Starting in 2007, I've attempted to document the event with a "scrapbook" web page of photos, set lists and descriptions of the bands. If you want to read any of those older ones, use the following links: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
This year the weather gave us a break from the heat and burning sun of the last few ProgDays...instead it was cloudy, breezy and threatened rain most of the weekend. But the rain never came and the cooler temps, relief from the sun and occasional winds made for comfortable viewing, even out from under the tents. Someone at the back of the field even managed to keep a kite aloft most of the weekend. The only downside is that bands with sheet music occasionally found it blowing away, with various volunteers having to scramble to catch and return it.
Our drive from PA to Chapel Hill was mostly uneventful this year, until just before we got off the Blue Ridge Parkway. A dog wandered out into the road right in front of the car. Fortunately we didn't hit it, but my wife insisted on taking it to a park ranger. Problem was, it was completely filthy and covered in wet mud, so she volunteered to stay with it until I could find help. Fortunately, I found some park employees at the next scenic overlook, and as soon as I told them what had happened, they said "Black dog? Female? Skinny? Did she have a collar with a tracking device (a big metal ball) on it? Just let her go." Apparently it belongs to some hunter that lives in the area and is frequently seen on the Parkway.
So after releasing the dog we continued on, and near the southern border of Virginia we ran into a massive thunderstorm - whiteout conditions with my car sliding all over the road. My first thought wasn't "oh crap, I'm gonna die", it was "man, I hope this doesn't mean they'll have to move ProgDay indoors".
The violin made the music sounded proggy enough, but it also sounded like something people could dance to in a nightclub. The CDs I bought at the show are even "dancier", as they push the violin into the background and really emphasize the beats and electronics. After a couple listens though, I started really digging it, prog or no.
At least two of the tracks that Wignall played were inspired by video game soundtracks. That would set up a theme for the evening that would be continued by the next band.
The band Quantum Fantay attended the preshow and liked Trev so much that they invited him to sit in on their set on Sunday. And sure enough, he showed up and played a blistering, lengthy solo on one of their songs, making him both the first and one of the last performers at this year's ProgDay.
To be fair, game music arranged for keys, bass and drums actually does sound kind of proggy, and I enjoyed this set more than I thought I was going to. Then again, I'm enough of a game geek that I actually own the soundtrack to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on CD (so I especially enjoyed the Zelda medley).
There's not much else I can say about this set, other than that I'd like to hear more original material from this band, once they get over the game music obsession.
As their name implies, the band plays a fairly brutal, LOUD, hard-rocking fusion music with hints of funk and metal. Very high energy. They were promoting their new CD,which they said literally came from the pressing plant earlier that day. They put a stack of discs on the edge of the stage and encouraged the audience to come up and throw $10 on the stage and take one, which many did during the course of the set (myself included). The band played the entire album, plus one song that I'm guessing was a cover because afterwards they just said something like "you all know that one". It sounded familiar, but I couldn't put a name to it.
During the set I got a text from my daughter who had stayed home to play in the marching band at her school's football game. She was in a panic because her grandmother didn't show up after the game to pick her up, and my wife wasn't answering her phone. So I had to leave the show, find the hotel's phone number, call and be put through to the room, wake my wife up, have her call her mother...and it turned out grandma was sitting in her car about 10 feet away from my daughter the whole time. And I had to miss half Bruteus's set for that.
We made good time getting the car loaded up and heading out to Storybook Farm. Along the way I stopped at a gas station to buy ice for the cooler, and then we made a stop at the Burger King on the road that goes to the farm so my wife could get take-out breakfast. Big mistake. Apparently they had three people working the morning rush, and it took forever for my wife to come back out with the food. I had time to break the ice up, put it in the cooler, stock it with drinks, apply sunscreen and read for a while in the time it took to get the food.
Because of all that, we got out to Storybook a little later than usual, and the spot where I usually set up my recorder (right in front of the soundboard) was taken. So I ended up sitting about 10 feet closer to the stage than usual, but that might have been a good thing, because my recordings this year came out a little better than usual. The sound of the PA system seemed to be slightly better than usual for ProgDay (and it's usually good to begin with), and the audience chatter picked up by my recorder seems a bit fainter and further away. I was worried that the recordings were going to get distorted sitting closer to the stage, since in past years I've had problems with the bass and kick drum overwhelming and/or distorting the recordings. But there's almost none of that this year. Next year maybe I'll try sitting even closer to the stage.
