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First of all, a little background information. Although I am a native speaker of Italian, the English language has been a constant presence in my life since I was 7 years old. Languages are not only a passion for me, but also my main professional expertise (I am a language teacher with experience as a translator), and probably my biggest talent, though I have not been able to learn as many as I would have liked. Having learned English at such an early age (something I will never thank my parents enough for), as well as a few other languages along the way, has not only allowed me to meet and communicate with people from every corner of the world, but also shaped the kind of person I am today, and my whole worldview. Therefore, whenever I happen upon people singing the praises of monolingualism, or stating that they do not need to learn any foreign languages because “everyone speaks English”, my hackles rise, and I tend to lose at least some respect for those who utter such nonsense.

While the original progressive rock movement originated in England, and extremely influential bands such as Yes and Genesis are as English as afternoon tea, that same movement put deep-seated roots in other countries whose first language is not English – first and foremost my native Italy, but also places as far removed from Europe as Japan, Brazil and Argentina. Nowadays the practice of English lyrics may have become widespread, especially out of commercial considerations, but in the early Seventies most bands and artists from non-English-speaking countries (with some notable exceptions such as many German bands) chose to use their native languages. Though lack of proficiency was undoubtedly  one of the main reasons (since foreign language teaching was not as widespread or methodologically advanced at the time as it is today), this choice was also closely connected to a desire to adapt the new musical trend to the musical and cultural roots of the artists. As any treatise on Italian prog (or RPI, as it is now commonly called in prog circles) worth its salt will clearly illustrate, the whole scene cannot be divorced by its use of Italian – a language that has been often labelled as “the most beautiful in the world”, and which has proved its worth time and again in the history of music, regardless of genre.

Obviously, there is also a school of thought maintaining that English is the only language suited to rock music –  which seems to hold more or less true for heavy metal, though not necessarily for other rock genres. In particular, the distinctive features of prog make it an ideal vehicle for just about any language, and not just because it contains extended instrumental breaks that make vocals almost an afterthought. No one who has ever listened to Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Los Jaivas or Ange (to mention three bands from different countries and cultural environments) will regret their choice to use Italian, Spanish or French instead of English, on account of the perfect fit between those languages and the band’s musical direction. Not surprisingly, real devotees of Italian prog are not particularly keen on “translated” albums such as PFM’s Photos of Ghosts or Banco’s As in a Last Supper, and even albums that were originally recorded in English, such as Cherry Five’s self-titled debut or New Trolls’ Searching for a Land, tend not to evoke as much enthusiasm as their Italian-language counterparts.

Indeed, the use of Italian is as much a part of RPI as the passionate, quasi-operatic vocal style or the incorporation of folk and classical elements – and the same holds true for Spanish or French prog. Even an impenetrable (at least for us Westerners) language like Japanese complements the music of Japanese prog bands much better than the often poor attempts at English lyrics – equally often marred by a less than stellar pronunciation (a common problem for speakers of languages with vastly different phonetic systems than English). Conversely, the choice to use English may come at the price of error-riddled lyrics and liner notes, with often laughable results that inevitably end up hurting the band’s credibility on the international scene. The misguided idea that English is a much easier language to master than, say, Italian or Spanish – coupled with the utterly deplorable trend of resorting to those terrifying language manglers, online translators – is the main culprit behind song titles containing visible blunders, or positively ridiculous lyrics which do a band or artist no favours.

In spite of all the arguments in favour of using one’s native tongue, there is still quite a lot of prejudice about progressive rock with lyrics in languages other than English – mostly on the part of people from English-speaking countries, though not always necessarily so. Many native English speakers are not used to hearing other languages spoken on TV or at the movies, due to the prevalence of English in the entertainment industry; some people may even feel threatened by what they cannot understand, while others are hampered by a kind of mental laziness, so to speak. This is especially true in a country like the USA, where English has always been instrumental to the assimilation of newcomers into American society – to the extent that most second-generation Americans do not speak their parents’ language. In general terms, Europeans are more used to hearing different languages, in some cases within their own country, and learning one or more foreign languages  (even as a hobby)  is definitely more common in Europe than in the US.

