Britney's "Onyx Hotel" Tour Rolls Into Oakland

Wednesday March 9th was a beautiful day in San Francisco, and I spent the afternoon after work at Kelly's Cove hanging out with friends as I do on most hot days. Around 4:00pm, I drove over to visit with family and checked email on my laptop. I received an email earlier in the day from Peter Weiss asking me to photograph Britney Spears in Oakland that night. Looking at the clock, I scrambled to collect equipment as my camera and lenses were already shipped for a photo shoot the next week. I called Adolph Gasser on 2nd St and rented a Nikon F3 and an 80-200mm Nikon lenses. I then drove downtown, picked up the equipment and some NPZ Fuji film. I then went back to the beach and watched the sun go down to kill some time before heading out to Oakland to photograph Britney Spears in concert.

I arrived around 7:30pm and noticed they wanted fifteen dollars to park. I wasn't having that, so I parked in the ghetto about six blocks away. I walked over the BART over pass and went to the North Tunnel, sat outside and waited for my contact to meet me. Within about twenty minutes here he came, we introduced ourselves and began to talk about Britney's management requests for photographers. I was told I could photograph Britney for the first 30 seconds of the first, second and third songs only. I signed a contract stating that, copyright issues and then we went in to photograph Kelis, an up and coming rap star. I enjoyed Kelis and her bands funky, catchy hip hop beats. We were allowed to photograph Kelis' entire first three songs. That is usually the norm for concert photographers.

After the third song, we went out and waited for Britney to come on. Around 9:30pm we were escorted threw the crowd to the pit in front of the stage once again. Looking around I said to one of the other photographers, " Well it sure is ladies night here in Oakland. To bad the average age is around 15 years old some as young as 4. Yet there was a good share of 20-30 year olds in attendance.

Once we got to the pit in front, the press agent for Clear Channel explained the rules and told us that when our 30 seconds is up he would tap the closest photographer and that photographer would in turn tap the next and so on, to stop shooting. After, we all go into position and waited for the show to start.

When the lights went out, a carnival like voice came over a god mic. Then appeared a grotesque, over weight he/she/Boy George looking master of ceremonies prancing the stage, rambling on, and welcoming everyone to the Onyx Hotel (tour). For a minute, I thought Britney was going to pull off the fat bastard (Austin Powers) outfit and appear. I was wrong, but within seconds out she came on a motorized miniature London double decker looking contraption with onyx painted across it. I had never heard such a roar or should I say scream from the 15,000 thousand girls in attendance like that before in my life and I have seen hundreds of concerts in my day.

I knew the show would be glitzy and Vegas like, but the producers and director sure gave it a freaky circus touch. Most of her dancers looked like they came straight out of the Tenderloin. I didn't pay much attention to them except to notice they all looked like transvestites.

At first sight of Britney all the photographers starting in for the thirty seconds we were allotted. After the thirty seconds, I watched and enjoyed what I felt was a great dancer, an above average singer and a very maturing Britney Spears. Trust me, I was more intrigued with the latter. Her show started off riskque, erotic and R rated. It seemed when we were shooting she is innocent, and then she knew we weren't and turned it up a few notches.

On one hand, I was disappointed after my thirty seconds that I was missing all these great shots. However, on the other hand I was being entertained and standing closer then 5-15 feet from one of the biggest female super stars of the 90's. I usually miss what's going on while shooting acts, but that night I was enjoying the show at stage level.

Britney opened with "Toxic" from her new album and I don't remember much after that as I was either shooting for thirty seconds per song or standing there with a huge smile on my face as I watched her bump, grind, shake, rattle and run back and forth across the stage. She looked great, sounded good to me and by the applause, screams and cheers of the crowd I would say everyone in attendance was happy and content. Looking back it was cool to see all these girls dancing and swaying back and forth to the beat with the biggest smiles on their faces. I must say it was great to see these people having so much fun and enjoying Britney's show.

Contrary to what the press says about Britney. These girls who paid up to $65.00 a ticket would never want to believe and or probably could care less that the press assumes Britney lip sync's, writes that she can't dance or sing and is a boob. Everyone seemed to love the show and it had just started. The night before some friends and I snuck into Metallica. The funny thing is, Britney had more in attendance then did Metallica the night before at the Cow Place in San Francisco.

After the third song we were escorted out. There was no one around outside. They were all inside the arena watching the show. I then walked a gauntlet of left over ticket scalpers, homeless, paupers, winos while on my way to my car. Most just nodded and said hello. It wasn't before long that I came across a group of youngsters, when one stepped out from the rest and asked, "What's in the bag dude"? I replied, "just some ammunition and some expolsive s#%*". I heard a girl with the group say, "don't you mess with that white boy he crazy". The youngster looking confused, stepped back, nodded and said, "you is crazy huh". I continued on down the street trying not to laugh. Luckily the youngster and his posse didn't call me on what was in the bag. A block later, I got in my car, and as "The Rover" by Led Zeppelin blared from my car speakers, I drove out of Oakland heading for San Francisco.

Photographs of the Show

2004 Jim Crowley Photography