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Rites Of Spring Festival 2005

Dennis Haley, Myriad, Arena, Eyestrings, Kino, Tiles, Magenta, Cryptic Vision, Man On Fire, Sylvan, The Tangent April 29th, 30th & May 1st 2005
Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, USA

By
John Morley

This was my first trip to the US for a music festival, and I sure picked a winner.
My head is still reeling, not only from all the great music we were treated to, but also from some of the great people that I met, band members and festival-goers alike. There was a real "progressive family" spirit about this event, a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

The Sheraton Hotel was the place to be of course, being the official Rosfest hotel where all of the bands were staying. There were a few late night drinking sessions, and fans got the opportunity to sit and chat with the bands. The band members were very accommodating and happy to talk when approached - no ego's, no tantrums. To quote a line from one of my favourite films "That...is a miracle. And miracles are the way things ought to be".

I really liked the laid back feel to this event, and the organisation is excellent. Apart from Fridays preview day, the bands start at 11 am. This gives plenty of time to turn the stage round between bands, gives the audience time to eat, drink and talk prog, and also mean that the bands can do more or less a full set. Great idea. Sound and lighting, save for the odd technical problem, were top notch. There was a great light show and imaginative use of projections and lasers. The venue itself, the Colonial Theatre, was ideal for this type of event - comfortable seating, a decent size stage and good facilities.

Unfortunately scheduling conflicts (OK, having to bum rides off people) meant I missed keyboard player Dennis Haley's set. By all accounts it was pretty good, apparently reminiscent of Tangerine Dream. Dennis was also the keyboard tech for the festival.

Next band Myriad are a 3 piece who were described as being similar to Rush, and I could see the comparison. Complex, sometimes lengthy tracks, the standout being the anthemic Gladiator. Guitarist/Vocalist Ed Moehring occasionally looked a little uncomfortable with a headset mike, and I would have preferred the bass to be a little more prominent. But they acquitted themselves very well and I will be checking them out further.

Arena have never really been one of my favourite bands, I just don't seem to be able to get into their material. But they certainly whipped up a storm as Friday night headliners. I found myself warming to them a great deal, and they seemed to be having a blast on stage. Bass player John Jowitt filled in for an absent Ian Salmon, and he was certainly on form. Rob Sowden is a charismatic and commanding frontman, occasionally using costumes and characters a la Peter Gabriel. Occasional technical problems did not bother them too much, and Clive Nolans admission to forgetting to tune his moog for a big solo was priceless. A great finish to the first day.

Saturdays opening act were Eyestrings, a slightly darker prog than usual and competently played. Vocalist/keyboard player Ryan Parmenter was suffering from a cold and this seemed to me to affect the general energy level of the band, as they did not seem to have very much stage presence. But to be fair I don't really think it's right to judge the band on this performance alone, as they were obviously not at their best.

UK band Kino were added to the bill after Mostly Autumn had to drop out - shame about MA but no complaints about these guys. I have seen them 3 times now and have been playing their Picture CD constantly, so I am a convert. Thankfully they went down as well, if not better than I expected. They play a very accessible type of prog tinged with pop edges. Not everyone's cup of tea, but it works for me. We got most of the Picture album, including the epic Losers Day Parade with it's great singalong outro "Dead nobody's in company cars", John Becks somewhat "rude" ditty Swimming In Women and my personal fave Perfect Tense, with yet another great line that keeps going round in my head, "I will sing to you this violence". As if all of this wasn't enough, we got 2 It Bites songs, Plastic Dreamer and Kiss Like Judas for the encore. Very well received by the crowd, and one of the many highlights of the weekend. A well deserved standing ovation was in order.

After some much needed food and drink, Tiles were next on the bill. Another Rush flavoured 3 piece, they played a very tight, often fast paced, frenetic set. Technically excellent, and drummer Pat DeLeon was certainly one of the best of the festival. Occasionally it did get a little samey and quite a few people left early. I thought that was a little unfair, as I found they improved as the set went on. I do think that perhaps if they had varied the songs in the first half of the set a little the audience would have enjoyed them much more.