A couple of months ago, a shockingly mean-spirited attack on prog with non-English vocals was delivered in a review published on the only mainstream magazine currently dedicated to prog.  In his account of Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s excellent debut album, the reviewer stated that “ […] no matter how hard they might try to build it up, the majority of Italian prog bands have made little impact on the world stage”, and then proceeded to make matters worse by adding that “the blunt, politically incorrect truth is that, in spite of occasional flashes of musical magic,with all the lyrics being delivered in Italian, it’s still an album most would never listen to more than once.” Though it was not the first time that the magazine had taken a swipe at non-English prog, the virulence of the attack was unprecedented.

Obviously, the author of the review was unaware, or maybe intentionally oblivious, of the sizable number of people worldwide whose appreciation of Italian prog drives them to invest large amounts of money in the purchase of both vintage and modern releases. The same might be said for French or Spanish prog, or even for Eastern European acts, all of whom have a dedicated following in English-speaking countries. In fact, the news that Greg Walker, one of the foremost online prog sellers,  is organizing a festival for 2012 which will feature bands from Italy and other European countries (most of them singing in their respective languages) has already created a lot of anticipation in the prog community, proving that particular writer’s statement dead wrong, as well as unnecessarily chauvinistic. While people have every right to dislike music sung in foreign languages (and, in my years of frequentation of prog discussion boards, I have come across quite a few that fit this description), the line should be drawn at blatantly untrue statements, especially when informed by a sense of condescension and barely concealed xenophobia.

Personally, I find it rather sad that, in the second decade of the 21st century, there are still people who feel out of their depth when confronted with something even slightly unfamiliar. The aversion to foreign-language vocals might be compared to many people’s unwillingness to taste any “exotic” foods, even relatively tame ones, and it is definitely rooted in a reluctance to step out of one’s comfort zone. However, one would expect a bit more open-mindedness from fans of a genre that proudly bears the “progressive” tag, and the suspicion that there may be some ulterior motives behind statements such as the ones featured in that review leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. Thankfully, in the far-flung community of progressive rock lovers there are enough people who recognize that understanding lyrical content is nowhere as important as being captivated by the music, and that vocals can often be considered as an additional instrument – regardless of what a singer is singing about.  Petty, spiteful comments such as “no one would listen more than once to an album not sung in English” paint their author as a narrow-minded person who is stuck in a sort of late-colonial frame of mind, basically viewing anyone who does not adopt their language as inferior and unworthy of attention. Progressive rock deserves better than so-called journalists supporting such bigoted views.

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On June 25, 2010, the very first post on Fire of Unknown Origin was published. It was a very short statement of intent, no more than a couple of sentences, illustrating to my would-be readers what this blog was going to be like. At the time, I was still writing for another prog-based site, so the blog was meant to host reviews of older (and often rather obscure) material, mainly revamped versions of reviews I had already posted elsewhere in the early years of my ‘career’. With a growing backlog of to-be-reviewed CDs (which eventually reached the staggering number of 80), there was simply no time for me to do anything else – such as writing brand-new reviews of some of the lesser-known albums in my collection.

However, as my regular readers will already know, things changed quite fast in the following months, and, at the beginning of October 2010, the first reviews of recently-released albums started to appear. The floodgates were open, and the older stuff – now tagged, in not completely original fashion, as ‘from the vault’ – eventually took a backseat to the new. After a relatively brief adjustment phase, the monthly post count began to climb, and so did the views. The end-of-year stats for those mere 5 months of operation were extremely flattering for a venture started in such an unassuming way. But the best was yet to come…

In the following six months, Fire of Unknown Origin has received almost 9,000 views, with some articles garnering a level of success that I would not have foreseen when I decided to start my own blog. The two essays written as a consequence of the cancellation of NEARfest 2001 were viewed over 600 times altogether, and sparked a lively debate with over 60 comments. Moreover, though  there is obviously a core of loyal readers and subscribers, the number of people who have stumbled upon the blog, or been otherwise directed to it by well-placed links, seems to be steadily growing. This has encouraged me to strive for quality, and avoid giving in to the temptation of writing a higher amount of shorter, more superficial reviews. Each and every one of my posts has a lot of work behind it, and obviously the frequency of the postings depends on a number of factors – such as occasional bouts of writer’s block versus periods of high inspiration. Even if I am my own boss and have no deadlines to honour, I am as disciplined a writer as I can, and try not to keep the artists or labels that send me their material waiting too long.

