Grace Potter at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This photo won a nationwide Rolling Stone competition for local photographer Kirsten Cohen.
Kirsten Cohen
Grace Potter at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This photo won a nationwide Rolling Stone competition for local photographer Kirsten Cohen.

If you go

What: Kirsten Cohen photography exhibit

When: Friday, 4-7 p.m.

Where: Absolute Vinyl, 5360 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder,

More info: Boulder’s Monocle Band will also be playing to celebrate the release of its debut album


Kirsten Cohen has been capturing the Boulder and Denver music scenes for years with photography and the experience has paid off. She won a national contest with Rolling Stone and Olympus Cameras, which is fantastic for her.

But for the Colorado music scene, it’s when the lens is turned on the locals that matters. We caught up with Cohen to talk before Friday’s exhibit of her work at Absolute Vinyl (with music from local band Monocole).

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into rock photography?

I was doing some stuff for Radio 1190… I was thinking, ‘I really want to (do music photography), it would be fun,’ and my friend in a local band asked if I wanted a photo pass one night … And at Marquee Magazine, I won tickets to the same show and I emailed them, ‘Hey, I have a photo pass. Do you want any of my photos to that show?’ And I started contributing to them. It was kind of serendipitous I guess.

Do you mostly work with Marquee?
I do a lot with them. I’ve been contributing to them the longest time and they’re great. I also contribute occasionally for Listen Up Denver and also Reverb, sometimes.

It’s not the easiest environment to shoot in, with extreme light conditions always changing and sometimes having to deal with the crowds. You must have some tips and tricks.
You’re absolutely right, it’s tricky. Considering that I’ve been doing photography for a while and I love it so much, I figured it’d be cool to blend the two.

It’s really challenging. I think you have to get in the right spot and you have to be really nice to people and people are usually pretty cool. I just say, ‘Hey would you mind? I just need to take a photo.’ There’s definitely been times I’ve had beer spilled on me. You have to be kind of zen about it and in the zone. The right equipment totally helps. The right lenses are key.

What’s interesting to you about documenting the music scenes in Boulder and Denver?
I’m getting firsthand witness to what is going on with the local bands … you’re right there in the interplay and between the energy of the band and the crowd. You hear the energy and see the crowd.

It gives you a good firsthand report on the band: Do they sound as good live and they do recorded? Do people respond to that? … All that’s in my head when I’m shooting. And its the same with national bands: How much have they spent on their lights and their set? Do they sound different live than they do recorded? That’s huge … Some of the local bands — I’ve shot them more than once — you get to see them grow and develop and change. That’s one of the most interesting things for me. It’s great watching them all progress.

How about some of your favorite moments?
That recent moment when (the brothers from Rose Hill Drive) got on stage with West Water Outlaws. I thought that was one of the best moments in Boulder music in recent memory … I can say my first time shooting at Red Rocks, I was so scared. The adrenaline is racing and it’s really fun. I really love seeing Grace Potter, Tedeschi Trucks and JJ Grey — that show, this summer, that was great. Seeing Thomas Mars of Phoenix crowd surf at 1stBank Center. He went a far, long way into the crowd. Seeing that happen the following night at the Fox Theatre was really cool. They invited everyone up on stage. It was cool seeing all these people up on stage with Phoenix.

Will we see the results of any of those at the Absolute Vinyl show?
What you’re going to see at my show is, you’re going to see Grace Potter — I have a large image that got me into the Rolling Stone photo contest; a lot of local bands — some West Water, some recent White Denim and Tame Impala show, Karl Denson; I have a whole thing of The Yawpers. So, a real mix of local and national.

Yeah, and tell me about that Rolling Stone contest.
I totally entered it kind of at random. I had to write about why the image I submitted was a “moment in music.” It was so crazy because I won this camera set from them, the photo was in print, it was online and then I won this all-expenses paid trip to New York and I got to shoot White Denim at this private Rolling Stone show. That was one of my best experiences.