On April 23 through 25 my wife and I attended the inaugural ROSfest. Now Arhlene is not a huge prog fan, but likes to get away from time to time, mingling with the people we've come to know over the years, meeting the artists, and yes, she does like some of the music. Which is why ROSfest was perfect for her. The artists there play a more approachable form of prog than most, and it was something we could enjoy together. So how did it turn out? Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday reports.
Frankly, my expectations were not high. I mean a new festival run by new management put together in a relatively short time how good could this be? I should have paid more attention to the very well laid out ROSfest web site, and the friendly efficiency of the event organizers when I communicated with them by phone and E-Mail. The hints were there and as it turned out, this may have been the best fest I've ever attended. Not one act started late, the sound system was perfect, the venue was a great, the atmosphere was intimate and friendly, and the before-and-after parties were excellent. Nothing went wrong and if it did, the organizers never once broke a sweat. And goodness knows they had enough to attend to my own problems being just one of the items they had to contend with:
When we left the hotel on Saturday morning, we realized we had lost the tickets! So we arrived ticketless and worried and asked them to call George. He knew who I was, and fixed it immediately. He told his colleagues to recognize us every time we entered the venue, and wrote "ROSF" on the backs of our hands with a sharpie. Then he and everyone else teased us about it for the rest of the weekend. You know the lines: Let's see your Chuckie Cheese stamp, and Now remember you can only leave here if you're accompanied by an adult and so on. Quite embarrassing for my wife and me, but it was all good fun and the ribbing was a small price to pay. Imagine what would have happened if we'd lost our tickets at any other festival!
It was a pity the hotels were a 25-minute drive away. By comparison, the Marriott next door to the Trenton's Patriot Center was the epitome of convenience. And in another NEARfest comparison if you're planning to attend NF '04, you will really enjoy the 4-sets-per-day format. I was secretly disappointed when NF04 robbed us of 20% of the acts but kept ticket prices the same. But after ROSfest, we quickly came to appreciate the luxury of sleeping in a bit later, and the hour and a half between sets which leaves you with plenty of time for the important stuff like mingling, CD-shopping, restaurant searches and above all beer time. Also - each set is longer, and the extended set-up time helps eliminate on-stage problems.
The theater was a run-down little place that is being renovated. If you didn't mind the peeling wallpaper, the paint-flecked ceiling and the balcony that was not yet open because the ongoing construction hadn't yet brought it up to fire-code standards; then you could focus on the comfortable seats, the easy access and the great sound qualities. This will be a wonderful little theater when the renovations have been completed, and it is accommodated by the quaint, olde worlde town of Phoenixville, PA. Pretty, safe, welcoming, and with plenty of restaurants, bars and free parking within walking distance.
As usual, the vendor tables were excellent. But because my wife was with me I showed admirable (I think) restraint and bought only two CDs. (Ankh: Ziemia I Slonce and The Third And Mortal: Memoirs.)
The pre show acts were held at Dan's Sports Pub across the road from the main venue. Dan's is a dark, noisy little place with the acoustics of
well, of a pub! But the intimacy and the general excitement of meeting old friends quickly put those detractions out of our minds. First up, at 9:00pm, was Frogg Café. If you have any interest in an avant garde fusion format, you'll be excited by these New Yorkers. The standard rock ensemble plus violin and trumpet made for a refreshingly unusual sound. See our reviews of their Frogg Café and Creatures albums. Five-stars each.
Frogg Café in Dan's Sports Pub
Man On Fire took to the stage at 11:00pm. I know their music well. It is soft, sophisticated stuff which would be a treat to watch live. But their on-stage personae was nothing like their album. They were raucous, energetic and fun to watch. See SoT's 5-star review of their The Undefined Design. Steve Katsikas of Little Atlas went on stage for a short time, and Steve and Man On Fire played an amazing little jam piece.
Georgia's Man On Fire
All four Saturday acts had guitarists who blew me away. Saturday morning was kicked off by Orphan Project, a Maryland band who are based just a few miles from me so I hope to arrange an interview in the near future. Their album reminds me a little of Enchant, and their stage performance was very good. I didn't know they were a very religious band, and their faith seemed to come up in every new song announcement. That didn't bother me but I expect some people may have been put off.
