Rocks Off does our best to shield our readers from all the red tape we have to go through in order to bring you a steady stream of concert reviews.
For one thing, it's pretty boring - a bunch of emails and release forms not much different from the paperwork common to about a thousand other lines of work. About 99 percent of the time, we secure the necessary credentials from the promoters, publicists and/or artist management, publish the review, and get on with our lives.
However, the old saw about sausage tasting better the less you know about how it's made applies to the music business more than a lot of other fields. But every once in a while, something sticks in our craw enough that we feel it's necessary to break the fourth wall.
And so it came to pass that last Friday, Rocks Off dispatched Rocks Off Jr. and Marc Brubaker to cover the opening night of George Strait's 2011 tour at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. They loved it, an outcome only slightly less surprising than Slim Thug tweeting something off-color.
After we published our review Monday morning, Rocks Off Jr. emailed Strait's PR firm, Nashville's Front Page Publicity, a link to the article, as both a thank-you for the tickets and proof we weren't scamming them just so we could go hear "Amarillo by Morning" one more time for free.
They wrote back thanking us for the review... and also requesting we take down the photos of Strait we posted and send them to Nashville for approval. Say what?
This would be like letting an artist see a review or article we had written before we published it, so they could take anything out they might not agree with. Rocks Off does not work this way - getting the facts wrong is one thing, which is why we have editors and fact-checkers on staff. It's impossible to get an opinion wrong, in a concert review or anywhere else.
But Front Page had us in a bit of a bind. A clause in their photographer agreement that Brubaker signed, and Rocks Off Sr. sent back to Nashville, said "photographer may not publish the photographs in any manner without obtaining the prior written permission of Artist."
Generally, all photographer agreements look about the same, but this is the first time Rocks Off can remember seeing that specific clause in one. We generally don't see them at all, because most of the time photographers sign them at the box office where they pick up their photo pass. If we had read this one a little more closely before sending it to Nashville, we might have called off the review.
But we didn't, and after consulting with some higher-ups here at the paper (including Village Voice Media legal counsel), we decided to play nice, take the photos down and send them to Front Page. Brubaker is a talented photographer, so we fully expected Front Page to say they were fine.
And they did approve the photos. Two of the six we sent in, to be exact: A long shot of Strait with his arm raised in the air and a close-up of his guitar with only the singer's torso and arm showing. The other four - tighter shots of Strait in various stages of performing - didn't make the cut because Front Page is not too keen on "shadows and bad angles," the rep explained to us. They consider said photos "unflattering."
The angles in the four stricken photos are pretty much the same as the two Front Page did allow - dead center. The only shadows are due to Strait's hat. We found them striking, not unflattering, and the only plausible reason we can think of that they were not approved is that they were maybe a little too close-up.
Let's not forget that besides one of the most decorated and beloved artists in country music history, Strait is a bona fide cowboy. When he isn't recording or touring (or shooting Wrangler commercials), we understand he spends most of his time punching cows at his ranch near San Antonio, where the South Texas sun is hot, the days are long, and the dust is plentiful.
No matter how big their Resistol, even multiplatinum superstars are not immune to the effects of prolonged exposure to sunlight and the march of time. Not that it really matters - we know lots of ladies of all ages who still swoon at the very sight of Strait.
Hell, we doubt King George himself would mind if we ran those pictures. We'd kill for the chance to ask him personally. Although his interviews are few and far between, he's always come across as an easygoing, laid-back sort of fellow. He doesn't seem to need an untoward amount of makeup in those Wrangler or Tractor Supply ads, after all.
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But, evidently, the people he has hired to look after his affairs - and his image - feel our photos would have cast a shadow, as it were, on one of Texas' biggest icons. And so it goes.
Rocks Off understands that the good people of Front Page are only doing their jobs. So are we. But it's a good thing they don't represent Ozzy Osbourne, who is only a couple of years older than Strait.