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ProgPower USA Report, Part III: "What Happened Next Was Nothing Short Of A Miracle."

Photo of Voyager

Band Photo: Voyager (?)

7:30am – September 11, 2015.

In any other place, at any other time of the year, 7:30am feels like noon. After last night’s Dragonland experience, it felt way too early. As a perpetual early riser, this one felt like grim death. I’m getting to old for this – restricted to two maybe three occasions a year that I would even consider staying out until 4:30-5:00am. I needed coffee….buckets of it. Where was Lance King and his trusty “Awakenings” blend when I needed it! Riiiiight, the main merch area doesn’t open until noon today.

Well, I couldn’t fall back asleep now…I might wake up at 3pm and I had an 11am sponsor meeting with Glenn Harveston. I cannot miss that one. Just a day earlier when arriving in Atlanta, I learned that since the issues with Hibria forced my sponsored band off the roster, I would now be proudly co-sponsoring Jeff Scott Soto. Nothing wrong with that! Here is a legend that now gets an extended set to celebrate his 30th anniversary – so I was expecting to hear solo material, Yngwie Malmsteen material and Talisman material at least! Truly exciting stuff….when one door closes, another opens wider!

I gathered what was left of my sleeping head (still anchored to the pillow) and made it down for some solitude over breakfast. If there is one meal I am not missing, its breakfast – screw dinner when metal is all around you. I caught up with my daily notifications and had almost forgotten that I had to premiere the new song/lyric video for Amberian Dawn on Metal Underground. No worries – I still had a ½ hour to get that set up back in the room.

After launching the premiere, I was making my way down to the loading dock of Center Stage and received a text from my good friend and metal brother Frank….it seems there was a Diego Valdez sighting at the Artmore. If you do not know who Diego Valdez is…shame on you. Here is a rising star from Argentina – already ranking among metal’s most powerful voices and he was here fronting Helker. They say his vocals come from a fallen legend…embedded in his name: Di[eg]o. The text contained a lovely picture of Diego with Frank and his wife Laura.

I crossed busy Peachtree Street and saw another couple of friends waiting for the sponsor meeting to start…and I hear “CARL, CARL.” I see Frank and Laura crossing the street pointing to their right (my left). There he was with the glow of the morning sun behind his head….Diego! Three years I waited to meet this man and was exactly as I envisioned: a mammoth imposing figure with a heart of gold and the mannerisms of a saint. With him were his Elecrto_Nomicon bandmate Owen Bryant and his wife and their newborn baby. You can see Diego from a mile away – his smile is instant warmth. So….I did what any self-respecting fanboy would do….I dropped to my knees and praised the king!

Unfortunately, that short meeting would be the only time I was able to speak with Diego and Owen. Still, just a few words, a few pictures and a few minutes in the presence of this man made my fatigue evaporate. That’s the thing about ProgPower USA – the weekend gets better and better with each passing moment.

At the sponsorship meeting, Glenn went over the usual rules with the caveat “Don’t F**k it up!” Truly, if you just have a great time, not get in the way and especially not act like an asshole….the VIP experience here is unparalleled in the world. This is my third time as a sponsor…and I won’t stop until the festival ends or I experience heart failure.

With time on my hands, I stopped into merch – for the only time I would go (photography tends to take up the majority of my time in Atlanta) and picked up my pre-ordered festival shirts, pre-ordered band special festival shirts and a few CDs (had to have those Artch reissues). Lunch followed with a group of good friends at the Steamhouse Lounge, a place I have gone to every year I’ve attended ProgPower USA (its across from the hotel I stayed in for my first experience at PPUSA). A quick beer run and a jump on the MARTA back to the Artmore area and we were ready for Jeff Scott Soto!

Sadly, I missed out on opener Native Construct. I really enjoyed the debut from these Berkley students, but as they say in Atlanta: “ProgPower USA is a marathon, not a sprint.” I chose to get as much time to replenish and rest as I could.

When I arrived back at the hotel, the news hit…..the amazing Swedish act that I’d been longing to see - Dynazty – was forced off the bill when two members were held up by USCIS. What???? This year has been crazy for this lunacy and I really felt for VISA wiz company Play America and the Harvestons who must have been pulling their collective hair out with the layers of bullshit from the government this year. Replacing them would be…..DRAGONLAND. Ok…well, THAT took the sting out of the moment. I was both saddened and excited beyond words. I knew stuff was cut out of the Thursday set due to time issues, so now all of that lost material comes via a second chance to make a first impression!

Just as soon as that news hit, I receive a text message from Dragonland’s Jonas Heidgert… “Guess what? Now you are coming on stage….any questions?” It’s one thing to not know about something and live in the moment – it’s another to know about it and let the nerves sink in. Well, this is going to be an experience – and another in a long line of ProgPower USA dreams. More on this topic will be discussed in Part 4.

I made it to the venue just as Native Construct’s set finished and quickly dispatched myself to the backstage area to meet our VIP rep for Jeff Scott Soto. As a sponsor, one of the great rewards is to be able to have pit access for the duration of your sponsored band’s set. Now that JSS would be playing a headline 90 minute set, this will be glorious.