In the past few months, Fire of Unknown Origin has expanded from a mere repository of reviews to something on a larger scale, in spite of the constraints inherent to any one-person operation. My very first interview was posted a few days ago, and reviews of live events have already become a regular feature. I also hope to include more press releases to inform my readers about events of interest, especially those happening in my native Italy. While progressive rock has been the blog’s main thrust since its inception, I will continue to publish reviews and articles covering other genres that can be seen as tangential to prog, from classic rock to jazz to world music, reflecting the constant expansion and growth of my own musical tastes.

Even though I am on the verge of starting a new collaboration with a rather high-profile website, I will not put Fire of Unknown Origin on the back burner, but keep it up and running as a parallel project to host reviews and articles on music-related issues. I am proud to say that this blog has probably been the greatest success story of my life, and the friendships and interesting contacts that were born out of it more than make up for the lack of that financial reward that these days seems to have sadly become the be-all and end-all of many people’s  lives.

Therefore, I wish to thank all of you who have been supporting this blog since its earliest days, as well as those who have come to it in more recent times – the artists and label owners who have encouraged me with their praise and given exposure to my writings, the friends who have become regular guests, and also  those who have chanced upon it through Google searches. I hope to keep delivering the goods for a long time yet!

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Now that the dust has settled, and life is slowly getting back to normal for the ‘prog community’ after a lengthy wound-licking session, it is time to draw some conclusions, and see if there is any way forward for the whole scene after such a traumatic, unexpected event – or else, if we have to consider the possibility that NEARfest’s cancellation might spell the genre’s upcoming demise. The many thoughtful responses to my original article go to show that this unfortunate occurrence had a strong impact on the far-flung community of progressive rock fans. However, it is probably much too soon to gauge if this impact will have a destructive effect on the prog scene, or rather help people to understand that nothing can be taken for granted, and that the music which we all claim to love should be cherished and nurtured.

When the full import of the cancellation finally sank in, some long-time NEARfest attendees reacted as if they had experienced the loss of a loved one, or, at the very least, of something precious and unique. Some, believing that the festival (like the Titanic) was unsinkable, and would always break even, had been completely blindsided the situation. Others, conversely, stood by their conviction that the organizers had somehow ‘asked for it’ by assembling a weak line-up, and claimed their right to bail out if the programme was not attractive enough. All in all, it was not a particularly pretty sight.

Those outside the core group of stalwart festival-goers had rather different insights to provide. While the news made no one happy, most of the ‘outsiders’ contested the motivations that had led the organizers to their decision, and – almost unanimously – laid the blame on the lack of support on the part of the community. After a few days from the announcement, people’s façades of goodwill and equanimity began to slip. Instead of pulling together, the community showed that the cracks were deepening, and none more noticeably than the one between the two main ‘factions’ – those still steeped in nostalgia, and those who choose to look forward. It feels like, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, the twain shall never meet, at least not for some time.

One of the biggest implications of the whole débacle is that the prog scene has been left with a metaphorical black eye – even if now, some two weeks after the fact,  everything seems to be back to ‘business as usual’ in the extensive network of prog-related sites. With prog fans’ long-standing reputation for elitism and ‘living in the past’, this is not going to do them any favours with the rest of the underground music scene. In spite of the negative comments that had accompanied the announcement of their headliner status, the members of Umphrey’s McGee had been looking forward to performing for the NEARfest audience, and  the statement posted on their own website after the cancellation made their disappointment quite obvious.

