This was the decision that photographer/filmmaker James Marcus Haney faced three years ago, when Mumford and Sons invited him to join them on the Railroad Revival Tour with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show.
There was one problem. Haney was in his final semester at the University of Southern California, and final exams were scheduled at the same time as the railroad tour. His professors wouldn’t budge.
“That put me up against a pretty gnarly decision to make: Go on a train with these amazing bands and have the time of my life or go to finals and get that degree that I’ve been working for essentially since kindergarten,” Haney says. “Come on, what would you have done?”
So to the surprise of his family and friends, Haney ditched his finals, packed up his cameras and a few clothes, and joined the weeklong railroad tour. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Haney, of Los Angeles. “This is like every fan’s dream come true. I was on board with some of my favorite bands. No longer an outside looking in … I was one of them. I was part of the family.”
In his documentary, titled “No Cameras Allowed,” – which airs Friday at 10 p.m. ET on MTV – he tells the story of sneaking into some of the biggest music festivals in the country, including Coachella (2010 and 2011), Bonnaroo, Ultra and Austin City Limits. Haney not only managed to sneak into the festivals by wearing various wristbands and using his cameras as a decoy, but he even managed to gain backstage access. Haney took advantage of the opportunity, snapping as many photographs as he could before eventually getting kicked out of the festivals.
After returning home from Bonnaroo, Haney showed his video clips and photos to many of his friends and eventually edited the footage into a short film titled “Conaroo: How Broke Kids Do Bonnaroo.”
“I remember watching the footage, and it was amazing,” says his girlfriend Kelly. “He was so excited to show me this one clip where Ed Sharpe (Alex Ebert) gets right in front of him and he starts singing, and he turns to the camera and is like singing to the camera. I think that was one of his first star-struck moments.”
By then, Haney says, he “was hooked on music festivals.” He passed along a DVD copy of his short film to a crew member for Mumford & Sons, one of his favorite bands. The band was so impressed that Mumford & Sons invited him to join them at Coachella 2011, and even brought him into the festival on their tour bus.
Later, he would receive emails from both Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, advising him to keep his month of April 2011 open. Haney was invited to join them on the six-city railroad tour across the Southwestern U.S. and shoot as much footage as he wanted.
“Marcus was somewhat upfront with us, saying, ‘You know, if some great opportunity comes along, I’m going to take that opportunity — even if that hurts my college career,’” says Haney’s mother. “We just figured nothing could come up that would seriously weigh as much as a college career.”
For Haney, the decision was a no-brainer.
“Could this be something I do for the rest of my life? Could this be a career?” Haney says. “That’s the dream. Here I was.. I was on the train. I was doing it. “
“On that ride across the country, there were so many late-night conversations. I got to know these people for so much more than just musicians. I got to see them as real human beings. To be opened up and brought into their world and come a part of it and welcomed in, I just felt so included.”
Consequently, Haney failed two of his three classes that semester, and even had doubts about his decision.
“It didn’t hit until after, I was like, ‘What if this film thing doesn’t work out? What if I actually suck at this and this is not what I am supposed to be doing?”
That doubt, however, quickly faded after a friend told him to check out the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Inside the magazine was a photo that included Marcus Mumford, ESMZ’s Orpheo McCord, Nico Aglietti and Stewart Cole, and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, taken from the railroad tour. Underneath the photo: James Marcus Haney.
“That piece of paper that night almost meant as much as a diploma would have,” he says. “I could see it in (my dad’s) eyes, that pride.”
If you’re a fan of ESMZ fan or the movie “Almost Famous,” you will not want to miss Haney’s documentary, which features several clips of the band performing some of its greatest hits.
For more about Haney, visit his blog site, www.jamesmarcushaney.com.