NEARFest X (2008): 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 2008 was (including Friday night):
- Banco del Mutuo Soccorso
- Liquid Tension Experiment
- Peter Hammill
- Radio Massacre International
- Koenji Hyakkei
Here is the 2008 logo, as designed by Roger Dean:
This was the tenth NEARFest (hence the Roman numeral “X”) and my ninth consecutive Festival. This Festival was the seventh Festival, and fifth consecutive Festival, to take place at at the Zoellner Arts Center on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and it remained there until the last Festival. This is the first Festival when the organizers decided to book fewer acts as they finally came to terms with the fact that the Festival’s constant delays could not be adequately remedied in any other way.
This Festival was a perfectly good one, but for me was sort of “middle of the road” in terms of how it compared to others. The fun newer, and lesser known band, for me was Morglbl. They are a Polish instrumental band which featured hard edged electric guitar led music. Their onstage feature were a couple of goofy guys (their music and stage presence was rather light hearted, which is atypical for prog rock) and a neon palm tree. I also really enjoyed Discipline, which is a smaller name band though it does have a strong cult following. Discipline is led by Matthew Parmenter who appeared as a solo act at NEARFest 2005 (see here). Their music is standard prog rock but Parmenter has a cynical edge to his approach and lyrics which makes them stand out among the rest. Also, his weird idiosyncrasies (which I did not appreciate) as a solo artist are tempered when he sings for Discipline. Echolyn, a local favorite (from Abington, PA), appeared again, their first time being in 2002 (see here). They, like in 2002, presented their epic scale neo-prog music to perfection.
Speaking of neo-prog, this leads me to the “big” names of the weekend. Fish was a big fan favorite and anticipated by many people. Fish is the lead vocalist in the so-called “classic line up” of perhaps the greatest of all neo-prog bands Marillion. I enjoyed him, his performance, and his stage presence. I can’t say I am a big fan of Marillion in particular and neo-prog in general so my enjoyment of Fish only goes so far, but I do respect him and his role in the neo-prog movement. Peter Hammill also appeared as a solo act, though he is more famously known as the leader of the classic prog rock band Van der Graaf Generator. I am a fan of Van der Graaf Generator though their music is dark, dissonant, and often somewhat disjointed. Hammill’s solo music is of a similarly dark nature and his gleaming white outfit made for an ironic contrast. He played solo guitar and solo grand piano. Although I was excited to see a prog rock great, I have to say that him playing solo, as opposed to in a band like Van der Graaf Generator, is an entirely different and sonically more limited experience and, as a result, after about 20 minutes, his music sort of devolved in my ears to just the barking of lyrics over disjointed piano chords. Synergy is not a band but a stage name for keyboard and sequencer wizard Larry Fast who also appeared at NEARFest 1999 and again at NEARFest 2006, that time as a member of The Tony Levin Band (see here). His playing was symphonic, masterful, and beautiful. I could expect nothing less from Larry Fast! The highlight of the weekend, for me, was the Liquid Tension Experiment which is high speed progressive heavy metal band that features members of classic prog-metal band Dream Theater and Tony Levin who also appeared at NEARFest 2006 (here) and 2001 (here). Just as I expected, they played a high octane high speed blistering performance which was easily the virtuoso performance of the weekend. These guys are just unbelievable in both the tempo they play and how they all can keep it together at such speeds. As Jack Black might say, they were face melting!
Finally, like other Festivals, I got to meet some people. I got to meet Marillion cover artist Mark Wilkinson who was really gentlemanly and, of course, Roger Dean (Yes and Asia cover artist) for the eighth time. Finally this Festival featured a brief presentation by Larry Fast and the daughter of the late Bob Moog. Bob Moog’s name looms large in prog rock as he is the inventor of the Moog synthesizer which has played an enormous role in the sound and development of prog rock. They spoke about the Moog Foundation, which exists to engage the community with music and establish a museum to commemorate Bob Moog and the synthesizer.