The Backstage Van offers new take on touring photographer

Joel Thompson

To call The Backstage Van a passion project would be an understatement.

It’s the concept of freelance journalist, photographer and podcast host Johnny Leftwich, who combines multiple aspects of music media in a traveling van. 

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The Backstage Van is part passion project and part livelihood of Leftwich. The project attempts to combine multiple aspects of music journalism into one efficient machine.

“I got the van, I got the camera, I got the podcast equipment and I just started doing it,” Leftwich said. “Now I’m here.”

The van itself is currently under construction by Leftwich and freelance designer Stephen Webb. Despite being unfinished, the project is still active.

“I took on a lot,” Leftwich said. “I wouldn’t say I bit off more than I could chew because I’m definitely chewing it; I just have to figure out how to piece it together. But I didn’t want to lean on not finishing the van as an excuse not to start the project, so I started interviewing people.”

As of now, The Backstage Van has done two interviews with two local Fort Collins bands. The eventual goal of the project is to visit different cities around America and explore their music scene.

“I don’t have any specific plans besides going from city to city and talking to bands,” Leftwich said. “I want to hit as many cities as I can and get as dug into them as I can and just talk to anyone that’s doing anything that I like.”

Although Leftwich has the disposition, drive and attention to detail, which makes him a natural fit for this vocation, his journey to get to this position was unusual. Before establishing The Backstage Van, Leftwich primarily focused on creating a career of special effects and makeup for movies. Work in his field became harder to find as CGI became more prevalent, so Leftwich adapted and changed. 

I (like) to think I have decent music taste. I know what it’s like to struggle as an artist. If I can help out artists I think are good, maybe make a few bucks along the way, then I’m doing exactly what I want.” -Johnny Leftwich, creator of The Backstage Van

“I wanted to reposition myself into the situation I wanted to be in (in) the first place,” Leftwich said. “I need to be an innovator. I need somebody who is going to be sought after. I need to be someone who is doing something original and unique and interesting.”

Uniqueness is the main thing that radiates throughout The Backstage Van project. The idea of one person doing multiple aspects of music media alone is intriguing, and the added possibilities of basing it out of a wholly customized van open up an entirely new dimension to what the project can do.

“This is a learning experience for me,” Webb said. “I’ve done cabinetry, carpentry, a few custom projects, but nothing like this. Everything in the van is custom and all serves (Leftwich’s) goal.”

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The van itself serves not only as a place to live on the road, but also as a space to interview artists.

“I (like) to think I have decent music taste,” Leftwich said. “I know what it’s like to struggle as an artist. If I can help out artists I think are good, maybe make a few bucks along the way, then I’m doing exactly what I want.”

Bands in DIY scenes, especially ones in smaller cities, lack many opportunities for publicity and marketing. The mobility of the van and the personal nature it offers is the perfect backdrop for the touring or local band.

man in a van
Johnny Leftwich in The Backstage Van on Nov. 2. Leftwich said the goal is to “live in the van, go from city to city, digging into the local rock and roll scenes, photographing the bands and talking to them on my podcast.” (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

“We’ve all had the experience of finding a smaller band that only has one album, and you want to learn more about them,” said Raymund Suny, the founder of Heck House. “But (Leftwich) combining these different elements, like photography, interviews or podcasts, gives a better understanding of these bands.”

Even though the van is not fully complete, the project is bursting with potential. The passion that Leftwich has for both art and artist is immense and is the foundation of The Backstage Van. This passion, in combination with the uniqueness and originality of the idea, opens up an impressive realm of possibilities for Leftwich and The Backstage Van.

Joel Thompson can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @probably_joel