Last year I wrote up a long, rambling review of ProgDay '07, complete with a bunch of photos and the bands' set lists. It made for a nice little "time capsule" of the event, so while going through my photos, audience recordings and CDs that I purchased at this year's event, I figured I should write up a similar page for 2008.
Just like last year, going in I wasn't really familiar with any of the bands that played the festival. I only had one CD from any of the weekend's eleven bands, and that was a review copy of Speechless' "Time Out of Mind" that I got from the Ground and Sky site (similar to last year's Frogg Cafe discs). The ProgDay web site had a ton of sample tracks available though, so I downloaded them all and burned them to three CDRs which I listened to in the weeks leading up to Labor Day weekend. I also bought a lot of CDs at ProgDay - mostly from the bands that played this year, plus the new Beardfish CD that I've been waiting for (Sleeping in Traffic pt. 2) and a handful of used CDs from a guy who was selling off his surplus discs for five bucks each.
I also came home with my audience tapes of the entire festival, which I've been busily digitizing, torrenting and burning to CDR. I've spent much more time so far re-listening to the bands' live sets than I have listening to the many CDs that I bought.
Anyway, on with the story...
I headed out on Friday morning, shortly after seeing my daughter off to school (I almost took her along to ProgDay, but I would have had to miss the Friday night preshow, and fortunately a grandparent volunteered to watch her for the weekend while my wife was at work). I drove my usual winding route from southeastern PA down into Virginia. As soon as I got on interstate 81, Mother Nature made it clear that she had no intention of co-operating with my plans for the weekend. It poured down rain for the first couple hours of my drive. The weather gradually cleared, and by the time I finished having lunch at the Chili's in Staunton, VA, the skies were blue. It made for a nicely scenic drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the long stretch of highway 501 that I take all they way from Lynchburg, VA to the Comfort Inn in Chapel Hill.
I arrived at the hotel around 6:30, had time to get checked in and change clothes, then headed downtown to Local 506 for the Friday night ProgDay pre-show. When I got there, I discovered that the side street where I usually park was blocked off for a construction project. I circled the block for 45 minutes, most of which was spent at intersections waiting for a clearing in the pedestrians. They literally own the roads down there thanks to big signs at the traffic lights declaring it illegal to enter the intersection until all pedestrians have crossed. I finally gave up and parked in a residential neighborhood a few blocks off the main drag. Even with all that wasted time, I was still early for the show, so I hit the pizza place two doors down from 506 and had my traditional pre-preshow dinner of pizza and soda. Once that was done, there were finally people lining up outside the club, and it wasn't too long before the doors opened. I had long since lost my "membership" card for Local 506, so I had to re-register and pay a $3 membership fee on top of the $10 cover charge. Hopefully I'll keep my card in a safe place and remember to take it next year.
Once inside the door, I quickly went to the prime taper's location - on the bench that runs along the back wall of the performance area, straight back from center stage, next to a small table that's perfect for setting recording gear on. Unfortunately for me, the first band (Kinetic Element) had decided to use that area to set up their merchandise table. As the band was getting ready to play, I did manage to squeeze into the spot that I was hoping for, but I ended up sharing the "taper table" with the guitarist of the second band (Speechless) who set up his camcorder tripod in the same spot.
Once all that was sorted out, it wasn't long until Kinetic Element took the stage. The band was originally a solo project of the keyboardist, but he eventually wanted to play the material live, so he added a drummer and a bassist. They've since recorded a second album as a full band. Their music was very ELP influenced, and they even played a cover of ELP's "Blues Variation" from the Pictures at an Exhibition album. The band's music was probably about 80% instrumental, but when the vocals did appear they usually contained religious and spiritual themes, which led me to categorize the band as "Christian symphonic prog". All in all they put on a fairly solid set in a classicly proggy style. Not my personal favorite band of the weekend, but they went over well with the majority of the audience.
Here's Kinetic Element's set list: Now and Forever, On the Ship of Emotion, Blues Variation (ELP), The Ascent, Starship Universe, The Synchronized Life, Riding in Time, Peace of Mind Peace of Heart, In the Nazarene Church
As mentioned above, the other half of the preshow was played by the band Speechless. They were the only group of the weekend that I had heard an entire CD of beforehand, and while I enjoy the disc I also thought it was fairly similar to a lot of other all-instrumental, shreddy/spacey prog albums. I said as much in my review on the Ground and Sky site, which got me an email from one of the band members saying that I should come to one of their shows. It didn't seem likely, since they were based in Atlanta and I'm from Pennsylvania, but the stars aligned and I got my chance to see them play live. They did indeed deliver an impressive live performance, playing most of their first album and selections from an upcoming disc, as well as a few cover tunes that the prog audience were intimately familiar with. My only complaint was that the set was really, really LOUD, so much so that I kept leaving the performance area and watching the band from back at the bar where it wasn't quite as loud. I've since exchanged emails with Sean Tonar, the band's guitarist, and he said that they had no control over the PA system's volume level. Apparently the club's sound man was under the impression that they were a heavy metal band and cranked the volume up accordingly.
