ROSFest 2006 (April 2006) (1)


Date of Performance: April 28 - 30, 2006
Venue: The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, US

Our Friday night began Thursday evening, when we headed off for our 10 p.m. flight from Los Angeles International to Philadelphia International (well, actually, it had started Thursday morning, but...). Everything flowed swimmingly as we breezed through check-in and security, waited casually for boarding and then had an uneventful flight... We arrived in Philadelphia at 6 a.m., waited only a short while for our bags, got our car and were on our way to Phoenixville. Our first hiccup came when we called the hotel and were told we couldn't check-in until noon at the earliest. We used this time to make a dry run to the venue, using the directions that Yahoo provided (which turned out not to be too far off the way I had gone last year, as it happens)... and from there, followed our traveling-in-PA tradition of getting lost on the way back. That was okay, we took a brief drive-thru tour of Valley Forge (we'd been here in 2002, so didn't bother to stop) and then somehow managed to get onto the turnpike headed north. Not quite so lost at this point, as we'd gone this way to get to NEARfest, but that trip wasn't scheduled for another two-months. It was once we were off the pike and trying to go southwest again that we really got lost. Which was okay, because a second call to the hotel confirmed we wouldn't be able to check in until 3pm. We had time to find ourselves... We ended up, as it happens, back at Valley Forge, where we stretched our legs.

So, by the time we got to the hotel, checked in and freshened up (no rest, though), it was time to head back to the Colonial Theater and the first band of the pre-show, Ephemeral Sun (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)Ephemeral Sun. Somehow, by some stroke of unexpected luck, I had managed to score front row tickets for the festival, and so we sat ourselves comfortably at far left of the theatre -- the speaker stack that I had been told would be elevated this year, was in fact on the left edge of the stage, and so sadly blocked a portion of the stage... my only concern about the whole weekend, or so I hoped; my only concern about the festival itself for sure, however.

With our lack of sleep and general tiredness, most of the first night's sets washed over me, I'm afraid. I enjoyed Ephemeral Sun, but then I loved their Broken Door CD. I do think Laurie Ann Haus' vocals were a bit lost in the mix, but given their style, this was part of the whole thing. If memory serves me, they played a new piece or two... one of which wasn't titled yet (though I think someone suggested "Rosfest 2006," or something like that). While I don't often concern myself with what a performer wears on stage (though I did wonder what NEO's John Jowitt would be wearing, as it is often remarked on), I was surprised that Haus wasn't dressed ethereally as the music would suggest - you know, flowing, wispy dresses and the like. Not quite as gypsy-ish as, say, Stevie Nicks, but... well, something ghostly and um...ephemeral. Nope, she was comfortably dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans... Which also means the rest of the band were not thematically attired either - tee-shirts and jeans for them as well. The music carried the atmospherics though, and they gave a good performance.

John Young (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)Harmony In Diversity were supposed to be next, but an airport snafu of some sort involving visas and passports and whatnot prevented Peter Banks from leaving the UK as scheduled and so at the last minute - figuratively - the band was scratched. In for the rescue was the John Young Band - well, just John Young, actually, who was already in the US touring (and scheduled to perform at the Saturday night group dinner); the John Young Band were in tow via pre-recorded instrumentation. Young, who has been with Greenslade, Fish, The Scorpions, Bonnie Tyler, Quango, and many others, played a selection of material from his solo releases, including one dedicated to his mother, "Significance," "When I Was Young," "Underside," about those we rarely think about (the less fortunate, disenfranchised, etc.), and "Kings." Young has a great voice. That's what I remember most from his set, his great voice. Sadly, at this point, I was losing the battle with our long day... Though I'm used to keeping long, and odd, hours ... tiredness was winning. That doesn't reflect on Young's set at all, except to say that his voice has a soothing tone to it ... I'm with the contingent of fans who say Young and his band need to be back as a scheduled performer next year.

Here is where my biggest disappointment of the weekend happened. Nope, not with NEO. They killed! My biggest disappointment, and what became my "obsession" over the weekend, was the loss of my monopod... (erm, like a tripod, but with one leg (pod) only*).

NEO (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)Friday night's headliner was the super supergroup NEO ... Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon, Shadowland, Nolan-Wakeman), John Jowitt (Arena, IQ, Jadis, Frost), Andy Edwards (IQ, Frost), and Mark Westwood (Martin Orford Band), with guest vocalists Nick Barrett (Pendragon) and Alan Reed (Pallas). Banks was supposed to guest as well, but the troubles mentioned above prevented that from happening. A superb set, filled with classics from nearly all their bands (no Frost material though, the new group with Jowitt, Edwards, John Mitchell and Jem Godfrey). And yes, I'm a neo-prog devotee, even if I've shied away from calling it "neo" (though maybe doing so has become acceptable again?). The energy was infectious - I wondered if Reed was going to have enough left in the tank for Pallas' set the next night...

