ProgStock 2021: Day Three

I wanted to mention a few things before the show review. First of all, Robert Schindler (also known as Robeone) has a massive keyboard rig that he set up on the other side of the street from the UCPAC, and he has been playing very pleasant synth music for most of the festival. Today he even jammed with Rachel Flowers, which was a joy to watch.

Photo Credit: Erik Nielsen/ProgStock

Also, I want to highlight how great the ProgStock staff is. Some of the most pleasant interactions I’ve had have been with volunteer and paid staff- whether it was getting rides to and from the UCPAC, or going to Wawa for the first time, or yapping about our favorite acts, I’ve really appreciated getting to know the staff. I also have felt fortunate to have photos each day for these articles, provided by the very gifted and gracious Erik Nielsen. The show reviews have truly benefitted from his quick, high quality camera work, and the festival is lucky to have him and others who are putting in so much time to make this event great for everyone here and everyone watching the show all over.

Day Three started a bit earlier as usual, as Rachel Flowers had a listening party for her new album (which Proglodytes will review soon!). It was held at the Portuguese Cuisine Bar & Wine, a venue that has been involved with catering the delicious food for most of this event. Rachel’s lovely music was playing in the background, and it made for a really pleasant dining and listening experience.

The opening musical act was an act that featured Steve Unruh & Phideaux Xavier. These two guys are no strangers to the festival. Both of their individual musical projects have played on ProgStock’s main stage in years past. Steve’s band Resistor played in 2017, Phideaux played in 2019. However, they have played in a similar arrangement before: they played a late night event together at 2018. This year they were joined on more than a few songs by Valerie Gracious on vocals and keyboard and Ariel Farber on backup vocals and violin.

Phideaux is a brilliant writer who has been featured on Proglodytes in the past, and deserves all of the accolades he’s received for his numerous and fantastic albums. And Steve Unruh is an enormously talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, who handled vocal, guitar, flute, and even drum duties (mostly with his feet), using an instrumental rig that would make Bert from Mary Poppins proud. Valerie Gracious’s vocals were gorgeous, and her and Phideaux both contributed piano parts throughout the set. Ariel Farber sang some lovely backup vocals and played some additional strings, along with Steve.

Phideaux and Steve are two songwriters that have very strong and recognizable artistic voices, and while I wasn’t as familiar with individual song names, I felt like their musical character was able to show through from song to song. But, they both do likely exist in close clusters in the Great Prog Nebula, as they address similar themes in their music (such as human folly) with really incisive and astute lyrics and observations. And they have really obvious musical chemistry and mutual admiration. I remember when I saw Phideaux and Steve performed in 2018, one of my favorite tracks they played was called “One Star”, and I was thrilled that they played an amazing arrangement of that very driving, catchy tune with all four musicians on stage, filling the room with stunning and haunting harmonies. As a matter of fact, their set had some of the loveliest harmonies we’ve heard yet at the festival, which, as a person who loves vocal harmonies almost more than anything else, was a joy for me.

When you’re reviewing a prog festival, it’s hard to resist the temptation to repeat yourself. Most everyone here is a talented musician, so yeah, I’m not just going to say “Everyone on stage was so talented”. But seeing Steve Unruh playing the drums with both feet and one hand, and flute with his free hand, was something I can’t say I’ve seen done before, let alone done well. I thought the absence of a dedicated drummer or electric guitarist or other members might make for a lighter sound, but they managed to really fill the space and their sound was surprisingly rich and dense.

Up next was Jane Getter Premonition. Jane is someone we’ve been fans of for almost as long as Proglodytes has been around. This was, however, the first time I’ve heard her band live. And let me just say…holy shit. They started out their whole set with a devastating drum solo by the ridiculously talented Gene Lake, and the band emerged in a loud wave of dissonance.

Their intro song was a bruiser; a heavy, intense fusion metal track with some brilliant interplay between Jane on guitar and her husband, Adam Holzman, on the synths. Adam, of course requires no introduction as one of the most distinct and well regarded voices in modern prog and fusion, and seeing him solo was as thrilling as you might imagine. His tone perfectly augmented the band’s heavy sound.

Many of the tracks were from Jane’s new album, Anomalia , which is available now. While I think many progressive rock festivals tend to lean towards the lighter side of the genre, I was so happy to hear some heavy, dissonant, metal influenced fusion. Jane’s live band featured Alex Skolnick again, who proved his star status by sitting in on several acts this weekend, and the interplay between Jane and Alex was truly stunning. Both of them are world class guitarists, and seeing their mutual respect as they traded solos was a delight.

