When the line-up for this year was first announced, I wasn’t overly excited. I had seen RPWL at Baja already, I knew nothing of miRthkon, District 97 seemed like an odd conglomeration of American Idol and heavy prog, and Ambrosia had been missing their most recognizable voice for years. Well, I’m glad I went because this was once again an incredible event. I don’t know how Papa Jim does it every year, but he runs a show that moves flawlessly, on time, with great sound and a family-style atmosphere that one cannot explain.
miRthkon was up first with their exciting blend of Zappa meets King Crimson. The performance was humorous, especially the banter between the bassist and guitar player. They ran a fascinating and amusing film presentation throughout their performance that enhanced the mostly instrumental tunes. I’m a sucker for saxophones, and this band has two that can wail with the best of ‘em. Carolyn Walter was especially proficient as she ably played numerous different wind instruments. Although this is not the kind of music I would normally listen to, I found them to be entertaining and delightful.
I remember when Leslie Hunt was on American Idol. She displayed an excellent sense of humor and an engaging personality. She still does today with this young group of prog musicians. She’s a cutie pie fo’ sho’! Although Leslie was clearly the focal point (especially with a predominately male audience), every member of the band had a chance to take their star turn. Patrick Mulcahey on bass was energetic and constantly moving, drummer and composer Jonathan Schang play fills that would make Phil Collins proud, Rob Clearfield played both guitar and especially keyboards with aplomb, and Jim Tashjian was excellent on backing vocals and lead guitar. Although all the songs were good, as a devout Genesis fan I loved the cover of “Back In N.Y.C.” We missed the cello player this time around, but she’ll be back and if you get a chance to see this band play, you should. They’re good now and will only get better!
RPWL was much better this time from the last I saw them. Their Floydian style of prog was enticing and inviting to my ears. They were very professional and played with precision and excellence unparalleled. The set list was a greatest hits package of sorts and the banter between songs kept the audience engaged. When they played the ironically titled “This Is Not a Prog Song,” they used this as a chance to play snippets of almost every prog-pop song heard on the radio since the early 80s and then some! The crowd at Cal Prog just ate it up!
I was excited about Ambrosia’s set playing a set list of primarily progressive rock. I have been a fan since the late 70s when I found the first two albums in the cut-out section of my local record store. Those two records are in my top ten of all albums from the seventies, and that is saying a lot with a collection of almost three thousand albums! I’ve always preferred Joe Puerta’s voice over David Pack’s so it was wonderful to know that he is the voice keeping Ambrosia alive today. The band was tight and played songs from every one of their five albums showcasing their prog roots. No need to play the hits for this crowd. We’re not really interested! Although David’s vocals were an integral part of the Ambrosia sound, new member Shem was incredible at reproducing that sound while still holding his own style on songs like “Life Beyond LA” and “Time Waits For No One.” This is a show I would gladly see again and again. Pure joy.
Out before 11pm after a full day of excellent progressive rock, this audience definitely got their money’s worth. I love these festivals and their camaraderie amongst fans and performers. I wish I could just win the lottery and travel around the world and do nothing but attend prog festivals. There certainly are enough to keep me busy. Unfortunately I have to go back to work and earn enough so I can go to the next function somewhere in the America’s. If I do, don’t worry. You’ll hear about it!
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on October 11th, 2010