ProgDay 2007

Here it is - my traditional, annual, way-too-long remembrance of the ProgDay weekend, this time for 2007. For those who are wondering why it took two weeks to write this - I had a lot to absorb. I wasn't really familiar with any of the bands that played this year. The only one I had heard before at all was Frogg Cafe, and that was only because I got review copies of a couple of their CDs sent to me by the Ground and Sky site (plug, plug). So I bought a lot of CDs at ProgDay (both from the bands that played this year, and recent releases from previous ProgDay bands). Plus I've gotten into the habit of audio recording the entire festival, and it takes me at least two weeks to get everything converted to CDR and listen to all those audience recordings. It's worth the effort, as I discover things I hadn't noticed "live", and sometimes my opinions of bands will change.

Speaking of those audience recordings - I've finally upgraded to a high-speed internet connection, after a decade and a half of dial-up. If there's any interest, I can try to put my ProgDay recordings up on a bit torrent site (assuming I can figure out how to do so).

Anyway, let's get on with it...

I discovered ProgDay back in 1997, when I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to drive down and see then-Kansas violinist David Ragsdale do a rare solo set. Back then I had both money and spare time (and no kid), so I could do things like that. If I had realized how far of a drive it was, I might have reconsidered. But I went, and it was possibly the best concert experience I've ever had, and I got hooked. I've been back every year since, and start planning in January to make sure I have the money and days off to attend. If there's anyone reading this who has never gone - you're really missing out. For the many who attend NEARFest every year but have never gone to ProgDay - imagine NEARFest in an absolutely beautiful outdoor setting, where you're free to sit as close to (or far from) the stage as you want, and you can drink beer (or read a book or whatever you enjoy doing while listening to music) while the bands play. Or go throw a frisbee if a band's not grabbing you. It's the best possible set-up for a prog festival IMHO; I can't understand why more people don't go.

For this year's ProgDay, I headed out on Friday morning, taking my usual scenic route from south central PA. Down interstate 81, then part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then a very long stretch of 501 all they way from Lynchburg, VA to the Comfort Inn (I literally get on the same road the hotel is on about 150 miles to the north - that's one long access road).

Traffic was surprisingly light most of the way, so I arrived in plenty of time to get checked in, have dinner and get to the preshow at Local 506. In fact, I showed up well before the doors were scheduled to open (although there were already prog fans milling about outside), so I wandered around downtown Chapel Hill for a bit, and bought a Pokemon comic book (or Manga or whatever the hell those things are called) for my daughter at a little shop a couple blocks from the venue. It's always good to return home from a trip with gifts in hand.

When I got back to Local 506, the doors had just opened so I got in line behind a group of Japanese people who (I discovered the next day) turned out to be the band Naikaku. They spoke no English and had no ID, so the guy at the door had a very difficult time trying to figure out if he should let them in or not. After around five minute of fruitless "discussion", during which the best the band could produce for ID was a business card, the doorman finally just slowly enunciated "ARE...YOU...21...YEARS...OLD?" I still don't think the band knew what he was talking about, but they nodded and he let them in. After getting a closer look at them the next day, I kind of doubt they were all 21 (especially the flautist, who looks like she's about 12 years old), but having recently turned 40 everyone under 30 looks young to me any more.

