Edensong at 3RP 2009
(Photo by Christopher A. Petro)

 

 

Singularity drummer
and Epic Prog listener Jamie McGregor
(Photo by Christopher A. Petro)

 

Phideaux on stage at 3RP 2009
(Photo by Mark Monforti)

 

It Bites performing at 3RP 2009
(Photo by Christopher A. Petro)

 

IQ's Mike Holmes and John Jowitt
performing at 3RP 2009
(Photo by Christopher A. Petro)

 

Persephone's Dream perform their
theatrical interpretation of Pan's Labyrinth
(Photo by Christopher A. Petro)

 

(L-R) Steve, Susie and George of Glass Hammer Perform Sunday at 3RP 3009
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival (3rp) 8/8-9/09




Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival (3rp) 8/8-9/09

It was too impressive a lineup to pass up. I simply had to attend my first 3RP festival in the Pittsburgh suburbs after hearing the likes of IQ, Phideaux, Glass Hammer, It Bites and other great bands would be there. Adding to the excitement was the fact that I would finally get a chance to see Singularity, a band which features Jamie McGregor on drums. I have ‘known’ Jamie for a long time in the virtual sense, but had never met him in person. I have enjoyed Singularity’s music for a few years now, so I was pretty eager to see Jamie’s group in action.

So on Friday, August 7, 2009, I boarded a plane from Orlando to Pittsburgh. It was a fairly bumpy flight, so I was ready for a little fun and relaxation when I landed. I spent the weekend splitting a hotel room with my friend Scott (KindStranger187 in the chat room) and his friend, Jon. They met me in the airport bar (where else?) after I got my bag and we headed out. It was already after 9:30 p.m. when I landed, so we dumped the bags and headed for the host hotel. Upon finding that it had no bar, we went next door to a steak house, where we enjoyed a few beverages and the calm before the proverbial storm.

Saturday morning I was filled with the usual pre-fest excitement. I couldn’t wait to get to the venue, see old friends, browse the vendors’ tables and, of course, see the show. Edensong kicked things off with a very good set, digging deeply into their Fruit Fallen album. It was a good way to kick off the festival, with a band that alternated between softer and more intense music. They seemed a bit nervous, but pulled off their set quite well. I was impressed with their performance, especially their final piece. They invited some musicians from earlier in their careers up on stage to perform a song they had written together as freshmen. I didn’t catch the name of the song, but it was excellent and possibly the best song they performed. I hope they decide to record it one day. A nice way to end the set, I thought.

Singularity was next. I was pretty excited about seeing them and they were fantastic. They played their entire second album, Between Sunlight and Shadow, and a good chunk of their latest release, Of All the Mysteries. I was particularly impressed with their four-part harmonies on some of their songs, and Jamie’s playing seemed effortless, despite being technically challenging. I was happy for him and his bandmates, because I knew they made a lot of new fans that day and the crowds at the merchandise table after the set backed that up. The song “Smile” was probably my favorite number in the set, and it was performed well. “J.P.” (bassist/flautist/vocalist Jonathan Patch) was a quirky-yet-funny front man, appealing to the geek in all of us.

The third band was Phideaux, and I was pretty geeked to see them play, especially after declaring their Doomsday Afternoon album my top pick of 2007. This 10-piece featured four different female vocalists, a violin, keyboards, saxophone, acoustic guitar, drums, bass, electric guitar and various percussion instruments. Front man Phideaux Xavier was humorous and a good storyteller and the songs came out quite well, especially considering that the band members are spread out across the country and do not get a regular opportunity to rehearse together. Vocalist Valerie Gracious has an incredible voice and really should be a household name. The band performed most of Doomsday, plus the epic title track from Chupacabras and a selection from their new album, Number Seven. The set just flew by, but not before the band brought tears to my eyes with their beautiful performance of “Thank You for the Evil” and much of the “Doom Suite.” I made a point to seek out Phideaux himself after their set and thank him for the incredible music, a great performance and also for listing me in the ‘thank you’ section of Number Seven. He seems a very nice guy from my cyber dealings with him and I would very much like to see a longer show from this band.

After a quick burger out under the 3RP tent and more vendor shopping, we settled in to see It Bites. This band put out one of the best albums of 2008 with The Tall Ships, and possibly one of the best of the decade of the 00s. I was eager to see how John Mitchell would pull off the unique vocal style of former It Bites front man Francis Dunnery. He didn’t. Mitchell surpassed Dunnery with his excellent delivery on the old material and of course he hit the newer stuff out of the park. The band performed several tracks from The Tall Ships, including the epic “This is England” and the twisting “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” as well as “Oh My God,” “Ghosts” and “Great Disasters.” Although I would have liked to have heard “Playground” and “Fahrenheit” I can’t really complain about the songs they picked. I was expecting we might hear a Kino song since most of the band was in Kino, but we didn’t get one. There were several tunes from Once Around the World and The Big Lad in the Windmill, but only “The Ice Melts Into Water” from Eat Me in St. Louis. The band was energetic and sounded fantastic. One of the weekend’s highlights, for sure.