Unfortunately, in their stubborn close-mindedness, many prog fans do not realize that even a relatively successful band like Umphrey’s McGee might be glad to be involved in something that might expose them to a new audience and pose them a challenge of sorts. Caught up in endless, hair-splitting debates about the nature of prog, and obsessed with putting a label on everything they hear, they seem to forget that in their beloved Seventies the music scene was much more open and accepting. It was normal at the time to see bands as diverse as ELP, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, The Eagles and Earth, Wind and Fire share a stage at California Jam without people having hissy fits –a trend that seems to have made a comeback in recent years, as proved by last year’s High Voltage festival in London. Many festival-goers also seem to have forgotten about the “Art Rock” present in the NEARfest acronym in their cries of woe over the booking of anything that does not fit their own narrow definition of progressive rock.

Indeed, the adventurous spirit of the late Sixties and early Seventies seems to have deserted a large slice of the prog community, in spite of the almost idealized portrait painted by last year’s documentary Romantic Warriors. To paraphrase Genesis, far too many fans seem to know what they like, and like what they know – and, in times of severe economic crisis, this has made them even more suspicious of leaving their individual comfort zones. Therefore, the need for ‘big names’ (a musical equivalent of designer labels) in order to draw the crowds, even when they do not necessarily mean better quality. The 2010 edition of NEARfest was headlined by Eddie Jobson and his Ultimate Zero Project (an impressive collection of gifted musicians), which, against all expectations, left a good part of the audience cold, when not positively frustrated. Indeed, the complaining about the band coming on stage late (with accusations of ‘star behaviour’ liberally thrown around), or just not delivering from a musical point of view, went on for days – just like any discussion brimming with negative comments about Yes’ latest incarnation or Phil Collins’ alleged destruction of Genesis usually does.

Yet, it seems the lesson has not been learned. At least here in the US, any ‘vintage’ band will always have the edge over modern bands, no matter how good the latter may be. The comments that I have often come across about bands or artists not being as good live as they are on CD are quite revealing of this suspicious (for lack of a better word) attitude towards anything new. Moreover, bands or artists who try to publicize their activity on discussion boards may end up being accused of ‘spamming’ – not to mention the deplorable attitude that seems to consider ‘international’ acts the only ones worth spending money on. Apparently, for quite a few prog fans, so-called ‘obscure’ bands are interesting only as additions to their already extensive CD or vinyl collections.

At the time of writing, only three of the major US prog festivals are still standing. ROSfest (which mainly appeals to a more ‘conservative’ audience) will be taking place on the third weekend of May, and has indeed has taken advantage of NEARfest’s cancellation by attracting at least some of its ‘orphans’ (including myself and my husband), especially those living in the Northeast. The ProgDay lineup seems to have already been finalized, though only two bands have been announced so far; while the future of CalProg is still uncertain. In the meantime, Europe, in spite of the economic crisis, is teeming with prog and other music festivals, most of them featuring up-and-coming bands.

As I observed in my opening paragraph, my original essay received a lot of feedback, both from artists and fans. Interestingly (though not surprisingly), the points of view of these two groups often differ quite sharply. While the fans displayed a range of feelings that went from censure to disappointment and even outright sadness, the musicians’ attitude as a whole expressed worry about the future of the scene, especially as regards opportunities for live performances. Having met many of those people in the past few years, and knowing about the constant struggles they face in order to get their music to be heard, I have no qualms in stating that I am completely on their side – even if I have never played a note in my whole life. Here are a few of the points that have emerged from the discussion of the past two weeks.