The first preshow band took the stage at around 9:15 and proceeded to play some smokin' bass/drum/guitar fusion music. They were billed as "The Mörglbl Trio", but the CDs they were selling (which haven't officially been released yet, but should come out soon) just say "Mörglbl" as the band name. Anyway, this trio from France were excellent, with the guitarist frequently reminding me of Eddie Van Halen, with his finger-tapping and use of the "Cathedral" weeping-guitar effect. The bassist could play just about any style, but seemed to favor the funky slap and pop stuff. The band had a huge sense of humor - during one song, the guitarist introduced the bassist as "the stupidest bass player on Earth", and the bassist then got a really goofy look on his face and played the slowest, sloppiest bass solo you could imagine. After a minute or two of that, he showed what he could really do with an impressive, flashy solo. At one point between songs, the guitarist noticed that there was a lot of echo on the vocal mic, so he tried to hypnotize the audience, complete with rolling his eyes independently of each other. Freaky. Towards the end of the set they asked if there were any Frank Zappa fans in the audience, and gave us a choice of hearing "Village of the Sun" or a combination of "Pygmy Twylyte" and "Dirty Love". The latter won. All in all it was a very fun set. I bought their CD, Grötesk, and if you like flashy fusion with crunchy guitar, you should get it too.

Here's Morglbl's set list, as far as I was able to work it out: Tapas Nocturne, Lieutenant Colombin, Buffet Froid, ?, Le Projet Pied de Biche, Pygmy Twylyte / Dirty Love, Haute Voltige en Haute-Volta, Peckno Techno Boy, L'ami Deglingo, Totale Bricole. The ? in there was something that started out as a guitar solo showcase and eventually became a song as the rest of the band joined in. It's not on Grötesk as far as I can tell.

The other band to play the preshow was Kill Tim's Grass. They're local to the Triangle area, but apparently most of the members had moved to the area after being in another prog band called St. Elmo's Fire in the 80s. According to the GEPR that band was based in Cleveland.

After Morglbl, KTG was a bit of a letdown, mostly because they lacked the previous band's energy. The bass player looked like he was bored to death for most of the set. This is one of those instances where I'm glad I've got an audience recording, because at the time I really didn't like this band at all. But I think a lot of it was because they followed a really rippin' band, so just about anything else was going to sound a little dull. Plus I was starting to get tired after getting up early and driving all day (the band didn't get on stage until well after 11pm, if I remember correctly). Listening back to my audience tape, taken on its own merits, they really weren't too bad a band.

Musically, they suffered a little from the "prog by numbers" syndrome, where all the songs sounded like they were specifically designed to appeal to fans of old-school prog. The first song was an original, but it reminded me strongly of King Crimson. So it wasn't much of a surprise that the second song was a cover of Lark's Tongues in Aspic, pt. 2 (there's another benefit of having an audience tape - I originally reported that cover on a mailing list as being "Fracture", and was surprised to find that my memory was completely wrong about that one).

The highlight of Kill Tim's Grass' set came near the end when they did an excellent cover version of the Police's "Synchronicity II", using a violin to play the vocal lines. Unfortunately, by the time they played it, the crowd had thinned out to just a couple dozen people, because it was getting close to 1 am. They finished their set with a really, really long original song that at the time seemed like a test to see if they could drive out the rest of the crowd. Listening to the tape, it wasn't as bad as I remembered, but it was probably a poor choice to end an already long set for an audience who had to get up early the next morning.

I can't really give a setlist for Kill Tim's Grass, because they didn't announce any song titles and didn't have a CD available yet. All I can tell you is that the second thing they played was the cover of Larks Tongues in Aspic, and the second to last song was the Synchronicity cover. They also played a couple St. Elmo's Fire songs, and had the guitarist from Morglbl join them for one of their originals.

Unfortunately, I decided not to take my camera to the preshow, so I don't have any photos of Morglbl or Kill Tim's Grass. I'd love to see a picture of Mörglbl's guitarist rolling his eyes different directions. Oh well. After the preshow ended, I went straight back to the hotel and hit the bed. Seven hours or so later it was time for another day of prog.

Saturday morning I tried to get out to Storybook farm early so I could set my recording gear up in a good spot, but by the time I got there most of the area in front of the soundboard already had chairs and blankets sitting on it. Whatever happened to the days of everyone showing up late? Oh well, I still got a decent spot because my Saturday tapes sound OK. Except for one little flaw - I plugged the left microphone's jack into the right microphone, and vice-versa. It shouldn't have made any difference, but throughout the day the left microphone kept going dead here and there for spans from a fraction of a second to four minutes. Which made transferring Saturday's recordings to CD a real pain, because I had to switch the "bad spots" over to mono to make up for the missing signal. Grrr....