Izz played a great set, and were the act who seemed to surprise more people than anyone else. I wouldn't be surprised if more Izz CDs were sold than those of any other act. Their music runs a gamut of styles from 80's Brit synth, to 70's epic prog, to spacey pop, and always returning to their signature sound a sort of aggressive jazzy-prog. The banter and musical interplay between brothers Tom (keys and vocals) and John, (bass, backing vocals) Galgano was fun, and the band's musicianship is stellar.
Alias Eye was very good as well. I had not heard their music before but heard and read many good reviews of their new A Different Point Of You album. Their stage show was very solid, and their guitarist was a real showman. Alias Eye had not accommodated the differences in German and American electrical systems, and could not use the keyboards they had dragged all the way here a trip with over 24 hours of flying spread over 4 connections and a weather diversion. This made their performance on borrowed instruments all the more impressive.
Whether you love neo-progressive music or hate it, one of the things that all neo bands seem to have in common is the ability to put together a killer stage show. Saturday's headliner, Jadis, told me in no uncertain terms that they are not a neo band, and Martin Orford (keys) denies the genre really exists.
Duncan Glenday with Jadis's Gary Chandler; and Jadis's Martin Orford
Well whatever the genre Jadis's stage show was exactly what I expected They blew the roof off, and it seemed there wasn't a soul in the place who wasn't overwhelmed by their performance. Jadis's song-oriented music has always been upbeat and positive, and Gary Chandler's guitar work and vocals and John Jowitt's humor made for an extremely pleasing experience. There was a bad spot in the stage's floorboards, and Jowitt kept trying to jump through it or at least bend it so it would cause Gary to trip.
Sunday's first act was at a respectable 11:00am, and almost everyone made it on time. Tired, hung over, but ready to rock. Sonus Umbra kicked off on time, and their eclectic blend of Latin American influenced prog rock was well received. There was a touch of humor as well, with someone hobbling onto the stage wearing one of those grotesque full-head masks, and throwing bouncing balls into the audience from a bucket. The significance still escapes me, but it was
I'd heard many excellent reports of Little Atlas's live act, and have their Surface Serene CD which my wife still has in her car and won't give back. The band exceeded our high expectations. Their enthusiasm alone was infectious, but it was the excellent performance and the tight musicianship that impressed. There's no doubt that next to Izz, this was the band that surprised most concert goers. Their cover of Genesis's "Firth of Fifth" was excellent.
Roy and Steve of Little Atlas
Salem Hill's Puppet Show was one of the first reviews I wrote for Sea Of Tranquility. Although I've always liked their studio work, my Puppet Show review summarized it as great for fans, but first timers should start with their studio albums. So being familiar with their live performances, and most of their music, I was ready to be critical. Their performance at ROSfest was at least as good as those recorded on Puppet Show, perhaps better. And one 15-plus-minute piece they played toward the end of their set was for me the best single piece of music played by any act, all weekend. The musicians migrated from one instrument to the other, traded spots at the microphones, and performed a piece that blew me away.
Sunday's headliner, RPWL, was simply excellent. This was a world-class performance from one of the best new bands in the business.
Duncan and Arhlene Glenday, with RPWL
Their set was played through a surround sound system, with speakers mounted at the back, and their multi-media presentation was interesting! If I had one complaint it was that they played too many covers (four, I think), when they have such a rich selection of their own songs.
Gary Strater, bassist for Starcastle, has cancer and does not have health insurance. ROSfest raffled a white guitar, signed by all of the bands, to help pay for Gary's medical costs. The guitar was won by Joel Craig and, per John Jowitt's suggestion (bass, Jadis) Joel made a wonderful gesture and immediately requested that the guitar be passed on to NEARfest to be raffled all over again and help Gary Strater a little more. At the end of RPWL's set, in a touching ceremony akin to a passing of the torch, ROSfest's George Roldan handed the guitar to NEARfest's Chad Hutchinson. So when you get to NEARfest, buy a ticket and if you win, be prepared to follow Joel's example and donate the guitar to Roguefest or Progday or whatever event you believe will best help support Gary's plight.
After the event, and after several days of the inevitable post mortems in which I heard the opinions of at least 30 people, an interesting observation occurred to me: There was not one single negative comment about any aspect of the fest. Not one! My only negative observation was not a reflection on the event management or the artists. It was a disappointment that the event was only half-sold, and the bands played to so many empty seats. Thankfully that was offset by the enthusiastic reception they received from those who did attend. Every artist I spoke to especially those from abroad was awestruck by the warmth and enthusiasm of the fanbase.
Go to ROSfest 2005!
All photographs credited to Duncan Glenday