Posts Tagged ‘Nearfest’

Two Sides of Progressive Rock-Gentle Giant & Styx

October 16, 2012

This past week saw a study in Progressive Rock contrasts when two bands from the classic progressive rock era, Three Friends, A.K.A. Gentle Giant and Styx came through the Philadelphia area.

Three Friends playing Gentle Giant at Sellersville Theater

Gentle Giant represented the adventurous experimental side of Progressive Rock, mixing jazz, blues, madrigals and classical music into a heady mix of time signature twisting grooves and melodically convoluted themes.  Three Friends consists of one member from Gentle Giant’s founding,  guitarist Gary Green and another from their early years, drummer Malcolm Mortimer, who was replaced in 1972 after a motorcycle accident.  At Sellersville Theater they were rounded out by three “replacement” musicians who were by and large up to the task.  The only problem was that the lead voice of Gentle Giant, Derek Shulman is not part of this enterprise. He was replaced by Pierre Bordeleau  who was actually a substitute for Mick Wilson, who has been singing with the group but couldn’t make this gig.  With a thin voice that has trouble hitting the high notes, Bordeleau  isn’t quite up to the wild calliope singing of Derek Shulman, and his bemused stage presence just seemed wrong.   It was like watching your high school science teacher.

Gary Green has never sounded better, casting off some gorgeous blues inflected solos including a wah-wah drenched bridge that just lifted the room.  Malcolm Mortimer has a great drum sound that negotiated the tricky rhythmic shifts of the band and keyboardist Gary Sanctuary held down a lot of the intricate orchestral/synthesizer arrangements on keyboards.  They played music from across their career from the madrigals of “Pantagruel’s Nat” to a very free version of “Free Hand.”  They are called Three Friends but a Gentle Giant by any other name is still a Gentle Giant.

There were many projections used during the show in a multi-image collage fashion.  One of the most ironic was one of screaming girls at a concert.  That’s the unfulfilled dream of many progressive rock groups, but not Styx, the early 70s prog-pop band who still has groupies in their audience and a line at the women’s bathroom (See joke: How do you know you’re at a progressive rock concert?  There’s no line for the women’s restroom.)

Styx is currently on tour and this past Saturday the river flowed through the Sovereign Arts Performing Center in Reading,  PA.  Like Three Friends/Gentle Giant, there is one original member of the group, guitarist James Young and one later member, guitaristTommy Shaw.   To my progressive ears in 1972 when the band debuted, Styx was always the poppy face of progressive rock.  They were a band that took all of Prog’s complexities and carved them into digestible hook laced Top 4o tunes that eschewed Progs tendency towards multi-part compositions, improvised extrapolations and technical flash.  In other words, they sold a lot more records than most, certainly more than Gentle Giant and they played to a 9000 seat house while Three Friends/Gentle Giant had an intimate audience of about 200.   But Styx’s keyboard and guitar infused songs with soaring vocal harmonies did draw justified comparisons with bands like Yes.   I didn’t go see them, but erstwhile 70s rock fan and Echoes Operations Manager Lori Daniels crossed the River Styx.

I owned every single Styx album as a teenager and to this day know the lyrics to most of their songs. Just ask the guy next to me on the treadmill at the Y, who is often subjected to my vocals and an occasional fist pump while jogging! So needless to say I was excited to be walking into the Sovereign Performing Arts Center in Reading PA to attend a Styx concert last night. It was a packed house mostly filled with middle aged adults, like me, looking to reminisce through the classic rock sounds of Styx. And Styx did not disappoint! If I closed my eyes, I was instantly transported back in time. The music was incredible! Tommy Shaw, although much smaller than I remember, was phenomenal and still I might add incredibly cute! Keyboardist and lead singer, Lawrence Gowen’s rendition of “Come Sail Away”, which I was hoping to hear, was awe-inspiring and a nostalgic reminder of my senior year in high school. The entire band put on such an energetic and entertaining performance that I couldn’t help but wonder how their stiff joints and achy muscles were going to feel the next day– my own hip started bothering me from standing up for so long! Even though the median age of the audience was somewhere between 45 -50 they were as youthfully energetic as the band! Most were either dancing down by the stage or in their seats while smartphones (instead of lighters) lit up the audience. There were also several air guitar players in the audience and at the encouragement of the band most were singing along; apparently I’m not the only one who knows the words to most every Styx song! All in all an outstanding concert as well as an extraordinary trip down memory lane. –Lori Daniels

How can you tell if a band is progressive rock?  If the audience isn’t dancing.

You can hear an interview with Gentle Giant on the Echoes Podcast.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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June 29, 2012

NEARfest shoots their final hoop, hitting nothing but class

It was a great ending to probably the best and most highly regarded Progressive Rock festival in the country. It wasn’t the finest NEARfest, it wasn’t the worst and it wasn’t just average.  But it was typical of what they have been doing for 14 years save one:  Bringing in artists from across the progressive spectrum and across the globe, paying tribute to heritage artists and bringing in the next generation of progressive musicians.