One of the more emotionally impactful tunes was a song from Jane’s set which was about the refugee experience, told from the point of view of a young Syrian girl. I work with asylum seekers and refugees for my day job, and found that track to be particularly moving, as she expressed the immense grief and challenge of loss that those individuals feel all over the world.

Jane’s set was also highly diverse, with a wide emotional range on display. I loved her more melancholy, ponderous songs just as much as I enjoyed her apocalyptically dissonant, heavy, or sinister tunes. And the hugely talented bassist Paul Frazier was on double duty, handling some highly challenging bass parts and singing backup. Jane and Paul’s voice have a similar tonal quality that made for a really pleasant blend as well. Paul however, did knock it out of the park with his lead vocal lines on their song “Train Man”. They closed out their set with a brilliant and moody instrumental track that featured some of my favorite solos of the night, and maybe the whole ProgStock event. And the set ended as it began, with a tremendous solo from drummer Gene Lake.

Rachel Flowers played again, and displayed her tremendous skill but also her endearing candor. Her written music has so much heart and authenticity, and it’s really wonderful to hear her share her experience through music. She shared one song in particular that was an open letter to those who have put her down or spoken ill of her, and she addresses her joy and contentment and their lack of heart or understanding- in a clever turn, she points out that those who are truly blind are people that are blinded by hate. It was endearing and powerful.

Alan Hewitt and One Nation took the stage next. Alan Hewitt is a highly successful producer and composer with a massive list of commercial credits, and is also well known as the current keyboardist for The Moody Blues. He assembled a highly talented band, comprised of the highly accomplished Duffy King on guitar, Moody Blues band member Billy Ashbaugh on drums, and the highly talented Neville Brothers bassist David C. Johnson on bass. Alan Hewitt and One Nation brought a message of unity and peace that felt very welcome in this day and age, and their music reflected a tangible hope and optimism. I should also mention that, being world class musicians, they truly were appreciated by the crowd. Their production values were top notch, their stage presence was formidable, and their sound was excellent.

As two of the band members are with The Moody Blues, it made sense for them to play several Moody songs, which were very welcome to this crowd. The Moody Blues was my first concert ever, so I likely heard Alan and Billy play “Nights in White Satin” and “Legend of a Mind (Timothy Leary’s Dead)” the first time i saw them. I am grateful that they played some of those timeless tunes. it is always wonderful to hear them in the ProgStock context.

The final ProgStock band was a fusion of Dark Beauty and Potter’s Daughter. I was lucky to catch Dark Beauty in 2018, and was very fortunate to find out about Potter’s Daughter and interview Dianne in promotion for ProgStock. They both took the stage and played at different times. Liz Tapia and Bryan Ziegler performed their signature blend of gothic tones, classical music, rock, and the result was beautiful and hypnotizing.

Photo Credit: Erik Nielsen/ProgStock

Potter’s Daughter played their cerebral piano driven prog rock, and I enjoyed seeing her for the first time and hearing her lovely voice and thoughtful tunes in a live context. I was particularly appreciative of her covers: “Tears” by Rush was a crowd pleaser, and as a huge Joni Mitchell fan, I was so happy to hear “Free Man In Paris”.

Throughout the set, both bands combined and separated, and Potter’s Daughter merged into Dark Beauty (Potter’s Dark Beauty Daughter? Potter’s Beauty?) and Liz Tapia’s expressive voice, combined with Potter’s Daughter’s backup, made for a very powerful pairing.

At some point in the very late night, after fantastic music and very stimulating discussion, I came to the crushing realization that my weekend was coming to a close. This ProgStock was different than the years prior, for sure. It was on a slightly smaller scale than before, and while that may have been disappointing for some, I think it gave the festival a more relaxed atmosphere. And there may have been less acts and less staff, but this time felt much more comfortable and familial than any year prior. I met more new friends at this event than any festival prior, and I really enjoyed the slightly slower pace and air in between acts.

Oh! And before I finish, several bands for next year have been announced. As they’re public knowledge now, the following bands have been confirmed for ProgStock 22: District 97, Orpheus 9, IO Earth, Rachel Flowers, Melanie Mau and Martin Schnella, Evership, and Unitopia! We will, of course, continue to post as we hear more about next year! Thanks to Tom Palmieri, Ann Rinaldi, and so many more people- too many to thank. Until next year!

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