SING: The Hotel Cafe Tour

January 6, 2012

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Laura Crosta

Laura Crosta is a music, advertising, people and lifestyle photographer who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles. She exhibits youthfulness in her work, a spirit that is prevalent in all of her projects whether she is shooting a lifestyle campaign for Canon or a personal project using Barbie as a main ingredient in food photography.

Whatever she is working on, Crosta fully commits to her art form, such as when she unflinchingly explored deviant lifestyles, documenting Jeff Fischer’s dating experiences with prostitutes for the book project I Date a Hooker. Not one to shy away from demanding projects, when the opportunity arose to create a documentary on The Hotel Café music tour, not only did Crosta attend the shows, she dropped everything to travel on the tour bus with the artists for a 24/7 authentic experience.

The Hotel Café, at one point a small coffee shop, has become home to well-known artists such a Weezer, John Mayer and Death Cab for Cutie along with newcomers hoping to make a name for themselves in the music industry. The free-spirited nature of the shows welcomes both solo performances as well as joint performances from the artists on the line-up, and often results in impromptu jam sessions and unplanned collaborations that make each night remarkable.

Crosta’s involvement with The Hotel Café Tour began in 2005, when she travelled to a few shows to expand her music portfolio and present the work to a broader range of musicians. She attended the Nashville, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles shows, and travelled on the tour bus between Philadelphia and New York. In 2006, after seeing the work she produced, Cary Brothers, the leading musician and a founder of the tour, commissioned her to shoot several shows. She travelled on the bus for a longer leg this time, to Boston, New York and Philadelphia before meeting up with them for the final show in Los Angeles. By 2007 she was invited to stay in a house rented for the artists for the New York festival version of the tour, and in 2008 Cary Brothers approached her to shoot video as well as stills in order to fulfill a sponsor agreement with Motorola. “In a sense, I was commissioned to work on a personal project,” she explains. With the tour management’s approval, Crosta decided to make a full documentary and travelled with the artists for 27 tour stops over a six-week period.

According to the press release, SING: The Hotel Café Tour “examines the history of the Hotel Café tours and venue through the lens of the 2008 tour…The story unfolds from multiple perspectives and shows how an intimate room unlike any other, without even a liquor license, went on to stage international tours and create global recognition.” During the four years she documented The Hotel Café Tour, Crosta never tired of her subject. The ever-changing nature of the shows provided beautiful moments each night. Crosta fondly recalls an Ingrid Michaelson song performed by a rotating cast of artists each night it was played, as well as a particular evening where musician Imogen Heap had technical problems and opted to sing acapella.

 “I wanted to tell the story of this particular group of artists,” she says. “The friendships, the music and the sheer determination to bring their music to people around the country.” She approached her project organically, similar to the spontaneous nature of the tour. Her only plan was to interview each artist and then conduct follow-up interviews to touch upon memorable stories and key moments. She used a Sony EX1 and a Canon Mark ii 1DS to collect as much video footage and stills as possible, allowing the narratives to build on their own. Crosta also decided to use archival footage from 2005 and 2006, in order to better show how the tour evolved from its beginnings.

Being a one-woman team for motion, audio and stills proved challenging, and Crosta is grateful for the post-production and distribution management spearheaded by her producer Barbara Ghammashi. Ghammashi oversaw the contractual agreements with artists, labels and publishing and introduced her to editor Lanya Fent, who worked remotely via iChat with Crosta to polish her footage into a solid documentary. Ghammashi also shopped her trailer around to potential buyers, and the Documentary Channel not only picked it up, but also selected it as one of their top premieres of 2011.

SING: The Hotel Café Tour can be viewed in its entirety on the Documentary Channel Web site. For more of Laura Crosta’s work, visit her Web site.