2012 - Review Archives of live shows in Montreal and around the globe

June 29, 2012
NEARFEST 2012: The end of an era...
a review by Robert Dansereau
This summer (June 22-24), I had the privilege of attending the last edition of one of the most renowned and prestigious progressive music festivals, NEARFEST, held at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, PA. A bittersweet weekend because for many (if not most) festival attendees, it was a fantastic edition with a mind-blowing lineup that included Änglagård, Renaissance, UK, Van Der Graaf Generator, but it was also the end of a tradition that began in a modest gym hall in 1999.

NEARFEST was as much a social event as it was a music festival, a gathering of hundreds of like-minded people who became friends over the years... many of them on the popular Progressive Ears forum. Am I exaggerating? This photo below was taken on Sunday on the lawn of the Zoellner Arts Center and is exclusively composed of PE members, many of which couldn't even make the picture because they were caught up in the food vendors or bathroom lines...

The Progressive Ears gang at NEARFEST 2012

Here's a brief review of that event, accompanied by the setlists of all the groups.

The console view during rehearsal

The first show by the Belgian band Aranis, was most excellent. An awesome way to kick off the festival. Their dark RIO/Chamber music themes and their impeccable musicianship raised the bar quite high right from the start. Among the musicians I was familiar with are Pierre Chevalier, pianist extraordinaire for Present, and of course, Dave Kerman, an man of many percussive talents, of Present/Thinking Plague/5UU fame. They were treated to a vigorous standing ovation, which prompted a 2-song encore. I bought their second album on vinyl... it has been a long time since I bought an LP!

Looking Glass
Balade Noçoise
Chamber Rock
Aroque Lawaai
Lever in Plakjes

Encore: Forte

The amazing Dave Kerman on drums, for Aranis.

One of the highlights of NEARFEST was of course the long-awaited performance by the fabled Van der Graaf Generator. Their sensational show made a convert of me! Even though I have never been partial to Peter Hammill's voice (and still am not), the performance was blistering! Although their setlist did not include many of the classic fan favorites, a great performance from these veterans of art rock. Quite enjoyable.

Van der Graaf Generator
Scorched Earth
Your Time Starts Now
All That Before - Spex
Mr. Sands
Over the Hill
Childlike Faith in Childhood's End

Encore: Refugees

Peter Hammill, of VdGG

And that was the conclusion of the first day. Needless to say, back at the hotel sleep came easily.

The morning show on Saturday was provided by the excellent Helmet of Gnats, a local band featuring long-time PE member Chris Fox on guitars. Great way to wake up sleepy brains, they performed a great set, their compositions are really catchy and their musicianship is unequaled. If you aren't familiar with this band, grab their CD entitled
A helmet of Gnats II, it's very good instrumental prog fusion stuff! I had the pleasure of seeing them at Prog In The Park a few years ago and they slayed! A great start to the day.

Helmet of Gnats
Yesterday's Brain
Chinese Leftover
Tin Whiskers
Misfit Toys
Geezus Horrendous
Chimps in Space

Chris "Nosebone" Fox of Helmets of Gnats

The lunch break on the terrasse was great, we had some nice salads and wraps picked-up at Wegman's ans plenty of wonderful beers from Weyerbacher, Sam Adams, Bell's and Dogfish Head.

One of the big names of the neo-progressive era, Twelfth Night gave a nice performance, enthusiastic and energetic, but I have to admit that it was not my favorite set of the festival. One of the very rare performances this weekend where the sound wasn't perfect. I wasn't very familiar with their work and none of the compositions really grabbed me, plus the fact that the few hours of sleep I had over the past few days caught up with me, I had to leave early to catch some fresh air.

