ROSFest 2005 (April 2005)

Date of Performance: April 29 - May 1, 2005
Venue: Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, US

Rosfest 2005 logoFor two years in a row the picturesque little eastern Pennsylvania hamlet of Phoenixville has received an adrenaline shot in the-arm when hundreds of progressive rock fans have descended on the town en masse in search of ... to paraphrase Woodstock ... 3 days of peace and music.

On both occasions Phoenixville met us with rain, but as it became apparent that proggies aren't that kind of rock fan, the community opened up to us and the weather cleared and there was plenty of peace, some of the best progressive music available today.

This was only the second ROSfest event, yet the organizers came within a whisker of selling out and the event was clearly a musical and hopefully a financial success. Dennis Haley at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Stephanie Sollow)The vendor room 3 doors down the road was constantly crowded, and the social interaction and the accessibility to the artists was as good as last year.

Friday's performers:

Known as a keyboard tech, a Mellotron wiz and a great musician playing a one-man show of carefully crafted ambient electronica, Dennis Haley's gig was one we'd looked forward to seeing. Because of business commitments and because of a slow, rain-soaked trip, I was unable to leave home in time for his Friday evening performance, but we heard many enthusiastic reports. Myriad at ROSfest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)Dennis was on hand for the rest of ROSfest as the principal keyboard tech, and did the same excellent job he did at ROSfest 2004, as well as various other events - including NEARfest and ProgDay.

Myriad is a trio of New Yorkers who all started playing their instruments at age 12, and came together 5 years ago. Although their stage presence suggested they were somewhat nervous, their musicianship was solid and their sound was much bigger than you'd typically expect from a three man band.

Arena headlined the Friday night show, and for me, theirs was the top performance of the 3 day, Arena at ROSfest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)11 act event. Their setlist dipped into their back catalog, but there was an understandable focus on their 2 newest CDs, particularly the acclaimed Pepper's Ghost. Early in the band's career they'd developed a reputation for good music but uninspired stage shows. I didn't see them in their formative years but their performance in Phoenixville was thoroughly professional. Frontman Rob Sowden's charisma and infectious enthusiasm carried the audience through a too-short two-hour performance. And although the band revolves in large measure around Mick Pointer (drums) and Clive Nolan (keys), John Mitchell's truly outstanding guitar was the instrumental highlight for me. [Former Arena bassist John Jowitt filled in for Ian Salmon, who could not make the trip. -ed.]

Thankfully, the organizers are exploring the possibility of using a different hotel for next year's event. The Hampton and the Sheraton were 10 confusing miles away. I, in a blaze of confidence, told a convoy of cars to follow me. I'd been there last year and was sure I could find the short-route. I should have known we were in trouble at the first traffic light when I swung right, and through the rain-speckled car window I saw all but one car in the convoy turning left. It took several false starts and U-turns before Kenny Solomon, from Florida, took the lead and found the hotel - using the long route.

Eyestrings at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)The rainy Saturday morning was kicked off by Eyestrings, whose debut CD Burdened Hands received a lot of attention in 2004. Despite a certain family relationship and some shared band members, don't expect them to sound like Discipline. This is more like an Echolyn with quirky lyrics. The morning shows are usually fairly slow, but it was interesting to note that a number of people considered Eyestrings to be one of ROSfest 2005's main attractions.

Kino at ROSfest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)For many fans, one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend was Kino. Mostly Autumn bowed out with relatively short notice because of visa problems. Magenta took their headline spot, and Kino stepped into the vacancy. As the guitarist for Arena, John Mitchell was already slated to perform, and presumably Pete Trewavas' visa was still valid from the recent Marillion tour. Kino openly admits to playing AOR with a prog-orientation. If you can accept that, you'll be very impressed by their CD and their very polished, professional live performance. You'd never say the band had only been together for a few months.

Tiles at ROSfest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)Often incorrectly dismissed as a Rush-alike, Tiles plays a hard-edged form of progressive rock, with experimental and metallic edges. Their latest Window Dressing CD was a step away from the style of their previous CDs, and probably lost them as many fans as it won. Their performance may have been heavier than most of the audience expected, but it was well executed and the depth of their 12 years in the business was clearly evident.

The ROSfest discussion group on Yahoo had pre-arranged for a dinner at a local restaurant. We discovered that although the guys selling candy and sodas in the theater were locals, they have no idea about directions, and after another 20-minute unguided meander through the wet streets of Phoenixville we found the place - which was really just a 5-minute trip from the Majestic. [Colonial, I think he meant* -ed. 2015]. Thanks to Ed for setting up this event - we took over the restaurant's entire upstairs section, and many of us met online acquaintances for the first time.

