music morsels fiorenza February 2007

INDUSTRY PROFILE - Rites Of Spring Festival producer George Roldan

by Mark E. Waterbury

George Roldan

You may have seen George Roldan in your rear view mirror if you were speeding through Pennsylvania a few years ago. Spending twenty years in service to the Commonwealth as a state trooper, you may not have figured how George would spend his retirement. He, however, had a clear direction, that was germinated several years before he hung up his uniform and radar gun for good.

Born and raised in Westchester, Pennsylvania, George had a pretty typical upbringing in regard to music. He listened to what was on the radio, but was basically a casual fan of bands like Kansas, Yes and Genesis. After attending Westchester College for a few years, he decided to leave school when he got offered a job as a Pennsylvania State Trooper. After he had spent about a decade patrolling the highways and byways, he experienced something that would later influence his life’s path. “I had a friend named Dana Holmes who turned me on to this band called Marillion,” George recalls. “I never heard this music before, and he was playing it kind of loud. I said, what is that? He said, that is progressive rock. I started delving right into the music and began learning everything I could about progressive rock. I didn’t know there was this whole other base of music to tap into.”

George continued his pursuit of prog rock knowledge as he also continued pursuing speeders on Pennsylvania roads. He began buying more and more albums and was investigating others on internet review sites. As his tenure with the highway patrol reached its fifteenth year, an idea started forming in George’s head. “On web sites, it seemed like everyone who was reviewing prog music was talking about how great they are. Basically a reviewer is just stating their opinion.” Getting disgusted with buying an album after reading a glowing review to find out the album was not very good at all, George decided to launch his own web site. He spent about three years investigating writing programs, working with HTML and learning the basics of a site before starting in 2000. “I brought in a staff of dedicated writers and I told them we didn’t want to write scathing reviews of bands, but also did not want to see people spend hard earned money on music if it wasn’t very good. So we very basically told people in the reviews whether it was a good CD or a bad CD with a one through ten rating system.” did anywhere from two to four hundred CD reviews a year. The site, which is free for users and paid for through advertising, saw its popularity start growing immensely, and was soon getting thousands of visitors a day. As he was approaching his twenty year retirement from the highway patrol, George decided to tackle another facet of the music industry. “I basically didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” George muses. “I decided to become a promoter, and basically went into it by myself. There is no real training for it. I went through the school of hard knocks, and it takes some money and general knowledge of equipment, contracts and promotion.” Starting small, George promoted a 4th of July show in 2002 with a band called Persephone's Dream and another act. Taking place in a field in rural eastern Pennsylvania on a makeshift stage made with two trailers, the show actually ended up being a decent success due to George’s hard work and some advice from a friend who was also a promoter. By baptism of fire, it helped him gain rudimentary experience on the world of promoting. “If someone wants to become a promoter, there are so many things involved. From the lighting company to the stage director and the program director, stage plots and input lists from bands, contracts, riders...there are a lot of little things people don’t realize that goes into it. You have to take everything into consideration and it takes a lot of planning. I would not recommend that anyone go out and try to start promoting festivals unless they do smaller shows first. That way you can get your feet wet and learn from their mistakes.”

Getting his feet completely wet with that first event and several others, George decided to take a larger risk and start a festival targeted exclusively at progressive rock bands. At the time there were a few prog festivals in the U.S. including North Eastern Art Rock Festival and Atlanta's Prog Power, and George had attended several of these events. “I wanted to do something that was more specific in the bands that came out in the eighties and later and were on the more melodic side. I met a fellow by the name of Tom Smith who volunteered to help me start a festival. We sat down in September of 2003 and in about a month had plans in place to start the festival in April of the next year. We decided April because it didn’t interfere with the other prog festivals.” Aptly calling the event Rites of Spring Festival, they decided to make it a three day event. Using his web contacts with artists and labels, George began to put a lineup together which included Jadis from England and Germany’s RPWL. The first RoSFest had great bands and an excellent sound system, but unfortunately almost became a disaster because of the low attendance. “It’s a hard thing to start, because you have to prove yourself first. We didn’t really have time to promote it the way we wanted to. We lost money, but we met so many of the people who attended it, said it was fantastic and told us they wished they could have told their friends about it. We got stellar reviews on it and we approached this as a five year business. We wanted to do it for five years and see how it went.”

Sticking with it and getting the promotional ball rolling, RoSFest’s attendance has grown every year since the first one. In 2006, they came twenty seats shy of selling out the floor of the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania where the event takes place. For this April’s fourth edition of RoSFest, which will include Spock’s Beard, Pendragon, Starcastle and Rocket Scientists among others, they have pre-sold their gold seat tickets faster than ever before. “One of our biggest efforts in growing RoSFest is to treat every single band like a headliner, and treat them all with respect. Bands know when they come here they are going to be treated well. Most importantly, we are fans of the music so that helps us create the atmosphere we want for the fans who are attending. We want to let them have a great time with the bands and have a great flavor for the festival. Make them feel wanted, feel like they want to be there, and get more bang from their buck. The prog scene is historically male, but now these people are bringing their wives and girlfriends to the fest. So we must be doing something right in creating a great atmosphere for the fans.”

Next year will be the fifth year of George and Tom’s original five year plan for RoSFest, and with the growth they have seen with it, they feel that the fest is going to continue beyond 2008. Beyond RoSFest, George continues to promote other smaller shows at a nearby venue called School of Rock. He is also planning on starting an internet radio show called in the next couple of months, and has even had thought about starting a label somewhere down the line. The satisfaction George gets putting on RoSFest ensures him that he made the correct decision when he promoted that first show several years ago, and decided to stick with it. “It all comes down to really enjoying the music, and seeing the smiles on everyone's faces. I was on fan of the music first. Progressive rock is a special genre compared to other types of music. After a while you get a musical ear for it because it is not for everybody. But it is for everybody because once you get hold of it, you just can’t let it go and really get a taste for it. Bringing these great bands to the fest, and seeing that the fans are having a good time really gives me the most pleasure.”


George Roldan’s advice for musicians: “When a band sends music to a reviewer, they need to make a conscious  effort, which means send a bio, a discography, and make it look professional. A lot of bands want to get a review, but then send a CDR with no info or pictures or anything. A lot of bands think they are going to make all this money, and they don’t realize that before they can do that, they have to walk some rough steps. Also, this industry is about contacts and advice. Seek all the advice you can and don’t rush into anything, because if you rush you can make mistakes. Be able to sacrifice and do what you can do to get your music out there. Save the money you make and use it to put a good CD and press kit together to get out to people. Put up a nice web site and play all the gigs that you can. If you do get signed, study the label first and get references on them. It is a harsh reality, and you have to be careful, get information and the right contacts.”

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