CalProg 2004 (July 2004)

Date of Performance: July 3, 2004
Venue: Whittier Community Center, Whittier, CA, US

Living in Southern California, and having done so all my life so far, you bet I was excited when I learned there would be another stab at getting a progressive music festival established here. Not to take anything away from BajaProg, mind you. But there's just a determination to get something established on the west coast of the US, too. And something that can last long enough to become a tradition as NEARfest has on the east coast, and ProgDay in the southeast. Of course, I have similar hopes, without the same bias, for ROSfest, too (though it's another east coast(ish) festival).

That festival was (and is) CalProg, a day-long festival held July 3, 2004 in Whittier, CA. As excited as I was, it did take me a long while to get tickets - I wasn't sure what last minute "oh, by the way" work commitment might pop up (especially as I had already been frustrated about getting to ProgPower USA this year due ever-shifting work commitments). I mention this as the organizers might have pointed it out -- if they took notice. Not notice of my report, but the fact of it in correlation to when I purchased tickets. Nevertheless, I was there and had a good time.

Erik Norlander (photo: Stephanie Sollow)The first artist of the day was keyboard wizard Erik Norlander, whose array of keyboards were placed in front of this towering wall of electronic components ... his custom synthesizer called "The Wall Of Doom." Norlander played pieces from his solo album, and one from his band Rocket Scientists' Brutal Architecture ("Mariner"). Before the festival officially began, I was making my way around the vendor room, stopping at the Norlander/Lane table. While there, I entered into a conversation with the gentleman watching the table ... who innocently told folks, "I'm just a fan" and "I can't take any money, I'm just watching the table." I say innocently, because later, during the Norlander set, Norlander introduced a guest who would play electric cello on one track. That guest, Mike Alvarez, the very same guy who innocently said, "I'm just fan." Well, not just.

Lane, McCrite, Keeling and NorlanderOther Norlander guests included Kelly Keeling on vocals and fellow Scientist Mark McCrite also on vocals, including on a track from Norlander's Music Machine, "Johnny America," (which made me think of Kevin Gilbert's Shaming Of The True conceptually ... and that wouldn't be the only time Gilbert came to mind during the day). Also, as you might have expected, Lana Lane was also a guest; singing, of course. Here we also heard our first cover, as she (and McCrite and Keeling) sang King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King." I'm very bad with set lists, but can tell you that the set also included material from Into The Sunset, and, I believe, Threshold.

Izz (Tom and John Galgano) (photo: Stephanie Sollow)After a break -- and a tad more CD buying from me -- the second artist of the day took the stage, the New York based band Izz. This was the second time I'd seen Izz, the first having been at ProgWest 2002. Their set seemed stronger than at ProgWest 2002, the sound a little bit better, and so, as much as I enjoyed their PW02 performance, I did this one more so. The band played material from their three albums to date (Sliver Of A Sun, I Move, and the new one Ampersand), and having heard "Assurance" live twice now, it comes across much better live than on Sliver.... A moment of humour came when bassist/vocalist John Galgano referred to the female backup singer, Anmarie Byrnes -- at the time, only one of the two ladies who were on stage -- as a "hottie," the humour (a slightly uncomfortable humour) coming in when he then pointed out it was his sister-in-law... married to brother Tom, Izz (photo: Stephanie Sollow)who at the time was fiddling with his keyboards in preparation for the next track. I think Tom smiled, but either he is used to John saying this in concert, or he was so focused that he didn't tune in until he heard "sister-in-law" (Of course, John then also commented that having said so, it felt a bit incestuous to say so... and thus the "uncomfortable" aspect*). He also referred to the other backup singer, Laura Meade**, as "hottie" when they both were on stage. More than back-up singers, however, as they also sang lead at times, and both have great voices. Their cover? "In The Cage" by Genesis, from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (for those who don't know) with the "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs" bit of "Supper's Ready," to conclude the piece, sung by Anmarie and Laura.

Enchant (photo: Stephanie Sollow)Next on stage was Enchant, a band I'd also seen before (at NEARfest), playing a set that covered material from all of their albums to date, including the "tweener" Time Lost ("Under The Sun"). Also in their set, from their most recent album, was "Progtology." It was a lively set; guitarist Doug Ott so lively he pulled the plug on his own guitar at one point -- came right out of the amp. Oops. That is probably why bassist Ed Platt uses a wireless set up. As has been the pattern for the day so far, the band also included a cover in their set, in this case, Yes' "Tempus Fugit." And I feel they did a good job of it, too. During the encore (a second encore my notes say!), Ted left the stage and walked up the aisle, into the crowd, singing and shaking hands. Actually, he left the stage twice -- the second time during a solo -- to pick up singing from the back of the venue in order to walk down through the seats back to the stage, this time along the right wing. Had it been a boy band, he'd have been mobbed, tackled by a hundred screaming girls... And ladies, Ted's not a bad looking guy as it happens (but he's married ... with kids). A prog audience is mainly male, as you all know, so I'm sure he felt safe enough.

