Filming live music outdoors can present all kinds of problems, from moving clouds obstructing your light to changes in the wind messing with your sound. But if it all works out, you have the opportunity to give the music a remarkable backdrop. With The Gondola Sessions, filmmaker John Austin set out to use Colorado's majestic Rocky Mountains as the setting for intimate acoustic sets from artists like Nathaniel Rateliff, G.Love and Keller Williams -- each performing within a moving gondola.
"It's a pretty cozy environment with us all packed in there," says Austin, who began filming The Gondola Sessions in Aspen two years ago and has released 53 videos so far. "It's different than playing a set on stage in front of a huge crowd. There's a calming element to the gondola ride -- so long as you're not scared of heights. It's pretty peaceful up there."
Austin says he's had to cancel sessions due to extreme weather and that some gondolas are too noisy for the series. Still, it's those unpredictable external elements that give the Gondola Sessions their intimate charm: The immediacy of the acoustics along with the tight camera shots give the viewer a sense of being an audience of one.
"I always think it's cool when people come up with these unique settings [for live music], whether it's in a cab or a little shack," says Rateliff, who says he's encountered conceptual shows like this in Europe, but not so much in the U.S. "It was really beautiful up there."
Rateliff's video was shot last July, when the Aspen landscape was covered in a lush blanket of green and brown. His selection of songs like "How to Win" and "When Do You See" -- which he decided on only once inside the gondola -- carry a tempo that match the lazy speed of the vehicle and exude a melancholy tone perfectly suited for the beauty of the surroundings.The Gondola Sessions
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offers a variety of characters and backdrops. Bands like Wild Child and Natty Vibes were decked out in hats and coats while performing their sets in mid-winter, attempting to keep warm as they moved through the snow-covered pine trees. And groups like Miner and Deadly Generation showed just how many bodies and instruments you can fit into a moving gondola (including a stand-up bass, in the case of the latter).
"The bigger bands are definitely a challenge, but it's also pretty exciting," says Austin. "With the solo performers I can mix up the shots a bit more and try to get some perspective so the audience is reminded that these guys are a hundred feet in the air, traveling up a mountain."
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