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ConcertsROSfest 2007 - The Best Yet?

Posted on Sunday, June 10 2007 @ 17:42:11 CDT by Greg Stewart
Progressive Rock

There was music, and there was entertainment and they weren't always the same thing.

The music was - of course - simply excellent, and the 2007 lineup was probably the strongest ever fielded by ROSfest. The festival sold out this year, despite the availability of many more seats than before, and it was nice to see so many people travel to the event from around the country, and from as far afield as England, Norway, Denmark and Brasil.

The entertainment came in the form of a belligerent lighting tech being frog-marched off the stage by the police in the middle of Starcastle's set (hey don't be so surprised - this is rock, dammit!) by the tremendous social atmosphere, and by the ability to mix freely with the artists.

The Sea Of Tranquility was represented in full force this year with five of our staff attending the festival, appreciating the music, and generally getting in the way with our interviews, photography and late-night partying. Some of us went to sleep at 5:00am, 5:00am and 3:00am on the three nights we were there but despite that, we retained just enough sobriety to bring you the following blow-by-blow account of the truly wonderful weekend.

(Article compiled by Greg Stewart and Duncan Glenday)

Click on each picture to view an enlarged version

(Duncan Glenday reports)

The ROSfest event started late. Very late. And the buzz outside was 'Oh - it must be the Mellotrons again'. In truth the 'Tron worked perfectly, and the delay was unrelated to Tempustry in any way. More about that elsewhere.

Although Tempustry is a duo, it's essentially Allen Brunelle's project. Brunelle is well educated (Berklee) and experienced - and is already known by the prog community for his involvement with acts like Iluvatar and Dark Aether Project - and as the drum tech for ROSfest.

The band plays eclectic, percussion- and electronica-based music that vaguely recalls Jean Michel Jarre, and that at once challenges and entertains - and sometimes leaves you scratching your head. There was a lot of diversity to the music, which the band describes as being electronica, in the vein of the Berlin and Dusseldorf schools. Whatever the genre - it was played on an eclectic mix of instruments including Moog, Oberheim, and Roland analog synthesizers, sequencers, vintage Simmons and Tama electronic percussion, Zildjian cymbals, Celtic Bells, and Tama Gong Bass Drum; and of course, the classic Mellotron and Moog.

The opening act on a Friday evening always faces extra challenges - like time restrictions, smaller audiences comprised of travelers who are still fidgeting and restless from their various journeys, and stage management that hasn't yet found its stride. Worse - thanks again to the problems caused by lighting guy - Tempustry was rushed onto stage 2 hours late, without enough time for setup and sound checks. So there were technical problems with Brunelle's gear: The Vocoder didn't work, the syndrums only half worked, and for some reason - as we understand it - he didn't get the "pulse" going for the ending of one piece where Jim Rezek uses a spacey screaming choir.

Full credit is due to Jim and Allen though because the set was delivered with panache despite the problems, and it was a great pity that they were restricted to just 30 minutes. It would have been nice to see how the music might have developed with the benefit of more time - preferably with a few more analog / symphonic passages from Jim Rezek to add appeal to an already interesting set.

Puppet Show
(Pete Pardo reports)

This San Francisco based band has been away from the progressive rock scene for close to a decade, but with the news that a new album had been recorded and the band signed to play ROSfest, expectations where high for this high-energy band. Their early evening slot (which turned out to be a little later than expected due to lighting problems and other drama) was a tough one, as the majority of the crowd was highly anticipating Starcastle, but the band came out as if they were the headliners, ready to rock the house. And rock the house they did, armed with plenty of songs off their new release (on ProgRock Records) called The Tale of Woe. Led by the strong vocals of Sean Frazier, Puppet Show displayed plenty of neo-prog melodies, hard rock muscle, and vintage 70's keyboard flourishes.