Gösta Berlings Saga’s Glue Works

Gösta Berlings Saga

Van Der Graaf Generator: Peter Hammill 63; Hugh Banton 63; Guy Evans 65

Gösta Berlings Saga:  Were their parents backstage?

A tie between Van Der Graaf Generator & Il Tempio Delle Clessidre

Il Tempio Delle Clessidre’s Elisa Montaldo

Il Tempio Delle Clessidre’s donning of masks, capes and hoods and pantomiming a battle in a song inspired by Witches.  You could just see the dwarfs dancing around the miniature Stonehenge.

Twelfth Night: Marching band jacket, green and leather pants

Il Tempio Delle Clessidre’s Elisa Montaldo sported what looked like a black Victorian funeral gown and matching hair comb although I don’t think they were showing leg through slit gowns then.


The Mike Keneally Band


“When you play three songs together you have a Prog Rock epic.”
Alexander Skepp of Gösta Berlings Saga

If you’re going to sell an extra ticket to somebody, make sure they aren’t a jerk. Thanks Mark, for not being a jerk.

Can the intro music.  Renaissance rolled a full and corny orchestral version of one of their tunes.  It’s tedious and doesn’t set a mood.  It just gets people on edge watching an empty stage.

Speaking of empty stages, was there ever an explanation for the 90 plus minute delay of UK, followed by ten minutes of an empty, dimly lit stage?  Even airlines have to give you a reason for a delay.

Mark Wilkenson NEARfest Apocalypse Poster

Mark Wilkinson, who did one of the two NEARfest Apocalypse posters.  He was selling them signed for $120, a totally reasonable price.  But when I walked by mid-Sunday afternoon he had dropped the price to $60 because they weren’t moving.  I got one.


Where was Roger Dean’s poster?

Is there a better audience than the NEARfest crowd?.  I don’t think so except for the two yahoos behind me who thought that the quiet parts of songs were there so they could talk. You know who I mean, Row N about seat 16 and 17.

Founders Chad Hutchinson and Rob LaDuca were both learning how to walk and talk during the glory years of Progressive Rock.

Asked the question whether they will come back for another year, Rob and Chad answered emphatically:
Rob: No!
Chad: No not tempted at all.
Rob: No.
Let’s see how they’re feeling round about October.

I hope the 5-hour Energy Drink I gave the guy next to me helped him out on his four hour drive to Connecticut so he could be at work at 6AM Monday morning.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

You get great CDs like Todd Boston’s Touched by the Sun by becoming a member of the Echoes CD of the Month Club.  Follow the link and see what you’ve been missing.
Todd Boston’s “Celtic Heart” 

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UK Kills at NEARfest Apocalypse.

June 25, 2012

The day started and ended with the two highpoints for NEARfest Apocalypse.

NEARfest Apocalypse Mark Wilkenson Poster

Despite a more than 90 minute delay, and about 10 minutes of a dimly lit stage and no music or musicians, UK finally hit the stage a little before 11PM.  They lived up to their reputation as the last great band from the classic Progressive Rock era. I’d seen the trio edition of the band with keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson,  bassist/singer John Wetton and drummer Terry Bozzio eight weeks ago at World Café Live-Wilmington.  I thought that performance was tepid, overlong and a bit overwrought.  Wetton seemed to be pushing his voice.  Bozzio was definitely pushing his drums with lots of clamor but little musical effect.

Eddie Jobson of UK, not at NEARfest

But at NFA, Gary Husband took over the drum chair and Alex Machacek was added on guitar, replicating the original instrumental line-up of the group.  The difference was nothing short of astounding.  Husband is the perfect drummer for UK  driving and propulsive with enough of Bill Bruford’s coloristic approach to create that immersion-in-rhythm effect.  Machecek, an Austrian guitarist of some note, was under-utilized in the band but his sustained leads and bass-doubling gave the group the edge it needed.  Perhaps ironically, Machecek recorded an album with Terry Bozzio as BPM.

John Wetton of UK not at NEARfest

Both Jobson and Wetton responded to the change.  Wetton has never been in better voice.  And he showed it on the suite of “In the Dead Of Night/By the Light of Day” You might have thought it was 1978 when he sang the yearning, almost choirboy lead. When the band exploded into the instrumental section, it was obvious there was a new energy here. The group went through most of the first album and tracks off Danger Money as well as a couple of King Crimson covers tearing through “Starless” in hurricane grandeur.  Machacek played that slowly menacing minimalist line that finally explodes with Jobson nailing a banshee wah-wah violin solo that seared the track.  Wetton’s Krimson past appeared again when he played a plaintive solo rendition of their “Book of Saturday.” Some of UK’s actual songs often sound like failed attempts at pop, but even light-weight tunes like “Danger Money” and “Caesar’s Palace Blues” ignited once they dropped the pop song pretense and ripped into the instrumental sections. Jobson, in particular was a whirlwind playing two keyboards and spinning out mini-fugues and florid solos.  A very underrated keyboard player, he’s dropped the “Theme of Secrets” keyboard suite he’s played at previous shows but he still retains the violin showcase of cheap faux-guitar virtuosity and pointless effects.  But when he bent his slender figure into his violin solos or built driving orchestrations behind the band, he was easily the most impressive musician, and certainly keyboardist, of the festival.