Here's Speechless' set list: Vader's Boogie, In the Clouds, Legacy, Stella, Spidercrawl, The Big Majestic, Something Green, Chrome, Jesus Christ Superstar medley, La Villa Strangiato -> drum solo, Heavy Flow, prog medley (incl: Roundabout, Tom Sawyer, Carry On Wayward Son, Frankenstein, The Grand Illusion and one or two other songs), Spaghetti Junction
The preshow wrapped up around 12:45am, and as usual a lot of the crowd had left before the end because they had to get up early for the main event. The next morning I heard a few people saying they regretted missing all the covers that Speechless played in the second half of their set. My philosophy has always been that I didn't drive all the way to North Carolina to sleep, so I stayed for the whole show and didn't get back to the hotel until around 1:30. Of course, that same philosophy is probably why I end up driving home on Monday feeling like a hungover zombie. But anyway, I managed to get five or six hours of sleep and still got up on Saturday morning in time to take a shower and hit the hotel's breakfast bar, then drive out to Storybook Farm...
It became obvious as soon as I stepped out of the hotel Saturday morning that Mother Nature still wasn't in the mood to co-operate. The air was thick with humidity, and even that early in the morning it was already starting to get hot out. Driving to the farm, I almost missed the entrance because I always look for the nearby radio tower as a landmark to know when to turn, but it was completely shrouded in mist. Here's a photo I took as soon as I arrived at Storybook, although it makes things look a little worse than they were - I think the camera lens might have had some condensation on it:
I arrived at ProgDay's main site so early, there wasn't even anyone checking tickets yet. I had sprung for the patron pass, so I just drove up to the patron parking area and started unloading my stuff. I've been to so many ProgDays that everyone there knows me and knows that I bought a ticket, so it was no big deal. I quickly got my lawn chair and recording equipment set up right in front of the soundboard, and went to browse the CDs from the vendors who were still setting up.
A couple guys had bought space at a table and were selling off excess discs from their collections for $5 each, and I was one of the first people to get to pick over the spoils. I ended up buying $20 worth of CDs from them and still somehow managed to miss the new Anekdoten CD that was in there (a friend of mine told me about it later, after it had already been purchased). The "Of Sound Mind" table was also getting set up, so I bought the new Beardfish CD from them. Before more than a handful of people had arrived at the festival, I had already blown $35 on CDs. And that was just a drop in the bucket. Expensive habit, these prog festivals. While I was CD shopping the nasty humidity made itself felt in another way - my glasses kept spontaneously fogging up, which made it hard to read the CD spines (that's probably how I missed that Anekdoten disc. Yeah, that's the ticket.)
I was a little worried when I went back to my chair and discovered that the guy who set up camp next to me had put his little kids' chairs right next to my microphones (come on, how about using a little common sense), but I just switched my chairs around so the mics were on the other side, away from the kids, and all was well. Besides, they were running around most of the weekend and were rarely at their chairs. Here's a photo of my infamous microphone stand (a lawn chair with the mics jammed through the webbing):
The first band up on Saturday was Von Frickle. I was pretty sure I was going to like them, based on the sample tracks I had downloaded from the ProgDay web site, but they completely blew me away. First off there's the whole stage presentation: the band dress from head to toe in white - white jumpsuits, white caps that cover their whole head, white plastic masks and even white sneakers. The only visible part of each band member is his hands. As a friend of mine pointed out, they don't really need the "gimmick" of those outfits since the music easily stands on its own, but the surreal stage show can be considered the icing on the cake. Musically, the band's primary influence seemed to be King Crimson, although the first song they played reminded me strongly of a previous ProgDay band, Yeti. There were interlocking guitar parts, there were pounding, riff-based parts, there were spacey keyboard and guitar-synth parts, there were drones - it was really all over the place, yet it all had a unique "Von Frickle stamp" on it. They were easily one of my favorite bands of the weekend, and I'm really enjoying their studio discs (I bought all four CDs they were selling). Later that evening, back at the hotel, I overheard someone ask the bassist (who was back in normal clothes) how they came up with the name "Von Frickle". With a completely straight face and without a trace of irony, he explained that when the band's space ship crashed on Earth, they landed in an area of mostly German immigrants, so they chose that name as being nicely inconspicuous.