Enchant (photo: Stephanie Sollow)One of the pieces the band played was "What To Say" (Juggling 9 Or Dropping Ten) which Ted explained he wrote from the point of view of his sister's husband who was dying (and since died) of brain cancer. Um, despite the sad subject matter, the performance of the song was a highlight of a very good set.

Neal Morse (Photo: Stephanie Sollow)Neal Morse performed in a mainly one man show -- acoustic guitar, keyboards, and new looping toy (new to him at least) called a Lexicon Jam Man that Morse made good use of. Though I know some in attendance were worried that Morse's set would be more church service than prog set (I among them, and some skipped it on that basis, though I won't name names), he pretty much kept it as secular -- at least as close to secular as his Spock's Beard and pre-Testimony solo material was (would that make them "depositions"?). In fact, that I could tell, Morse only sang two songs from Testimony, "I Am Willing" being one of them. It was a moving performance of that song, as you can tell that Morse's feelings, views, beliefs (whichever) are heartfelt and not some affectation. I don't share them, but I can appreciate his depth of feeling.

Okumoto and D'Virgilio (Photo: Stephanie Sollow)Morse, too, had guests -- Nick D'Virgilio and Ryo Okumoto, his former SB bandmates, who played a couple of SB tracks (natch) including "The Doorway." All through Morse's set, which included "Emma" (Neal Morse) and "Good Don't Last" (Kindness Of Strangers), I kept thinking that the perfect song for that "stripped down" setting would be "June." And sure enough, when D'Virgilio and Okumoto came out, one of the tracks played was "June."

Morse's set wasn't without some humour ... intentional and unintentional. During "Good Don't Last," when Morse reached the lyric "And everybody knows the words / To 'Seasons In The Sun'," he paused and broke into the chorus of that very song ("for my wife," he said). And in singing, "So we made 'Wheel Of Fortune'" he added a sneer ... and paused, to comment on Ian Anderson's sneer, and then sang lyrics from "Teacher" (I think that's the reference), and then carried on with "Good..."

The other moment of humour was when D'Virgilio would also be playing acoustic guitar ... an amplified acoustic, but apparently the batteries had died (or so they thought, or so they joked?), so after trying to find another guitar while carrying on with the set, eventually it was too late anyway. At one point, Enchant's Doug Ott came out to put the battery in -- or at least tried to get it to work -- to no avail; Mike Keneally even popped out briefly with another guitar, but by then the moment had passed. What's funny, is the lyric during "June" that seemed appropriate: "And the prince and the drummer and the fire girls / Couldn't get our guitars in tune..." (well, it was drummer, the guitarist, and the guitarist that night, and it was power not tune, but...). I think the same amusing thought occurred to Morse, too, as he sang the words.***

Mike Keneally and Bryan Bellar (Photo: Stephanie SollowThe last band to perform was the Mike Keneally Band -- Keneally on guitar (natch), vocals and keyboards, D'Virgilio on drums, Bryan Bellar on bass and Rick Musallam on guitar. Keneally's set included all of the new album, Dog, played in track order, which necessitated many guitar changes and retunings. It was a patient (though thinned) audience that stayed for Keneally's somewhat disorganized set. The music, however, was great ... Keneally is a terrific guitar player, both in the colloquial and literal meanings of that word. That is, it's terrifying how fast and energetic he plays, but it is also quite excellent. The rest of the band were no slouches either, as the only moments that "dragged" were the between song moments of retuning.

Bellar and Mussalum (and a tech in the background) (Photo: Stephanie Sollow)Not having been a Keneally fan going in -- not a un-fan, mind you, just not familiar with his music -- I can't tell you what else he played other than the Dog material. That is, except the cover ... a very cool rendition of Kevin Gilbert's "Shadow Self" (Thud). I thought of Gilbert again, and that he probably would have loved the idea of a festival mainly (at least this edition) promoting California based prog artists (only Izz were from out of state; though Morse lives in Nashville, he was born in LA.... And D'Virgilio was born in Whittier, by the way). But there are connections between D'Virgilio and Keneally, and Morse, to Gilbert.

All in all, CalProg 2004 was a blast! Plans are already underway for CalProg 2005, though as of this writing neither a date nor location has been set. But you can be sure that I'll be there, and buying my tickets much sooner than this year.

*John also noted that Anmarie was pregnant, which received applause and a more focused reaction -- and smile -- from hubby Tom.

** I believe her name was Laura... if someone knows different, please let me know.
[note to self, Feb 2007: Yes, and her new solo EP is just out]

*** Do I find it ironic that my longest section is on the shortest performance? Yes, I do.

Added: July 6th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

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