Once I got the recording gear set up I helped my wife set up the tent that she brought along and fetched the cooler, lawn chairs, tarps, etc from the car, and before long it was time for the first band...
After playing about a hour's worth of original material, they closed their set by pulling off a great cover of Genesis' "Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers...In That Quiet Earth". The bass was way too loud during the first half, but the second half was so good, I was a little disappointed when they didn't segue into "Afterglow".
After the set, I was on the fence about whether I wanted to buy their CDs or not. I try to conserve money early in the weekend because I never know which bands are going to blow me away and make me want to buy everything they've ever released, plus this year I didn't have as much spending money as usual because I had just bought my wife an expensive anniversary gift (a necklace I knew she really liked) to give her after ProgDay during our Peaks of Otter Lodge stay. Anyway, by the time I decided late on Sunday to get the Eccentric Orbit CDs, they had already packed up their table.
I texted a picture of the bass clarinet to my daughter to test her band nerd knowledge and asked if it was a saxophone. About 10 seconds later, she answered "It's a bass clarinet you uncouth American. And I think I see part of a bassoon in the corner of the picture." She's sharp.
Musically, Ut Gret were all over the place - kind of avant-prog, but also a little jazzy and a bit like a chamber orchestra, and with an overall "medieval" vibe due to the instrumentation. Surprisingly accessible. The one thing they weren't was funky - at one point the bassoonist said "Time to get funky...you guys like the funk?" The audience cheered, and she laughed and said "I'm just kidding! We're not funky AT ALL!"
The band's music reminds me of U Totem's first album, which is one of my all-time favorite discs. Unfortunately, I kind of dicked around and didn't get over to their table to buy a CD until much later, only to find that they'd sold out of everything except the 3-disc "Recent Fossils" from 2006 which the merch guy (who looked like super hipster, complete with handlebar mustache and black bowler hat) warned me contained nothing of what they had just played and was in a different style. It turns out that I really like most the 3-CD set (the "In C" disc is a bit of a chore) - I'll have to make an effort to get their more recent releases.
Ut Gret is one of those bands that make me glad that I record everything, because as much as I like their music, it's not something that's easy to enjoy while sitting out in the early afternoon sun. Listening back to the audience recording, this band was even more amazing that I remembered.
The keyboardist had a lot of technical problems, especially later in the set. Just before the final song something went majorly wrong and he had to get the sound guy to find a new cable while his keyboard reset - it took about five minutes before they were finally ready to play again. Another "anything can happen at ProgDay" moment, but maybe the band should have a backup song that doesn't require a ton of keyboard technology ready to go for just such a situation.
Ironically, the bassist from Mercury Tree, Oliver, is the band member that I ended up talking to the most at this year's festival. Saturday night by the hotel pool, I ended up sitting with him and Paul Sears and a few other people. Paul kept telling him that he was the same age (22) when he joined the Muffins as Oliver, who just joined Mercury Tree, is now. Oliver seemed to have strong opinions about everything, and we were soon arguing over the best types of beer (he's an IPA guy and I'm sick to death of them) and King Crimson in the 80s (he thought Adrien Belew ruined the band, and I'm a big fan of both Belew and 80s Crimson). I'll give him one thing though, he's very passionate about music and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge about time signatures.
The bassist from Tryo in particular is a monster player. Out by the pool Saturday night, just before the party broke up around 2am, someone brought out an acoustic bass guitar. The Tryo bassist picked it up and started playing Led Zepplin songs, then played the bass lines from Pink Floyd's "Money" and "Hey You". Someone asked if he could play Amazing Grace, and with limited English he said "Like...Chris Squire"? He tried to figure it out for a few seconds, then said "No, but..." and started playing the bass line from "Owner of a Lonely Heart" instead.
If you get a chance to see these guys play live, it's worth the effort. I ended up not buying any of their CDs, but I did enjoy the live performance.
From 11:00pm until 2:00am or so I hung out by the pool, drinking and talking with friends and members of the bands. In addition to the stories already told above, at one point Paul Sears demonstrated the proper way to light a cigar - slowly roll the end that's going to be lit over the flame, but don't let it touch the flame. Once that end is heated up, hold it near the flame but still not touching and start drawing air through the cigar until the end is glowing and lit. I thought he was full of crap - how can you light a cigar without ever touching it to the flame? - but I tried it out when I got home and it works remarkably well. I sometimes have problems with cigars burning unevenly, but lighting them that way seems to fix that.