Anyay, the weather on Saturday morning looked threatening - it was cloudy and it seemed like rain might start falling at any moment. It never did though, and the clouds were much preferable to the blazing sun on Sunday. But overall the weather was good all weekend, and occasional breezes kept it from getting too hot or humid. Although the bands with sheet music didn't enjoy the breezes so much.

First on stage was was Oblivion Sun, playing in the 10:30am slot, which vocalist/guitarist Stan Whitaker pointed out several times is early to be trying to sing rock songs. One audience member suggested that he think of it like singing in church, which prompted the band to dub their leader "Pastor Stan". The band is sort of a prog super group, made up of about half of Happy the Man plus members of Illuvatar. To be honest, I've not a huge fan of either of those bands, so I didn't have high hopes for Oblivion Sun. To me, they sounded a lot like Happy the Man, particularly the mellow, new-agey stuff. Even though it was early in the weekend, I was already running low on sleep, so I just hung out in my lawn chair, half-dozing and drifting along with the music. They weren't my favorite band of the weekend, but they were OK and were probably a good choice to ease the festival off to a proggy start.

Here's Oblivion Sun's setlist - fortunately, they announced most of their song titles, but there are a couple they didn't name and that I couldn't identify: ?, Chapter 7.1, Noodlepoint, ?, No Surprises, Catwalk, Re: Bootsie, Leave that Kitten Alone, Armone, Mists of Babylon, The Ride, Tales of Young Whales, Golden Feast, Encore: ?

During Oblivion Sun's set, I kept seeing a woman walking around near the stage in a kimono. She turned out to be the flute player for the next band, Naikaku. That band was far and away my favorite the weekend. The kimono was just the tip of the iceberg as far as their stage show went. The drummer came out first, juggling tennis balls and yelling "From Japan, NAIKAKU!". Then he threw two of the balls out into the audience and tried to launch the third one high in the air, but it caught the rafters of the stage roof and fell back down. He took up his position behind the drums and started a thumping beat as the guitarist and bassist came out wearing what looked like ragged white doctor's coats and red armbands. They joined in with a propulsive, metallic melody. Finally the flautist came out in her kimono and joined the music, and the band was off on a rip-roaring set that seemed like it was over way too soon, although it lasted about an hour and a half.

Musically, the band was a hard-rocking, fusionish group similar to Morglbl, but with the oddly pastoral flute floating in the middle of all the raging, metal mayhem. I would have liked them just for the music, but they were also the most visually entertaining band of the weekend. During one song, the bassist jumped off the stage and ran back to the vendor tent, then came running through the crowd showing everyone the band's CDs, while the rest of the band played on. During the guitar-fest song "Memory", the flute player sat at the front of the stage folding paper and cutting it up and by the end of the song she displayed the giant snowflake pattern she had created. In one song, the bassist fell over on his back, and the guitarist jumped on top of him, sat on his legs and they continued playing that way. They had the crowd attempt to say the name of the Japanese drinks they had brought along, and tossed bottles of it into the audience. The guitarist played a solo using two bottles as slides. You just never knew what they were going to do next. And it wasn't until I listened back to my audience tape that I realized those guys (and gal) were playing their asses off at the same time. They're all just monsters on their respective instruments.

Because of the visual nature of their performance, I ended up taking a ton of pictures of Naikaku. Here's a sampling:

Stage manager Jay had to squat down to introduce the band because the microphone had been adjusted for their petite flautist. The juggling drummer The guitarist takes the stage

Naikaku's bassist dislocates his foot, or at least it looks that way. Heavy metal flute! Taking the product to the people

Rockin' out the drummer meditates during a flute solo Extolling the virtues of a Japanese drink

The beginning of the origami project The end result

Too close for comfort The dual-bottle slide guitar solo Does this set list help you out at all? Because it didn't help me. Good thing I bought both their CDs.

