NEARFest 2012 – Apocalypse: 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 2012 – Apocalypse was (including Friday night):
- Van der Graaf Generator
- Mike Keneally Band
- Twelfth Night
- Il Tempio delle Clessidre
- Gösta Berlings Saga
- Helmet of Gnats
This was the thirteenth NEARFest and my twelfth consecutive Festival. This Festival was the tenth Festival, and eighth consecutive Festival, to take place at at the Zoellner Arts Center on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Sadly, this was the last NEARFest. NEARFest attempted to modify its approach for its 2011 edition which resulted in its cancellation due to a lack of ticket sales for the first time since its inception. The Festival organizers appeared to be growing weary of the annual responsibilities of putting on the Festival so, in light of the 2011 cancellation, their fatigue, and, no doubt, their increasing familial responsibilities (the marriages and children occurring since 1999), they decided to make the 2012 edition the final Festival, and to go out with a bang!
At the outset, as noted above, they invited both Dean and Wilkinson, and both designed a logo for the 2012 Festival. Dean designed the logos for NEARFests 2001 – 2008 and Wilkinson designed the logos for NEARFests 2009 and 2010. I, once again, got a chance to meet them both.
In addition to the artists, this Festival also saw the invitation of multiple Festival musician-alumni, specifically Eddie Jobson (i.e.: U.K.), Van Der Graaf Generator, Änglagård (see here), Mike Keneally Band, and Annie Haslam. Technically, NEARFest 2012 featured Jobson’s Ultimate Zero Project (U.Z.P.) (see here), but, quite honestly, the musical selection U.K. offered was extremely similar except that U.K. was a four piece which featured its singer and bass player John Wetton, and did not include the additional musicians the U.Z.P. featured. My impressions of U.K. were similar to that of the U.Z.P. (see here) except this had the added thrill of having the legendary U.K front man John Wetton in the band, making this band a much more authentic experience of U.K. than U.Z.P. He was in great voice, and not only did he bring the U.K. songs to life, when they played his King Crimson material, it brought chills to my skin as that music is so incredible and I would never have thought to have the opportunity to hear it live with its original singer and bass player (Wetton) and contributor (Jobson). A stalwart and classic prog rock band with legendary prog rock musicians was a fitting way for the Festival to go off into the eternal night.
My thoughts on Van Der Graaf Generator are the same as when I saw them at NEARFest 2009 so, instead of repeating it in this post, see here instead. The same goes for the Mike Keneally Band, who I saw at NEARFest 2004, which can be seen here. Let me just say here that I will forever be impressed by ambidexterity and Keneally playing guitar and keyboards at the same time blows me away.
The other “big name” at this Festival was Renaissance, which was, of course, fronted by the princess of prog rock, Annie Haslam. Now, this was the first time Renaissance appeared at the Festival, and it was Haslam’s first time there as a performer, but she attended prior Festivals in order to promote her music and sell her artwork (see here for her 2004 Festival appearance and here for her 2007 Festival appearance). I always thought it weird Renaissance never appeared before this Festival because Haslam lived (and may still live) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (about an hour-and-a-half’s distance from the Festival), so it seems obvious the band would appear, and I was surprised it took them this long to do so. Renaissance played their classics (though at this point their lineup had been reduced to just Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford from their classic era). Dunford was a long time member of the band (he joined for their second lineup in 1970), and was one of their primary contributors in terms of composition and sound. He died not long after this show and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see them while he was still alive and playing well. The band sounded tight and as beautiful as always. They employed a second keyboardist, in addition to their classic piano approach to the music, in order to replicate their lush orchestral sound.
As always, this Festival had a stand out “unknown” band which quickly endeared itself to me. For this Festival, that honor went to Aranis. What a great band with an unusual sound for one placed in a “rock” genre. They feature violins, accordion, upright bass, flute, piano, and, of course, guitar. They play instrumental music which is acoustic in nature and presents a fusion of rock and jazz music in the style and approach of chamber music. Wonderful. They are sometimes placed in the RIO sub-genre, but I think that is a mistake and simply reflects the difficulty in pigeonholing them. RIO generally features relentlessly dissonant and/or amelodic and/or arhythmic music, and Aranis features none of those things. Aranis’ music is beautifully melodic and pleasant to the ears, and any dissonance or the like they may play merely serves as a momentary contrast and/or to build drama and emotion. I highly recommend this band to my readers.
The 2012 Festival was fantastic and the Festival over the years presented amazing music and, quite honestly, represents some of my most favorite weekends in my life. I was, and still am, sad to see it end, and rather forlorn that nothing has been able to really replace it in presenting quality prog rock in the Philadelphia area on the level the Festival was able to accomplish. I am extremely happy I was blessed by the Festival over the years and able to see all but one of them (the first).
Thanks to NEARFest and thanks most of all to its founders and organizers for bringing so much phenomenal music to my life. I will be forever grateful and will never forget it.