Francofolies Festival La Rochelle 2015

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity of working together with Instagram to cover the Francofolies Festival 2015 in France. It´s a 5 day festival with more than 90 bands playing on 10 stages located all around and in the small fishing village of La Rochelle. This was one of the best festival experiences I’ve had so far, but also the one where I faced the most challenges. Why? Read on.

It all started out with an email. It was from Instagram, asking if I would like to work with them, covering one of the biggest festivals in France, the Francofolies Festival 2015 in La Rochelle. At first I thought it had to be a bad joke, because receiving an email from one of the biggest social media companies (Instagram was bought by Facebook recently, just in case you’d missed that) isn’t something that happens to me every day! However, I was curious and got in contact with them. One telephone call later and everything was set up. I was ready to be the official Instagram photographer for the Francofolies festival! Most people would now think that the hardest part had been done, but I can tell you that if you get a job like this, it´s always coupled with challenges you’ll have to master first. Let me explain.

You have to master the challenges first

I got the final approval three days before the festival began. I thought to myself, “This is going to be easy. I just have to book a flight from Vienna, Austria to La Rochelle.“ Sounds pretty straightforward, right? The first obstacle appeared when I was searching for a flight – there wasn’t an option for a non-stop direct flight. I found some flight plans with 2 stops but with a travel time of about 26 hours! (The normal amount of time to get there on a non-stop direct flight is 5 hours). This, of course, wasn’t an option for me and so I tried to find some other routes. One possibility would have been to fly via Manchester or Lyon to La Rochelle, but all flights were already fully booked. I was sitting in front of my computer and was starting to get a bit nervous. How was I going to get there? I asked some friends for help and they came up with another good idea. I could get a flight from Vienna to Paris and then take the TGV train to La Rochelle. This sounded like a good plan. Unfortunately, all trains to La Rochelle were also already fully booked. Damn it. “Don´t freak out and think what else is possible!”, I thought to myself. Then I had an idea – why not rent a car and drive there. If I could find a flight from Vienna to Paris, I could rent a car from there and drive the 500km to the west coast of France and get to La Rochelle! This was the best solution. I booked a flight to Paris and was ready to take on the next challenges.

On Friday, 10th July, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris at 8:00am and walked to the Rent a Car service to start the next leg of my journey. What I didn´t know yet was that this drive to La Rochelle would present it’s own challenges to me. It all started with a navigation system that wasn’t able to find the address of my hotel in La Rochelle. It took a 30 minute discussion with the service guy before we were able to get the navigation system up and running correctly. There was already a long queue of people lining up behind me, waiting to get their car. After trying 3 different navigation systems, I decided to just take one and start driving, at least in the direction of La Rochelle. The good thing was that the car rental company upgraded my car to a hybrid automatic Toyota Yari instead of a manual VW.
Once I started driving on the highway in the direction the navigation system showed me, I began wondering why it was telling me it would only take me 1:30 hours to get there instead of at least the 5 hours I had figured out beforehand. I checked the route and it showed me “La Chapelle“ instead of “La Rochelle“. It looked like the guy from the rental firm had entered the wrong final destination. I stopped at the side of the highway and found out that I was driving in completely the wrong direction. Luckily, I had decided to check it after only driving for 5 minutes, otherwise I would have lost even more time. You can imagine that I was already a bit “out of balance“. I entered La Rochelle into my Garmin navigation system and was finally on my way to this awesome festival.

But not for long.

