It’s 8:05 p.m. In 20 minutes, I’ll use a photo pass to shoot Nine Inch Nails at Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park.
It’s the chance of a lifetime, but right now, I’m concerned I’m going to pass out.
I feel dizzy and my mouth is dry. About 45 minutes and three-quarters of a mile across the park ago, it realized I might be dehydrated.
A herd of photographers waits at the barricade to shoot Trent Reznor and his band. It’s the industrial rock group’s fourth gig since going on hiatus in September 2009.
But I’m not focused on that. I’m walking back through my day, considering the large amounts of walking and poor choices that led to this state.
Maybe I’m just anxious, I kid myself. After all, I’ve been a NIN fan since before some of the crowd about to watch him were born.
Next to me is Joe, a friend who’s shot some of the most famous acts in the business.
He and another colleague are discussing NIN’s lighting.
“Is he doing that epileptic (stuff)?” Joe asks as they discuss what’s in store.
I pull out my phone. 8:09. Maybe there’s time to run, grab some water and come back, I think, but my feet go nowhere. I can’t risk the possibility of not making it back in time.
I know if I can make it another half-hour, I’ll be fine. There’s water in the press tent.
April, a fellow music journalist, joins the pack. She’s as gobsmacked as me by this opportunity.
Finally, at 8:24, music plays to signal NIN’s arrival. We’re granted access.
I take a spot on Reznor’s right, one photographer between me and the stage, with April right by me.
I’m shooting more pictures than I could put in 10 albums. Part of this is excitement, but part is necessity – I haven’t unlocked the expert-level photography achievement, so I’m just hoping if I shoot a bunch, a handful will be useable.
It’s near the end of the first song, “Copy of A,” when the photographer in front of me moves and his neighbor follows. April and I slide to the front.
Standing feels like less of a challenge now, aided by the fact I have work to focus on, but also because the herd is packed.
My mouth still feels like I swallowed a bag of salt. It’s so dry, I decide to try not to move my tongue or swallow in order to conserve saliva.
As Joe anticipated, the lighting is a challenge – low levels, sometimes complete darkness and shadows galore. We have to catch NIN when the lights are on and, even then, cross fingers they are in focus or not making a funny face.
After “Copy” and “Disappointed” is “Came Back Haunted,” the third and final song. Most artists allow photographers only for the first three songs.
As Robin Finck begins the guitar break, Reznor moves to his right and picks up water. He slams a swig from a bottle of Fiji.
As he steps toward the mic to re-enter the song, he fires the bottle underhand across the stage floor and into the crowd, not bothering to put the cap back on.
The bottle hits me right in the belly.
My brain takes a second to make the connection. I steady myself with my left hand and reach near April’s feet to retrieve it.
As I lift it, I hope there’s some water – any water – left in the bottle. To my luck and surprise, it’s half-full.
I take a small sip. I want to preserve it for reasons that have nothing to do with where it came from. Next, I clutch both the bottle and the camera with my left hand as “Came Back Haunted” finishes.
As quickly as a flash from one of our cameras, three songs are over. The moment passes.
We begin walking out along the barricade, back to the Polo Field.
“Did you pick up his water bottle?” April asks.
“Oh, yes,” I say. “You have no idea how much I needed this.”
We’re back on the lawn. It’s just after 8:40. There, in the grass, with the red and purple glow of lights illuminating Golden Gate Park, April looks through her pictures while I finish Reznor’s water.
It’s impossible that he knew how much I needed it. The odds of it even being thrown in my vicinity are insurmountable.
But it was. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and I’m sure he already has.
Around 9:30, April and I are in the press tent and find there’s no water. No matter. We’re numb and euphoric, drunk on a cocktail of anxiousness and adrenaline. The high lasted late into the evening.
Though it makes for a good story, I know I should’ve never been in that situation.
I can’t expect Trent Reznor to chuck a bottle of Fiji at me any time I’m thirsty, after all.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.