When Johnny is on the ice, I think I can look into Johnny’s soul. … I could watch Johnny skate and never jump. — Patti Weir
One of the best parts of the Sun Valley fan experience is to watch Johnny rehearse on the outdoor rink early in the afternoon in preparation for the evening show. But this year, due to various astonishing travel snafus that basically defy description, Johnny did not arrive in Sun Valley until about three hours after the pro rehearsal had ended. Thus there are no Johnny rehearsal photos, for maybe the first time ever.
So this year fans were invited to watch the preshow warmup that takes place in Sun Valley’s indoor rink about 90 minutes before the performance. While not necessarily a closed session, generally the warmup is not attended by random people, so this was a special treat that helped ease the disappointment of the missed rehearsal.
Davey and I arrived extra early to assess the lighting conditions and try to figure out the best vantage point for photos and video. No one else was there save for one or two staff members, and no music was on the loudspeakers. We pulled cameras and lenses and filters out of bags in the silence, and Davey assembled his stuff while I pondered through a low-caffeine haze whether or not to deal with setting up the tripod. I am not much of a videographer, but since Davey has yet to grow another pair of arms to allow him to shoot photos and video simultaneously, I’m the designated video lackey.
And then a lone slim figure all in black materialized across the rink from us and quietly stepped onto the ice.
No time for the tripod. I grabbed the video camera and barely remembered to press “Record.”
And for three minutes, before the other show skaters began drifting in, it was just Johnny and the ice, and us.
I shot footage for two of those minutes, knowing it would be frustratingly shaky without the stabilizing tripod, but its subject breathtaking even so.
It is a tremendous privilege to watch Johnny practice. I never ever forget that for a moment. And even rarer to see him have the ice to himself.
No jumps or spins. Just an exhausted but ever-driven Johnny taking the ice for the first time in days, stretching, gliding, stroking, finding his rhythm in preparation for those jumps and spins, as he has done a million times before, in the stark, unforgiving reality that is the practice rink.
The resulting photos reminded me of something else Patti Weir once said, that she could always see Johnny’s eyelashes from anywhere in the rink, no matter how far away she was.
The only sounds amidst the hush, as you’ll hear in the video below: the steady hum of the cooling equipment, doors squeaking and banging open and closed, Davey’s shutter softly click-click-clicking.
And the mesmerizing whoosh of Johnny’s blades . . .
Please turn up the volume if necessary to hear his skates slicing across the ice. So amazing.