Gösta Berlings Saga
Photo: Mike Montfort

If UK ended the day with bang, the trigger was primed in the morning by Gösta Berlings Saga. They take their name from an epic Swedish novel, but take their music from King Crimson, Univers Zero and fellow countrymen, Änglagård. But unlike many of their contemporaries, including Änglagård and Aranis, they aren’t afraid to hit a groove and work it, and they’ve got a great drummer to do it in Alexander Skepp,  a piston driven rhythm machine. “354” was a typical piece for the set with an intricate, minimalist keyboard cycle from David Lundberg, sliced by Einar Baldursson’s guitar over a groove of doom from Skepp.  The song builds to a ringing, exhausting climax with swirling organ and Jannick Top-style bass from Gabriel Hermansson.   Playing a Fender Telecaster, Baldursson had a different tone than most NF guitarists with an appealing surf-twang in his playing.  While in the mode of other bands, GBS had a varied sound that employed vibraphone cycles and even a metal-flamenco mode on “Gliese 58Lg.”  Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson, joined them on their last song playing percussion.   Gösta Berlings Saga was definitely the WOW! band of NEARfest Apocalypse.

Einar Baldursson of Gosta-Guitar-Einar
Photo: Mike Montfort

Although most of the band looks like they’re 15 years old, they were in-sync with the NEARfest zeitgeist.  When Skepp introduced one song as being inspired by Dungeons & Dragons’ 20-sided dice, squeals went up from the predominantly male audience.  Opening with a 3 song suite of tunes from their latest CD,  Glueworks Skepp opined, “When you play three songs together you have a Prog Rock epic.”

Il Tempio Delle Clessidre
Photo: Mike Montfort

In between these highlights  were Il Tempio Delle Clessidre, an Italian symphonic prog group.  They were overly histrionic and borderline operatic in that Italian Prog way.

Elisa Montaldo
Photo: Mike Montfort

They struck an interested contrast next to most NF groups.  They wore stage costumes, and Montaldo in particular was striking in a florid black Victorian gown and hair-comb that made her look like a goth widow.

Il Tempio Delle Clessidre
Photo: Mike Montfort

The band was charming in their way, but also corny.  Every NEARfest has a Spinal Tap moment.  The honor this year went to Il Tempio Delle Clessidre.  For one song, inspired by witches, they all donned masks and hooded capes and engaged in pantomime fights. If there’s always a Spinal Tap moment, then there is also an always an element of Frank Zappa at NF.  That was carried by former Zappa sideman, Mike Keneally.

Mike Keneally at NEARfest
Photo: Mike Montfort

He plays a brand of fusion art pop in which the sum is never equal to the parts.  The tunes were often banal and forgettable and the instrumental interplay by the book.  Keneally is a really good guitar player, but lacks distinction in his keyboard work and should not sing.  It’s not a bad voice, it’s just a voice free of personality, which could be said of a lot of his music. There might be a great fusion ensemble in The Mike Keneally Band, but this wasn’t it. It was the old and the new, UK and Gösta Berlings Saga, who made the last day of NEARfest as memorable as any. I’ll have some final NEARfest Apocalypse thoughts shortly. Click on the links for more of Mike Montfort’s photos of Gösta Berlings Saga, The Mike Keneally Band, Il Tempio Delle Clessidre  UK were camera shy. ~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes ))) You get great CDs like Todd Boston’s Touched by the Sun by becoming a member of the Echoes CD of the Month Club.  Follow the link and see what you’ve been missing. Join us on Facebook where you’ll get all the Echoes news.

Renaissance Rises At NEARfest Apocalypse

June 24, 2012

On Day Two of NEARfest Apocalypse, Heritage Rules

Helmet of Gnats
How do you know you’re at a progressive rock concert?  
An abridged version of a song is ten minutes long.

And they leave in the drum solo

That was the story with Helmut of Gnats and their epic closing tune, “Chimps in Space,” renamed “Baby Chimp” for this abbreviated rendition.

“On Sunday, we go to the Church of Prog,,” said guitarist Chris Fox who rehearses with his band Helmet of Gnats every Sunday.  This was Saturday morning, but they still had religion.   Practice makes for some exciting music.  For a band that is a part time proposition, these guys fired up the stage like National Health with Alan Gowan or Soft Machine with Alan Holdsworth.  They have the chops of a classic fusion band, but the keyboard playing of Matt Bocchino and the multi-themed tunes mark them as a progressive rock group, hence Progressive Fusion.   The bar for guitarists is pretty high at NEARfest and Fox isn’t the flashiest of axe-wielders, but he does have a deeply understated style, issuing lyrical solos amidst a thundering storm of polyrhythmic groove from Mark Conese. Watt’s makes it look effortless with soaring leads and bending solos issuing from

Curtis Fox of Helmet of Gnats
Photo: Mike Montfort

his seafoam green electric guitar.  Bocchino worked out on multiple keyboards and really used them all,  comping on one with his left hand and soloing on another with his right, creating his own little orchestra.  He favored Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes tones, but pulled out all the stops, metaphorically speaking, with some flashy Moog style solos on what looked like a Nord Lead from Row M.

