(The title of this post is a reference to the song of the same name by Walk The Moon. It's also a reference to the blog We Are The Kids, which was dedicated to inspiring young adults hoping to work in the music industry).
Just after my last post went live, I was able to finally see and photograph an artist I've been trying to see for the past year, Rachel Platten, at the Cheyenne Saloon in Downtown Orlando. In a city that's so centered around the theme parks, downtown isn't the main attraction for most. There wasn't a lot to do downtown- it was mostly office buildings- but it was really cool to explore for a bit, knowing the city will never be "mine" but I'll be on to the next one soon... so in a way, I guess, the whole wide world is mine.
Cheyenne Saloon is located on a street that's Old West-themed, and in fact once I went inside I realized the interior lived up to its name: it did indeed feel like an Old West saloon! Christina Grimmie opened for Rachel Platten; she's from my home state of New Jersey, and I was completely blown away by how powerful her voice is! Her cover of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" was pretty stellar.
Finally, it was time for Rachel Platten's set. After wanting to see her for such a long time, she did not disappoint! I love, love, LOVE the positive energy she radiates on stage, and the honesty she portrays in her songs. She did a stripped-down cover of Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child", but I don't think anything can compare to seeing the whole room sing along to "Fight Song."
I was tempted to stay up all night editing my photos, but I had to get some rest because the next day was a big day- my first day at Hogwarts! Okay, okay, I wasn't attending as a student- just a visitor, at Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I have loved the Harry Potter world (the books and movies!) since I was 9 or 10 years old; the stories that J.K. Rowling has woven, the characters created and friendships formed, the world she's brought to life- it's such a big part of my life, and to see it in person was pretty thrilling.
Before going to Hogwarts, it's important to stop in Diagon Alley (located in University Studios Florida) to buy school supplies! The entrance is hidden behind an unassuming brick wall near Number 12, Grimmauld Place and the Knight Bus- walk around and all of a sudden... you're there!
I went to Wizarding World with peta2 office staffer, fellow Hogwarts student (he's a Slytherin, I'm a Gryffindor), and Fwooper Foundation founder Tylor Starr (who took all the photos of me that you see in this post; the ones of both Tylor and I were taken by kind wizards we met that day), and throughout the whole day, we were on a mission to find the vegan offerings at each of the park's restaurants. While there were no proper vegan entrees available, we had great meals by combining loads of the side offerings at each meal!
After fueling up with a hearty breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron, we went wand-shopping at Ollivander's. Tylor was even chosen for the "wand ceremony" where he got to test out different wands before one chose him. I couldn't turn away the option to buy an interactive wand- I went with Sirius Black's, since it felt right when I picked it up, and had loads of fun testing out all of the spells around the park (even the hidden ones). I'm still waiting for my Hogwarts letter, but now I know that when it arrives, I'll be all ready for Charms class.
Diagon Alley is filled with shops replicating ones in the books and movies; I think my favorite was Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes (which even featured an advertisement for U-No-Poo). It was all so realistic and immersive. One surprise that I wasn't at all expecting was seeing Celestina Warbeck perform! Actors from the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts also told the story of The Three Brothers- it was chilling, but so cool!
We lined up for the Hogwarts Express and I even disappeared between Platforms 9 and 10 when boarding the train!
Once we got off the train in Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure), I was pretty much in awe. It's a quaint little village covered in snow, and- like Diagon Alley- a clear replica of the fantasy reality of the books and movies. While waiting in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff, we passed Hagrid's Hut and even a life-like Buckbeack! This was all cool, but the most exciting thing- hands down- was seeing Hogwarts for the first time. In the series, Hogwarts is the first place where Harry feels at home; as someone who grew up feeling like I never fit in, I felt like I was at home when I saw it. During lunch at The Three Broomsticks, Tylor and I talked about our love for shared affinity for the castle and all it represents.
Back in Diagon Alley, we lined up for the Escape From Gringotts ride located inside Gringotts bank. From the exterior to the goblins we saw inside, it felt like we were right there. I was scared I'd get pretty motion-sick, but it wasn't bad at all! It definitely felt like I was riding in a cart down to my vault to get some galleons, sickles, and knuts. We watched Celestina Warbeck perform again, and this time Tylor got brought up on stage! While at dinner at The Leaky Cauldron, I remarked how I've always admired Harry's resiliency throughout the series- how he faces some incredibly tough, trying, and downright traumatic experiences, but comes out stronger for it. Really, it's not the spellcasting and magical creatures that make the Harry Potter series so special; it's the characters and the stories.
Hogwarts during the day was pretty, but when we went back at sunset it was beautiful. We stopped to watch students from Beaux Batons and Durmstrang perform, and even posed for a photo with the performers!