Naikaku were a really fun bunch of people, and after their set was over they spent the entire rest of the weekend in the grass behind the audience playing soccer and frisbee with all the kids that had come along with their parents. Can't beat that - a kick ass band that just about everybody liked, who then provide free babysitting service. They need to come back every year.

Seeing their handwritten set list didn't help me identify the songs at all...because it was mostly in Japanese. But I liked them enough to blow $50 on all the merchandise they had brought along (a DVD and two CDs), so I managed to identify most of what they played: Track 4 from "Wheel of Fortune" (the title is in Japanese and there's no English translation), ?, ?, Lethe, flute solo, BUKIYOU, Please!, ?, Memory, Crisis 051209, encore: ?. Hmmm, maybe I didn't figure out as much of that set list as I had thought.

Well, enough about Naikaku. As you can tell, they were clearly my favorite band of the weekend, but we've got to move on...

The third band on Saturday was Frogg Cafe. They were the only group I knew anything about going into the festival, since Brandon from Ground And Sky sent me copies of their albums Fortunate Observer of Time and the live Safenzee Diaries to review. I liked the live album more of the two, so I was hoping for a good set. Being familiar with a lot of the material they played helped, as did the fact that they played a Phish cover, a King Crimson cover and two Frank Zappa songs (that'll win me over every time). Come to think of it, during their soundcheck they played part of "King Kong" as well, and along with the two Zappa songs that Morglbl played, plus hearing "Lemme Take You To The Beach" and "Dumb All Over" on the PA system between bands, it made for a very Zappa weekend.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I knew a lot of the songs in Frogg Cafe's set, and they even played a cover of Phish's "Cars, Trucks and Buses" with some improvisation and a little hoedown in the middle. It was an enjoyable set, although it seemed a little low-energy after Naikaku, and just a tad sloppy in places (Dweezil Zappa would have a fit about all the "mistakes" in the FZ songs). I talked to a guy who is a big Frogg Cafe fan after the set and even he though that it wasn't one of the better sets the band has ever played. Later that night, I overheard the bass player telling someone that the band has recently decided to cut back on the number of live shows they play, so maybe that had something to do with it. Overall, I'd rank it as a solid if not spectacular set, which at times sounded like it would have been more at home at a jam band festival than a prog festival.

Here's what I've figured out so far from Frogg Cafe's setlist: ?, ?, Leave of Absinthe, Space Dust, The Plum Smuggler, ?, Cars Trucks Hoedowns, Black Napkins, Small Chuwawa, Red, encores: Abyss of Dissension, Peaches en Regalia

The final band on Saturday was Qoph (which I believe is pronounced like "kwop", although before their set some people were saying that it's pronounced "quaff"). They were basically a hard rock and blues band with vaguely proggy, vaguely psychedelic leanings. A lot of people described them as "stoner rock", whatever that means. The lead singer was a dead ringer (no pun intended) for Jim Morrison, both in sound and attitude, and somewhat in looks. I heard him telling someone Saturday night that he was going to fly out to L.A. while he was in the States to tour the studio were the Doors did their recording. So I wasn't just imagining the Morrison connection.

I enjoyed Qoph's set, but I was starting to get burned out after hearing 5 other bands in 24 hours, so I wasn't overly thrilled with them. Listening back to the audience recording, they were actually a good bit better than I remembered. I'm glad I went for their "buy both our CDs for $20" deal, because I'm enjoying the albums quite a bit. The singer doesn't sound as much like Jim Morrison on the discs, and the psychedelic aspect comes out a lot more than it did during their live show. They're a good band, but might have been more suitable to being the opener on one of the days instead of a closer.