There are a few songs from Von Frickle's set list that I haven't figured out yet (they might be from earlier albums that the band wasn't selling at ProgDay, or they might be new songs - needless to say, the band didn't make any stage announcements due to the masks), but here's what I've got so far:
Broth of Oblivion, Pyramidium, Kablam!, ?, Freak Parade, Zombie Stomp, Terra Firma Exodus, Galactic Bounty Hunter, ?, ?, Pod, Antiparticle Assassin, Bullet Brain, Wreck of the Hallucinato
The second band on Saturday was Holding Pattern. They were a prog power-trio of guitar, drums and a keyboardist who sometimes switched to bass. The drummer was solid and the keyboardist was good (if occasionally a bit sloppy), but the star of the show was Tony Spada on guitar. His style could probably be most easily compared to Steve Morse, and the guitar solos were frequent and flashy. To be honest, the music got a little samey after a while, and by this time in the day the sun had burned off all the mist and was beating down furiously on the audience. Most people had the sense to bring a tent or a beach umbrella or at least a baseball cap. Unfortunately, I'm not that bright. So I spent a good bit of Holding Pattern's set in the shade of the vendor's tent or eating lunch under the pavilion. I didn't really think much of their performance at the time, but listening back to my audience recording in the comfort of an air-conditioned house, they were quite good if you enjoy the guitar-hero brand of instrumental progressive rock.
I'm not very familiar with Holding Pattern's catalog, but fortunately they announced most of their songs' titles. So here's the set list: Balance of Power, Another Point of View, Iraqiroll, Breaking the Silence, the Tunnels medley, Honor Before Glory, Heat Treat, Final Act / Ten Before Midnight.
(The first half of "Balance of Power" may have actually been a different song, because the band stopped briefly and completely changed gears, but you never know with prog rock - it could just as easily have been all one long song)
Next up was Abigail's Ghost from the New Orleans area. They could easily have been distracted by predictions that hurricane Gustav was going to hammer their homes (in fact they even mentioned during the set that they might have to stay in North Carolina a few extra days until it blew over). But everything worked out for the best - the band put on a nearly flawless set and the hurricane ended up not being nearly as strong as predicted.
Musically, the band was probably the least proggy group of the weekend. Many people have (accurately) compared their sound to Porcupine Tree, but performing live they had a heavier, more aggressive edge. To be honest, I didn't really like their music all that much (I'm just not into that grungy, pop/prog style), and I thought their on-stage bravado ("Let's get this thing started RIGHT!", "Come on, let me hear you make some NOISE!!!") just didn't fit the ProgDay setting at all, but a lot of people seemed to really like them. After the first couple songs I knew they weren't going to be a band for me, so I went a good distance from the audience and smoked a cigar while listening to the band and reading a book (that's where I took the photo at the top of this page).
The band announced most of their song titles, and the one that I didn't get was provided by the band on a web forum, so here's their full set list: Close, Sellout, Monochrome, Cerulean Blue, Romantic Life, Sneak Peek, Love Sounds, Seeping, Annie Enemy, Plastic Soul, Waiting Room, Mother May I, encore: Dead People's Review
The final band on Saturday was Ain Soph from Japan. There were some concerns that they might be too similar to the other "headliner" band of the weekend, Secret Oyster, but despite both being instrumental bands that play jazzy prog with keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and saxophone, the two bands sounded surprisingly different. Ain Soph was fairly laid-back and mellow, bordering on new-agey in places, although they also played some upbeat stuff. Their songs often featured the drums and bass playing a pattern while the guitar, keyboards and saxophone took turns playing lengthy, improvised solos over top. A very relaxing, smooth way to finish out the day after a couple bands that were mostly sound and fury. I heard a couple people comment that Ain Soph was a bit boring, but I really liked them. The audience recording I got of their set makes for excellent background music, and I'm looking forward to listening to the three CDs I bought from them.