  • Promoters and independent label owners are growing disenchanted with the overall attitude of the fandom. Bringing international artists to the USA is neither cheap nor fast, and a snag in the visa process may cause a cancellation of a band or artist’s appearance (as it already did several times in the past). Moreover, those who work behind the scenes are quite likely to sustain financial losses in the event of a cancellation, as well as damage to their reputation of reliability – on top of the inevitable practical headaches. Promoters have already started wondering whether is worth going through all that hassle in order to bring bands to the US with the looming risk of seeing  an event evaporate if their prospective audience do not find their names appealing enough.
  • Home-grown acts are growing increasingly frustrated with being relegated to the status of stopgaps to fall back on when international names defect – ignoring the struggles they have to go through in order to find gigs outside the narrow borders of their home states or regions. Some of the comments about last year’s amazing ProgDay line-up being second-rate because of the lack of international bands were rather enlightening, as well as profoundly depressing. The US are currently home to a large number of exciting acts, ranging from the retro-oriented to those of a more avant-garde bent.  Quite a few of them have also produced genuinely challenging music, which does not deserve being dismissed so offhandedly. It is not like any of those bands are able to perform every weekend somewhere around the country. Such a blinkered attitude is not only deeply unfair towards those talented, hard-working musicians, but unmotivated as well. The oversaturation of the market that I so often mention in my reviews does not help either, as it causes a staggering number of bands or solo artists to compete for a handful of live spots.
  • A number of interesting suggestions have come from the ranks of the artists, who in some cases have had direct experience of organizing events. The almost unanimous advice was to stop catering solely to a niche audience, and consider the idea of multi-genre festivals, like the above-mentioned High Voltage, Reading Festival and other lower-profile events taking place in Europe and on the American continent. In spite of the jaded, world-weary attitude of many members of the community, who blithely foresee the death of live performances, people still enjoy live music quite a lot, and multi-genre events have the advantage of offering something to everyone. While most musicians would welcome the opportunity to perform at a festival covering a broader range of genres, they are also aware of the often unbending mindset of many fans. There is a clear disconnect between the two camps, with the fans standing their ground and claiming their right to support only the music they find worthwhile, and musicians feeling increasingly marginalized and taken for granted.
  • The disconnect between the organizers and their prospective audience also played a large role in the festival’s demise. Having been able to rely for years on end on a core of regular attendees, the organizers put too much faith in them, and were caught off guard when support dropped as sharply as it did this year. Practically no efforts were made to reach outside this restricted group, and the tools offered by the Internet were not deployed to their full effect. Not only did the organizers neglect to advertise the event on other progressive sites than their privileged channel (a US-based forum), but they declined to use the three public Facebook pages dedicated to the event, or even their own board. The latter has been down for over a year, and their dedicated mailing list is only accessible to those who register from the event’s website – not as visible as the social networking sites of which other events make widespread use. Since patron sales were the festival’s cornerstone, no efforts should have been spared to gain new supporters – possibly among forward-thinking people who would have jumped at the opportunity of seeing the bands on the bill, instead of turning up their noses because they were not famous or not ‘prog’ enough.
  • A number of NEARfest attendees (including myself and my husband) have often been left with the feeling of intruding on a private club meeting. Some have felt definitely rebuffed, and complained about a borderline hostile atmosphere – an impression that the core community has tried to refute in every way, even to the point of denying the evidence. In my humble opinion, when organizers rely so heavily on patrons’ donations in order to keep the festival going, they cannot afford to give part of the audience the impression of a high-school-style clique that keeps interlopers at bay. Last year’s incident with my review made me briefly consider not to attend in 2011, no matter how much I liked most other aspects of the festival. Other people had decided to stop attending altogether after one snub too many. Unfortunately, it seems that the members of the core group are either unaware of their attitude, or have decided not to care about other people’s opinions.
  • Some people from both camps have also suggested alternative methods of funding events, such as using funding platforms like Kickstarter or CrowdFund – as well as scaling back the size of the events, at least until the economy recovers. Indeed, as illustrated by the previous paragraphs, it is not wise to rely too much on the goodwill of patrons, especially when such reliance implies damaging the prospects of younger bands in order to craft a more attractive line-up. This might be a viable option to pursue in a country like the US, where public funding for the arts is not as widespread as in Europe and other Western countries.

