The excitement was building for weeks as I looked forward to my very first ROSfest! I had always envied all the east-coasters who had so many great prog festivals to choose from, and was most impressed by the line-up ROSfest presented each year. Through happenstance, I was able to attend the 2010 for the first time. It won’t be my last!
After getting lost twice on the way to Gettysburg, I finally showed up at the gorgeous Majestic Theater just a bit too late to see Mystery begin their set. I only missed the beginning of the first song however, as they made a big impression on me playing their melodic-style of progressive rock. Benoit David soared on the vocals as Messrs. St-Pere, Gagne, Dupuis, Baldwin and Fournier played their hearts out, sang incredible harmonies, and gave us a set that could only leave my mouth watering for more! How could the rest of the festival be as strong as this?
The festival sets up a table in the lobby where the audience can line up and meet and greet with the musicians and I found the guys in Mystery to be quite friendly and gracious. This is an awesome quality of the prog rock community. When was the last time you met Eric Clapton?
Pendragon was up next, a band that I am very familiar with; owning most of their CDs all the way back to 1985’s The Jewel. This was my first opportunity to see the band live, and they did not disappoint. They played a mix of old and new tunes with a focus on the new. They did play enough songs from my favorite, The Masquerade Overture to keep this reviewer happy. Nick Barrett is very entertaining (funny, funny man) and as a guitarist… He was totally on fire! Peter Gee and Clive Nolan played well too, but the star of this band has always been Nick and his fluid and melodic guitar delivery. Besides, Peter and Clive have their own projects where they can be the stars. They were presenting us with their new drummer for the first time, and as Nick repeated an audience member’s comment in his inimitable English accent, “Your drummer kicks ass!”
Going back to the hotel to get a restful nights sleep after a full day of travel and two bands that absolutely blew me away, I could not help thinking that there was no way the festival could maintain this level of quality. Boy, was I wrong.
Walking around the streets of Gettysburg the following morning, I almost wished that I had come here to see the historical side of this town. It has great importance in American history. But no, this is a Prog mission. Showing up a bit early on Saturday morning to attain some swag from the vendor room and not wanting to miss any of Ajalon’s set, I met with some friends that I hadn’t seen since the last festival I attended. Once again, that kinship quality of the prog community.
Ajalon was tight and focused for 11am in the morning, although it did take Wil Henderson’s voice a song or two to get into shape. New addition to the crew, Jennifer Newberry, did not have this problem though. She sang with soul and just the right amount of tear in here voice to reveal her Southern roots. She was drop dead gorgeous to boot! Randy George is the leader of this band and with much levity, introduced a set of songs that kept us all engaged. Jonathan Sindleman on keyboards was clearly the player for this crowd however. He played with lightning speed that would make even Keith Emerson wither in envy. They closed with Yes’ “Awaken” with Jennifer on vocals that practically turned me into a blubbering baby it was so beautiful!
Manning was up next and was very entertaining. His group was the largest at the festival with eight performers on stage at one time. It was guitarist Chris Catling on lead guitar that stole the show for me however. He was flawless, playing melodically and bringing the rock and roll in as needed. His solos were outstanding and completely earned the shred credits he deserved.
Gazpacho has been around a lot longer than you would think, with soon to be six studio releases under their belt. They all look like male models with the exception of lead singer, Jan-Henrick. With his jacket and glasses he reminded me a little of a beatnik professor I used to have. His voice was beautiful and kept us all engaged with its ethereal quality. The band was amazing, especially the violin/mandolin player, Mikael Krømer. They did not take many solos, just played solidly with plenty of energy in service to the excellent songs. Unfortunately, in my exuberance of clapping for an encore, I sat down on my camera and broke the LCD screen; making me guess at locations from only the right half of the stage for the remainder of the festival.
Renaissance? Absolutely fabulous, awe-inspiring, best of show. I can say no more.
The following Sunday morning we were all tired after a full day of prog on Saturday, but none could have been as troubled as Tony Wright, the voice of DeeExpus. He was suffering from a throat problem that would not allow him to finish many of the songs he started. The other talented members of the band stepped in and took his lead vocal role ably, but there was a sense of potential not reached. It’s too bad, as the songs sounded good and warmed me up to hear more from this band. The band thanked us all for missing church to attend their set when someone from the back (okay, that was me) said “This is our church!”
You may know that Unitopia had to back out of this festival at almost the last minute. I was very disappointed, because Unitopia is one of my favorite bands, and one of the main reasons I wanted to come to this festival (Their new CD Artificial, is amazing by the way). George and the ROSfest crew reacted very quickly and brought in a replacement with Oblivion Sun. Not very familiar with them other than they were a couple of guys from late 70’s prog band Happy the Man, I was not expecting a lot. Let me tell you something… This band rocks! Vacillating back and forth between fusion and modern prog, I was amazed at the talent in this band. Stan Whittaker’s voice has gotten stronger through the years and was in fine form here. He’s no slouch in the guitar department either! Although it is tough to pick a favorite from all of the amazing players at the festival, I would have to name Oblivion Sun’s Bill Plummer as the best keyboardist of all. Tasteful and always in the moment, he brought sounds forth from those keys that moved me like no other.
Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers took the stage next as three brothers regaled us with amazing Eagles-like harmonies and aggressive playing. They are very popular in their native country, but apparently quite difficult to find in the U.S. Not difficult here at the Majestic Theater though, as they were really entertaining.
After nine bands and feeling musically and emotionally drained, I thought that there was no way we could finish this year’s edition of ROSfest in a satisfying conclusion and was proven wrong once again. Magic Pie closed the night with a Magic-al set that included songs from all their albums including the unreleased “The Suffering Joy.” This is where the audience was introduced to new lead singer Eirikur Hauksson, and he did not let us down. He reminded me a bit of Glenn Hughes and Glenn is one of my favorite rock singers. The entire band is incredible, but special attention must be made of Kim Stenberg, lead guitar. He could not have been more “on” this night as the entire crowd was on their feet cheering his amazing solos.
ROSfest 2010… Looking forward to 2011!
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on May 16th, 2010