And on to headliners Magenta. I know I am biased when it comes to these guys, but I make no apologies for saying that I think they were the revelation of the festival. That's not to take away from any of the other bands, but judging by the audience reaction alone I am sure a lot of people would agree with that. From talking to a lot of people at the festival, many seemed to be looking forward to Magenta and had heard good things about them, so the anticipation level was high and the place was packed. And they went down an absolute storm. People clapped and cheered in the middle of songs, after a guitar solo or a particular musical highlight, ands they recieved standing ovations after almost every song. And being introduced by no less than Annie Haslam was a great honour for the band, and a delight for the audience. Christina was a huge hit with the crowd, the guy next to me fell in love instantly! In a perfectly judged two hour plus set, they gave us most of the material from the Revolutions and Seven albums, a couple of singles (I'm Alive and Broken), and a wonderfully intimate version of Anger with guitarist Chris Fry seated on acoustic guitar and Christina sitting on the floor of the stage barefooted. Other highlights were Chris Fry's journey into the front row to deliver his solo standing on one of the seats, Pride with that wonderful Celtic flavoured guitar/keyboard duel between Chris Fry and keyboard player Rob Reed, and first encore White Witch, with Christina getting the crowd to come to the front of the stage.
And the crowd simply would not let them go - they got called back for a third encore and had to play the set opener King Of The Sky again as they had exhausted their material!

And in fact it didn't stop there, they were virtually mobbed at the signing session afterwards, received a round of applause when they returned to the hotel, and were much in demand for photo's and chats at the after show party.
I was incredibly proud to see this reaction, because I have been championing the band for some time now, and I think it was safe to say that after tonight's concert - Magenta have definitely arrived.

(Oh yes, the party. Errrrr...vague memories of a bunch of people getting up and doing impromptu renditions of various songs - Magenta gave us Renaissance Northern Lights, Andy Tillison gave us a Van Der Graaf Generator song I think, and after that it gets a little blurred. Sorry.)

And talking of revelations, what about Sundays opener Cryptic Vision? I knew nothing of these guys before Rosfest, but I am now a big fan. They play a very appealing classic Kansas/Yes style prog that went down very well with the crowd. Their vocal harmonies were incredible, and lead singer Todd Plant worked extremely hard and hit all the right notes. He has a great rock voice, and occasionally reminds you of other singers but without actually trying to copy anyone. They also played a terrific prog medley composed of Spocks Beard's The Water, Yes' Yours Is No Disgrace, Kansas' Song For America, Dream Theater's Erotomania, ELP's Karn Evil 9 and ending on Genesis' Turn It On Again. A great start to the day, and a hard act to follow.

Man On Fire made the brave decision to preview their new album Habitat in it's entirety. It's a risky venture for a festival event, because those not familiar with the album may not get into it. I personally thought that for the most part it worked very well. They were helped also by having visual graphics projected behind them representing the themes of each track, and use of tapes and sampled sounds helped to keep things interesting. I liked them enough to buy the album and will listen with interest.

Germany's Sylvan were an extremely tight collective, very intense, moody and powerful. Sometimes they were a little too intense for my liking, and they did veer a little close to prog-metal territory for some people, but they played well and were generally well received.

After this there was a very moving tribute to late Starcastle bass player Gary Strater, where a signed guitar was presented to his wife, who was visibly moved. I was particularly heartened to learn that the album that the new Starcastle album has finally been completed, so hopefully Gary's memory will live on through the music.

I saw The Tangent play in the UK last year, and was not very impressed. But they were on much better form here. There are a few line up changes - Roine Stolt and Zoltan Czorsz left the band earlier this year, so Krister Johnson now takes up guitar duties with original Flower Kings drummer Jaime Salazar on drums. Keyboard player Andy Tillison handled vocal duties, and though he does not have what you would call a good voice, he is very expressive and somehow it seems to work. And he is an incredible keyboard player, and seemed to be really enjoying himself up there. His banter with the audience, especially when trying to overcome some technical difficulties, was very entertaining and the crowd soon warmed to his English eccentricity. We were treated to most of the material from the two Tangent albums, and a rousing version of 21st Century Schizoid Man brought the proceedings to a very satisfying conclusion.

A triumphant weekend all round, and big thanks to George Roldan, Tom Smith and Stephen Ellis of Rosfest for putting this whole thing together.

 


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