Twelfth Night
The Ceiling Speaks
Kings & Queens
We Are Sane
The Craft
Blondon Fair
This City
First New Day
The Poet
Love Song
Take a Look

Twelfth Night, on the stage of Nearfest 2012

Now this is the moment i've been waiting all weekend long, one of my favorite bands, and the group that blew my mind way back in 2003 when I attended my first NEARFEST... the mighty and magical Änglagård, a mythical band from Sweden that turned the prog world upside down in the mid 90's with two seminal albums much sought after,
Hybris and Epilog. After their monumental performance in 2003 at the Trenton War Memorial (NEARFEST's home in 2002 and 2003), many years of inactivity made most fans believe that they would never have the chance to see this band again. But news of a new album and their confirmation in this year's lineup meant a must see, period. The new CD entitled Viljans Öga, brought back these talented musicians in the hearts of all their fans with a vengeance. I bought a copy and am listening to it as I write these lines.

Their set was magnificent. An epic performance that summed-up the whole festival for me. What can I say, I'm a fanboy! Dark and melodic, sharp and inspiring, Mattias Olsson gave the best drum performace of the weekend, Anna Holmgren killed on flute, sax, mellotron and other exotic contraptions! The whole band was tight as hell and the 2-hour set it seems passed way too fast! Standing ovation between each track, that's what they conjured from the crowd. Obviously touched by the heroe's welcome, they gratefully bowed at the end of the last song, having offered their fans another memorable set that will stand in history among NF performances.

Längtans Klocka

Encore: Sista Somrar

Mattias Olsson of Anglagard

To conclude an already unforgettable day, Saturday's main event is Renaissance. One of the most requested bands by NEARFEST attendees over the years, Renaissance finally steps on the stage of Baker Hall for the ultimate edition of the festival. Featuring Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford, the band performed two legendary albums in their entirety,
Turn of the Cards (1974) and Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975), much to the pleasure of the crowd. They ended their set with a melodious encore comprised of the popular track Carpet of the Sun and a new song from their latest EP (2010). I missed a good part of the set because of a planned gathering with many old friends. That's one of the most important parts of this festival.

Running Hard
I Think of You
Things I Don't Understand
Black Flame
Cold is Being
Mother Russia
Trip to the Fair
Vultures Fly High
Ocean Gypsy
Song of Scheherazade

Encore: Carpet of the Sun (acoustic)
The Mystic and the Muse

Renaissance, with Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford

All three evenings ended with a formidable after-hours party at the Comfort Suites hotel, where all the musicians are based. That was the social aspect of this festival at its best. A bunch of friends gathering and sharing conversations, laughter, awesome jam sessions by the numerous musicians, great beer and great moments of joy. There isn't much that can top that. I missed the first evening because after 5 hours of sleep and a 10-hour drive, I needed my beauty sleep, but I wouldn't miss the Saturday and Sunday after-hours or nothing in the world. Here are a few great images of the parties:

A cool jam featuring Tom Hyatt of Echolyn, Mattias Olsson of Anglagard and Elisa Montaldo of Il Tempio Delle Clessidre

Peter Hamill of VdGG, Gary Green of Gentle Giant with Chad and Rob

Prog Royalty... Eddie Jobson of UK, Michelle Moog-Koussa, daughter of the legendary Bob Moog, Mike Keneally and Mattias Olsson of Anglagard

Proud members of the Fraternal Order of Nearfest Beer Snobs, Kev Feeley and yours truly!

Beer Tasting organized by the Fraternal Order of Nearfest Beer Snobs

Sunday was the last day of the event, a great series of shows that would end this wonderful festival on a high note. First off was a group from Sweden, Gösta Berlings Saga. Just like Änglagård, they combine incredible musicianship with truly out-of-the-box compositions to offer material that ranges from melodic to dark and dissonant, from delicate to energetic, often within the same song! They kicked some serious butt, especially since Änglagård's Mattias Olsson joined in on percussions and mellotron towards the end. Splendid!

Gösta Berlings Saga
Sorterargatan 1-2-3
Fem Trappor
Island (with Mattias Olsson)

GBS, with Mattias Olsson on the Mellotron

Then on to Il Tempio delle Clessidre, a band featuring Stefano Galifi, best know for his legendary band Museo Rosenbach, accompanied by three young and talnted musicians. Wonderful classic italian prog music, punctuated by the fantastic performance of the Museo Rosenbach track Zarathustra. Oh that lovely Elisa Montaldo on keyboards, as talented as she was attractive. A bit of the theatrics with the band wearing masks and capes at one point, but what the hell, it's prog, heh? A nice little surprise when they started playin the intro to Kansas' Paradox. Overall a great performance worthy of the long standing ovation at the end! Bravissimo!