Included in the neo-progtastic set were, of course, Arena, IQ, Pallas and Pendragon pieces including "Overture," "Erosion," "Outer Limits," "The Enemy Smacks" (IQ), "The Hanging Tree" (Arena), "Greater Glory," "Hide And Seek," "Crown Of Thorns" (Pallas), "Paintbox," "The Black Knight," and "Masters Of Illusion" (Pendragon). But also we were treated to a few Shadowland pieces, "Mindgames" and "Ring Of Roses" as well as a Nolan/Wakeman piece "Shadows Of Fate." Jowitt sang on the IQ and Arena pieces, and did so very well, without trying to sound like Peter Nicholls or Paul Wrightson, respectively. Reed came out to sing the Pallas songs, of course, with Barrett singing the Pendragon material, and Nolan the Shadowland material, coming out from behind the keys to do so -- Dennis Haley, RF/NF keyboard tech and solo artist, filled in on keys then. But it was a terrific, high energy set... and though I've not seen confirmation anyway, I swear they also played Pendragon's "Stargazing" (otherwise, it just played spontaneously in my head that night).

(And just for the record, Jowitt's pants were leopard print spandex)

Mirthrandir (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)Day One began with New Jersey's Mirthrandir, the 70s prog rock group who recently reunited. Most of their material was drawn from their lone album For You The Old Women, though a few contemporary but unrecorded pieces also were included. Original members James Miller (bass, flute), Simon Gannett (keyboards), Robert Arace (drums) and John Vislocky III (vocals) were joined on guitar by Alan Benjamin (Advent) and John Callahan, a long-time friend of the band who has been in a few of his own prog groups, too. Mirthrandir played a tight and focused set, which is saying something when pieces range from 8 to 14 minutes. The passage of time hasn't seemed to affect Vislocky's voice at all - he can still hit the high notes. Their set of classic symphonic prog went down quite well with the crowd, garnering them not one but two standing ovations, though only one encore was played. Sure, the encore has become expected at these events, but even still, you can feel when the audience feels it sincerely and when they're going through the motions -- they weren't going through the motions for Mirthrandir. They may not have been the surprise gem of the weekend, but for me, came pretty darn close, adding something to their music that didn't spark with me when I first listened to their album (the re-issued CD from Syn-phonic) years ago.

HamadryadI never miss a band, partly out of journalistic obligation, partly out of courtesy, and partly because you never know what you might discover. But I must have been aurally absent for Hamadryad's set, because I can't remember a thing about their music. I hadn't gone in familiar with them at all -- knew the name and that was it. So, I feel I'm giving them short-shrift here by not having anything to say. Well, they are from Canada and played material from, at least, their most recent album Conservation Of Mass as well as, I think, pieces from an upcoming album... but don't quote me on that, because other bands had new material to try out, so... They did have a new keyboardist, who joined the band in Spring 2005... so, not so new now, I guess. They did play a cover of Genesis' "Firth of Fifth," and while not expertly rendered, they did a fairly good job. I do remember thinking at one point that although bassist/vocalist Jean-François Désilets looked a bit like Geddy Lee, the music did not sound like Rush.

Karmakanic (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)The Jonas Reingold project Karmakanic were next, sharing their jazzy rock textures. Krister Jonsson is a bundle of energy (though I think he'd be out-powered by Pallas' Alan Reed). It was Goran Edman's (vocals) birthday, and band and audience sang out a rousing version of "Happy Birthday" to usher in Edman's 50th. Karmakanic's set included material from both their albums, and Reingold played his bass solo piece dedicated to his daughter. What many have commented on is the extended soloing the band did... I have to admit this didn't bother me... at least not as much as did it others.

Satellite (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)The headliner for day one was Satellite, the Polish quintet (though a quartet for this performance) formed by drummer Wojtek Szadkowski and made up former members of Collage, including Szadowksi, vocalist Robert Amirian (also bass this night), and keyboardist Krzysiek Palczewski. Though Satellite didn't have a perfect set and sound was a problem, I thoroughly enjoyed their performance. Of the first night, this was the band whose material I was most familiar with. This was Satellite's third ever performance, though certainly not the individual's first time onstage. Material from their excellent debut, A Street Between Sunrise And Sunset and the nearly as good follow up Evening Games was played, including the moving "Beautiful World." Amirian talked to the audience - more so than any other band, but then, their challenges with sound and equipment gave more gaps between songs to do so - and voiced on behalf of the band how happy they were to be there. Unprepared for a second encore, the band replayed "Never Never" (but then again, Sunday night's headliner had the same "problem").