Many of their songs push the 8-minute + boundaries, so it was not surprising to see the bands set exceed an hour, and then some. With tunes like "Seasons", "The Past Has Just Begun", and "Harold Cain", the band churned out plenty of meaty prog, long on the tasty guitar work of Chris Ogburn, the symphonic keyboards of Mike Grimes, and the tight rhythm section of bassist Craig Polson and newcomer Chris Mack on the drums. The band even dipped into their debut album Traumatized for a few songs, giving the audience a brief taste of their older material while clearly highlighting the new songs. Frazier kept the audience connected with the set throughout, making sure to keep the banter going at all times (it was getting late) so the audience stayed involved, and even cracking a few jokes for good measure. After Tempustry, this was a rocking and rousing set, and considering that the band is probably still getting their feet wet after years of inactivity, this was a very solid set that should signal good things ahead for Puppet Show.

We also had a chance to speak to the band in depth on Saturday, so be on the lookout for our upcoming interview with them in the very near future.

(Steve Pettengill reports)

Perhaps the most hotly anticipated act of the Rosfest weekend, Starcastle's Friday night headlining performance did not disappoint. For two hours, the reunited Illinois progressive rock legends' set gave us plenty of emotional highlights, drama and unabashed nostalgia. While only guitarists Matt Stewart and Steve Hagler and drummer Steve Tassler remain from the original lineup, it's safe to say the Rosfest audience didn't seem to care. Vocalist Al Lewis-sounding remarkably like Jon Anderson and looking a lot like Chris Squire-ably filled Terry Luttrell's shoes. Rounded out by Oliver Wakeman on keyboards, Woodly Lingle on bass and Bruce Botts on guitar, the revamped Starcastle treated festival attendees to most of the excellent new album Song of Times. "Babylon", "All for the Thunder" and "Master Machine" were splendid and it was clear that the band was enjoying itself tremendously.

The only snag was a surreal moment that involved an intoxicated lighting technician being led away from the stage and arrested by local authorities smack in the middle of "Babylon". Far less distracting was the too brief guest appearance by Renaissance vocalist Annie Haslam for "Song of Times", a moving tribute to the late Starcastle bassist Gary Strater. Accompanying the piece was some vintage video projection of Gary and it was truly the most touching moment of the evening.

Naturally, Starcastle reached back into the past to give us classic 70s material and it was a real treat to hear "Forces" and "Deep is the Light" alongside the new compositions. The show reached a serious climax with the one-two punch of "Lady of the Lake" and encore "Fountains". The band absolutely nailed these epics and Tassler's percussion fills during "Fountains" particularly stood out. It didn't matter that the show was running 3 hours late due to technical difficulties; this was an unforgettable performance and one can only hope that Starcastle's Rosfest gig will lead to more live concert activities.

Rocket Scientists
(Pete Pardo reports)

Usually the Saturday morning opener at any festival is in for a tough time, as you have to deal with hungover and tired fans from Friday night's festivities, as well as folks who are just arriving from out of town and ready to check out the music for the first time that weekend. Rocket Scientists were having none of this, however, as they came barreling out of the gate at a little after 11:00am (no delays were evident after the drama from the previous evening) to a mostly filled theater. If you weren't ready to rock to some serious progressive rock, these guys were there to make sure you got ready, and quickly. Keyboard maestro Erik Norlander, guitarist/singer Mark McCrite, and NS/Stick virtuoso Don Schiff, were joined by powerhouse drummer Ernst Van Ee and lead guitarist Peer Verschuren, making for a formidable line-up that did a great job recreating songs from the 2006 Winner of Sea of Tranquility's "Album of the Year", Revolution Road. We had a chance to spend some time with the band at dinner the evening after their set, and they explained that they had just gotten done with a tour of Europe, so their set was pretty solid by the time of ROSfest, and while they were a bit tired, they were well rehearsed and ready to go.