Here's what I've worked out of their setlist - it started out with a psychedelic, echoey recording of someone saying "Yes? Hello?" over and over again, then went into: Woodrose, Moontripper, Half of Everything, Hard to See It (a new song - I'm pretty sure that's what the vocalist said the title was), Vansinnet, Travel Candy, In Your Face (another new one), Än lyser månen, Herr Qophs Villfarelser, En måne som ler, Korea, Resh, Dancing Madly Backwards, Hearts and Sorrows (another new one), encore: something that sounded like a faster, shorter version of Hearts and Sorrows, Stand My Ground

After Qoph, I headed into Chapel Hill because I had to exchange the Pokemon book I had bought for my daughter (a phone call home revealed that she already had the first one I had bought), so I had dinner at a place in town that I like called the Armadillo Grill. Very spicey tex-mex food that you order by checking off boxes on a order form. Almost like a fast food joint, but tasty stuff.

After dinner, I went back to the hotel, grabbed a couple beers from my cooler and went down to the pool where ProgDay attendees usually gather. The Saturday night pool party turned out to be the big social event of the weekend despite the fact that a security guard threw us out of the pool area at 10pm. In response, everyone grabbed the plastic deck chairs from the pool area and formed a big circle with them on the hotel's lawn. It was later dubbed "Chairhenge". The party went until around 1am, with several members of bands showing up, and then as if on cue everyone just suddenly decided it was time to go to bed and the party vaporized. Fun while it lasted though.

Sunday morning I raced through breakfast because I was determined to get out to Storybook Farm early enough to get a good spot. Turns out it was a wasted effort, as most of the people who had set up in front of the soundboard the day before just left their chairs there overnight and others had "pre-squatted" their spots by moving their chairs to better locations the night before. I ended up in about the same general location that I was in the day before, but a good bit closer to the stage than I wanted to sit. Some of my Sunday tapes (particularly Nemo) got a little distorted because I was sitting so close. Skeletonbreath and Advent sound OK though.

The first band of the day was Skeletonbreath, and they were my favorites from Sunday. Three young guys on bass, drums and violin. Very, very high energy, instrumental music. Kind of punk-prog. A few people described them to me beforehand as having gypsy or klezmer elements to their music, but I didn't really notice that while they played. Listening back to the tape, and to their CD (which I headed straight to their table and bought after their set), I can hear it.

Their set probably holds the record for shortest ProgDay set ever. They were breaking in a new drummer, and he only knew seven songs. After less than half an hour, the violinist announced that they only had two more songs. After they played all seven that the drummer knew, they were ready to stop after about 40 minutes on stage. Personally, I would have been fine with that. I don't see anything wrong with a band playing their asses off for 40 minutes and then saying "that's all we got". But the audience kept demanding an encore, and the people running the stage literally wouldn't let the band leave, so they picked their instruments up and played their first song over again. Which pleased the people who had arrived late and missed it.

Here's Skeletonbreath's setlist, what I could work out from their CD and the stage announcements: the violinist said the first (and last) song was unnamed, and so "if you recognize it, there's something wrong with you". In between the two performances of that piece, they played: The Combustible Man, Fever Dream Waltz, Dillon Fischer, Do the Lazy Rabbit, Louise, Dick Tracy

The second band of the day was Advent. They made up for the shortness of Skeletonbreath's set by taking a long time to get set up (there are about a half dozen people in the band, and it seemed like each one played two or three instruments - just look at all the guitars in the picture). They also played a long set, so by the time they were done, ProgDay was pretty much back on schedule.

Advent's music reminded me a lot of Gentle Giant, mixed with the more pastoral, 12-string side of early Genesis. So it's not surprising that they ended their set with covers of Gentle Giant's "Free Hand" and Genesis' "...In That Quiet Earth". Overall they were a talented, classically "proggy" band, but they were a tad too mellow and predictable for me. They stuck to the rules of symphonic prog without watering it down enough to be considered neoprog. There's nothing I can really point at in Advent's set and say "I didn't like that", but there wasn't anything that excited me either. In fact, about half-way though their set, I decided it wasn't worth sitting out in the blazing sun for, so I moved to the shade of the pavilion and only half-listened to the end of the set.