Twelfth Night is a neo-progressive band that started recording in 1980.  From the sound of their NEARfest performance, little has changed except the personnel.  They were by far the band with the most stagecraft of the festival thus far with lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Andy Sears sporting a Hendrix/Adam Ant/Michael Jackson-style marching band jacket and black leather pants and the bassist and lead guitarist doing the Hair Band dance with each other.  They had films that accompanied each song, some abstract, others related to the song like the tenementscape of the power ballad, “This City.”    Musically they are children of Yes and Genesis, with long, convoluted stories, including spoken word segments set against arrangements that slipped and simmered, but never quite caught fire or a hook.  The notable exception was “Love Song,” an epic and lyrically saccharine ballad, but with an actual chorus and hook.

Anna Holmgren of Änglagård
Photo: Mike Montfort

On one hand, there’s not much separating Twelfth Night from Sweden’s Änglagård , on the other, it’s an ocean.  Like a lot of NEARfest and Prog bands, Anglagard favors lots of movements, tricky time signtures and sudden shifts of mood and tempo.   Unlike a lot of them, their sturm und drang is interspersed with moments of unalloyed beauty like when the mellotron flutes merged with Anna Holmgren’s real flute.  Änglagård is a pretty heavy Mellotron band without being a heavy mellotron band.  They had three of them onstage and used them on virtually every tune, but they were always employed as a color or distant pad .  And they weren’t the only color.  Bowed vibes, chimes made from keys, a boat whistle and more were deployed in their songs, often in impressionistic intros and interludes that gave a sense of space and bas-relief to the tumult to follow.  A lot of that tumult in which Mattias Olsson proved to be a good son of Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir while Jonas Engdegård sliced lead lines like Zorro.   If their references weren’t apparent enought, they quoted directly from King Crimon’s “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic Part two” and SFF’s “Symphonic Pictures.”  It was an exhilarating set.

Ending the evening were progressive rock icons, Renaissance.  They flourished in the 1970s heyday of Prog powered by epic song writing and the five octave voice of Annie Haslam.  Of the classic quartet  that recorded albums like Ashes Are Burning, only Haslam and acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford remain.  They were playing Nearfest for the first time, even though the English born Haslam lives only a few miles up the road from the festival as the Diva of Doylestown.

Annie Haslam & Michael Dunford of Renaissance
Photo: Mike Montfort

The set got off with an inauspicious start, a shlocky taped orchestral arrangement of a Renaissance song.  Instead of setting the mood, it had the audience squirming waiting for the real music and musicians to begin,.  It showed the thin line between grandeur and kitsch.

Once they arrived on stage, things seemed even shakier.  Haslam had trouble hitting some notes and difficulty controlling others.  But by the time they hit “Black Flame,” the now zaftig singer had warmed up, wrapping her voice around those heroic melodies with grace and confidence.    The band essayed many of their best known songs.   That ranged from the loving reading of the set’s centerpiece, “Song of Scheherazade ” and a lugubrious “Ocean Gypsy” especially in the instrumental sections which seemed listless.

For their encore, Haslam revealed the confidence in her singing with a simple guitar accompanied rendition of “Carpet of the Sun,” followed up by the band returning for the crowd raising anthem of “The Mystic and the Muse.”

Haslam’s new Renaissance is a competent, but unexceptional group of musicians, yet with Haslam’s power, they tapped an emotional vein in the audience that other, more technically flashy bands didn’t find.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

You get great CDs like Todd Boston’s Touched by the Sun by becoming a member of the Echoes CD of the Month Club.  Follow the link and see what you’ve been missing.

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NEARfest Sets Sail for the Grey Havens.

June 22, 2012

The North East Art Rock Festival, better known as NEARfest, comes to an end this weekend with the final edition, dubbed NEARfest Apocalypse.

That kind of ostentation is so Progressive Rock.  But that’s what Nearfest was all about.  I went to my first Nearfest in 2005, expecting clones of Yes and bands past their prime.  And the first night lived down to that with the wanking prog fusion of Proto-Kaw and PFMs embarrassing attempts at blues.  (They made up for it in their 2009 performance).

The next day had it’s squirmy moments as well.  IQ, Frogg Café and Wobbler were, in different ways, capable and even virtuosic, but ultimately making music that could’ve been made in 1975.  But then there was Present, more than full-filling expectations with their dynamic electric chamber rock which one NEARfest attendee described

Steve Roach at NEARfest

as the music you’d hear at the gates of hell.   Beautiful.  And Steve Roach played what might be the most successfully different set of anyone at NEARfest ever.  The operative words are “successfully” and “different” as he condensed his wide ranging sound into a tight 45 minute set of electro-techno-tribal space music music ecstasy that was unlike anything at NEARfest.  You can hear it on the album that NEARfest released, Storm Surge-Live at NEARfest.