Not only did the band launch into plenty of strong tunes from their latest 2CD set, including "Sky is Falling" and the wonderful title track, but the band also made sure to include songs from Rocket Scientists releases like Earthbound, Oblivion Days, and Brutal Architecture. McCrite handled the lead vocals wonderfully, and his myriad rhythm guitar (and occasional lead) textures proved to be a perfect contrast to the more prog-metal stylings of hot-shot gunslinger Verschuren. Mark mentioned to us that he also works for Line 6, and highly recommends their Variax guitars (which he used on stage that night) which allow him to travel with very few guitars now when they are on tour, as this axe works to basically emulate a host of classic guitars. Leader Norlander not only provided plenty of jaw-dropping synth & organ solos, but fleshed out the mix with a wide assortment of tonal colors (including some Mellotron). Lovers of the NS/Stick were left in awe at the tremendous dexterity of Schiff, as he dazzled in every song, but was even given a small solo spot to shine.

As their set was pushing the 90 minute mark, Norlander announced a special guest, his wife Lana Lane, who came out to finish the set with them as the band launched into Lana's "The Dream That Never Ends" from her Lady Macbeth album. By this point, the band was really tearing the roof off, and the crowd really was into it. Lana's presence kicked things up a notch, as her soaring vocals added plenty of power to "Oblivion Days", a real Rocket Scientists classic. Erik and Lana mentioned to us at dinner that part of their agreement to play ROSfest was to get a full two-hours so they could bring Lana out to do a few of her solo numbers and have her be a part of the set. Well, it worked, and it was the quickest two-hour set I've seen in ages, filled with soaring vocal harmonies, symphonic arrangements, powerful guitar work, and great keyboard playing. Erik mentioned that he would love to have the band come back to ROSfest again at some point, and judging by the long standing ovation the band received, I think many in attendance would like to see it sooner rather than later. It was a great way to kick off Saturday.

As a side note, Mark and Erik were talking at dinner about what song they would play at the after-hour party at the Marriott Hotel after Pendragon's set. Much of the discussion centered on the duo playing "Epitaph" by King Crimson, and we all had some laughs as Erik and Mark debated the chord progressions and notes (apparently it had been a while since they have played or rehearsed the song). As it turns out, they did in fact play the song, as well as "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin, with some help from the folks in Spock's Beard, and both tunes went over very well with the crowd in the wee hours of the morning. So, who needs a rehearsal anyway?

(Duncan Glenday reports)

The set starts with frontman Stu Nicholson in a long robe. A robe you ask? This is 2007, for goodness sake! But hang on - there's a purpose to it. The genuine Catholic priest's robe was only worn during opening song "I Could Be God", and was as much a part of the song's message as the lyrics.

Galahad has been in business for two decades, and their sound could be described as Genesis-based, Marillion-influenced hard-edged progressive rock. It could be loosely compared with Pallas or Riverside - definitely progressive, fairly heavy in places, dark-edged though not quite metal, and always emotional. (Remember - Nicholson once auditioned for Marillion, to replace Fish.)

The fact that Galahad tours extensively was apparent from their polished performance. There were sections in the first half where samples were played for what seemed like a long time, while the band stood there - essentially inactive. That works well on a studio album, but felt awkward in the live environment. That aside, though, the performance seemed to grow stronger as the set continued - and the band delivered one of the more theatrical performances of the weekend.

Look for their new album Empires Never Last, scheduled for release this year.

(Steve Pettengill reports)

Undoubtedly the most controversial band of the weekend, Carptree's symphonic rock should in theory have gone down a storm with the festival audience. Comprised of the duo of keyboardist Carl Westholm and vocalist Niclas Flinck and augmented by four musicians known as the No Future Orchestra, Sweden's Carptree can be likened to Genesis and Marillion but laced with the brooding of fellow countrymen Landberk or Anekdoten. Recent CDs Man Made Machine and Insekt have received rave reviews but sadly, the band's music didn't translate well on stage and meandered from one track to the next with few distinctive melodies and not enough energy to keep theater patrons in their seats for the entire set. Flinck sang enthusiastically, but his awkward stage presence and chauffer attire didn't quite go hand in hand with the relatively forbidding tone of the music.