Here's Advent's setlist, mostly taken from stage announcements since I don't have any of their albums: Awaiting the Call, In the Tree, Nowhere Else to Go, Utter Once Her Name, Rear View Mirror, Allison Waits, Remembering When, Ramblin' Sailor, Firmus Finale, Free Hand -> ...In That Quiet Earth -> Maginot Line

Nemo from France was up third. At the time, I thought I just wasn't into them because I was really starting to get burnt out on prog (they were the 9th band I'd seen in less than 48 hours), but when I listened to the tape, my second impression of them was even worse than the first. They seem like nice enough guys and all, but they play some really watered-down neoprog, and they don't even play it particularly well. Everyone in the band took a solo at some point, and none of them really stood out. In fact, a couple of them probably shouldn't have been trying to display their "chops" at a prog festival when bands like Morglbl and Naikaku had provided the real deal. I only lasted a few songs before I fled to find shade.

The thing is, most people seemed to like them. A lot. I'll just never understand the appeal of that kind of wishy-washy, bland neoprog. The band does score some points for sticking to their native language and not trying to sing in English, but maybe it would have helped if I knew what they were singing about. Then again, considering how bad a lot of prog lyrics are, maybe not.

Here's what I managed to figure out of their setlist from the stage announcements, plus a few titles gleaned from a setlist posted to the Dime a Dozen site: Au Dessus Des Pyramides, Apprentis Sorciers, Même Peau, Même Destin, Keyboard solo -> L'homme Idéal, Une Question De Temps, Ici, Maintenant, Si, drum solo -> drum/bass duet, Les Temis Moderns, Les Envants Rois, guitar solos -> 1941, encore: La Derniere Vague

The final band of the weekend was Three. This is the one that's going to get me in trouble. I didn't like them at all, and wouldn't even qualify them as a prog band. They were basically a pop metal band (the bassist was wearing a recent Asia concert t-shirt, if that tells you anything) with occasional, slightly proggy moments like some flamenco guitar and a dual percussion solo. The vocalist was the wildly-over-the-top, melodramatic type that just sets my teeth on edge. The band just did absolutely nothing for me, but again most people seemed to love them.

Three's set list, as far as I could determine from stage annoucements and web research: The World is Born of Flame, Battle Cry, Alien Angel, All That Remains, My Divided Falling, ?, Serpents in Disguise, Endless Alibi, ?, Diamond in the Crush, Dregs, ? The Last Day, ?, drum duet -> ?, encore: These Iron Bones

After the last band finished (with a concept song based on Terminator II. No, I'm not kidding), I packed up my gear and was ready to head back to the hotel. Except I couldn't. It happens to me every year - in fact, it seems to get worse every year. At the end of the festival, I just don't want to leave Storybook Farm. I really like the place, and have had a lot of good times there. So I hang around, offering to help with the clean-up but rarely being taken up on that offer, and talking with the other folks who are hesitant to leave. Eventually it gets dark enough that it's hard to see (there are no lights, which is why the festival has to end relatively early each day), and even the die-hards have to call it a day and head out.

Here's one last picture from the festival, of a long-haired daschund (I didn't even know there was such a thing) who just loved to chase that frisbee:

Dogs and kids are a staple of the festival, which adds to its charm.

I was going to have dinner by myself at the Outback Steakhouse near the hotel, but I was persuaded to go to a Mexican restaurant with a bunch of people I know from the ProgAndOther mailing list (plug, plug). I was hesitant because I had just had Mexican the night before, and I don't have the patience to go to restaurants with big groups because it always takes forever. And this was no exception - we were probably there for well over two hours. But the food was good and the conversation was interesting (everything from the upcoming NHL season to potential bands for next year's ProgDay), so I'm glad I went.