Not long after the band started playing, some clouds rolled in:
At first they were a great relief from the sun, but as the skies darkened it became a race to see if the band would finish their set before the rain fell. About an hour and a half into their set, the first drops started falling and as they finished the song they were on it turned into a downpour. The sound guys scrambled to cover the monitors and PA speakers with plastic, and most of the audience fled for their cars or the pavilion. I stuck it out, covering my recording gear with an umbrella and myself with the tarp that had been under my chair, leading to the photo below:
Ain Soph's set list was: Marine Menagerie, Odessa, The Lost Era pt. 2, Sleeping Sun, Ride on a Camel, 7 Up, Ancient Museum, Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith, The Valley of Lutha
(A friend who grabbed a set list off the stage said that if it hadn't been for the rain prematurely ending their set, they were planning on playing these additional songs: Magic Carpet, The Swan Lake, Strange Bag and Flooded By Sunlight)
By the time Ain Soph finished up "The Valley of Lutha", it was pretty clear that the festival would have to call it a day. Geoff came out to thank everyone for coming and invited everyone to come back the next day, and the audience (and staff) who hadn't left yet huddled under the pavilion waiting to see if the rain was going to let up. It was around that time that I remembered that I had gone out to my car earlier in the day and rolled the windows part-way down so the CDs and tapes inside wouldn't overheat. I sprinted to the car and discovered that the entire passenger side was pretty much drenched, but nothing was permanently damaged. Since I was already soaking wet, I just loaded my remaining gear into the car and headed back to the hotel. On the way, I stopped at a "Total Wine" store to buy some beer. One of the helpful sales staff saw me come walking in, looking like a drowned rat and wearing an admittedly pretty bizarre looking ProgDay t-shirt, and was on me like white on rice. I think he thought I was a homeless guy who was going to rob the place.
After changing into dry clothes, I walked to the nearby Outback Steakhouse and had a burger at the bar while listening to some of my audience tapes from the day (much to the annoyance of the staff, who had to repeat everything to me because they didn't realize I was listening to headphones the first time). What I heard sounded pretty good, so I was already excited about getting home and transferring the tapes to CDR.
After dinner I checked out the pool area back at the hotel. It had stopped raining, but the deck furniture was still wet and no one had come out. I figured I could start the party, so I loaded my cooler up with a few beers, managed to sort-of dry off one of the deck chairs and sat out there listening to my tape of Ain Soph. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a bottle opener with me, so the beer was kind of useless. Eventually Mike Potter of Orion Studios came out and we talked about the events of the day. Mike had driven down from Baltimore after hosting a Secret Oyster show at Orion on Friday night, so he was pretty much running on fumes. A few other people came out, and after a while the guys from Abigail's Ghost (and the girlfriend of one of the band members) came out and sat by the pool for a while, and later I saw them in the hotel's breakfast area playing cards.
Fortunately for the bottle-opener-impaired, the bassist from Von Frickle came out and showed us how to open a beer bottle with a lighter. I've got to practice that, because I sucked at it. I must have been at the bassist table, because a little later the bassist from Cheer-Accident came out and was talking with us (although I didn't know who he was at the time). Finally, just as most people were getting ready to go to bed, all the guys from Secret Oyster came out and started drinking with us. The guitarist showed us how to open one beer bottle with another bottle, which I have even less chance of pulling off than opening one with a lighter. He claimed that all people in Denmark learn that trick by the time they're in high school. He also claimed to have known a man who could open beer bottles with a wet newspaper, but that might have been a joke. Speaking of jokes, he told us this one: What's the difference between a rock guitarist and jazz guitarist? The rock guitarist knows three chords and plays for thousands of people, while the jazz guitarist knows thousands of chords but only plays for three people. He was a pretty funny guy. He said he saw a sign saying "Fender Bender" while they were diving from Baltimore to Chapel Hill and thought it was addressing him specifically.
Saturday was a lot of fun, both for the music and for the pool party, but all good things must come to an end, and somewhere between 1 and 2am most people (myself included) called it a night and went to bed.
Sunday morning arrived slightly cooler and a lot less humid than Saturday morning had. I got out to Storybook a bit later than the previous day (the ticket booth was manned, but they saw me coming and just waved me through). There was no mist this time, and the skies were a beautiful blue:
I managed to get the exact same spot in front of the soundboard where I had set up on Saturday. Unfortunately, I must not have connected something securely, or the recording gear must have been affected by the rain the previous day, because my recordings from Sunday have nasty little dropouts (mostly in the left channel) and volume fluctuations (in both channels) that last anywhere from a fraction of a second to a minute or more. It was only a minor problem in the tapes of Cheer-Accident and Pinnacle, and I managed to "clean up" the recordings to the point where they're at least listenable. But the tape of Canvas Solaris' set (one of my favorites of the weekend) was messed up to the point that I had to mix about half of the set into mono (dropping the screwed-up channel) just to get something half-way listenable. Oddly, the problems went away during Mirthrandir's set, and the Secret Oyster tapes sound great.