Anyway, eventually the party broke up so I went and got six hours or so of much-needed sleep.
Despite the delay at the King of Burgers, we still got to the farm fairly early...only to have a lengthy wait for the first band. The openers took a long time setting up and started about half an hour late. It was worth the wait though...
The music was very rhythmic, somewhat jazzy, a little spacey in places and all instrumental other than Luna yelling into his sax microphone on one song. His various exotic wind instruments were perfect for complimenting Gutman's melody lines and the rhythm-based music. The only CD they had available as a group was recorded before Luna joined the band, so it's just stick and drums. I wasn't expecting much from the CD, but it has a surprisingly full sound for two guys and is very melodic.
They were the perfect band for the opening slot on Sunday, continuing ProgDay's tradition of having a somewhat avant group start the second day. Their set ran a little long, and by the time they were finished ProgDay was running about 40 minutes behind schedule, but that would soon be made up for.
In addition to the stick-drum duo disc (appropriately named "Stick Drum Duo"), I also bought two discs that Ramses Luna has recorded post-Cabezas. One is studio and the other is live, and they sound kind of like a jazzier version of Cabezas De Cera. Like that band's releases, these came in elaborately packaged cases that unfold like origami to reveal artwork, photos and liner notes inside. Even the way the disc is held in place by folded paper is pretty neat. It's actually so clever that after taking the first one apart I couldn't figure out how to put it back together. Fortunately I paid more attention while disassembling the second one and was able to figure out how to put both back together. The downside to the packaging is that it's much taller than normal CD cases and won't fit on a standard CD shelf. Oh well, I'll figure out something.
They were the band who brought the second bassoon to ProgDay, but that wasn't even the most exotic instrument on stage. The main vocalist plays a hammer dulcimer, which was set up on a big wooden frame on the left side of the stage and which may have been the source of the humming noise. He also played guitar and some flute, at one point playing a flute duet with the bassoonist. I sent a picture of that to my daughter (who plays flute) and she sent me back a picture of an anime cat with hearts for eyes, which I guess meant she liked it.
In addition to the above mentioned instruments, the band also had a bassist, drummer and violinist. Musically they were kind of a cross between Americana folk, rock, jazz and classical. Very hard to categorize. Their lyrics are slightly odd and often tell a story, like a new song they played that was supposedly inspired by a true story about a baseball player who gets shot rounding the bases after hitting a home run. A lot of their set was new, not-yet-recorded songs including one that was introduced with "the next song is called 'I'm Afraid of Fucking the Whole Thing Up'". The audience laughed, thinking that was a comment about the complexity of the song, but that's the actual title - it's about the fear of messing up a new relationship.
It's a toss-up as to which band I enjoyed more, these guys or Ut Gret. I loved Jack's music, but the vocals are kind of an acquired taste. The male vocalist has a nasal style of singing, and the female vocalist has a surprisingly deep voice. They're quickly growing on me though, and I've noticed that out of the entire festival, it's Jack 'O the Clock's songs that keep getting stuck in my head. I'm glad I took advantage of the band's "buy all our CDs for $40" deal.
A four-piece band with drums, bass, guitar and saxophone, the latter two are clearly the main instruments (that's why the band is a combination of letters from the guitarist and sax player's names). These guys play a take-no-prisoners style of rapid-fire fusion that shows virtuoso musicianship and amazing chemistry from having played hundreds of shows together. The guitar and sax would occasionally do these ridiculously fast unison runs together and not miss a note. Very tight.
About half an hour into the set, the guitarist told the story of their next album's title, Aggressive Hippies. The band's car broke down after a gig somewhere down south, and while they were busking to make money to pay for repairs, some hippies asked them to come hang out. The hippies offered to pay for the auto repairs, so the band went and hung out...in what turned out to be a commune miles from civilization up in the Smokey Mountains. An old woman named Morningstar forced the guitarist to play a violin (despite the fact that he doesn't know how) and her son forced him to play with his train set at gunpoint. The story was really, really funny the way he told it.
After the set, I was only going to buy their recent live CD, but the cover of their first studio album was too perfect (cartoon fuzzy woodland creatures holding instruments and screaming) and soon they talked me into buying all four albums for $40. Four CDs worth might be more Marbin than I really need, but it was worth it after that great performance. I told them that I was pretty sure they had played more notes than the whole rest of the festival combined, and the sax player said "That's what we're going for".