The next day, Le Orme disappointed with their overbearing and overwordy (in any language) music.  Matthew Parmenter writes books, not  lyrics and Knight Area, again, made proficient classic prog but we’ve been here before.  Japan’s Kenso, however,  put on a powerhouse set and  The Muffins were exhilarating in their mix of high energy grooves and jazz improvisation.  I saw both my memories of Prog past and my belief in it’s potential for life-changing music affirmed.

Steve Hackett & Gary Green (Gentle Giant) Facing Off at NEARfest

Pretentious isn’t a  pejorative at NEARfest.  Bands at the festival aspire to something higher in their music.  Higher than “It has a good beat and you can dance to it.”  Higher than Bruce Springsteen’s everyman’s music, higher than Norah Jone’s confessional songs, and punk rock’s anger and heavy metal’s aggression.    When you listen to progressive rock it painted pictures of worlds both  Utopian and Dystopian, worlds of technological advance and fantasy imaginations.   And the musicianship is simply stunning.  I don’t know why any drummer would want to play anything but Prog.  They are the nuclear fusion plant of this music.  And while 60s rock and jam bands go for the endless solos, proggers weave melodic inventions and stories with their guitars and keyboards.  (Allan Holdsworth and Niacin aside.) A Steve Hackett solo is like a symphony.   An Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles) solo is a psychedelic roller coaster.

For 14 years, the festival, held in Bethlehem, PA has gathered together these progressive rock bands from across the spectrum of the genre.  It’s notable for booking heritage acts that still walk the earth like Van Der Graaf Generator, UK, GongPFMHawkwind, Steve Hackett, Magma and Keith Emerson.

But they have also been responsible for reuniting groups who we might have had no hope of seeing in our lifetime like Happy the Man, Nectar, The Strawbs, Änglagård, FM and Yezda Urfa (who?)

The heritage acts are joined by their musical children more than willing to pick up the sacred torch like Porcupine Tree, Ozric Tentacles, and Echolyn.

Besides these veterans NEARFest is also known for breaking hitherto little known bands from across the world. Poland’s Riverside and Indukti, Frances Mörglbl, Japan’s Kenso, Mexico’s Cabezas de Cera and England’s Pure Reason Revolution and Pineapple Thief all had their most significant exposure at NEARFest.

Keith Emerson at NEARfest

But now NEARfest is drawing to a close. After selling out for 12 years running, NEARFest 2011 was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.  The line-up lacked the star power of past events with Umphrey’s McGee (USA), The New Trolls (Italy) and Supersister (The Netherlands) headlining the three nights. None of them were prog superstars and the undercard was possibly too adventurous with some fascinating but obscure groups like Karmakanic (Sweden), Gösta Berlings Saga (Sweden), simakDialog (Indonesia), Accordo dei Contrari (Italy), MediaBanda (Chile), Half Past Four (Canada) and vonFrickle (USA).

Chad Hutchinson & Rob LaDuca at NEARfest

Original founders Chad Hutchinson and Rob LaDuca, who had passed the keys to the mellotron over to another group, took back the festival and decided to give it a fond farewell on a high note. You can hear their story on their Echoes interview in our podcast.

They apparently hit the right chord.  The festival once again was an instant sell-out with headliners Van Der Graaf Generator, Renaissance and UK, the latter a last-minute replacement for the German group Eloy.

NEARFest has always been a labor of love.  It’s an official non-profit 501(c)3 charity and no one gets paid beyond “tips” to the staff.  According to LaDuca and Hutchinson, only the headlining acts actually see money beyond travel, room, board and CD sales.  According to Hutchinson, bands are happy to get the NEARfest seal of Approval.

The festival only holds a thousand people, which by festival standards, is pretty small.  Bonnaroo, for instance, hosts over 75,000 fans.  But you will not find a more passionate, informed and attentive audience than the 1000 Prog Parishioners at the Church of NEARfest. It’s a wonderful festival and they are taking it out in style.

I should be blogging and tweeting from NEARfest Apocalypse this weekend.

Here’s some links to previous NEARfest Blog postings.

NEARfest  2006
NEARfest  2007:
NEARfest  2008: 
NEARfest 2009: 
NEARfest 2010:

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

You get great CDs like Todd Boston’s Touched by the Sun by becoming a member of the Echoes CD of the Month Club.  Follow the link and see what you’ve been missing.

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A Summer of Progressive Rock.

June 18, 2012

It’s Progressive Rock Week on Echoes and we’ll be featuring interviews with NEARfest founders Chad Hutchinson and Rob LaDuca, Gentle Giant, Steve Hackett, The Muffins, Roger Dean, Gong and Iona as well as a live performance from Ozric Tentacles in the Echoes Living Room.  To see what’s ahead on Echoes Progressive Rock Week go here.i


EDM may be filling stadiums this summer, but there also seems to be a progressive rock orgy going on, at least to judge by the bands passing through the Philadelphia area in the next few months.  NEARFest Apocalypse, the final edition of the Northeast Art Rock Festival would’ve been enough with Van Der Graaf Generator, UK and Renaissance headlining. But there’s much more than that.