To be perfectly honest, many of the reactions I have come across in the past two weeks do not bode well for the future of the US progressive rock scene. Thanks to the Internet, bands and artists would still be able to get their material across to interested listeners – but the opportunities for live performances would get even more scarce than they currently are, which would favour those bands who are chiefly studio-based projects. The frustration may eventually put an end to the existence of many bands, and the competition for the very few remaining live slots may well become unsustainable. Even worse, many of the more cutting-edge bands that in the past few years have been welcomed under the prog umbrella might decide to seek greener pastures, and disassociate themselves from the scene. That would leave prog as the preserve of those bands that, with their conservative, even ‘regressive’ approach,  are still capable of attracting crowds. The gap between ‘Prog’ and ‘progressive’ would inevitably widen, and become almost impossible to bridge – as a few enlightened people realize. Anyway, even if it is probably too soon to give in to pessimism, as long as the majority of the fans are unwilling to step out of their comfort zones, the future of the scene looks anything but bright.

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The Internet channels dedicated to progressive rock were bursting at the seams yesterday after the shocking news of the cancellation of one of the year’s most awaited events, the North-East Art Rock Festival, affectionately known as NEARfest.  When I first saw the announcement, posted as a link on the Wall of one of my Facebook friends, my first impulse was to check mentally if it was already April 1…

Unfortunately, yesterday was only March 26, and the news was no joke.  As could be expected, the general mood in the so-called ‘prog community’ was subdued,  and many of the people who had been attending the event for years (not to mention actively contributing to its realization) were positively devastated. For many, NEARfest went beyond a simple music festival: it was an opportunity to meet friends living thousands of miles away, and spend a weekend away from the worries and routine of ‘normal’ life. Now, instead, people are going to lose money they have already paid for airfares, car rentals and the like – not to mention the sadness at seeing their expectations of a wonderful weekend of music and friendship brutally dashed. Considering the average age of the attendees, this is not something that should be discounted.

Obviously, as all too often happens in similar circumstances, speculation was rife, as well as unashamed finger-pointing. People will always be people, and, in their disappointment,  the NEARfest ‘orphans’ were looking for something – or, even better, someone – to shoulder the blame.  While some blamed the poor state of the economy, others pointed their finger squarely at the close-mindedness, snobbishness and elitism of prog fans, which this year reached unprecedented levels due to a rather controversial line-up. The choice of a so-called ‘jam band’ like Umphrey’s McGee as Sunday headliner drew fierce criticism, and – added to a rather ‘experimental’ line-up lacking (unlike the previous years) any of the big names of the Seventies – contributed to a general lack of enthusiasm for this year’s edition. Some were even berating the organizers for not having disclosed the reality of the situation and asked for help before cancelling the event  – something which, after some of the flak they got for their choices, I cannot blame them for not doing.

Did the news take me completely by surprise? To be perfectly honest, it  did not. In some ways, I had seen it coming, especially when I compared last year’s patron sales with this year’s. Anyway, though I started putting down my thoughts yesterday afternoon, I decided to let the night bring me counsel (as we would say in Italy), and complete my essay with a clearer mind, without giving in to the temptation to blast everyone in sight. Having got our tickets in the mail two days before, that temptation would have been understandable.

As a latecomer to NEARfest,  I had been looking forward to the event, possibly even more so than the previous two editions. In the past year I have been able to meet an increasing number of members of the community, both through concert attendances, my activity as a reviewer, and the ubiquitous Facebook.  For me – a relative newcomer to the country, still with a semi-precarious status, and not yet feeling completely at ease in my new surroundings – feeling part of a group of people that shared a passion for a musical genre had provided a sense of belonging that is essential for expatriates. Though last year I had been deeply disappointed by the attitude of the organizers, who never bothered to acknowledge the lengthy review I had written for the website I was collaborating with at the time, I decided to go again this year, and contribute to the festival through the Patron Program (which, for two people, amounts to the not inconsiderable sum of $ 650).

As the regular readers of my blog know quite well, I am not interested in labels, and am by nature very curious of anything new – a prerequisite for anyone who ‘works’ as a more or less official reviewer. I also have rather diverse musical tastes, and will give anything a chance before dismissing it. On the other hand, years of frequentation of the online prog scene have made one thing very clear: for many fans, ‘progressive’ is just a word stripped of its original meaning. This seems to be especially true in my native country of Italy, where people worship Genesis and their ilk to the extent that newer bands are often forced to look for an audience outside the national borders, while tribute bands do a roaring trade. However, Europe as a whole seems to fare somewhat better in this sense, with festivals such as Gouveia Art Rock (which takes place in Portugal, a country that is far from wealthy for Western standards) that keep selling out, not to mention large-scale events such as High Voltage. Moreover, the nature of the continent (including the ease of travelling within the member states of the European Union) makes it easier for artists to tour other European countries if things are not too rosy on their home turf.