Due to an unexpected illness after Satellite's set, I was ultimately unable to attend the after-party. By all accounts, I missed a good one, so I intend to be at next year's, even if I'm at death's door (yes, the announcement of next year's headliner is enough for me to have penciled in next year's festival on my calendar).

Magic Pie (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)With me recovered for Sunday morning (thank goodness!), we set off for Day Two and Norway's modern prog/symphonic-prog band Magic Pie. Last year's "surprise" was Cryptic Vision. Magic Pie were expected to be this year's. And they were, but they weren't as well. See, there was already so much buzz about the band, they weren't the "sleepers" that CV were. But they rocked the placed and nailed a near perfect set. They were plagued a bit by troubles (Eirik Hanssen's acoustic guitar... well, the line out actually... was unresponsive), but played a burning set. Great, great performance that should have everyone who slept in and miss them wish they hadn't.

The Pineapple Thief (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)The next band up was The Pineapple Thief, a modern prog group from the UK. Though their performance was good, I wasn't quite as sold on this band. Their moody prog reminded me of Porcupine Tree, but missing some element that makes PTree's style of prog work. I should say, post-Stupid Dream PTree, actually; the darker, gloomier version. Other comparisons would be to Radiohead. My sister, who came along to the festival with me and is not a prog music fan per se (likes music, but is not the "obsessive" that I am), liked The Pineapple Thief best (though didn't think it was the best performance of the weekend; that she felt was Magic Pie). But, she leans towards mainstream and so this doesn't surprise me. They played material from their last few albums, including the recent 10 Stories Down.

Pallas (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)If TPT were the most sedate (comparatively) of the weekend, Pallas had to be the most exuberant. Well, Alan Reed is. The music is written I'm sure to feed off his energy and his energy feeds off the music -- I'll say this again in my review of their latest, The Dreams Of Men. This was my second time seeing Pallas live and their set had the same amount of power as at NEARfest - and so I gather it always does. The set was really broken into two sections, the first part devoted to the Reed years with tracks mostly drawn from TDOM, as you'd expect, though also "The Executioner" from The Wedge was in the set. As a pleasant pause, Niall Mathewson played his guitar instrumental "Northern Star."

Pallas (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)The second part of Pallas' set was ushered in by the guest appearance of original vocalist Euan Lowson, first appearing in ruffled shirt and kilt, then army fatigues, and finally... well, we'll get to that. Included in this set was the complete "Atlantis Suite," "Heart Attack" and, to cap off the evening in... uncertain-about-what's-to-come style, "The Ripper." That third costume of Euan's, a white jumpsuit and blue mask... and at the end of the piece he... well, simulates self-castration... Though this effect didn't come off quite as well as seen in the Blinding Darkness DVD, and perhaps that was a good thing. I wasn't sure if "The Ripper" would be performed, thinking that the DVD performance was a one-off (no pun intended).

The Watch (photo: © Stephanie Sollow)Intense, energetic, rousing... you'd think Pallas were the headliners. But there was yet one more band for the evening - Italy's The Watch. Here we have a band that has recreated a mood and tone of Genesis past -- that is to say, the early- to mid-Gabriel years. Not familiar with their music at all (the RF prep session didn't happen this year), their music was all new to me... and because of that I found very little difference from piece to piece - in tone and tenor. Not that it was bad, as they gave a very good, strong performance, but ... having run out of material for a second encore, they dipped back to something they'd played earlier... and I couldn't even recognize which one it was from before. I think with more familiarity the different tracks would have resolved themselves, but... But, I liked what they were doing. Their first encore was Genesis' "Get 'Em Out By Friday," dedicated to organizers George Roldan and Tom Smith.

All in all, RoSFest 2006 was another success for organizers George and Tom. With Pendragon announced as headliners for next spring, one big question is: who will be Sunday's sleeper-surprise?

[See also Josh's report for his thoughts on some of the weekend's performances]

*And compact enough that I can use in my seat without - hopefully - disturbing anyone else. I use it as a third hand to get steadier shots in low light, since flash is a no-no - and pretty useless for concert photography anyway... I do want to thank George for having the sound crew look to see if it got gathered up with any of their gear or was given to them because someone thought it was; and to the guys of the stage sound crew for looking.


Added: May 14th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

Artist website: www.rosfest.com
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