For those who couldn’t spring for the money or the time commitment for the sold-out NEARfest, you can still hear the principle headliner, Van Der Graaf Generator in the intimate venue of the Sellersville Theater in Bethlehem.  This band, fronted by the “Jesus of Angst”, Peter Hammill, tore the roof off of Nearfest a couple of years ago.  Expect the same when they bring that Hammond B-3 sound (albeit digital) into Sellersville Theater on Saturday, June 23. (

Van Der Graaf Generator circa 1970.

Van Der Graaf Generator Circa 2010

Next Week Sellersville maintains the trend with Iona, the British Prog band steeped in Christian imagery.  Led by brilliant guitarist David Bainbridge and the power vocals of Joanna Hogg, they create long, winding compositions that have all the dynamic hallmarks of the best progressive rock.

On Saturday, June 30, Sellersville strikes again with The California Guitar Trio, disciples of Robert Fripp and his League of Crafty Guitarists.  Their intricate guitar interplay is a wonder to hear whether playing original compositions, surf tunes, Bach or Pink Floyd.

The Prog continues with Tangerine Dream and their long-awaited return to the US.  Following a successful show at Moogfest 2011, they’re doing a small US tour and Philly is fortunate to get one of the dates at the Electric Factory.   It’s been a long time and I think I may have jumped off the TD spaceship a little early becasue I’ve been checking out more recent releases and they are merging that 70s drive with 80s melodicism in a way they hadn’t done in years.  They played a nice set at Moogfest 2011 and I have a commentary on that performance and a link to a live recording of it.

That would be enough of a Prog Orgy to last a year, but there’s more.

Roger Water’s will stage Pink Floyd’s The Wall Saturday 07/14  at Citizens Bank Park and then some children of Pink Floyd,  Iceland’s Sigur Ros, come into the Mann Music Center’s Skyline Stage for two nights, July 29 & 30, bringing and updated take on Pink Floyd

Looking way ahead, in October, FARFEST debuts with four days of progressive rock, mostly from the 1970s with Pulsar and Shylock headlining.  You can find out more about that in an earlier blog. All that plus, UK just wrapped their main US tour and Marillion are currently passing through.

Progressive rock music may be the most maligned genre of music ever, just behind Disco and New Age, but like them, it’s influence can be heard throughout contemporary music.  You don’t have Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Coldplay or Moby or Skrillex without it.  You certainly don’t have the music of Echoes without it.

So get your mind centered for some musical explorations this summer.

To see what’s ahead on Echoes Progressive Rock Week go here.

For Echoes On-Line Subscribers: Hear an Exclusive On-Line Prog Rock Stream with Änglagård, SFF, Spock’s Beard, King Crimson, and several artists from this years NEARfest Apocalypse. much more.  Echoes On-Line Subscribers can log in.  Others can try it out for a week for only $2.99.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

You get great CDs like Todd Boston’s Touched by the Sun by becoming a member of the Echoes CD of the Month Club.  Follow the link and see what you’ve been missing.

Join us on Facebook where you’ll get all the Echoes news.

Nearfest Exits, Farfest Enters

March 27, 2012

If you missed out on tickets for Nearfest Apocalypse, the final edition of this venerable festival, then hang on until October for Farfest, a four day progressive rock festival happening in Wilmington, Delaware at the Grand Opera House October 4-7.  The festival has put together an impressive array of 70’s Progressive rock acts, all from Europe.  They aren’t the big names, but the ones cherished by Prog cognoscenti.  Among them are Pulsar, a mellotron centric band that put out three classic space-prog albums, Pollen, Strands of the  Future and Halloween; Shylock, which only released a couple of great albums of their dynamic, symphonic prog; Maxophone, a pretty obscure Italian band that only had one album released in the US,; Poland’s SBB ; and Atoll from France.  Nods to post-70s prog go to Sweden’s Anekdoten and Norway’s Wobbler.  Wobbler played a dynamic set at Nearfest a few years ago.

Here’s the complete list to date:

  • Alphataurus
  • Anekdoten
  • Atoll
  • Cressida
  • Latte E Miele
  • Locanda Delle Fate
  • Maxophone
  • Pulsar
  • SBB
  • Shylock
  • Wobbler

This is a welcome festival in a more centrally located city than Bethlehem.  And the Grand Old Opera House is an intimate 1200 seat venue.

