Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Luis Vela has captured an entire DaniLeigh tour on $5 toy cameras and was instrumental in one of Teyana Taylor’s most ambitious live performances ever: Her House of Petunia concert with Red Bull in 2019.
“For six days straight preparing for that Atlanta show, she was there early in the morning until everyone went home, which was around 3 a.m. Then, she’d get right back up and do it again,” Vela told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the photographer talks a touching backstage moment between DaniLeigh and a young fan, Taylor’s creative preferences on stage, and more. Peep the convo below.
What was the first official tour you photographed?
The first official tour was the DaniLiegh “Be Yourself Tour” in early January 2019. I actually designed the tour flyer for that using photography from her creative director. I just came in and did the merch design, flyer design, and creative consultation on stage and light design.
How did you connect with DaniLeigh?
It all started with my very good friend Mike Snell, [an] engineer and producer who worked with Teyana, Kanye, J Balvin, and a lot of people. I was in contact with Snell, and at the time, he was the DJ for Teyana in 2019 on the “Keep That Same Energy Tour.” I got invited through him just to pull up and shoot some shit for Tey and to network. He took me backstage and I met DaniLeigh in the green room that same night. I was wearing some pants I designed and Dani asked me, “What do you do? I see you with the camera.” I told her I do video, photo, and everything. She was like, “Shit, what are you doing next week?” Anything I had in my schedule was being cleared. I was hype. Sure enough, the following week, she flew me out to do the behind-the-scenes for the “Lil Bebe” music video.
What did you have to learn about Dani when it came to shooting her live performances?
One of the things I had to learn, honestly, was being present and in the moment. It’s very different when you’re photographing people on stage. She does choreography, singing, and you have to get every angle possible. Her creative director was her first shooter at that time. They brought me on to be the second shooter for that tour. They knew she was a dancer, singer, and did it all, so they wanted me to get different angles. At that time, I was only shooting film, so I had to load up my camera every 10 minutes.
Live shows are always unpredictable and photographers have told me they’ve had to finesse a few situations in order to do their job. Have you had to while on tour with her?
Absolutely. I was getting $5 disposable cameras just to get the job done.
Any moments from that “Be Yourself Tour” still stick out to you?
One moment that sticks out was in Dallas, Texas. After the show, they invited a few fans backstage who couldn’t do the meet-and-greet. It was a family and a little girl. At the time, Dani had “Lil Bebe” out and was bringing a lot of little kids on stage to dance with her. One of the little kids that [was] on the stage dancing with her ended up expressing to Dani how important that moment was to her. She was 8 years old and fully expressing her gratitude. Being able to witness that spark in a little kid’s eyes was important to me.
Artists like Lil Yachty and Soulja Boy came out as guests on that tour. How do you adjust to these surprises as a photographer?
We weren’t aware Lil Yachty was going to come. I think it was a surprise for her. He let her know he wasn’t going to be able to make it to the Atlanta stop on her tour. So, it ended up being a surprise. You just have to be ready at all times. You need to have the film loaded up on your camera or your SD card cleared. I think being ready and prepared is the biggest thing.
What was Dani’s personality like?
There was no Hollywood stuff. She was on the tour bus with us. Honestly, she’s a very sweet person. She gave me an opportunity. She invited me to do the behind-the-scenes video and I didn’t hear from her for a little bit. Randomly, around Christmas time in 2018, she called me like, “How would you feel about coming out to L.A. and living out here?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” That shows the type of person she is. If she sees something she fucks with and respect, she’s going to reach out and show love. She’s also really funny. There were a couple of times she was trying to prank people on the bus who were sleeping.
What songs got the biggest reactions from the crowd?
“Lil Bebe.” It was the last song and people would just turn up. They would have to run it back at least two or three times. The kids were definitely digging Dani.
What was on her rider?
Back then was a lot of Essentia Water. She had a chef come on tour who was also doing her hair and makeup. I think her name is Ana [Acevedo], a super amazing person. Dani was only eating alkaline vegan at that time. I remember that clearly because I’d be like, “Damn, that food looks good.T”
How’d you connect with Teyana Taylor?
That’s another divine story. The same night I met Dani was the same night I connected with Teyana’s manager. That night I also met the wonderful people Boe [Daney] and Nikki [Taylor]. They do operations and management for Tey. I was prepared and ready. I packed all of the stuff I had from my art installations and showed them, “My name is Luis. This is what I do.” They were really impressed by what I showed them. We exchanged information and sure enough, I connected with them six or seven months later.
Teyana is known for prioritizing creativity above all else. What did you add to her live shows?
They needed a light designer and someone to fill in creatively. They needed someone who could do it all and fill in when people couldn’t make it. She has a main photographer named Kevin and a videographer named Matt [Madonna]. I do light design for her, and I do photos and videos for her when she’s doing music videos.
How dedicated was she to put on a great show?
Teyana is a genius. Watching her perform reminds me of being a kid and watching those rehearsal videos of Michael Jackson. A moment that comes to my mind was the Atlanta show she did for Red Bull. It was themed “The House of Petunia.” It was a giant show. We were in Atlanta for a week preparing non-stop. They were setting up the stage. They had to get the light design ready. She was hands-on with everything. She knows exactly how she wants it to look. She knows exactly how she wants it to smell. She understands the responsibility of being in the art realm and will forever be a legend for that. For six days straight preparing for that Atlanta show, she was there early in the morning until everyone went home, which was around 3 a.m. Then, she’d get right back up and do it again.
Did she give you any requests or instructions on how she wanted to be photographed?
Yes. She doesn’t like bright lights on her face, so all the photographers were told to not use flash often. They were told to use the natural light in the arena. When I was doing the light design, I made sure there was no spotlight on her face.
What was the most impressive thing you’ve seen her do on stage?
Every time she performs “Gonna Love Me.” It’s a tear-jerker. She grabs every person in the audience with that song. It’s so captivating. Her crowd control is next level.
Were there any noteworthy fan reactions you witnessed?
Absolutely. There was a show in Dallas. It was World AIDS Day concert and Diana Ross was the main act. Dascha [Polanco] was the host. Teyana performed “Gonna Love Me” and there was someone in the crowd that got super emotional. Teyana always makes sure to involve the audience. She let the fan share her story of how the song means so much to her because it got her through some tough times. It really showed me the power of music.
How did 2020 affect your career?
I’m working on some NFTs. I have a few collaboration projects in the works. I’m also finalizing the pilot of my mini-doc series. The first person I’m featuring on it is BJ The Chicago Kid. I’m really excited about that.