IQ was the Saturday headliner and was the main reason I bought tickets to this event. I had been wanting to see this band perform for several years, and that fire was fanned by their excellent 2009 release, Frequency. The band came out and flat out kicked my rear end. I enjoyed every minute of the set, even when Peter Nicholls’ wireless microphone went dead. Peter simply wandered over to bassist John Jowitt’s mic and sang “This mic is useless” in place of the usual lyrics. The band performed a few songs off Frequency – quite well – and a nice cross section of their long career. They pulled out a couple of surprises (to me, at least) by closing with “The Narrow Margin” and “It All Stops Here.” Jowitt enjoys himself on stage more than anyone I’ve ever seen. The band seems to genuinely enjoy playing together and they were everything I could have hoped for.

After IQ, we hit the patron party for a few beers and some sandwiches, and hung out a little while. The beer had not been on ice, and was mostly warm, unless you lucked into one that was on the bottom that everyone else had somehow missed, and we were pretty tired. I could have probably hung out for awhile longer, but my ride was leaving, so it was off to bed.

Sunday morning opened with Persephone’s Dream. I was expecting music from their most recent release, Pyre of Dreams. What we got instead was a long conceptual piece from a forthcoming release called Pan’s Labyrinth. It was kind of cool, and a little bizarre. The lead singer, Heidi Engel, was a breathtaking soprano with a good sense of the theatric. She reminded me of Kate Bush-meets-Sarah Brightman but she sang a bit too high and too dramatically for me to make out the words. The music mostly worked for me, although I thought at times the guitar wasn’t integrated into the overall compositions as well as it could be. Overall, I liked it.

Cleveland prog/rock/fusion band Syzygy was up next. This was a band I was looking forward to seeing, because they have a great reputation for virtuoso playing. They lived up to that reputation. I was in awe of their technical ability, and enjoyed much of their set. Mark Boals, who contributed vocals to the band’s latest release, Realms of Eternity, was an unusual sight. He showed up in sort of a pirate-meets-biker outfit which looked very out of place and, to be honest, quite silly. I enjoyed the more melodic passages, particularly the acoustic part of "The Sea," but some of the more wank-filled instrumental passages got a bit old for me. Gifted band, but they were a bit hit-and-miss for me.

The third Sunday band was Glass Hammer. I was a bit disappointed that the “full band” wasn’t going to be performing, particularly Carl Groves of Salem Hill, who regularly contributes vocals, but the band was very good. Susie Bogdanowicz is not only a treat to look at, but a terrific vocalist in her own right. They played a good mix from their back catalog, and Lex Rex in particular. They also surprised me with “A Maker of Crowns.” Susie really shined on the Yes cover “South Side of the Sky” despite a lyrical hiccup at one point. Fred Schendel is literally half the man he used to be (or less – kudos to Scott for that line), as he has dropped a LOT of weight. In fact, we didn’t even recognize him until moments before the set. GH was one of the highlights of the weekend with their excellent symphonic prog set.

By this time, we were starting to suffer from what I like to call ‘band fatigue.’ It was also nearing the end of the festival and I wanted to spend more time with some of the people I was there to see, so Scott, Jon and I went to dinner with our friend Dave from the Spock’s Beard message board, Singularity Jamie and his wife, skipping out on Crack the Sky. Following a nice dinner, we still made it back in time for Crack’s last half hour, which I must admit was excellent. The final half hour was filled with older stuff that I was familiar with, interspersed with Beatles tunes. It was great and made me kind of wish I had been there for the entire set.

Then came the surprise of the weekend – a four-piece instrumental prog metal band from Cleveland called Gravity. This group of kids – and they are kids, teenagers in fact – was incredible! They played lightning-fast prog metal but without sacrificing melody. Their youthful enthusiasm was enjoyed by the crowd under the tent between sets and many of us felt compelled to buy their CD, Into Oblivion. Hopefully they will be able to perform inside the venue next year. Yes, they were that good.

Finally, it was time for King’s X. I must admit, this was not one of the bands I was looking forward to. I wasn’t that familiar with their music before the festival, and a little searching on Rhapsody didn’t really impress me all that much. Still, I heard they were a great live band, so I sat down with an open mind. Well, sadly, this was where the weekend’s magic ended for me. The band was ok, and they certainly were rocking hard, but I felt after about 4-5 songs that I had heard about everything they were capable of doing. Making matters worse was the bass was cranked up to the point that the low end vibrations were killing me, even though I put in earplugs for the first time all weekend. A mix that had been perfect all weekend was suddenly too loud, too muddy and just not pleasant. I did enjoy a few tunes, before tiring of it, and we three amigos went off to find a bar to enjoy what remained of our last night together.

Monday was a whirlwind of Pittsburgh sightseeing, lunch at the famous Primanti Bros. sandwich shop and several hours at the airport, talking about the festival. Finally, we went our separate ways and after a weather delay, I was flying home. The weekend flew past, but it was an excellent one that I’ll never forget. I’m very thankful that Howard Levy gave of his time and money to put together such a wonderful festival. Who knows if I’ll ever get back, since I can only afford to go to one festival per year, but if the lineup is right, I’ll happily plunk down the money to return.