Anyway, the day started off with the most surreal band introduction in ProgDay's history (and there have been some odd intros at ProgDay). After Steve Sly briefly took the stage to welcome everyone to day two, stage managers Geoff and Jay came out to introduce Cheer-Accident. Geoff appeared first, and just stood at a microphone waiting for Jay. When he finally strolled on stage, Jay was wearing nothing but a jester's cap and tie-died briefs. I was really tempted to put a picture up on this web page, but I don't want to embarrass anyone. It's one thing to momentarily get up on stage in front of a couple hundred people dressed that way, and quite another to have that moment immortalized on a web page for all the world to see.
Anyway, Jay started "speaking in tongues", introducing the band in his own made-up language, complete with elaborate hand gestures. Every now and then he would pause and look at Geoff, who would then translate what Jay had said into English...except that it came out as a string of album and song titles of Cheer-Accident's music. When the band finally took the stage, the keyboardist said "We're not going to play now. I didn't know this was going to be the Cheer-Accident roast. And those guys aren't even drunk yet."
The band then proceeded to play one of the most entertaining and musically interesting sets I've seen in years. Those who know me know that I go for the weird stuff - I'm a big fan of avant-prog and the Cuneiform label. I usually refer to the band that gets the "challenging prog" slot at ProgDay as the Cuneiform band, because they're usually on that label. Cheer-Accident weren't, but they announced during the set that their next album will be. "We figured we're still alive, they're still alive, why not?"
The core band consisted of two long-time band members on guitar and keyboards (with the keyboardist often switching to drums) and a bassist who is younger than the original guys but has been with the band for years. There was also a trombone player who was on stage most of the time and who whipped out a battery powered megaphone at one point to create a "noise solo". Another guy was frequently on stage playing drums (when the keyboardist was at the keyboards) or flailing away at a guitar (playing strange, usually short solos) or entertaining the crowd with his odd dancing. There was one woman who acted as the "utility" musician, coming out when needed and playing everything from a Moog keyboard to trumpet to plastic melodica. And finally there was a female vocalist who came out and sang on a few songs. The keyboardist also sang, and even the main guitarist provided vocals on "King Cheezamin". You never knew who was going to do what next. At any given time there could be anywhere from three to seven people on stage playing various instruments or doing various things. I tried to take pictures of all the different combinations but gave up after taking 20 pictures.
The music ranged from introspective piano and vocal pieces to squealing, feedback-drenched guitar. Horns would suddenly spring up out of nowhere only to disappear again a minute later. The music could be thoroughly composed, only to devolve into chaos, or vice versa. There were sections of nearly-hypnotic patterns. The lyrics were often dark and cynical, but occasionally humorous. If ever the term "all over the map" applied to a band, it applied to these guys. They were entertaining enough that even a couple people that I talked to who usually don't like avant-prog at all enjoyed Cheer-Accident's set.
I took a ton of pictures during Cheer-Accident's set because there was so much going on. Here's a sampling:
After their set, I went to the band's table and bought as many CDs as I thought I could afford, but ended up only getting about half of what they were selling (they have a huge back catalog). I wish I had bought a few more. Fortunately someone emailed me the abbreviated titles from a written set-list the band used on stage. Between that and the five CDs I bought, I cobbled together this approximation of their set list:
Realize, The Day After I Never Met You, Medley / Mescalito, Dismantling the Berlin Waltz, King Cheezamin, Cheadle / Improv, Fight For Innocence, Frozen / Ignorance Moving Sideways, I Feel Sick, Humanizing, Production, Even Has a Half-Life, Salad Days
The second band on Sunday was Pinnacle, a neoprog band from my neck of the woods, Pennsylvania. I guess you could call them symphonic prog, but to me they had enough pop elements to their sound to be considered neoprog. They played a fairly short set (around 50 minutes). I later found out that when the ProgDay organizers learned of Canvas Solaris' plan to play a very short set, Pinnacle was booked to help fill out the day. From what I was told, Pinnacle was playing mostly just for the exposure - there wasn't much money left in ProgDay's budget to pay them. I had wondered why there were five bands on Sunday (in recent years, there has always been four bands on each day), so that explained that.
