ProgPower USA XVI Report, Part I: "No Matter How It Turns Out...It Never Ceases To Raise The Bar Each And Every Year."
Band Photo: Voyager (?)
Sunday....September 20, 2015....the alarm blared at 4:45pm. I guess I forgot to change it from the normal weekday. I sit up - still reeling from the post-ProgPower USA plague, a disease that seems to permeate from the long hours and constant human communication/contact over a four day annual ritual - or rite of passage for the newbie virgins. I reach for another cough drop and open unlock my phone to reveal this morning’s round of Facebook notifications.
Oh...a tag on a video from Dragonland’s second set at ProgPower USA...yes, I said “second.” Why a tag? Well, as it turned out, yours truly was afforded the incredible honor of joining the band on stage for “The Black Mare.” As I sit and contemplate just how that weekend transpired - all the changes, the problems Glenn and Jen Harveston and all involved had to endure in keeping a solidified lineup in the face of the dreaded USCIS - there really is a magic that happens in Atlanta. No matter how it turns out...it never ceases to raise the bar each and every year.
People ask me... “Why haven’t you gone to Wacken..or Metal Days....or Summer Breeze. There are more bands, some of which are on the top of your bucket list.” My answer is simple - there is no where on earth you can have the experience you can at ProgPower USA. Sure, we haven’t had Powerwolf or Running Wild yet...but if they were to appear it would be 1000x more magical than a dot on a stage a ½ mile away in a sea of 30,000 sweating, filthy metalheads. Camping isn’t my thing...comfort is. At Center Stage, you have an intimate setting of 1,200 fans, so close to living inside the moment you can literally reach out and touch it. Those same bands that grace those huge stages as dots across a field are life size and talking and drinking with you. You are within a short walk to a number of hotels, one of which is the mecca for the epic after parties - the Artmore Hotel.
Tell me where you can duplicate this experience....right, no where. So I resign to wait, trusting in the vision of three men: Glenn Harveston, Milton Mendonca and Nathan Block. The trust is deep...as each year that bucket list gets checked off with earnest.
Sitting in quiet, battling a cough of the latest round of “the plague” - I watch that Dragonland video and think back to one weekend prior with a wealth of amazing memories. For me, the entire weekend seemed to hinge on this amazing band from Sweden, an all time favorite in the vein of Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody - another epic moment from ProgPower USA XIV (2013) that I never thought would be topped. However, the magic of this festival never ceases to amaze. Just days prior, in a moment of sheer and honest excitement, I posted another one in a string of hundreds of “Singin’ In the Car” videos - covering yet again “Fire & Brimstone.” The attention the band was receiving over the previous two months (most of which was mired in a “USCIS” situation that nearly derailed its performance(s)) was the most I’d ever devoted to any one band since Luca’s brilliant cinematic performance two years former. Without my prior knowledge, these little videos were something of a “legend” in Scandinavia and the band planned all along to acknowledge it in a way I never expected nor deserved.
It all started on an incredibly comfortable plane ride from Hartford to Atlanta. After learning just hours before that Brazil’s Hibria was the latest victim of the wrath of the inept USCIS, I was left wondering just where my sponsorship would fall. Two beers in, it didn’t quite matter. I am so fortunate to even attend this event annually (by the grace of my wife of 11 years) and drop my name among its many stellar and rabidly devoted sponsors. Two more drinks at the airport awaiting the arrival of close friends from Texas, there was a buzz that would affix itself permanently that weekend with a smile...something that happens so rarely in the boring regular part of my life.
Checking in to the Residence Inn/17th Street - my recent hotel of choice - and entering the palatial suite had a feeling of home (away from home). It was just a mere hour and a half before Mid-Week Mayhem, the Wednesday portion of the event booked by Milton Mendonca of Infinity Concerts. Tonight there would be the culmination of the two week North American tour of Sweden’s Evergrey and Australia’s Voyager. Having had the distinct pleasure of seeing both bands in the past, as well as less than a week earlier in New York City - this tour was so special on so many levels. While I’m aghast every single time I see Tom Englund and company, Voyager is by far one of the most energetic and amazing bands you will ever see live.
Tonight however, it started with Atlanta’s own Halcyon Way, a band that doesn’t seem to get the credit they deserve for the amazing career they have built already - with the band’s best album “Conquer” released earlier in the year. Steve, Jon, Max, Skyler and Ernie always put on a hell of a show and this was no different.
They warmed up this crowd with newer classics like “Conquer,” “Home” and “Web of Lies” along side its other classics “Desecration Day,” “The Age of Betrayal” and “Rise to Revise.” The band’s work shirt attire signifies that you are watching one of the hardest working bands in the business. Now the world needs to follow suit.
The last time I saw Ashes of Ares was at ProgPower USA XIV (2013). At the time, the self-titled debut from the band which sports ex-Iced Earth vocalist Matt Barlow (ex-Pyramaze) and ex-Iced Earth bassist Freddy Vidales, along side the great Van Williams (ex-Nevermore) on drums, was brand new. Vidales presented himself that year as the guitarist, something I never thought suited him well in this band, despite the quality of the product. On this night, Vidales fortunately returned to bass duties, paving the way for Ghost Ship Octavius guitarist Adon Fanion and Charlie Honig to shine. The material sounded fresher and better with this lineup. Still, given other commitments of Barlow as both a police officer and a father, the band hasn’t released anything since. Hopefully, that changes soon.
Voyager hit the stage, playing the fan picked “I Am the Revolution” album in full. Unlike the band’s ridiculously infectious performance in New York City, the band seemed a bit stiff - likely trying to concentrate on playing an album, most of which has never been played live before....a tall order in front of the perilously picky perfectionist ProgPower USA crowd.
Guitarist Simone Dow had a lot less hilarious facial expressions and the lack of stage room tightened up the usual stomping/running/interacting antics of bassist Alex Canion, guitarist Scott Kay and vocalist/keytarist Daniel Estrin.
In the end, they pulled it off with apparent ease, falling back into the usual energetic fun of any previous live performances by the end of the set. Topping it off was Scott Kay laying his guitar onto the crowd with a horde of hungry fans eager to play as he walked away. It was pure brilliance.
Evergrey hit the stage with as much emotionally draining material as you ever would expect from one of Sweden’s finest. Having released one of you author’s favorite albums of 2014, and following up on the ProgPower USA XV appearance of Tom Englund and Jonas Ekdahl presenting “Hymns for the Broken” in a special listening session then, the band plowed through album favorites “The Fire,” “Black Undertow,” “King of Errors” and “Missing You” (one of the best ballads ever).
The band never skipped a beat since the departure of Marcus Jidell, with former, now returning guitarist Henrik Danhage leading the band’s glorious return to form. Classic after classic played in perfect harmony with the crowd: “Solitude Within,” “Recreation Day,” “A Touch of Blessing” and the “The Masterplan” never sounded better. The night culminated with a song described by a friend as “so heavy, its beyond headbanging” - “The Grand Collapse.” The band would return the next day to perform a special acoustic set.
The only damper on an otherwise perfect evening was the fact that the event took place in The Loft, the redheaded stepchild upstairs portion of the best venue the United States has to offer - Center Stage. Fortunately, with a new format change to take place in 2016...all four days of ProgPower beginning in 2016 will be in the main, and most attractive, hall.
But this was just the beginning.....
From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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