After receiving my “GTFB” badge for the pit, anticipation mounted as the curtain slid across to reveal Soto with his hands up and ready to rock. If there was one consummate rock star in this ProgPower USA lineup – and the world – Jeff Scott Soto is it. A bonafide fucking rock star. He was both a pleasure and a challenge to shoot as a photographer – complete with kicks, jumps, persistent mic flips. He plowed through material from the recently released Soto album “Inside the Vertigo,” as well as the “Damage Control” release from 2012.

Over the 1 ½ set, Soto mixed in Talisman material and a medley of “I Am A Viking” and “I’ll See The Light Tonight” from Yngwie Malmsteen. Clearly, this crowd was witnessing greatness….from a “replacement act.” It shows the true genius of Glenn Harveston to have things cooking on the backburner incase the government decides to screw up the original plans. As it turned out, Jeff Scott Soto’s set was among the Top 3 of the entire weekend. What a treat.

My co-sponsor friends and myself made our way backstage to meet Jeff. After about an hour, the very humble and incredibly personable Soto emerged and brought us into the dressing room to chat, take photos and get signed setlists from he and the band. It was really an incredible experience.

However….on stage was Australia’s Voyager – one of the absolute most fun bands you will ever see live. This set was picked by the fans and I missed over half of it having my “rock star experience” backstage. I managed to camp out of one of the portals to take some long shots with the 200mm. As per usual, Voyager had this crowd in the palm of their hands...every person at the event was at the main stage chanting and screaming. I’ve seen Voyager two times prior, both in smaller clubs, but nothing beats this band at Center Stage at ProgPower USA - a place they belong...a place they are loved.

With the added stage room, it was all about antics, as guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay bounced from one end to the other, while bassist Alex Canion and vocalist/keyboardist Daniel Estrin ran in between. It’s a wonder they just don’t all smash into each other, but there is a bit of order in all the chaos. The bottom line is...this band is all about fun, rock ‘n’ roll and feeding off the crowd. The bigger and better the crowd is, the bigger and better Voyager is. Playing hits from the latest album “V” and the 2011 classic “The Meaning of I” - it’s a steamroller of a great time.

Then, out of the mist came DC Cooper to join the band as a guest. Having dropped some weight in the last year, DC was ridiculously energetic - making the hope for a magical show the next night out of Royal Hunt a virtual certainty. Matching run for run, bounce for bounce and dance move for dance move, Cooper made 50 years old the new 20. It was a fantastic performance and experience for everyone in the building.

Anathema was next up, a band with an incredible history which I respect and admire. However, this set I was planning to watch from the seats, something I don’t do very often. If there was an antithesis to Voyager’s energy...it would be Anathema’s drawn out slower pace. Actually, I’m a fan of the mega early death/doom days - but there was zero hope one of those songs would be pulled out of the bag. However, I enjoy the majority of “Distant Satellites” (2014), so hearing “The Lost Song” was a treat.

It was interesting to see the Cavanagh brothers, having remembered Danny more in the dreadlock days and his work with Lid’s debut release than present. Vincent was interesting to watch - especially the interpretive and dramatic dance moves and ultra-proggy perfection that seem to whip the crowd up in a vat of tears. I can see why prog fans really like this band, but its hit or miss with me. However, I did watch the entire set - trying to emulate Vincent’s dance routine with extra emotion with friends in my row.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. The brilliant Falconer would play its very last performance, capping the first night of the main festival with what was a heartbreaking, but breathtaking performance. For one, Falconer is really not a live band - and it shows on stage. Vocalist Mathias Blad is more of a stage actor/singer than a rock singer and it shows in his rigidity. Any fan of the band knows this...so it didn’t matter. Blad is a brilliant singer and the true voice of Falconer. His smooth low tone fits the band’s folky power style in such a unique way that it sets the band apart from every single other metal band. So long as Falconer makes new material, we can all forgive not seeing them live, but to have this experience and fill another bucket on the list of bands I’ve longed to see - this night was pure magic.

I couldn’t have picked a better setlist for this occasion, as the Swedish greats played all of my favorite songs: “A Quest for the Crown,” “Royal Galley,” “Northwind,” “Upon the Grave of Guilt,” “Halls of Chambers” and “Age of Ruins” - with my two favorites “Mindtraveller” and “The Clarion Call” as the double shot encore.

Right smack dab in the middle of the set, the band broke out the stools and acoustic guitars for a three pack of acoustic measures: “Wings of Serenity,” “Long Gone By” and “Portals of Light.” They say people cried for Anathema....well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house for Falconer. The gravity of what we were witnessing projected onto the band. I spoke with guitarist Jimmy Hedlund after the performance and told him that he looked so happy on stage - by the end of the performance he was literally jumping and spinning. He told me that he was so jet lagged that it took half the set to get into the rhythm and when he looked out at the crowd and saw how incredible we were, he fed off of that and it filled him with great joy and emotion. This is what I want to hear from musicians...pure honest emotion.

It was a brilliant end to an exhausting, but satisfying day. The after party was pretty amazing too - as the Artmore was packed with great fans and musicians, including more interactions with Olof of Dragonland who saw me and greeted me with: “Carl F**king Frederick....are you ready for your moment tomorrow. You are going to be a God!” (referring to my stage debut the next night).

Oh yeah....I was wicked nervous now! And it was 5am Saturday. Yikes!!

CROMCarl's avatar

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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