Pinnacle opened with a nineteen minute epic original song, then worked through a few other originals that ranged from very proggy sounding to fairly poppish. The performance was generally solid, although it did get a bit sloppy in places. After about 45 minutes they asked the stage managers if they had time for one more "special" song. The ProgDay organizers rarely ever stop a band even if they've reached their time limit, so the band played on and finished their set with a nicely re-arranged cover of Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood". Possibly not the best idea to be tempting the rains, but it was a well done cover.
Pinnacle's set list: The Life in a Year, Timberline, Garden of Turbulence, Information Overload, Here Comes the Flood
The middle band on Sunday was Canvas Solaris. If I have the story straight, they started out as a purely metal band, but eventually started moving in the direction of more technical and progressive music, with the emphasis still firmly on crunchy guitars. With the addition of a keyboardist they've added some mellow, spacey and melodic material, but most of their music still falls in the hard-riffing prog-metal category, with a focus on technical expertise and stop-on-a-dime precision. The headbangers in the crowd at ProgDay ate it up, and the devotees of complex composition also found a lot to like. When the band ended their set after playing less than 45 minutes worth of material, almost everyone was on their feet applauding and calling for an encore, but none was forthcoming. When I went to their table to buy the three CDs they were selling, I asked one of the band members why their set was so short, and he told me that they found from past experience that no matter how much audiences liked them, 45 minutes was about all most people could take before starting to tune the band out.
The memory that will stand out for me from this set was one point where the keyboardist went off on a wild Moog solo, and the rest of the band just stood there, either with eyes closed or looking down at the stage. None of them were giving any audible or visual sign of keeping time, but every so often, at irregular intervals, they'd all suddenly blast out a chord or two together. It was almost like a psychic link - the precision was astounding. I wasn't sure I'd like a band this aggressive and metallic, but they definitely won me over.
Canvas Solaris only played six songs, and even though I bought all the CDs they were selling, I could only put names to four of them: Patterns Spiral into Swarm, ?, Sinusoid Mirage, Solar Droid, ?, The Unknowable and Defeating Glow.
I was a little worried about the next band, Mirthrandir. The sample track on the ProgDay web site was fairly stereotypical symphonic prog from the 70s, and I've been burnt out on symphonic prog for years. Plus the lead singer sounded like he was trying to sing way above his range. And then there's the nearly hard-and-fast rule that prog bands who take their name from Tolkien are usually pretty bad. Plus they had some vaguely Christian-rock lyrics, which also puts me off.
But I gave them a chance and watched their set. I wasn't wild about them at the time, and like the band Nemo the year before (coincidentally, also the second to last band of the weekend), listening to my audience recording afterwards only made me like the set less. The singer did indeed try to sing too high, and the music just didn't grab me at all. To be honest, some of it sounded almost like a parody of symphonic prog. I hate to be so negative because a lot of people consider the band's album "For You the Old Woman" to be an obscure prog classic, but they just didn't click with me.
To their credit, about mid-way through their set, the rains returned and this time brought thunder and lightning with them, but the band kept plugging along until the sound crew stopped them in mid-song due to the danger of electrocution. The lightning didn't last long though, and the band quickly picked back up in the middle of the song, right were they had left off. And while I wasn't wild about the band, there were several people who liked them enough to sit out in the rain and watch them.
Sunday evening back at the hotel, I ran into the band as they were getting ready to go to dinner and had to ask where they got the name from. My theory was that it was a pun, combining "mirth" with the elves' name for Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. But the band said it actually came from a mis-print of the wizard's name that they found in an early edition of the books.
Since I'm totally unfamiliar with Mirthrandir's material, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to figure out their set list at all. Fortunately, a friend emailed it to me:
Birth, For You the Old Women, Number Six, Number Two, Conversation With Personality Giver, Another World, For Four, Light of the Candle
The final band of the weekend was Secret Oyster. I hate to use the term "headliner" for a ProgDay band, because it's kind of insulting to the other bands and I usually end up enjoying the "non-headliners" better than the final bands anyway. But not this year. Secret Oyster was a true headliner band - they just seemed a notch above, a bit more professional sounding. This was a band I could see filling stadiums back in the 70s.
Like Ain Soph the evening before, the line-up was guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and sax (with the sax player also playing some keyboards), and the style was also jazz/rock fusion, but the two bands sounded fairly different. Secret Oyster's music was a little more upbeat and rockin' (although they did have a couple slower numbers), and the guitar, keyboard and sax solos had a bit more of a composed, thought-out sound rather than being loose jams. It's hard to describe the difference really, especially since I liked both bands, but the Oyster set just had everything fall perfectly in place.