Carptree began to lock into a groove by the halfway mark and there were plenty of nice Mellotron samples to be heard from Westholm. Sadly, it was too little too late as fully one third of the theater departed before Carptree returned for an encore.

(Duncan Glenday reports)

Saturday night's headliner Pendragon yielded few surprises. The band's musicianship, their emotion-laden delivery and their big walls of sound have been known and appreciated for almost three decades. Besides - if you heard the Friday night headliners NEO, at ROSfest 2006, you'd have heard some of these songs and witnessed the polished Barrett/Nolan guitar/keyboard interplay. And if you know the band's recent DVD And Now Everybody To the Stage, you'd have heard and seen a somewhat similar setlist.

So no surprises there - just a wonderful reminder of how entertaining Pendragon can be.

Band leader and founder Nick Barrett's guitar work was fluid and appealing, Clive Nolan (who has now played three ROSfests) added backing vocals and played keyboard lines that provided rick textures, and the rhythm section was impressive. Peter Gee's basswork is excellent, and new drummer Joe Crabtree's performance was particularly strong despite the drums being very high in the mix - a perennial ROSfest problem. Barrett's vocals are - for many - the best and worst thing about the band. They're sincere and expressive, delivered in a raspy strain that somehow matches his scruffy looks, stubby beard and tousled hair that's brushed with an egg beater.

But love his singing or hate it - he had a firm grip on the audience's attention that Saturday night - and many have already declared Pendragon's set the best-of-the-fest.

Darwin's Radio
(Michael Popke reports)

Filling the opening slot on the second day of a two-day festival (at 11 a.m. Sunday morning after a later-than-usual Saturday night, no less) has to be one of a promoter's least-enviable tasks. But give credit to RoSfest organizers for taking a chance on what seemed to be an unproven act - at least until that act hit the stage. The four-man band Darwin's Radio flew in from England for its first-ever U.S. gig and elicited the audience's first purely spontaneous response of the weekend, bringing fans to their feet after nearly every song. The guys in the band appeared overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reaction.

Culling material from 2003's Pictures EP, 2006's full-length debut Eyes of the World and a handful of new songs, the members of Darwin's Radio belied their pedigree keyboardist Mark Westworth and bassist Sean Spear played neo-prog in the now-defunct Grey Lady Down while vocalist/guitarist Declan Burke and drummer Tim Churchman were in The Spirit of Rush tribute band - with a set of accessible progressive rock rivaling Enchant and even Dream Theater. Traces of Vanden Plas's lighter side and The Flower Kings' heavier side also could be heard. Burke, in particular, turned in some of the finest guitar solos of the weekend, as he and the rest of Darwin's Radio played with class, professionalism and emotion. It seemed there was nothing else they'd rather be doing than earning the title of RoSfest 2007's most refreshing surprise.

(Pete Pardo reports)

Norway's Retroheads were the lone band on the ROSfest bill from the Unicorn Digital roster, and most who have heard their two releases Retrospective and Introspective were really looking forward to their melodic, 70's influenced music. With two keyboard players, male and female vocals, flute, guitar, bass, and drums, Retroheads certainly filled up the stage, and needed to be at the top of their game after an exhilarating set from Darwin's Radio. New singer Mike Mann (who celebrated his birthday with us at the hotel the previous evening), decked out in his kilt and headband, was a charismatic presence, and what he might have lacked in range he certainly made up for in personality, as he really connected with the audience.

Second keyboard player/singer Ann-Kristin Bendixen had problems with her keyboards early on, which left her four synths out to dry and she was reluctant to try the Mellotron that she had on stage, but she stayed on stage and contributing backing vocals and accordion throughout the set. Deborah Gurnius provided strong vocals to complement Mann, as well as flute, and the nimble keyboard flourishes from Per Nordengen had to flesh out most of the sound due to Bendixen's technical problems. Through it all, guitarist Kjell Bergland displayed plenty of rock firepower, and the rhythm section of bassist Tore Bo Bendixen (who writes all the songs and sang all the tunes on the debut) and drummer Morten Venli more than supplied a rock solid foundation. Through it all, the band overcame some obstacles and played an enjoyable set, but it was evident that they need some seasoning as a live act, and were not as tight as some of the other bands on the bill that weekend. They do however have plenty of personality and songs to back it up, so with some live shows under their belt and some mileage, they could very well turn into a formidable live act. Time will tell..