They played a lot from their new album "Dancing in Limbo" which hasn't been released yet, but they were selling advance copies at ProgDay. They also played several tracks from their last disc, a concept album about an alien who learns about Earth culture by listening to various music types of music - it's space rock, but each track is influenced by a different world music like Chinese, reggae, etc. After the set I ended up buying those two CDs - they had about half a dozen different albums available, but I was running low on cash.
As mentioned in the preshow, Trev Wignall joined them for an eight minute jam on the song "Tripscape", and it sounded great. By the end of the song, I though Wignall was going to spontaneously combust - he had the hugest grin on his face. Someone told me that he's local enough that he actually rode his bike out to storybook farm - the festival should consider having him back in the future. If nothing else, he could play between bands like a few solo acts have done in the past.
I have to credit the subtitle of this page to Quantum Fantay's guitarist. He won this year's "throw Paul Sears in the pool" raffle (by the end of the weekend, the band and Paul had become good friends), but instead of throwing him in, he grabbed Paul and dove in with him. Fully dressed. So when he got out, he took off his jeans and wrung them out. A while later he was wandering around the pool saying "Where are my pants? Has anyone seen my pants?" Eventually he decided he's going to write a musical suite about his ProgDay experience - first movement, "Bubble Attack", second movement "Where's My Pants?"
I also heard the story of why the band's name is the way it is. Apparently they originally were going to be Quantum Fantasy, but the guy they hired to do their promotional material didn't speak English (or was completely baked, depending on who's telling the story) and he spelled it "Fantay". It was too late to correct the mistake, so the band just changed their name.
There was a plan for a group of us to have dinner at the Kanki Japanese steakhouse next to the hotel, but when we got there the wait time was over an hour. So we just went next door to the Outback instead. When we got back to the hotel, the pool party was in full swing, so I packed my cooler up with all my remaining beer and joined them.
The guitarist from Marbin came out with an acoustic guitar, and proceeded to play "gypsy jazz"for what had to have been around four hours. He knows what he's doing though - for most of the evening he had every female at the party sitting in a circle around him. The best part was after playing Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue", he said "I've noticed from listening to the radio down south that people love two things - country music and the Lord. So I wrote this song." He then played a hilarious country send-up called "I've Fallen For the Lord and I Can't Get Up". Man do I wish I had thought to take my recorder to the pool party this year. Oh well.
By 2:30 or 3:00, the crowd had thinned down to just the usual hard-core partiers. Around 4am I figured I'd better get some sleep, but when I got up to the room, I wasn't the slightest bit tired. So I got some bottles of water and went back down to the pool. By 5am though I could barely keep my eyes open. I wish I had stayed to see the sun rise, but I finally had to admit defeat. From what I've heard, the last few die-hards were out there until at least 6:00.
The next morning my wife was gracious enough to take the first shift driving, which was good because I think I got a total of about three hours sleep and might have still been legally drunk. She decided she wanted to have breakfast in Chapel Hill, since she hadn't gone into town at all that weekend, but after cruising around for a while we didn't find anything and just decided to hit the road. We eventually found a (very, very crowded) IHOP off one of the highway exits.
Five hours or so later we were at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which wasn't quite as nice as I had been hoping for, but if you like mountains and lakes, you can't beat the view. And at night it was pitch dark with more stars than I've seen in years.
At dinner in the Bear Claw Lounge I gave her the necklace I had been keeping as a surprise. I think she was more surprised that I could keep it a secret for two weeks than she was that I'd actually spend the money to buy it. The funny thing is that the necklace is a jeweled seahorse, and when I saw the artwork for this year's ProgDay, I was floored to see it was a sort of aquatic man riding a seahorse and playing guitar. I kept telling my wife she should get a ProgDay t-shirt, and she didn't know why I was so insistent. I eventually bought one for her, and it goes perfectly with the necklace - the colors even complement each other.
The next morning on our way home on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my wife decided for some reason that she wanted to hike one of the mountain trails. Since we were already half way home I figured why not, so we stopped at the Cascading Waters trail a few miles north of the lodge. It was beautiful, and navigating our way down to the cascading waters was fun...but then climbing back up the side of a mountain to the car we discovered just how incredibly out of shape we are. By the time we got back to the car, I was soaked with sweat and covered head to foot in the spider webs that were all over the trail. But we did eventually make it back to the car and finally to home.
So, another great ProgDay weekend in the books. I say it every year, but I'm already starting to look forward to next year. I've spent the last couple weeks digesting all the CDs I bought and audience recordings I got, and I still haven't heard everything. Long live ProgDay.