Blake Shelton at Country Thunder Wisconsin 2015 in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.
(Photo: ©2015 Bill Stephens/Metro News Network)

By Photojournalist Bill Stephens / Metro News Milwaukee
Monday, August 3, 2015, 6:35 AM

Blake Shelton media ban at

some venues and not others

'Pure BS' for fans, photogs

While on assignment at Country Thunder in Twin Lakes Wisconsin, an issue occurred that well on different levels upset, angered and yes even pissed off media photographers. Those of us that attend to provide reviews and to photo document the shows, again were turned away from the Blake Shelton set. Shelton again chose to ban all media from his set. He would not even allow those that were just reviewing into the reserved/VIP area close to the stage to get a good look and feel for the performance. Most of us (those that didn’t have seats) were forced into the general admission crowd (estimated at 30,000) to at best hear over the roar of the many intoxicated party animals in the crowd; my position was over 1,000 feet away.

The media photographers that did have seats were warned by security not to take photos or face ejection, yet there were potentially over 30,000 cell phones and cameras in the audience taking photos and video albeit not of professional quality.

Some may say that this decision was because of his newly announced divorce. But that doesn’t explain his last appearance here in 2012 or even the previous night at Country Jam another festival in Northern Wisconsin where Media was allowed to photograph his show. So the question remains why not in Twin Lakes?

Media photographers that are granted credentials by the venue, in this case Country Thunder Wisconsin, are verified that they are on assignment by a regular media publication or news outlet. We are not Paparazzi that purely exist to catch famous and public people doing bad or questionable things or quite literally with their pants down. We don’t do this. I personally have been involved in photography from
prior to my teen years and this year will be completing my 50
th year of capturing images, with the last 25 or so doing news, features and live performances. The bottom line here is that true media photojournalists strive to produce high quality images and do not pursue profit from a subject’s bad behavior or by sneaking photos of their private moments. A bad photo is a direct reflection on the photographer and not the subject.

Most people think because they own a camera or have the option on their cell phone that they are a photographer. I have news for you; it is not the camera that makes you a photographer. Photography, like any profession takes training and lots of practice.

Professional photographers, after working in the field, are accepted into and belong to various organizations that promote quality and honesty in photography. These organizations require verification that a photographer is actually working and is published with an accredited media outlet.

A media photographer’s primary job is to get the story. Our secondary job serves to promote, in this case, an artists brand. The more an artists image is in the public eye, the popularity of their brand will increase, even to household name status. When a musical artist begins a career, whether a local cover band or an artist with original material, they need promotion. Without media promotion none, NONE of them would even get out of the gate.

All new artists starting out bend over backwards to get media coverage to get their name out there and mostly never turn down photo ops and interviews for publicity. Artist’s management loves free advertising for up and coming performers – the price is right and in the long run makes them $$$. It seems that the more popular an artist becomes the more they forget all of the free publicity they received while they were starting up and they shut out media who are the very people who got the artists where they are today.

Also, the front man in any band or a solo artist would be just another singer without the backing of very talented musicians. Without media, radio, TV, print and all forms of internet publicity including social networking no one would have a clue who they are. Publicity of both good and bad news travels fast as wildfire, the old adage, “100 Atta boys get erased with one OH S**T,” is much more true especially if you are in the public eye and before the media. No matter who the artist is, public behavior is just that public.

We live in a country with a basic set of freedoms, while most of the freedoms are to protect us from an oppressive government; a free press opens each and every one of us to public scrutiny. If it happens out in the open, we are all subject to publicity. So, what to do? Don’t mess up. Treat people with respect. Work hard and don’t belittle anyone for what they do for a living. Respect everyone’s job because in the grand scheme of things everyone’s job is necessary. From the guy on the street collecting cans for spare change, to the CEO of a major corporation, someone somewhere depends on the income from that job to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads.

What Blake Shelton did at Country Thunder and for that matter whenever any artist does this, belittles my job. The banning of all media from covering his set communicated to me he doesn’t care or respect my job. His actions told me it was ok for us to promote him when no one knew his name, but now that he is a mega star and a household name media is now disposable.

Well I beg to differ, my job as Chief Photojournalist in my organization allows me to make decisions on which artist we cover and promote. As of now ,I am instituting a new policy to not cover or promote any artist or tour that chooses to not respect our job. The only thing that will change this policy is a very public apology and a promise to respect everyone’s job and work with us.

When a fan cannot attend a show for any reason they turn to media to get the low down and see a few images to get some of the feel of the show. Turning away the media turns away that fan that could not attend.

In Short, Blake, your move to ban media was PURE BS.

Bill Stephens is the National Chief Photographer at Metro News Network and Member of the National Press Photographers Association, Member of the International Fire Photographers Association, Member of the International Organization of Fire Photographers and Member of NIKON Professional Services.


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Summerfest 'School of Rock' unites
music students from US & Australia

By Photojournalist Bill Stephens / Metro News Chicago
Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 8:00 PM
High school students participated in "School of Rock" which had participants from America and Australia during Summerfest 2015 at Henry Maeir Festival Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. / Photo: Bill Stephens, Metro News Chicago

When you hear the words "School Of Rock," most will think of the movie starring Jack Black. On June 27th and 28th, over 500 student performers from 34 different School of Rock locations showed off their training, talent and love for rock music on multiple stages at Summerfest in Milwaukee. The participating students came from 16 states nationwide and Australia to compete against each other and in some cases themselves. Performing in front of a live audience with multiple band mates and various guest mentors can provide a learning experience, feedback and exposure in a real world environment.

I am an assigned photographer that each year spends each of the 11 days sampling music from the 11 different stages and over 800 performances that Summerfest has to offer. As a live performance photographer, I am charged with capturing images of performances in an effort to communicate the music visually freezing time using my eye and camera. These students not only demonstrate their musical aptitude and showmanship, they also believe in the music with all of their heart and soul.

Learning and performing any form of music takes dedication and hours of practice. In this case, performing with musicians they may have never met or performed with increases the level of difficulty and adds another level of complexity and learning experience. When performing in a band environment, you are now part of a tight unit, a team, that when all members are working together communicates the thoughts and feelings the composer put down on paper.

While music takes many shapes, Rock, Country, Classical, Rap, Blues, etc. and every musician has their own style, these students are no different. A musician’s expression is more powerful than just playing the notes. Anyone can learn to play the notes; painting a picture with the music and communicating that feeling from the heart is the difference. The School of Rock has been able to teach the student to convey the feeling and soul of the music. You have to believe in the music or you will never communicate with your audience.

I attended part of the finals at the BMO Harris Stage. Truly amazing performances by all. And, while I did not witness the winner, for the record, everyone is a winner by the students gaining experience and the audience being able to share their involvement. Kudos to the School of Rock and Summerfest, I hope they continue this partnership for the sake of the students and the future of musical performance.

For more information on the School, visit their website at

Summerfest "School of Rock"
Photo Gallery
by Bill Stephens / Metro News