Magic Pie
(Michael Popke reports)

A few magical moments near the end of what was arguably the weekend's most exhilarating set seemed to transcend all others. The six members of Norway's Magic Pie turned their lively playing down several notches and kindly requested the full house to join them in singing the powerful chorus to the 20-minute epic "Change": I will lead you to a better future / I will give shelter to the poor / Give me your hand and I'll show you the door / I will lead you to a better tomorrow / Come, let me show you my plans / I will give hope to those who feel lost... Over and over, the crowd sang with Magic Pie, as the musicians slowly began playing louder. Eventually, both band and audience hit a harmonious groove.

Although "Change" is the leadoff track from Magic Pie's debut, Motions of Desire (Sea of Tranquility's 2005 'Album of the Year'), it closed a memorable set that included a healthy serving of material from the band's just-released second CD, Circus of Life. Although only two albums in, Magic Pie boasts veteran musicians - four of them over 40 and three of them designated as lead singers with a modern grasp of what makes vintage prog so appealing. Lengthy songs, monster guitar and keyboard solos, a cappella passages and an uplifting, feel-good vibe ruled their set. It's no wonder RoSfest organizers invited these guys back for the second consecutive year and gave them the coveted slot opening for Spock's Beard. Tasty, indeed.

Spock's Beard
(Michael Popke reports)

If Spock's Beard's eagerly awaited second-day headlining performance proved anything, it is that Alan Morse has emerged from the shadow of his younger brother, Neal. Almost as much of a front man as Neal's official replacement (erstwhile drummer and multi-instrumentalist Nick D'Virgilio), Alan lets his guitar do the talking now more than ever - all the while making the goofy, emotion-filled facial expressions that once characterized Neal's performances. D'Virgilio, meanwhile, also has come into his own as a vocalist and band leader - although he appeared off-kilter this night after landing in the hospital 24 hours earlier with a sudden illness. The band never offered a specific explanation to the crowd, but D'Virgilio's initial shakiness got things off to a slightly sloppy start, with keyboardist Ryo Okumoto resorting to incoherent jokes about "butt paste" and D'Virgilio often stumbling around the overcrowded stage.

By the set's midway point, though, Spock's Beard had recovered nicely, relying largely on a combination of moody, melodic material from the third and latest post-Neal album, Spock's Beard, and strategically choosing Neal-era songs ("Mouth of Madness," "Crack the Big Sky," "Thoughts (Part II)," "Walking on the Wind" and "Go The Way You Go"). Noticeably absent were "The Doorway," anything from Snow and a sense of inspired audience interaction. On the other hand, fans were treated to a jaw-dropping drum duel between D'Virgilio and Jimmy Keegan - a la Genesis' Phil Collins and Chester Thompson. And as if to prove they were unlike any of the other artists sharing the RoSfest bill, band members early on launched into "Is this Love?" - the shortest song in the Spock's catalog and one that alienated the pure-prog community upon release of Spock's Beard last fall with its blatant Cheap Trick overtones. Clearly, Spock's Beard is now a very different band. If you're not OK with that, it's time to move on.

SoT and the Rocket Scientists
Arhlene Glenday, Duncan Glenday, Don Schiff, Mark McCrite, Lana Lane, Pete Pardo, Erik Norlander
In front: Greg Stewart

Sea Of Tranquility at ROSfest:
Duncan Glenday, Greg Stewart, Pete Pardo, Mike Popke
Present at ROSfest but not pictured: Steve Pettengill

All photos:

Greg Stewart, Duncan Glenday, and Sea Of Tranquility

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