Il Tempio delle Clessidre
Verso l'Alba
Insolite Parte di Me
Sentra Color
Danza Esoterica di Datura
Paradox / L'Attesa
Il Centro Sottile
Il Passo
Le 2 Meta
Bis Onirca

Il Tempio delle Clessidre featuring Stefano Galifi

Chad Hutchinson onstage, wearing the Watcher Batwing costume to introduce a band... hilarious!

Mike Keneally offered the awesome set just before dinner break. A world-class guitarist that worked with so many musicians including Zappa, Satriani, Vai, Fripp, Manring, D'Virgillio and many more. Labeled as "the leading prog genius of the post-Zappa era", you see Zappa's influence on his work and to some point, Keneally's influence on Frank Zappa' sound since they worked together for so many years. A fun performance from Mike, always so energetic, virtuous and precise! A perfect combination of great guitar chops and quirkiness from the master. Much to my chagrin, I missed the last few songs in order to be one step ahead of the crowd for dinner at the Bethlehem Brew Works. Fantastic food, supreme beer and excellent company, what can you ask more?

Mike Keneally Band
Kevorkian 3 (intro)
Backwards Deb
I, Drum Running, Clapboard Bound
It's Raining Here Inside
'Cause of Breakfast
Pretty Enough for Girls / Taster
Wing Beat Fantastic
Click / Hallmark
Dolphins Medley (with Chris Buzby)
Your House
Life's Too Small
I Can't Stop / Uglytown / Audience improv
Lightnin' Roy

Mike Keneally

Tom, Yves and Bob at the Brew Works, with a few 6-packs of the Apocalypse 9/8 beer

Finally the last performance of the evening, U.K. Technical difficulties and a longer reaharsal time meant that the opening of the hall's doors was a solid hour and a half late, plus after the intro and raffle by the NEARFEST organizers, there was a good 15/20 minutes of silence and darkness... accumulated fatigue, restlessness and impatience got to some of the people in the audience and there were a few unfortunate jeers. Rob LaDuca summed it up by saying that this ultimate show was 14 yars in the making, what's a few minutes more?

But all was forgotten when the band stepped onstage and performed a splendid set, with a different lineup than the Montreal show back in May, minus Terry Bozzio and adding Gary Husband on drums and Alex Machacek on guitars. Jobson and Wetton more than made up for the delay with a solid set that included material from the two U.K. albums, and an earth-shaking interpretation of King Crimson's Starless. The quartet performed flawlessly, technical and melodic, aggressive and delicate, exactly what is to be expected of these legendary players. The last song of their encore, and effectively the last song ever performed on the stage of NEARFEST, was a quiet ballad entitled Rendezvous 6:02, I wish it would have been a more energetic or significant piece, perhaps a Court of the Crimson King or something of that caliber, but overall a satisfying conclusion to the great NF tradition.

In the Dead of Night
By the Light of Day
Presto Vivace & Reprise
Thirty Years
Carrying No Cross
Keyboard/Violin solo
Book of Saturday (acoustic solo)
Danger Money

Encore: Caesar's Palace Blues
The Only Thing She Needs
Rendezvous 6:02 (duet)

A very emotional trio of organizers at the end of the last show ever on the stage of Nearfest

So it was a very emotional moment for many people at the end of the last song by U.K. That last bow by the NEARFEST organizers was truly the moment people realized that a beloved event had run its course. Much like FMPM, Prog In The Park, 3RP, Baja Prog, Calprog and others, it's one less opportunity for proggers from all around the world to meet for a weekend of the music that inspires them. Some of the friends we see every year, we may never see again.

Final word, my eternal gratitude goes to Chad Hutchinson, Rob LaDuca and Kevin Feeley, and all the numerous hard-working people who made NEARFEST tick, for all the incredible amount of work they have done over the years and the important legacy of these 13 wonderful events that have become a standard to aspire to in the world of music festivals.

Thank you.

The last bow - All pictures ®2012 NEARFEST.


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