Once I arrived in the area surrounding Paris, I got stuck in a traffic jam. Unfortunately, on 10th July, everyone in Paris wants to get out of there and takes their car to go on holiday! (Someone told me this the next day). I was stuck for – and this is not an exaggeration – the next 4 hours! I’ve never seen so much traffic and I’ve never been in a traffic jam for such a long time before. When I arrived at my first break at a highway restaurant, it was already 1:30 pm and I still had to drive another 400km. I bought a coke and a baguette (later on I found out that there isn’t much else to eat in France than baguettes!) and returned to my car. When I pressed the “On“ button (because there was no ignition key in my lovely upgraded car), nothing happened. It was dead. I started to panic and asked 3 guys next to me at the parking lot. What you have to know is that French people are very friendly, but they can’t or rather don´t want to speak English. For someone like me, who never took French in school, this is not a situation you want to be in. They tried to help me, but the car wouldn’t start at all. What should I do now? I called the service number of the rental company and they told me it wasn’t their problem anymore, but they could send a car mechanic to me. I just had to tell them where I was. I had no idea where I was, so the only solution was to find a waitress from the restaurant and give her my telephone to explain in more detail. I was sitting with a broken car on the highway, 400km away from my final destination and it was already 2 pm. I couldn´t believe that this was all happening and tried to start the car for the last time. AND IT STARTED. What the hell was going on here? I felt like I had been trapped in one of those hidden camera TV shows! I had no idea why the car was working again, but made a mental note not to stop anymore. I got back onto the highway and drove 4 hours at or above the speed limit. There was a lot of traffic throughout the whole journey and sometimes it was just on small country roads. At 7pm, after a 15 hour journey (I woke up at 4am in Vienna to catch my flight), I arrived in La Rochelle with just vapours left in the gas tank. Exhausted, but happy, I had to figure out how to open the gas tank cap, because there was no lock on that either. I asked another friendly French family for help, who again didn´t speak English, but they found a secret little button inside the car to open the cap. I also had to bring the car back to the car rental service in La Rochelle, but they had already closed. I called them when I was on my way, but after asking if they spoke English and getting a short but precise answer, “No“, I had no way of communicating with them about this issue. As my navigation system couldn´t find the hotel address, I used google maps and finally arrived at 7:30pm in my hotel. “No, we don´t have a parking spot at our hotel anymore. You’ll have to find a parking space somewhere else“. Exactly, why should they have a parking spot for me? I had been travelling for more than 15 hours and then I have to find a parking space in a small city where 10 000 people are attending a festival? Pffff. Ok, let´s search for one. I found a safe parking garage, rushed back with all my equipment to the hotel. I opened the door to my hotel room, dropped my suitcases, grabbed my photo equipment and ran to the festival site. Then it was only the minor issue of finding the correct address (did I mention that nobody on the street will speak English with you…?) and I arrived at exactly 9:00pm in the photo pit and ready to shoot Angus & Julia Stone (and worked until 2 am in the morning.)

Why am I telling you all this? I wanted to share this story, because I wanted to show you that for every success story, there are challenges and lots of hard work involved. Most of the time, people don’t know about the hassles and only see the end result. This might sound a little esoteric, but I’m a firm believer that if you work hard on your success, you´ll achieve it someday. Sure, I could have given up a couple of times before arriving at the festival. I could have complained about how unfair everything is. I could have just flown home to Vienna without shooting the festival. But I just saw this day as a collection of challenges to be overcome. Sometimes you have to master challenges in life to earn your spot. And this day clearly showed me that you can do anything if you believe in yourself, no matter the size of the challenges.

I know being a music photographer is a hard job and we´re faced with challenges all the time. Whether your memory card dies during a shoot, your name was forgotten and is not on the press list or you have a hard time fighting in the photo pit to get a great shot. I’m not saying that being a music photographer is easy, but, if you´re ready to take the challenges thrown at you and grow from overcoming them, you´ll be able to live your passion and live the life you dream of.

Tell me about the challenges you’ve faced as a music photographer and how you overcame them in the comments section below!

The Francofolies 2015 Was A Blast!

Back to the Francofolies festival. I was working directly with the organisers of Francofolies and was shooting for their official Instagram account. In addition, I was shooting exclusive backstage portraits of famous French bands and musicians and publishing my concert photos on the official Parismatch Instagram account (which is the french version of People Magazine). The funny thing was that I didn´t know any of the 90 bands playing the festival, with the exception of Angus & Julia stone, which is one of my favourite bands. France is similar to Italy or Switzerland as in they have evolved a local music scene that is hardly known outside their own countries. I learned a lot about French bands and really liked Sianna (French Hiphop), Radio Elvis (French Indie), Lewis Evans (Pop) and Coeur de Pirat (French Pop). See some of my Instagram photos here.

Instagram Photo Pass Francofolies 2015
Instagram Photo Pass Francofolies 2015
Radio Elvis
Keren Ann
Jesse Le Sommer, Bison Vinz-1
Jesse Le Sommer & Bison Vinz backstage fun
The Do
The Do
Yannick Noah
Coeur De Pirate
Coeur De Pirate

The 5 days in La Rochelle were a blast and one of the best festival experiences I’ve had so far. I met a lot of great musicians, music managers, DJ’s and photographers. If you’re into French music, make sure you visit Francofolies 2016. It’s worth it!

Tell me about the challenges you’ve faced as music photographer and how you overcame them in the comments section below! Read on here and get my tips on how to start living your passion!

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