Magenta at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)Originally conceived as an interesting side project, Magenta wasn't originally booked for Saturday's headliner. Yet their extended set was delivered with the flair and panache of old pros. Sometimes unfairly accused of playing the same song over and over, Magenta's music has deep roots in the 1970s and you'll hear passages that are strongly reminiscent of Genesis and Yes. There was a wonderful chemistry between singer Christina Murphy and guitarist Chris Fry, and the two ballads they did - with Martin on a guitar stool and Christina curled up at his feet - drew a lump in many throats. Although the band's new Seven CD is an excellent effort, I seem to be one of the few people who preferred the debut double CD Revolutions - and that impression was reinforced when hearing the songs live.

Late Saturday night, there were not one but two parties. Those who'd sprung for the patron tickets were invited to what turned out to be an all-night party with the artists, while another informal party happened in the bar area upstairs. ROSfest 2005 - Kenny, Chris and Janie (photo: Duncan N Glenday)Along with good friend Kenny Solomon of Progressive Soundscapes, Chris [Arters] from Relative Time and unofficial "After Party Ambassador," Janie from Swiss Navy Productions, Jim [Rezek] of Illuvatar, Sharon [Arlette] from Arlette Productions, and many more friends, we drank scotch and listened to Chris' songs and traded stories for hours.

Cryptic Vision at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)For me, and for many other attendees, the surprise of the show was Cryptic Vision. No one knew the band and after partying until the small hours a great number of seats were left empty. Those late sleepers missed a truly awesome show, from a charismatic group of multi-instrumentalists. It was interesting to see several band members switching roles - the guitarist played keys, the singer laid down a killer lead guitar solo ... yet for all the role exchanges the music was cohesive, powerful, and melodic. These guys are on my must-get list.

Man On Fire at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)For me, Man On Fire was one of the main reasons for attending the show. These guys have an unusual approach to their music and their latest CD Habitat is an extremely imaginative body of work. The problem - Habitat is one of those CDs you have to listen to again and again before it sinks in. Hearing it for the first time, many in the audience weren't able to get their arms around it. Well after ROSfest, I heard several people who had purchased the CD comment that they would have enjoyed the show so much more if they'd been familiar with the music. Not only was the music interesting - the delivery was impeccable, and the light show provided a very elegant, wonderfully produced accompaniment that helped put each song in context. Hats off to Little Atlas' Steve Katsikas who, with only 2 days of rehearsals and a month with the CD, stepped in and played keyboards, guitar, saxophone, and provided backup vocals.

Sylvan at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)Few people knew Germany's Sylvan, and ROSfest served as the band's introduction to most of the audience. Playing a solid form of neo-progressive rock, this is an accomplished group of musicians whose style of music equates loosely to a hard-edged version of RPWL. Having heard X-Rayed shortly before the festival it struck me that the band's studio performance didn't translate to the stage. The guitar seemed to be low in the mix, which is a pity because the solos were one of the CD's high points. Based on their performance, I believe I will be one of many who will be spending a lot of time with Sylvan's back catalog.

The Tangent at ROSFest 2005 (photo: Duncan N Glenday)Sunday's headliner The Tangent was a huge surprise. Everyone expected them to be good, but their performance was impeccable. Andy Tillison and company play big music, with a big lineup, and everyone's big expectations of the band were met in a big way. Like Magenta, I may be in the minority of listeners who prefers the band's first album over their second. Because the band is an international collection of artists, Andy made it clear to everyone that they'd hardly rehearsed and they don't have many live performances under their collective belt; and the nerves were running high. None of that was evident on Sunday night. These are seasoned professionals who delivered an excellent performance. There were many Tangent fans before ROSfest. There are a whole lot more now.

Once again, kudos to George and Tom for a wonderful all-round experience.

[*Hmm.... 10 years on I notice this bit of foresight from Duncan; RF didn't start at the Majestic (in Gettysburg) until 2010 -ed. 2015]

Links: NEARfest, ProgDay, Discipline, Echolyn, Mostly Autumn, Marillion, Rush, Genesis, Yes, Relative Time, Illuvatar, Little Atlas, RPWL

Added: June 18th 2005
Reviewer: Duncan N Glenday

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Hits: 904
Language: english

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