After an hour and a half of playing, the band left the stage knowing full well that they'd get an encore. So they dutifully got back on stage and played their encore song, took a bow and went to drink some beers "backstage". But the audience kept the standing ovation going for close to three minutes, and the ProgDay organizers finally talked the band into going back up for a second encore. By the end of that 10 minute song, the light was starting to fade from the sky and the sound crew still had to break everything down and pack it away, so the festival came to an end. But that evening at the traditional Sunday night pool party back at the hotel, when the guys from Secret Oyster showed up they got another spontaneous ovation from the entire party, which I've never seen happen before.
I've managed to work out most of Secret Oyster's set list via stage announcements and by comparing to the five CDs I bought from their merchandise table, but for some reason I can't figure out the encores:
Sirenerne, Oyster Jungle, Black Mist, Stjernerne Pa Gaden, Leda & the Dog, Pajamamafia, Astarte, Blazing Lace, Rubber Star, Paella, Traffic & Elephants, Mind Movie, encore 1: ?, encore 2: ?
Here are a couple miscellaneous photos:
The lush backstage accomodations for the bands:
The final hangers-on saying goodbye at the end of another great festival:
When ProgDay ends, I usually find myself hanging around Storybook farm, looking for excuses not to leave. I just like the place so much, one weekend a year doesn't seem like enough time to spend there. This year was no exception, so I made myself useful helping to fold up tables and chairs in the vendor tent. But eventually I ran into a guy named Mike who needed a ride back to the hotel (he had wrecked his car on the way from the Philadelphia area to ProgDay, but still attended the festival. Now there's a dedicated prog fan). So we drove back to the Comfort Inn and later went to dinner with a large group of people from the ProgAndOther mailing list at a local barbeque joint.
Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and I took my remaining beer down to the pool because the Sunday night party had already started in earnest. Over the course of the next few hours, I watched the guys from Abigail's Ghost play gin rummy and chatted with Paul Sears and various members of different bands. One highlight came when a group of us were chatting with the guitarist and bassist from Cheer-Accident. Someone asked "what's the most embarrassing band that you're secretly a big fan of"? As we went around the circle naming our most embarrassing bands, I finally settled on ELO as my choice (I like an embarrassingly large number of embarrassing bands). But the woman to my right answered just before me and picked ELO. The weird thing is that I never would have pegged her as an ELO fan - she looked more like a punk rock sort of person. We had an interesting mini-conversation about ELO and it turned out we're both big fans of the album Time.
Earlier in the day, Paul Sears offered the chance to throw him into the pool (voluntarily this year, unlike the previous time when it happened while he was passed out in a deck chair) to anyone who would contribute $50 to the Stan Whittaker medical bill fund. A couple people ponied up the dough and in the pool Paul went.
Around midnight people started gradually drifting back to their rooms to get some sleep. By 1am, it was just the diehards still out by the pool. The usual group of ProgDay organizers and fans who are out there every year were joined by the bassist from Cheer-Accident and the guitarist from Secret Oyster. The conversation ranged from sports to politics to movies to wines and beers and, of course, music.
About 3:30 in the morning, I was struggling to keep my eyelids open and hadn't offered anything constructive to the conversation for at least an hour, so I gave up on my quest to see the party through to its end and went to bed. My leaving must have had a snowball effect, because when I got up to my room I looked out the window just in time to see the last few partiers shuffling out of the pool area.
I had the alarm set for 10am the next morning, but as usual I woke up much earlier and figured I should hit the road. After a quick breakfast at the hotel's food bar, where I ran into a few friends and said some final goodbyes, I got in the car and started tearing the shrink wrap off a few new CDs. The drive home took about nine hours, but the weather was nice and the tunes were excellent.
About half-way home I stopped in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, at the same spot where the search-and-rescue operation happened the year before. This time things were relatively calm, although there was a guy parked in the lot with his driver's side door open and a leg hanging out - I thought he was dead at first, but when I got a little closer I could hear him snoring. I hiked up to the bench at the top of the hill, pulled out my audience tape of Cheer-Accident's set, lit up a cigar and had a relaxing 20 minute break from the drive.