Here’s a few mostly visually static videos to whet your appetite.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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NEARFEST Apocalypse

October 18, 2011

After announcing that they were resurrecting NEARFEST in 2012, the festival organizers have decided that 2012 will mark the last NEARFEST.  In true ProgRock fashion, they’ve labeled it NEARFEST APOCALYPSE.  Prog was never known for understatement.   Well, like just about every classic prog group they’ve presented over the years who were resurrected from the grave, I wouldn’t count NEARFEST out for good yet.   In this day and age, there are no “final chapters.”   Nevertheless, I’m sure that they’ll try and make this one an all-time  blow-out.  They’ve set the dates for June 22-24.  Here’s the press release.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Official NEARfest Press Release
October 17, 2011


In 1999, the North East Art Rock Festival was started as an effort to return progressive rock music to the area where it thrived back in its heyday. In the 1970s, the Philadelphia area was a well-known hotbed of fandom for the brand of rock music featuring exemplary virtuosity. With the re-emergence of progressive music worldwide in the early `90s, festivals became a novel way to feature both new bands and re-invigorate some from the past. A few festivals had come before, namely ProgFest (CA), the ever-present ProgDay (NC), BajaProg (Mexico), and the short-lived ProgScape (MD), plus several after, but none have taken on the notoriety NEARfest had achieved. In just a few short years, NEARfest became the “most prestigious progressive rock festival in the world” and has remained so for over 12 years.

From its inception, NEARfest has strived to merge extraordinary bands from the global Prog Rock underground and the devoted community of eclectic music fans on this side of the pond. It was felt that otherwise, never would the two meet, especially en masse. This emotional combination of musical dedication has produced many a weekend of musical bliss. Ask any former attendee of the festival and you will get a different list of highlights from years past, which is validation in itself of NEARfest’s dedication to a diverse lineup of Prog Rock subgenres. Favorites will range from Camel and Keith Emerson to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Miriodor; from Steve Hackett and Banco to Echolyn and Hidria Spacefolk; from Magma and Univers Zero to Kenso and Kraan; from Eddie Jobson and Three Friends to Cabezas de Cera and Beardfish; from Porcupine Tree and PFM to Anekdoten and Änglagård. And that’s only a fraction of the over 120 bands that have performed at NEARfest to date.

And now, the time has come to complete the cycle.

2012 will mark the final edition of the North East Art Rock Festival. NEARfest has always employed a model, for right or wrong, where lineups were typically anchored by legends of the greater genre and featured a plethora of world-class bands spanning the broad range of subgenres. Part of the success of NEARfest and its rapid sellouts was its ability to attract legendary progressive bands that had played only infrequently, if ever, on the East Coast of the United States. As time has marched inexorably, it started to become clear that this headliner-centric model would not be sustainable indefinitely. Too much of a change in the model and those dedicated to attending and supporting the festival may feel that it is no longer in the spirit of NEARfest itself. Therefore, we have decided to retain the marriage of our successful model to our NEARfest brand name.

After the unfortunate events leading to the cancellation of NEARfest 2011, we could not allow the legacy of NEARfest to end with a dark and empty stage. The festival has meant too much to too many, including us, to just disappear without at least making an attempt at a joyous swan song. Therefore, since the spring of 2011, the three of us have been conspiring to put together a final NEARfest, one true to its roots and special to its faithful. We are happy to say that this will indeed happen.

NEARfest Apocalypse will be held over the weekend of June 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, 2012 at its rightful home, the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in beautiful Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This will be a true celebration of progressive rock music as well as a “raising of the glass” to everyone who has made NEARfest so special to so many of us over the last 13 years, including our outstanding crew and production team, the wonderful staff at Zoellner, and everyone who has ever bought a ticket to NEARfest. There are plans for activities beyond the norm for the weekend, which will be detailed as the festival draws closer. For now though, we can tell you that both Roger Dean and Mark Wilkinson will be involved in the artwork for this final special event. We will also do our best to make sure that both of these fine gentlemen are in attendance.

In the coming weeks, we will announce the entire NEARfest Apocalypse lineup live on the air on the Gagliarchives radio program. The exact air date will be determined shortly and announced online, our Yahoo mailing list, Facebook, Twitter, and Progressive Ears. Stay tuned!

We sincerely hope that you will join us for the final chapter of NEARfest. After all, the world ends in December 2012 anyway, right?

Most humbly,
Chad Hutchinson
Rob LaDuca
Kevin Feeley

NEARfest Website,

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October 12, 2011

Nearfest 2010 Logo

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, or maybe King Crimson rising from Robert Fripp‘s mind, NEARFEST, the venerable progressive rock festival, will return in 2012 after cancelling the 2011 show due to poor ticket sales.  With the original founders back at the helm, look for the festival to return to it’s mix of vintage prog acts and exciting, sometimes experimental new comers.  If you need a little progressive rock fix, tune in to Echoes tonight where we’ll be playing Looooongg Tracks including progressive rock epics from Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream, David Bedford, Ash Ra Tempel, and Jade Warrior.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Official NEARfest Press Release
October 12, 2011


We are very happy to announce that the North East Art Rock Festival will return in 2012. Over the last several months, we have thoroughly discussed what it would take for another edition of NEARfest to become a reality. This was new ground for us, so we took our time, had long, heart-felt conversations, and even put feelers out to bands we thought would make for a solid lineup – one worthy of NEARfest’s legacy and, more importantly, the expectations of the progressive rock community whom has been so unbelievable supportive over the years.

