NEARFest 2002 (June 2002)

Date of Performance: June 27 - 28, 2002
Venue: Patriots Theater, War Memorial, Trenton, NJ, US

War Memorial (photo: Stephanie Sollow)NEARFest has become a yearly pilgrimage for prog-heads. The 2002 edition was moved to Trenton, NJ's Patriots Theater, and the 1851 seats were filled to capacity, having sold out in a mere 45 minutes. It was sad to say goodbye to Bethlehem, PA and Baker Hall at the Zoellner Arts Center on the Lehigh University Campus (site of the previous two festivals), as the festival had outgrown its second home. NEARFest is not all about music, the casual, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere of the crowd makes it feel like an extended family. The multiple opportunities to meet and speak with the artists seems to give them as much a thrill as the fans.

I left my house at 5:00 a.m to get to Trenton for the 11:00 start time on Saturday. Arriving about 10:30, we quickly parked and got in to catch opening act La Torre Dell'Alchimista from Italy. An interesting band that gets the fashion award of the NEARFest bands. La Torre Dell'Alchimista (photo: Sollow) Keyboardist Michele Giardino dressed in his Count Dracula attire (which he wore throughout the day) and the shiny Vegas attire of bassist Davide Donadoni. The band played a good set of symphonic prog, and I found myself enjoying the instrumental sections that included the flute. The band provided a good opening to the festival. Up next was Miriodor, with an eclectic set to say the least. Miriodor The band's avant-garde approach was very enjoyable, and the combination of sax and violin were a potent mix. For my money they were the most interesting band of the event. Isildurs Bane took the stage for another set of symphonic prog. The band played well, but the music just did not connect with me. My favorite part of their performance was when Fredrik Davidsson on trumpet joined them. The vocalist that the band brought out did not seem to mesh well with the music.

Echolyn was the band I wanted to see Saturday. The crowd treated them to a raucous ovation when they were announced. Opening with "All Ways The Same" segueing into "As The World," the band had the audience eating from their hand. As the song ended, the band had a short spoken word skit that sounded great. The old stuff was fantastic, and the band was in good humor, such as when "Weston" was corrected by his father (from the audience) about the location of his unit for the song "67 Degrees." The only issue I had was that Buzby's keyboards were not loud enough in the mix. It was also nice to see them bring ex-bassist Tom Hyatt out for "The Cheese Stands Alone." Echolyn The bold and questionable move of presenting the audience with 45 minutes of new music is where they may have lost the crowd. mei, the new record, was played in its entirety. Though impressive with the addition of violins, flutes, and timpani on stage, it was a bit too much. I purchased mei at the festival and listened to it on the way home. It is terrific, but I think it was a difficult first time listen. Meeting the band in the CD room was enjoyable, as they took pictures with fans, and sang in harmony to the strains of Beer, beer beer beer... and so on. A great bunch of guys. It was now time for dinner, and since I was not into venturing into Trenton we chose the Marriott buffet. For $19 it was a bit pricey, but not a bad meal. We sat around and met a few really nice people and chatted about what we saw, and our favorites. It was interesting to hear what some people liked, others did not. That was the beauty of the event, there is something for everyone. And again, the people we met were all really nice throughout the weekend.

Nektar closed Day 1, and I was left impressed. I am only familiar with Recycled, so in Nektar's case, they got their music across to me. The crowd roared with approval as the band took the stage, it must have been a thrill. An interesting visual backdrop throughout accompanied the music, showing space scenes, a soaring eagle, and other visuals. The band was filming the show for a future DVD release that I am sure many at NEARFest will be purchasing. I recognized "Marvellous Moses" and "Recycle," but the band also played "Remember The Future" and cuts from other releases. The crowd loved these guys and the band seemed to enjoy it all.

Spaced OutDay 2 began with prog-fusion band Spaced Out. On display were some amazing chops, especially bassist Antoine Fafard, but the songs failed to really capture my interest. I was looking for more composition than chops, and at least during their performance, I did not get that. My surprise of 2002? Gerard. These guys rocked, taking a three-piece format of keys, bass, and drums and adding nitrogen to the mix. GerardWow -- these guys played an awesome set of keyboard based instrumental music (except during one song where the drummer yelled more than sang). They appeared to really enjoy the crowd response, and deserved every last clap and holler they got. Next up was Enchant. The band put together a respectable set of song-based progressive rock that was guitar driven. Vocalist Ted Leonard has a really good voice, and some tasty licks were played by Doug Ott on guitar, but the keyboards were very low in the mix. I left midway through their set, choosing some down time before the final two shows.

Prog legends Caravan came up next. I was surprised these guys were not signed as a headliner considering their reputation. The crowd (which, in all fairness, was good to all the bands) again rose to their feet as the band took the stage. My biggest impression was the fantastic guitar work of Doug Boyle (get a spotlight on that guy). CaravanThey pulled out "Nine Feet Under" from the classic In The Land Of Grey And Pink, and this was the highlight for me. Caravan put on a fine show, and the crowd really took to the band.

Last but not least, the legendary Steve Hackett. Hackett again got the crowd on their feet. Having crossed his path a few times over the weekend, let it be said that he was very friendly to everyone. He commented on having met all of us in the lobby, and seemed genuinely thrilled with the response. Steve Hackett His band absolutely smoked, as they played old classics from his back catalogue along with some instrumental Genesis songs. The true great moment for this reviewer was "Hairless Heart." The hair on the back of my neck was at attention. He also added "Watcher Of The Skies" and "Firth of Fifth" from his Genesis days. Of his own material, he dedicated "In Memoriam" (Darktown) to John Entwistle. From Defector he played "The Steppes" which was another highlight along with standards like "Spectral Mornings" and "Everyday." Closing with "Los Endos" was just amazing. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see him in such a beautiful venue.

NEARFest is a treasure to the progressive rock community. Rob & Chad deserve so much credit for pulling together such a well-run festival. Patriots' Theater was a gorgeous venue, and having the Marriott right next door made the weekend relaxing, allowing for some down time between performances, without worrying about getting back to the theater and missing any bands. I hope they have found a permanent home to continue the festival over the years. The guys played a vicious trick on Marillion fans (of which I am one). As the audience filtered in for Caravan, Misplaced Childhood was being played from the speakers. As Rob & Chad had promised, 2003's Saturday headliner would be announced... they started by saying, the first letter begins with an "M", and the second letter begins with an "A". NEARFest 2003's Saturday headliner is ... Magma. Very cruel guys, now I have to go and get some Magma. Now we can only watch as the announcements roll in with anticipation for another year of great music! Congratulations to Rob & Chad for another year, they do a fantastic job!!

NEARFest 2002 ticket stub


· Caravan
· Echolyn
· Enchant
· Gerard
· Steve Hackett Band
· Isildurs Bane
· Miriodor
· Nektar
· Spaced Out
· La Torre Dell'Alchimista

Links: Genesis

Added: July 10th 2002
Reviewer: Eric Porter

Artist website:
Hits: 537
Language: english

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