The Festival Crasher
Marcus Haney is a thief. Let’s just get that out there right up front. Granted, he doesn’t look much like one. There’s a boyish twinkle in his eye that belies his world-class banditry. But the 27-year-old USC film school dropout and freeloading concertgoer has lost count of the shows and festivals he’s crashed. The convenience fees alone he’s managed to avoid must amount to a down payment on a small house, never mind the face-value equivalence he’s saved. And the victims of his wily ways—artists like Mumford & Sons, Jay-Z and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros—ironically, love him for it.
Instead of quietly covering his tracks, though, Haney made a documentary film brazenly extolling his escapades called No Cameras Allowed, which came out last year. And not only has it not gotten his ass thrown in jail, it’s actually made him a minor cause célèbre on the music scene and buried him in a ton of new projects.
And they say crime doesn’t pay. His walk down the path started began in 2010. “I was a broke college student, I had never been to a music festival before, and I really wanted to go to Coachella,” he says. “The lineup looked absolutely insane, all my friends were going, and this girl that I had a crush on was gonna go, too. That started off the whole damn adventure.”
Haney didn’t have a ticket, but he did have a camera. And cojones. And a plan to use both: With an Arriflex “borrowed” from school slung around his neck and acting like he belonged there, he hopped a backstage fence and simply strolled in as part of the press crew. And damned if it didn’t work! Once in the photo pit, he reasoned, do as the photographers do. “Because I loved shooting and had a passion for filmmaking, I was like, why not shoot it? I couldn’t just hang out and rock out, so if I had to look like I’m working, why not be working.”
Shoot he did, at crashed concerts, festivals and events from Bonaroo to Glastonbury in England to the Grammys (twice) and even a Barack Obama event that Haney says was capped with a post-speech handshake. (But don’t tell that to the Secret Service .. . they’ve had an embarassingly rough go lately with security breaches.) Hopping fences, hiding under trailers, counterfeiting wristbands … Haney filmed and snapped every serendipitous step along the way.
And through the mysterious wonders of social media, his photos got shared on the web, eventually catching the eyes of promoters and musicians: first a rep from Bonnaroo, who picked up a great shot of Jay-Z he snagged at Coachella, then the guys from Mumford & Sons, who liked his work and his renegade approach so much they invited Haney to document their 2011 Railroad Revival Tour, which included Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and the Old Crow Medicine Show.
For Haney, the world was opening up— just as reality was crashing in: In order to join the tour, he would have to forgo taking his finals at USC during his senior year. No finals would mean no degree. It also would mean leaving behind friends, family and a developing relationship with a new girlfriend. It was his Faustian crossroads bargain—and he took it. Suddenly, he transformed from breaking in to being in. All access. 24-7. Haney was living the rock-star dream by shooting his biggest rock-star heroes.
“Growing up, I tried to play piano and drums and bagpipes, and I was absolute shit at all of them,” he says. “I figured out how to access music through a camera.”
That access came at a price: Two weeks shy of graduation he bailed on USC, his time away strained relationships with family and friends, and despite the additional opportunities that came his way, some were dicey: He was nearly trampled to death while shooting the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
On the upside, he was getting published in Rolling Stone magazine and landing assignments from places like HBO. The video projects, album covers and films that started rolling in continue today—and Haney hasn’t looked back.
“Every day, I’m pinching myself for one reason or another,” he says. “Had I stayed to get my degree, who knows if any of this would have happened.”
Much has happened as a result of No Cameras Allowed. Haney recently completed another documentary called Austin to Boston, about members of four bands who pile into five Volkswagen vans for an epic 4,000-mile road trip, creating and performing music all along the way.
“The music life is very transient. It’s something every touring artist faces: As soon as they get home, they wanna go out again. But after a couple weeks on the road, all they want is their own bed. Balance would be sweet, but I don’t think it’s possible. You’re either at home with the people you love, or you’re out, but not with them. Grit makes life interesting.”
What’s interesting for Haney these days is not always about rock ’n’ roll. “I’m working with War Child,” he says, referring to the British NGO that provides support for children in war-torn regions and conflict zones. “We just got back from Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. My first trip with them was to the Congo, which was incredible—and gnarly.”
While his crashing days are “mostly behind me,” he claims, Haney’s always up for a good time. “I recently got challenged by Ellie Goulding via Twitter to sneak into a private island Bacardi Triangle party somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. We went to crazy lengths to get past coast guard and military and onto the island.”
Once a criminal, always a criminal.
3 Toughest Shows to Crack
Marcus Haney has managed to finagle his way into shows and festivals the world over. Some were easy. These were not:
Glastonbury: If I hadn’t gotten extremely lucky by walking past security at the exact right moment when they were chasing after other jumpers, I’m not sure I would have made it in.
Coachella: RFID (radio-frequency ID) is a bitch. And they have it set up in a way that if you jump fences, there are loads of layers of fences and a mile long orange tree orchard that gets baking hot. Bring water.
The Grammys: Not a festival, but damn hard to get into. It’s the Staples Center, so there are no fences to jump. It’s all blag and swoop.