But by the time we got back to the hotel, it was well after 11pm, and a lot of people were fading fast. Security left us alone so we had the usual pool party, but most of the people who usually stay up all night were gone by 1 or 2 am. There was a bit of a jam session when a guy who was in town for a bluegrass festival brought out a penny whistle and small drum and Paul Sears' son brought out an acoustic guitar. But that fell apart pretty quickly, leaving a guy named Rich (who I've met several times at ProgDays) playing some solo guitar, which came as a surprise since most people (myself included) didn't even know he played. The evening took an ugly turn though when someone (whose name will remain unmentioned to protect the guilty) decided to play "percussion" by shattering a beer bottle on the cement deck of the pool. A couple people got that cleaned up pretty well, but later the wife of the bluegrass fan accidentally dropped her wine glass and shattered it in almost the exact same spot.

Anyway, I stayed out until 4am and by the time I went to bed it was down to just me, Geoff the stage manager and a guy named Phil who I swear I've never seen before but who was telling me about things that I did back at ProgDay '99, so I guess we must have met before. I finally bowed to the need to get some sleep, although I probably could have stayed up another hour or two. I set the alarm for 10am, but for some reason woke up at 8 and couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up to get a jump on the drive.

When I got up I had a raging sore throat and what felt like a fever (although it was probably mostly hangover). I looked out the window and was dumbfounded to see that the pool area was a wreck, with broken glass all over the place. I swear it wasn't like that when I went to bed just 4 hours earlier, in fact Phil was busy putting empty bottles in the trash as I left. I'd really like to know what happened down there between 4 and 8...and so would the ProgDay promoters who stuck their necks out so the annual pool party could take place.

Anyway, I stumbled downstairs to get breakfast and managed to spill some piping hot coffee all over my hand and shirt. Not a good start, but at least it woke me up. I managed to get all my stuff packed up and get checked out of the hotel and was on the road by around 9:45 am.

The official ProgDay part of the story ends there, so unless you're really bored, you can skip the rest. OK, don't say I didn't warn you.

After about 4 hours of driving, I was up in the Blue Ridge mountains and decided that I could use a break. So I parked at one of the scenic overlooks, climbed way up this steep hill and sat on a bench and smoked a cigar. Now, I've stopped at this same spot a few times on the way down to ProgDay and back, and I've NEVER seen another living soul there. That's part of the reason I like to stop there - for some peace and quiet after a weekend of loud music and partying.

I wasn't there for even five minutes when suddenly this other guy comes hiking up the hill. He had a flask (I didn't ask what was in it) and binoculars and sat down next to me to drink and look at the mountains. OK, odd coincidence, but it's not surprising that someone else knows about the spot.

A couple minutes later, this couple came strolling up the hill, hand-in-hand. They stand there looking at the mountains and talking to each other. Suddenly my little secret bench high in the Blue Ridge mountains is the most popular spot in Virginia. But that's just the beginning.

It was getting too crowded for me, so I put the cigar out prematurely and got ready to leave, when suddenly a fire engine comes roaring up the mountain, lights flashing. It pulls in and parks just in front of my car. A bunch of guys in full fire-fighting gear leap out and race up the hill. They start putting some sort of markers on the ground. About a minute later, a medivac helicopter comes into view and makes straight for the hill. It circles a couple times and then lands about 100 yards from my car.

Now everyone that is driving by decides to stop and see what all the hubub is about. Soon there's a dozen cars wedged into the overlook parking area. A few minutes later, a police car with lights and siren going comes tearing up the road, leading an ambulance. They park in front of the fire truck, and a guy in a spandex bicycling outfit and some paramedics jump out of the back of the ambulance. They carry out a guy on a stretcher and load him into the helicopter, which starts getting ready to take off.

