool and willing to help us with any questions we had, which predominantly revolved around places to obtain a good whiskey drink.
Thank you Bud Light for taking us to #BudLightLand at Whatever, USA. A tremendous weekend that we will talk about for the rest of our days.
“What is your favorite interactive component of your favorite TV Show?”, he asked. Probably the seamlessness between the bend in my elbow and the first drops of my favorite Shiner beer on my lips as I watch that favorite show, I thought. This isn’t what I said. He might have severed the connection we had between us right then and there. I was on a video call from Houston to New York. Thank you technology.
The job sounded awesome. You control the gamut of tricks and gimmicks to get people to interact with the show’s concept digitally, virtual tours, or games to unlock a secret episode and such. You push the connectivity of social media conversations, work to get hashtags related to the show you manage to “trend”, and a whole slew of other market moving agendas. A digital producer for MTV. What more could you want?
What he was asking though came with an assumption; the assumption that I watched TV regularly enough to notice trends or market niches; the same way I notice trends in a properly SEO’d blog, photography, or how many times DWade goes right instead of left but I don’t. Forget DWade by the way. Go Rockets and go Celtics.
Damnit. A childhood of mom saying TV would fry my braincells and there I was, getting the stink-eye because I didn’t watch TV. It gets worse, and I’ll spare you the suspense. I didn’t get the job, and I’m glad. I’m the friend in the group that chuckles at what I think is a witty comment. Someone else in the group tops that with a phrase that makes us all laugh and then it happens. Someone inevitably turns to me and says “Have you seen that movie?” Shit. Not again. No, I just thought it was a funny comment. But when someone asks “Where are we going out tonight?” or “Where could I go for wi-fi and a cool atmosphere?”, “Do you have any good new music?” I’m the first person on the horn figuring out the best place to make their request happen, the best way that it could. Lately though, my supportive boyfriend, Drew has been showing me the cool new places that I never knew existed. I’m such a lucky lady and I have a passion for learning new things, for enriching people’s lives through positive experiences, experiences where they get out of their element. And I want them to have a documented story to remember it by. I only know this passion because I’ve been forced out of my element enough to realize the beauty of it. Finding your way through another country alone because you have no choice is now something that excites me. Spending the night in the mountains of Africa with nothing but a box of wine (and I do mean box) that we kept cold in the river is something that reminds me I’m human, body and bones in my purest form of being. And experiences are the only thing we have to create perspectives, loves, hates and the loot.
I would have not been living a life that I wanted to live up there and they would not have had the best person for the job with me in the chair. I like to articulate by my own hand the aesthetics, the cinematics, and the stories of journeys. I’d rather lookup keywords, write about experiences, design brands, take photos, then turn them into websites that become someone’s livelihood. That’s what moves me and if anything, this interview with MTV reminded me of just that. I know someone is going to kickass at the job and I’m just glad I got to experience it.
It finally happened. From my introduction into the business world, I always felt I had something to say or contribute, something to explain. Later I’d realize that what I was gunning for was an opportunity to prove my intelligence, to be known as knowledgeable in the room. All for what? In corporate conferences over the years, I’d find myself watching the subtleties of speakers on stage as they applied the gamut of gimmicks to captivate the audience at hand. I’d watch how what they had to say would compel people to stand at the end of the stage after the session, waiting for those few seconds of interaction. Then I’d watch as other people in the same audience would slip out the back only to beat the line for a quick coffee. Some speakers cared more and others cared less about the impact they had, but the common ground is that they all seemed to possess this higher level of knowledge than the people listening on and it was intoxicating to me. How foolish. Maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe, somewhere deep in my mind, I want to be a performer. You know, how cool would it be to drop down into a breakdance any time I felt nervous and then pop up into some unsightly version of a cheerleader high kick because I’m just not that flexible. Shouting hoo-rahs about how the world goes around when I have no idea. I’d rather just tell my story and that’s just what Chris was asking me to do.
Chris Garcia, the Creative Director for the Houston Astros, a crazy talented fellow designer and friend asked if I would be available to photograph, film, and speak at a conference he had put together to bring all designers from Major League Baseball together, MLC Connect. He went on to explain that he wanted me to detail my passions and tactics on collaboration. After all, I had just gotten back from Africa where I had been commissioned to photograph a diving school all based on a simple connection with a fellow traveler that I had met some time before while backpacking through France.