After that it was pretty much a straight shot home. I was fairly tired, but for some reason not nearly as exhausted as I usually am while driving home from ProgDay. I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts in northern Virginia to get some coffee, and it was one of those self-serve places tacked onto a gas station. While waiting in line to pay for the coffee, and elderly gentleman got up to the counter and was having some sort of trouble paying for his gas - his credit card wasn't being accepted or something. The girl at the counter looked at me and the guy behind me and asked if we were just getting coffee. I said yes, so she told us we could just take it and go. As we walked out with our free coffee, the other guy said "Maybe I should have told her I got doughnuts and a pack of gum too". Yeah, maybe.
Anyway, a few hours later I was home, tired but with a lot of good memories and a ton of new music to listen to.
Speaking of that new music - I've only had a chance to listen to most of the CDs I bought one or two times, but here are some first impressions:
Robert Fripp String Quartet - The Bridge Between; Miriodor - Mekano; Forever Einstein - Down With Gravity; Bill Nelson - Practically Wired - these are the used discs I bought for $5 each. I like them all, but surprisingly I think the Bill Nelson is my favorite. It's not really "prog", more of a techno, danceable, sample-laden guitar hero album. The Miriodor and Einstein are both very nice. The Fripp disc is really just a California Guitar Trio album with some of Fripp's soundscapes draped over top, probably the least essential thing I bought at ProgDay.
Beardfish, Sleeping in Traffic pt. 2 - I was looking forward to this one ever since the band played the epic-length title track at ProgDay '06. The whole album lives up to expectations, with the epic being just how I remembered it from the live performance, plus a few nice instrumental tunes and a song about a macho ladies' man who accidentally sleeps with a drag queen and discovers that he's actually gay. This disc ranks up there with "The Sane Day".
ProgDay Support Disc, Kinections - I got this one for free for getting a Patron pass. I've only listened to it once so far, and there were a couple tracks that I liked, a couple that weren't that great and a bunch that fell somewhere in between. It's worth buying just to help support the festival, and with the wide range of music on it, there's sure to be at least a few tracks that would appeal to every listener.
Von Frickle - Feeding the Organic Computer, Mission 4.9, Arrhythmia and The Forty Fingers of Dr. V (live) - I loved their live performance, but I think I like their studio albums even better. "Organic" is a flat-out classic, a little jazzier sounding than their current stuff (I think it's the influence of the original bassist who has since left the band) but really, really good. Arrhythmia is also very good. "Mission" contains a lot of stuff that they played at ProgDay. Oddly, the live "Dr. V" album is probably my least favorite of the bunch, but it's still good.
Ain Soph - Five Evolved from Nine, Marine Menagerie and Studio Tracks '80s and '05 - their studio albums are very similar to their live performance: smooth, flowing, jazzy, jammy. Great background music at work. The only drawback is that the 80s material sounds very plastic, digital and, well, 80s. I'd like to hear one of their albums from the 70s.
Cheer-Accident - Sever Roots Tree Dies, Babies Shouldn't Smoke, Salad Days, Not a Food and Introducing Lemon - "Sever Roots" is an avant-prog classic. That one grabbed me from the first listen, while I was driving home through rural Virginia. The rest of the discs are pretty good too, and will probably grow on me with repeated listens. "Not a Food" is probably my second favorite - I like how the ending seems intentionally designed to make you think your CD player is on the fritz. But "Sever Roots" is the one that really connected with me immediately. I'm not sure why.
Canvas Solaris - Penumbra Diffuse, Cortical Tectonics and The Atomized Dream - I liked this band live, and I like their studio albums even more. Like their live set, the albums are short and leave the listener wanting more. Unlike the live performance, the studio discs (particularly "Atomized") feature more subtlety and are a little mellower in places, with some downright beautiful and atmospheric sections. Although they still rock out for the most part. I'm really annoyed because the CD drive in my computer at work put a big, circular scratch on my copy of "Atomized", and now the last two tracks won't play. Pisser.
Secret Oyster - Secret Oyster, Sea Son, Vidunderlige Kaelling, Straight to the Krankenhaus and Live in the USA 2007 - I bought all five albums before the band even played, because I knew I'd like them based on the sample tracks on the ProgDay web site. And I wasn't disappointed. I was told that "Sea Son" is the band's best album, but something about the orchestral strings on some tracks puts me off a bit. It's still a good album, but I prefer the self-titled album and, to my surprise, "Vidunderlige". When I heard that the latter was the soundtrack to a ballet, I almost passed on it, but I'm glad I didn't because it's really good. Oddly, I think my least favorite is the live album, mostly because it seems a little weak compared to their ProgDay performance. Maybe because it's only 52 minutes long, as compared to the nearly two hours the band played at ProgDay. But I also think the recording quality just isn't that great for an official release.
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