‘We came, we saw, we stuck together’.
These words come from the mouth of one of Progressive Rock’s unsung heroes, Chad Hutchinson. Along with Robert LaDuca, Kevin Feeley and a select crew of equally dedicated individuals, Chad was responsible for over a decade of running the biggest annual Progressive Rock festival in the world; the North East Art Rock Festival or NEARfest as most people knew it.
Now before we get into anything serious here, I must warn you that anything deep and meaningful I say here is going to be partially compromised by the fact that the day prior to the following events, I did something very stupid; I ate food purchased at a baseball stadium. You’ve seen The Deer Hunter haven’t you? Well what Robert DeNiro did with a revolver and his head, I did with my arse and a taco.
Yeah, there is nothing good about that image is there?
Anyway the day after this rather silly act, I spent an afternoon and evening in the company of a good many American/Canadian prog movers and shakers for a small social gathering at Chad Hutchinson’s home in the Pennsylvanian homelands. It was a very happy and friendly affair. We all exchanged stories, drank good beer and ate heartily in Chad’s back garden (which seemed to this Brit, the size of North Wales), as the sun went down and the fireflies lit the garden with hundreds of flickering light trails.
It felt entirely inappropriate to fart in the face of all this beauty but thanks to my game of Russian roulette with said taco, I absolutely had to slip away and quietly let one go. Fortunately the sound I emitted mingled perfectly with the trumpet solo from a Miles Davis tune playing on a boom box. I was almost in tune too so it truly was close to jazz.
Sadly I arrived Stateside too late to witness a NEARfest in person (the festival finally closed it’s doors in 2012 after over a decade of successful shows) but my wife Stacy and everyone at the party all had a hand in it at some point, be it organizing, playing or simply attending the three day event as a fan.
This got me to think about just how much goes on behind the scenes to make a genre survive from one decade to the next. For every gig I’ve attended as a punter in the past, I’ve come to realize that there is a hidden layer of organisers who work their behinds off to hire venues, book bands, sell merchandise and then vanish gently into the shadows so the show appears to run itself.Truly in all things, the art is to conceal the art.
Each year in the UK, Prog Magazine and other institutions like the Classic Rock Society hold an annual award ceremony to thank the great and the good for their contribution towards what is one of the longest surviving (and once again, thriving) genres in contemporary music. It’s at times like these that we all get a chance to recognise some of the unsung heroes who lurk behind the scenes and help keep the music we love alive.
I can think of many people out there who fit this bill perfectly who serve as, promoters, podcasters, graphic artists, music magazine staff and websites like this one, independent label bosses and forum groups to name but a few. It wasn’t until I arrived here in Philadelphia however that the Progressive eco-sphere in North America truly came into focus.
Perhaps the UK is unique in that it is an island, which helps everyone stay in semi-regular face to face contact. In contrast, in the Americas, the sheer size of the Northern continent means that festivals such as NEARfest (as was), The NJ Proghouse Homecoming Weekend, RoSfest, and Baja Prog to name but a few, become vital rallying points on the calendar for friends to meet up and celebrate their common love for the music. Travel to see a show in the USA and the chances are you have a plane ticket in your back pocket for the return journey.
Back in Chad’s garden, I look about me and realize that without people like this all over the world, I would probably never play to more than 10 people in a room at any one time. It’s a wonderful thing to behold, they came, they saw and they stuck together.A bit like my arse cheeks.
Oh I’m sorry, did I say that out loud?