Chris outlined that I’d be speaking in tandem with another mind-blowing creative, Ismael Burciaga, founder of his own conference, Circles, explaining that it would bring clarity to the idea of collaboration in action. I had met Ismael through a distant design colleague who connected us over Twitter when he saw that we were both creating these funky fresh graphics called Cinemagraphs. When I learned more of Ismael’s conference, I immediately called Chris and told him that he had to check it out. As talent would have it, these guys hit it off and started collaborating on ideas all their own.
Then there I was, on stage, facing the crowd instead of being a face in it. The audience had to listen to me. They could choose to take notes or simply illuminate me out with electronics that were hard at work pulling data into a weak service area but regardless, I was up there. Leading up to the day, anyone I talked with about the event would ask if I would be nervous to speak. I’d always laugh and tell them that I equated it to something before a college basketball game (yeah, lame women’s basketball). I would go on to explain what can’t be told second-hand about how you spend all this time preparing for something without anxiety until moments before the game. Then in those seconds just before go-time, all hell would break loose inside.
That moment came there on stage, as I gathered my voice. The familiar butterflies began to whirl and that’s when the unexpected exploded; Irony. It was irony man. After all this time of feeling that I had so much to tell the world, I felt speechless and humbled instead. Standing abreast a room full of creative directors and graphic designers from all around the nation, what could I possibly have to say to them that they didn’t already know themselves? These weren’t new kids on the block (although Step by Step goes hard!). They were the beautiful minds behind some of the nation’s most home-grown brands. Each person in the room had been hand-picked to represent the aesthetics of their city’s Major League Baseball team, a feat not for the faint of heart. Realizing the lateral nature of anything I had to say, I talked in terms of what works for me and recognized that what I did compared to what they do could be night and day different even if we were all opening the same Adobe product line to glide pixels across a canvas (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and others). I quickly found myself searching for the knowledge that the room had as a whole, rather than pretending to be hot shit. I wanted to know what they thought, how they worked. I found myself wondering what their work environments were like, and what kind of music they listened to. Did they IV themselves into heavy bass headphones and rock 80’s music into the early hours of the night? How did they handle when a client or boss gave a negative response to their work? Anyone in that room could have been the speaker. And I was just lucky that it was me.
It was surreal to talk collaboratively instead of in a usual pecking order sort of way that corporate conferences seem to do. We all know different things and can do them just a little bit more effectively and I was glad that was my first experience as a speaker was in front of a room full of people all better at something than me, in some way or another. Ross from the LA Dodgers and Mike from the New York Mets had my full attention as I watched their major league stories unravel. These guys have seen a lifetime of culture become history and I had nothing but mad respect for them. Ben Jenkins, another speaker who runs many of his own businesses had me so wired to be better at my whole fucking life because this dude does it burning rubber in an Airstream just knocking shit out. I met Charlie, from Focus Labs and his beautiful wife, Kelly. I observed how Charlie was managing his business and personal life by meshing them together to bring Kelly to the conference (I have a real kind of girl crush on how cool this chick is). I felt this warm sense of excitement and hope for my own relationship because I’m lucky enough to have a kickass guy, Drew, who is just down for anything, can talk with anyone, and loves me for me. This conference opened my eyes to what the next 5 years of my life could look like. My passion for collaboration exploded even more after this conference and I realize in every day how it is the single-most important contributing factor to any business success I’ll ever have. People are so badass. I can’t thank Chris enough for having me and hope you enjoy the moments I captured through both photography and film.
Last weekend I headed off to Austin to shoot an engagement session with Brandi and Adam. Brandi had awesome plans for shoot locations, and I love the outdoors, so we ended out on paddle boards and kayaks in the middle of the city. With the super sonic styling tips from Ashley and my personal kayak tour guide who is very much my better half, Drew, I was able to get a ton of shots that were out of the norm. How he put up with my Type A personality while shooting is beyond me. Geezus, saying that I’m lucky to have him is an understatement.
I met Brandi somewhere about a year ago, and still find myself in awe of how beautiful she is, inside and out. Her smile is the contagious kind, and her happy soul puts everyone around her at ease. I’m grateful to be photographing this couple’s wedding next year and I cannot wait to document such an important day in their lives. Cheers to you both!