The Big U-Knot: See Randy Johnson’s Knotfest Photos – Rolling Stone
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The Big U-Knot: Randy Johnson’s Knotfest Photos

The future MLB Hall of Famer headed to Slipknot’s festival on assignment for Rolling Stone

Randy Johnson Knotfest

Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson was a tower of terror during his 22-year major league career, standing 6'10" and firing 100 MPH fastballs that made batters shake in their stirrups. But after retiring in 2010, the man known as "The Big Unit" put down his glove and picked up a camera, turning a lifelong hobby into a second career.

"I actually started taking pictures in high school," he laughs. "Then baseball took over my life for two decades."

Since then, he's shot for the likes of U2, Rush and Metallica, and last weekend, the future Hall of Famer headed to Knotfest to document Slipknot's new chapter for Rolling Stone. From the pits to the dressing rooms – and everywhere in between – Johnson brought the same intensity to his assignment as he did to each of the 4,100 innings he hurled in the majors, and then some.

"It was electric," he says. "Kind of like taking the mound for the first time out of spring training."

Here, in his own words, are the stories behind his photos.

Zakk Wylde

Zakk Wylde Backstage

"I know Zakk a little bit, he's a big sports fan, and here, he's just counting down the minutes until he has to get on stage. I was in the corner of the trailer, trying to stay out of the way. He's very relaxed, because he's done it a million times, just like I pitched a million times. But as you get into that mode, you morph into a power pitcher, or you morph into Zakk, and as soon as he gets his vest on and grabs that guitar, the adrenaline starts pumping. The lights come on and you become a whole new person."

Slipknot's Chris Fehn

Slipknot’s Chris Fehn

"Chris and I set this shoot up ahead of time. It was just me and him, really quick; I just wanted him to put his mask on, but I didn't want to take up much of his time. These are the opportunities where, unless you know the musician, you don't get that access. I know Chris a little bit, and after, he said 'Hey do you mind signing a couple baseballs?' And I said 'Of course.' It's a great trade-off."

Avatar's Johannes Eckerström

Avatar’s Johannes Eckerstrom

"Most of the bands, I knew all their music, but Avatar, I knew nothing about. Everybody was telling me about them, and when he took the stage, I thought I was watching The Crow. It was unbelievable. They had great energy – there were flags and they were dressed up in their garb – and then he comes out looking like Brandon Lee doing Marilyn Manson. It was awesome."

Knotfest crowd surfer

Surfing at Knotfest

"There were these open fields at the festival, it was just an unbelievable view to be up on stage, filming down into it. The dust coming up, the endless people crowd surfing. People were wearing goggles and masks around their faces to protect themselves, because it was basically a massive dust bowl. That was the one thing I wish I'd brought; something to protect my face!"

Hellyeah's Vinnie Paul

Hellyeah’s Vinnie Paul

"Vinnie is a real nice guy; every time I see Hellyeah, I don't even go to the pit, I just go right back to the drum set. He's always smiling, pointing for me. I took a shot of him a couple years back, when they were playing at Uproar, and I wanted him to autograph it. So I had it enlarged and he signed it, and he liked to so much that he had me enlarge another one and sent it to him. He's probably one of the easiest people to shoot, you always know what you're going to get."

In This Moment's Maria Brink

In This Moment’s Maria Brink

"I had heard a bit about In This Moment, heard they were theatrical, but I had never seen them. It was an interesting production to say the least; it was like a cross between a metal show and…I don't even know how to describe it. It was a really cool mix of elements though: they had guys ripping on guitars and drums, she was singing and she did this choreographed dancing with these two other girls."

Action in the Pit at Knotfest

Inside the Pit at Knotfest

"This is over by one of the smaller stages, and it's one of the pictures I like the most. I was just watching  the moment, and saw the guy in the wheelchair so I slowed the shutter speed down to get a bit of a blurred effect. He's right there, everybody gave him some room, but he was really wanting to enjoy the moment and I thought that was the coolest thing. There's always shots that a photographer takes that they think 'That's a keeper.'"

The Entrance to the Slipknot Museum

The Entrance to the Slipknot Museum

"In the background, you can see the tent that was the Slipknot museum, and they had these frozen goat heads stuck on spikes surrounding the entrance. Down on the bottom, on the jaw, there's a yellow jacket, and as the days wore on, and those heads started thawing out, they were probably covered with them."

Slipknot Backstage

Slipknot Backstage

"This was the second night, just as they were getting ready to hit the stage. We cleared the hallway and they did a little talk before heading out there. I was just trying to be a fly on the wall, so I was kind of standing on this table, and Corey [Taylor]  saw me up there and joked 'The tallest person at this festival needs a table to stand on.'"

Slipknot Take the Stage

Slipknot Take the Stage

"You kind of do a little bit of advanced scouting to know when the big moments are going to happen. It was the first night, their first show since the release of the album and it was electric. For me, as a fan, it was everything I thought it was going to be. I kind of forgot I was taking pictures and just enjoyed being a fan."

Slipknot's Corey Taylor

Slipknot’s Corey Taylor

"When a band like Slipknot is performing, there's so much happening on stage that sometimes your camera can get lost in it all. So you kind of have to know what moments you're looking for and make sure you're in the right place to get them. The trick is to actually get them, though. There are always moments that happen in the blink of an eye that, if you capture them, that can be your photograph."

Slipknot's Jim Root

Slipknot’s Jim Root

"I studied photojournalism at USC, and I got to see the Sunset Strip scene develop, so I saw a lot of those bands very early on. And there's so many great rock & roll photographers out there, people like Jim Marshall, so you're not going to show something that hasn't been done already. Like, I threw 100 MPH, but now there's a million kids that throw 100 MPH.  So, to me, I always try to think of what the fan would like to see, and I shoot that way."

A Bloody Good Time

A Bloody Good Time

"On Friday, they had this VIP party, and a few bands played. This was right before the Butcher Babies. I was waiting for them to come on, up by the photo pit, and these two kids come up. One guy's holding a big towel over his head and he saw me and I asked if I could take their picture. The guy took the towel off, he was bleeding a little bit, and then I saw how big the gash was over his eye. It looked like he went a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime. But he was still smiling, and then he took off running back to the pit. You're not going to see that at a Taylor Swift concert."

Anthrax's Scott Ian

Anthrax’s Scott Ian

"I've probably interacted with Scott more than any other musician at Knotfest. He's a big Yankees fan, and we talk quite a bit. He kind of told me the set list for the night, so I knew where to be and when. That's critical. I don't consider it cheating if you know something is coming; if you know a jump is coming, then you're foolish for not being ready. And he's known for his jumps."

Five Finger Death Punch's Ivan Moody

Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody

"They're another band with tremendous energy, and so I wanted to capture some of that, but also try to bring the fans close to the action, to see the emotion that goes into their performance. A lot of times, people think heavy music like this is just loud, but there's a lot more to it."

Anthrax at Knotfest

Anthrax at Knotfest

"When I'm up on the stage, I'm always trying to shoot some of the crowd, too. I like this shot because there's so much happening, and though their set was kind of dark – at least compared to Slipknot's – you can still see the fans, which I think is really cool."

Butcher Babies' Heidi Shepherd

Butcher Babies’ Heidi Shepherd

"This was kind of an unexpected moment that I was lucky enough to catch. Heidi from Butcher Babies jumped off the stage onto the barricade to interact with the fans, and she saw me and made some eye contact. You can plan for just about everything, but sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time."

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