Scheduled for June 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, 2012, NEARfest will once again be staged in beautiful Baker Hall at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, PA. We are very happy to be able to continue wonderful relationships with both the concert venue and the host hotel, the Comfort Suites Bethlehem. We will also once again be join forces with the Bethlehem Brew Works to create a delicious one-off beer for NEARfest weekend.

So now the question is: “Who will be playing?!” Well, we can’t tell you quite yet, though we are working on finalizing the lineup as we speak. We are also working on some other cool ideas for the weekend’s festivities. Once we have o’s umlauted and eyes crossed, we will reveal the bands… and not before. So you still have time to debate who might be playing.

We are glad to be able to bring NEARfest back and we hope you will join us next June. As always, be sure to visit us online at for all the latest information and where you can join our Yahoo mailing list, mingle with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and participate in the discussion forum.

Stay tuned for further updates!

Very sincerely,

Chad Hutchinson
Rob LaDuca
Kevin Feeley

Ten Best New Music Concerts of 2010.

December 7, 2010

No one can possibly see every concert of the year so this is really the 10 best concerts that I saw in 2010.  And I saw a lot of shows and some astounding performances.  Here’s the list.

John Diliberto’s Ten Best Concerts of 2010

Jonsi at Electric Factory, Philadelphia
Jonsi gave a performance that was transcendent, visually and musically.  The Sigur Ros singer/guitarist created a theatrical work that was  meticulously choreographed,  yet ragingly intense.

Nels Cline Singers at Johnny Brenda’s,  Philadelphia
Nels Cline, erstwhile guitarist for Wilco, turned in a tour de force performance with his trio, The Nels Cline Singers.  The music ranged through moments of tranquility, hard-edged groove and raga-like melodicism, all of which emerged from a sea of distortion.  (see complete review).

Jeff Beck at The Borgata, Atlantic City
The 60s guitar icon gave a retrospective walk through his career and played most of his 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion.  He laid all guitar gods to waste with a riveting 90 minute performance that revealed why he’s the Wizard of the Whammy Bar. (See complete review).

Arcade Fire at Mann Music Center, Philadelphia
With their expanded ensemble,  Arcade Fire launched a big arena-style assault full of energy and passion, grooves that would not stop and melodies that stayed in your head long after they echoed off the Mann Music Center hillside.

Massive Attack at Moogfest, Asheville, NC
Even though they played an arena, Massive Attack maintained fidelity to their sub-down tempo moods.  But make no mistake, this music thundered with a pair of drummers , booming bass and Angelo Bruschini‘s burning solos that cut  serrated edges on Massive Attack’s electronic orchestrations.  Martina Topley-Bird lit up the stage every time she sang. (See complete review)

Martina Topley-Bird w/Massive Attack

The Pineapple Thief at Nearfest, Bethlehem, PA
The Pineapple Thief stole the day for me with the most atypical set of  NEARfest 2010. No extended guitar solos, keyboard orchestrations or complex rhythm designs for this quartet.  Instead they concentrated on songs and arrangements, building tension and release through repetition and nuanced, albeit highly distorted sound.  (See complete review).

The Octopus Project at Moogfest, Asheville, NC
The Octopus Project manage to be effervescent even when sending out industrial chaos with metal beats and buzzsaw synthesizers.  One of the most exuberant performances at Moogfest (see complete review).

Ludovico Einaudi at Angel Orensantz Center, New York City
Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi played a purely solo set lasting over two hours of liquidly flowing solo piano, weaving and reinterpreting his compositions on the fly in the surreal space of the Angel Orensantz Center.  You can hear him do it again on Echoes Sonic Seasonings.

Michael Rother @ International House

Michael Rother & Hallogallo 2010 at International House,  Philadelphia
The German guitarist brought his trio in to reinvent the music of Neu, Harmonia and his own solo works. Elements of surf guitar, Eastern tonalities and acid sustain emerged in Rother’s playing.  You haven’t heard this much fuzzed, phased and filter-swept guitar in years as Rother deployed lines that were minimalist in scope, but epic in resonance.  (Read a complete  review)

10 Hotchip at Moogfest, Asheville, NC
Hot Chip turned in one of the most powerful sets of MoogFest.   Their sound updates 1980s Techno-pop with infectious songs and  long instrumental vamps like “Over and Over.”  It has a chorus that shouts “Laid back! We’ll give you laid back,” which they certainly didn’t.  Their albums will not prepare you for how hard they rock in concert.  (Read full review)

Getting Highly Honorable Mention:
Portico Quartet @ World Cafe Live,  Philadelphia (Read full concert review)
The Album Leaf @ First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia
The  Black Angels @ TLA, Philadelphia (read full review)

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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Nels Cline, erstwhile guitarist for Wilco, turned in a tour de force performance with his trio, The Nels Cline Singers that started with a 35 minute excursion that moved through moments of tranquility, hard-edged groove and raga-like melodicism, all of which emerged from a sea of distortion.  It was like speeding down the highway at night, one station dissolving into static as another moved into range.

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