By this time I had put my backpack back in the car and picked out the next couple CDs I was going to listen to, so I was ready to head out. But my car was blocked both in front and in back by now, so I ended up having to drive across the grassy median between the road and the parking area to get out. I never saw the helicopter take off, because by that time the place was a circus. And I had just stopped there to have a peaceful, solitary smoke. Jeeze.

Anyway, I overheard one of the firemen tell a nosy tourist that a guy had had a heart attack while trying to bicycle up one of the mountains. So I guess I shouldn't complain about losing some solitude - someone else was having a much worse day.

After that I decided that I wasn't going to stop again until I got home, and around 4 hours later I finally pulled into my driveway, desperately in need of sleep but with much new music to listen to.

Speaking of that new music - I've only had a chance to listen to each of the CDs I bought a couple times, but here are the impressions I've formed:

Morglbl, Grotesk - good stuff. Sure to appeal to the fusion fans. Fun to listen to in the car.

Wayside Music Sampler #3 - they were giving these out for free at the ProgDay table. The price was right, so I grabbed one. It's Wayside, what more needs to be said? Lots of good music on this one.

Naikaku, Wheel of Fortune, Shell and the "Live at Bajaprog" DVD - I was worried that without the stage show, the CDs might not be so good. Boy, was I wrong - great music. The only clunker in the bunch is the droning metal-riff fest "Memory", but even that's not terrible. And the rest of the songs range from very good to excellent. The cover of Focus' "Hocus Pocus" on the first album is a lot of fun. I've only watched the first half-hour or so of the DVD so far, but it does a good job of capturing the band's quirky live show. Hey, how come they had a keyboard player for Bajaprog? He wasn't at ProgDay. I love his "eating solo".

Qoph, Kalejdoskopiska Aktiviteter and Pyrola - the earlier album is sung in their native tongue, but Pyrola is in English. Apart from the repeated "I've got it all over my head!" in Moontripper, their English lyrics aren't bad. And the extended instrumental jams on the discs are good stuff. I'm glad I let them talk me into buying both.

Skeletonbreath, Louise - they only played three songs from this album in their live set, but what they played is very representative of the CD. Proggy violin/bass/drum fusion with punky energy. More good stuff.

Beardfish, Sleeping in Traffic Part 1 - a bit of a letdown at first (I was hoping for another instant classic like The Sane Day), but it's steadily growing on me. BTW, I'm the "man" that the liner notes thank for giving the singer a copy of Zappa's "Imaginary Diseases" at last year's ProgDay. Woo-hoo!

Amarok, Sol De Medianoche - I liked this band a lot when they played ProgDay a couple years ago, and their Quentadharken album was a pleasant surprise. So I bought this new one and it too is quite good. I particularly like the song with the steel drums. But the kicker is the last track - a very exotic cover of ELP's "Abbadon's Bolero".

Mary Newsletter, L'attenzione Debole - something about these guys' mix of early Pink Floyd psychedelia with modern electronica appealed to me when they played ProgDay several years ago. But I lost track of them and didn't know this album even existed until I stumbled upon it on a vendor table at this year's ProgDay. They went even further with the modern electronics on this disc, but it's still pretty good. And yet another oddball cover, in fact this one is the oddest of the bunch - a techno remake of Arlo Guthrie's "Coming into Los Angeles". When I realized that this disc is a few years old, I did a web search to see what the band is currently up to and was dismayed to find out that they broke up a while ago. Bummer.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, In Glorious Times - if I had to pick one clunker out of all the CDs I bought, this would be it. Everyone I know loves this band, and everything about them seems to indicate that I should love them too. I have two of their albums (this one and the first one), and I've seen them play live a couple times - I've even downloaded some of their concerts from, but this band just refuses to grow on me. I have no idea why.

And as a parting gift, here's a picture of my favorite t-shirt that I saw at ProgDay this year (the festival audience always sport an interesting variety of t-shirts):