The last ride of the day was the Forbidden Journey at Hogwarts. I was, again, nervous that I'd get sick but I didn't find myself motion sick at all (though some people do, fyi). The queue for the ride found us going throughout Hogwarts Castle- seeing the Mirror of Erised and passing through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom were two of my favorite things. Once on the ride, it felt like we were flying in and around the castle- on the Quidditch pitch, through the Chamber of Secrets, past the Whomping Willow... this was probably the most immersive "I feel like I'm actually at Hogwarts" experience of the day.
At the end of the ride, we stopped at Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods where I picked up a Dobby figurine- as I've got a dog named after him, I have quite the soft spot for the house elf.
Once back in Diagon Alley, Tylor and I did a few more spells and took a few more photos before heading out when the park closed for the day.
Back in the Muggle World, our next day found us having brunch at Ethos Vegan Kitchen before heading down to Miami, where we set up at Florida International University for two days. On our first day, we were set up in a shaded area near a fountain- we were surrounded by buildings so I wasn't sure how easily people would be able to see the display from far away, but it ended up being a really busy day! The next day, we were on a quad outside a parking garage and near the student union building- not a bad place to set up.
From Miami, we were then on to Gainesville. The last time I was in Gainesville was for Fest in 2014, which was one of the best, craziest, and most fun things I've ever done; since then I've had a soft spot for the town. On our first day at the University of Florida, we found ourselves set up near the FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) 10 Billions Lives Tour! We ended up going out for vegan ice cream at Karma Cream in town with the FARM reps, John and Rose, later, which was a great way to wrap up a great day of outreach!
After our second day at the University of Florida, we had a long drive up to Clemson, South Carolina, where we were at Clemson University. It was the day before their spring break, so while there weren't as many students walking by as on a typical day, we were able to have longer conversations with those who did stop by (getting to hang out with the activists on campus was pretty rad, too!).
Finally it was time for our spring break, the first several days of which we spent in Asheville. It was late when we got in, but wingz and chips and queso from Rosetta's Kitchen downtown hit the spot. The next day I woke up and wow- the mountains there are beautiful!
On our second night in Asheville, we checked out a free show at New Mountain: The Blind Spots were playing, and they were great!
The following night, I couldn't resist making a daytrip to Charlotte to shoot Saosin, Limbs, and Young and Heartless at Amos' Southend. I had seen Young and Heartless once before, at the Glamour Kills Holiday Show in December 2014 in New York; I love their brand of mellow alternative rock.
I had never heard of or seen Limbs before, but from their first song, I was hooked. This band has energy, and a passionate, melodic aggression that's impossible not to love.
Finally, Saosin went on, and I was instantly brought back to my early high school years when I used to listen to them all the time! It was great to finally shoot them, and especially great being the only photographer in the pit- I had plenty of room to move around!
The next day, my tourmates and I woke up early to go for a walk in the woods. A walk is fun on your own, but even better with a dog, so we borrowed Bob, a pitbull mix, from a local shelter , for a nice long walk- and boy, did he love it! (Did you know many shelters will let you take one of their dog for a walk or hike? If you're not ready to adopt or foster, this can be a great way to get some doggy time in- and give a shelter dog a really fun day.)
Asheville isn't a big city, so I wasn't expecting to find any shows in town while we were there, but to my surprise, Mayday Parade and The Maine were playing at The Orange Peel on the American Lines Tour. I've photographed both of these bands a few times, and couldn't resist going to see them together. Up first was The Technicolors. They were a last-minute addition to the tour, so frontman Brennan Smiley played solo; the lighting wasn't spectacular at first glance, but when I turned the photos black and white and played around with contrast and exposure, I was very happy with my results.
The Maine were up next. John O'Callaghan is such a wonderful frontman- not only does he have a great voice, he knows how to work an audience and he moves in a way that always photographs really well.
Finally, Mayday Parade went on. Their set was a mix of old and new songs, and energetic but also emotional (hello, have you heard "Terrible Things"?)- overall, a good time.
On our last day in Asheville, we went to Vortex Donuts, a hip donut shop with several vegan flavors and great coffee, to catch up on emails and relax.
Thursday morning, we were off to Atlanta, Georgia, and on Friday- after lunch at Soul Vegetarian, an all-vegan comfort food stop, we headed downtown to see Cirque du Soleil's show Kurios- and wow, what a show it was. The costumes and props were steampunk style, which was very cool, and the performers were so talented. There were handbalancers (performing on stacks of chairs high in the air), acrobats on the ground, on a giant net, up in the air, and clowns that made everyone in the room laugh. With a show like that, who needs animals in the circus?
I'm headed to shoot yet another show tonight; tomorrow we'll drive to Athens, then we'll be back it again, outreaching on college campuses all over the country.