NEARFest 2004: Photos and Memories
This post is in my series regarding the North East Art Rock Festival (NEARFest) more about which you can find here. You can find all of my posts regarding NEARFest here and I started the series here. You can also learn more about this particular Festival here and here. The information below are just some highlights I remember and photographs I took from the Festival.
The lineup for NEARFest 2004 was (including Friday night):
- Univers Zero
- Mike Keneally Band
- Planet X
- Richard Pinhas
- Sean Malone
- Yezda Urfa
- Hidria Spacefolk
- The Musical Box
Here is the 2004 logo, as designed by Roger Dean:
This was the sixth NEARFest and my fifth consecutive Festival. This Festival was the third Festival to take place at at the Zoellner Arts Center on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the first since 2001. Starting with this Festival 0f 2004, the Zoellner Arts Center became its permanent home up to, and including, the final Festival. I absolutely love the Zoellner Arts Center as a venue, and the environs in which it is found, and more on that can be found here. It would seem that the experience of holding the Festival in Trenton was too expensive, traumatic, and stressful to make the extra revenue from the additional ~800 seats worth holding it there (I wrote more about the troubles in Trenton here). This is just a guess, but it seems that the loss of revenue, and other issues flowing from the Trenton Festivals, led to a slightly stripped down roster for this Festival in terms of “big names.”
As much as I love every NEARFest, I have to say that this Festival was one of the more lackluster Festivals as compared to the others. The Strawbs, which at one point was Rick Wakeman‘s band, were rather a let down and underwhelming (and pretty rickety sounding at that) and Univers Zero, while I like them, are relentlessly RIO, which I find difficult to listen to for more than about thirty minutes. Mike Keneally, who is an extremely talented guitar player (and occasional keyboardist) who has playing in Frank Zappa‘s band as part of his resume, was a fun performance, though I just have never really come around to truly enjoying Zappa-type music (though I respect it a lot). This was also the year when mid-day solo spots started in order to help resolve the delays that became epidemic in Trenton. The solo spot portion, which replaced what used to be a full band performance in prior Festivals, in 2004 were Richard Pinhas and Sean Malone, both of whom were interesting for a short while though, for me, became a little boring due to sonic monotony. Pallas is a classic neo-prog band and I enjoyed them in that spirit, though I am not a huge fan of the sub-genre. Planet X were just too loud and too constantly dissonant for me to enjoy for more than a few minutes. This Festival’s great “find” was Hidria Spacefolk, which featured two very blonde Swedes with long dreadlocks, which was a space rock band with a sound that recalls Ozric Tentacles. I thought this band was the best of the weekend with the exception of The Musical Box. I am a huge fan of The Musical Box as they are a Genesis recreation band and they performed amazingly as usual. They played a set from the Selling England by the Pound tour. You can read more about The Musical Box here.
This Festival was the fourth Festival where I got to meet (again) the legendary Yes artist Roger Dean and, once again, he was as gracious as ever and signed a boat load of things for me as usual. This was also one of the few Festivals where I did not have a seat within the first few rows, which, as it turned out, was not altogether a bad thing considering the line up this year. One of the highlights for me was the appearance of Annie Haslam, whom I had never seen before this Festival. No, she did not perform, either solo or with Renaissance, but she did talk prog rock and hawk her wares, which was some artwork. She lived (and may still live) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (about an hour-and-a-half’s distance from the Festival) so it seems obvious she would appear and I was surprised it took her this long to do so. It was very exciting to me to have met such an icon of prog rock, though I have to say that I found her demeanor to be somewhat bitter and unpleasant.
Finally, this was the only Festival that I did not attend with my Uncle Jim. Due to a scheduling anomaly, this Festival was held in July as opposed to the end of June (my Uncle, expecting a late June Festival, scheduled an early July vacation in Arizona). As a result, I had to break up the Festival days between more than one person (I really cannot expect the better part of three days of relentless prog rock to be borne by someone who is not a die hard prog rock fan), so my friend, and former college roommate Steve, joined me for some performances, and my then girlfriend (now wife) Tiffani for some others. I joked that between this Festival, this Yes concert, and a couple of other shows (like Rick Wakeman’s solo show and the concert which put her over the edge on prog rock (see here)), she proved, through her resiliency and grace in going to these shows, more than enough that we were destined to get married, which we did about a year and a half later.