Though, as every adult person knows, very little in life is black and white, and things are obviously not as clear-cut as one might wish, I cannot help feeling that a festival that had become one of the year’s bright lights for many people (not to mention an event many bands and artists from all over the world would have sold their souls to play) has been failed, if not outright sabotaged, by the same people who were expected to support it – even if, in many cases, because of very real impediments. Even if this may sound harsh, it is hard not to wonder when one year people flock to see a bunch of glorified tribute bands – financial and other worries notwithstanding – and the following year the festival suddenly loses all appeal for them.

The sad truth, in my view, is that prog fans have become complacent with the astonishing revival of the genre in past few years – and have also got into the typical frame of mind of  ‘having your cake and eating it’, or, if you prefer, ‘my way or the highway’. Yes, they want prog to prosper and all that, and spend hours on the Internet dissecting the most obscure albums – but, when it comes to supporting those bands and artists that are flying the flag in the here and now, then all of a sudden they bail out, unless they see one  of the ‘big names’ (preferably dating back from the Seventies, though a few from later years would also qualify) on the bill. I wonder how any of those ‘new’ bands (many of whom have been around for ten years or more) are supposed to become ‘headliner material’ if no one gives them a chance to play in front of a decent audience. In a sort of perverse way, it reminds me of the situation in which many young job-seekers find themselves – being unable to apply for jobs due to lack of experience, which no one allows them to gain by hiring them.

It does not help either that many of the hardcore members of the ‘community’ have a much more limited view of prog than the one espoused by the press – as even a cursory look at Classic Rock Presents Prog (a magazine I do not particularly care for, but which has been undeniably successful) should be  enough to prove. Additionally, the younger set of prog fans are also more likely to be into progressive metal (even in its more extreme incarnations) or ‘crossover’ acts, both of which are looked upon with suspicion or even disdain by a good deal of the older stalwarts. In spite of the organizers having made it very clear in last year’s festival programme that the 2011 edition was going to be a transitional one, people still refused to accept that the future of progressive rock – if it is to survive – lies beyond the slowly drying out reservoir of  the ‘old guard’, and those newer bands that, to various degrees, reproduce the Seventies vibe. When a band like Iona are considered ‘more prog’ (whatever that means) than The Pineapple Thief or The Mars Volta, then you know that the future of the whole genre is in serious trouble.

Obviously, the above remarks do not apply to everyone, and I would never downplay the very serious difficulties that many people are going through in their everyday lives. It would also be crass of me to suggest people have to force themselves to like music that is not to their taste – I, for one, know how excruciating it can be to sit through a CD you cannot get into. However, while not suggesting that people go against the grain of their own tastes – let alone resort to stealing in order to finance their festival-going habit –  it is also clear that a change of attitude is needed if we do not want progressive music (rock or otherwise) to die out for good.

Anyway, whatever the truth of the situation, yesterday will be remembered as a very sad day for the whole community of progressive rock fans, at least as regards the USA. Even if the NEARfest organizers decide to regroup and make a comeback next year, it is unlikely that things will ever be the same. Might it have been avoided? Not being privy to the organization’s inner workings, I do not claim to have any easy answers. Clearly there were issues of miscommunication, as no one who was not an insider had any idea that the general sales were going so badly. However, it is also difficult to ignore the bickering that went on for days after every band announcement, and the nasty words that accompanied the disclosure of the Sunday headliner. This is why many of yesterday’s proclamations smack of crocodile tears, or at least sound needlessly defensive. I do not want to sound overly pessimistic, but I cannot help wondering if yesterday’s events will mean a death knell for this amazing ‘prog revival’, or rather a much-needed wake-up call for the whole scene.

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