music morsels indie music June 2007

Special Coverage - RoSFest - April 26-28, 2007, Phoenixville, PA
by Mark E. Waterbury


Creating a community by creating loyalty

Progressive rock can justifiably be considered an underground genre. Mainstream radio ignores it, save the more commercial classic rock pioneers such as Yes, Kansas, and Pink Floyd. Big concert promoters tend to shy away from it unless maybe your name is Dream Theater. Overall, the general rock music fan base doesn’t know much about it, except for recognition of the aforementioned bands and others who achieved a more wide spread fame. Perhaps this is why true prog rock fans are so loyal and that loyalty is reciprocal with the bands they love. The people who support and work with these bands carry a deep sense of loyalty as well. When it comes to the prog rock scene today, especially with the explosion of the internet in the past decade, it really is like a big family or community.

Perhaps one of the most adept personifications of this community can be found at the annual Rites of Spring Festival, the creation and labor of love for George Roldan and Tom Smith. There is something beyond the incredible music that has drawn hundreds of people from all corners of the globe to the far west Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville for the past four years. It IS that sense of community, that sense of family, where the fan can hang out with, interact with, and become friends with their favorite bands and musicians. I felt this vibe long before the first band even hit the stage. Witnessing a little “culinary” education, as fans of British band Galahad showed the band members how biscuits with sausage gravy was an American "staple" while they shared breakfast in a hotel lobby. Or the two Dutch members of U.S. band Rocket Scientists pondering what food in their native Netherlands may compare to the American appetizer potato skins. Running into people from Germany and Illinois who were incredibly excited about being there for the show. Meeting someone from my childhood home of Madison, Wisconsin who had a Starcastle story that led him to be the one who introduced them that evening. Incidents like this made you feel comfortable as bands, fans, and business professionals hung out together in the bars, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and streets of the area for four days. “This is a rare event where you can actually rub elbows with the band members,” George Roldan notes. “I think people are really in bliss about the whole thing that they can sit in a bar and have drinks with people from Pendragon or whoever, and finding out they are just like them in a lot of ways. A lot of people who have been coming here for three years now have made a lot of friends and have created a kinship. So it has become more than just a fest for a lot of people and it makes them want to come back.”

The bands were fired up, too. Matt Stewart, guitarist for seminal prog band Starcastle told me on Friday afternoon of how incredibly excited they were to be playing their first live show in nearly a quarter century at this event. And he wasn’t just posturing for the press; you could tell he was really ready to get out there and very happy to be involved in RoSFest. “What is interesting is a lot of the bands that have performed here in the past are very eager to come back," says Tom Smith. “They all absolutely love the festival mostly because of the atmosphere. They are telling other bands as well and the bands who play here always seem to leave with a smile on their face. We treat them well and that is another objective of our fest; to make sure the bands go home happy.”

It seems like no event, no matter how well planned and orchestrated (and RoSFest is very well orchestrated) has some glitch or adversity. The glitch monster reared its head on the opening Friday night as the lighting crew was late, leaving the crowd to wait outside the doors of the venerable Colonial Theater while the situation was being rectified. George and Tom kept the crowd informed (how often does that happen when a concert is delayed - anyone here ever seen a G N R concert?) so they waited patiently. In a way, the lighting problems further proved the loyalty of the fans and bands to each other. No one left, everyone was calm, and the bands played their guts out when they finally hit the stage. Perhaps no bands were inconvenienced more by the glitch than Friday’s headliners Starcastle and Saturday morning’s first band Rocket Scientists. Starcastle started their set at midnight, two hours later than advertised. The delay didn’t matter. Professionals to the core and thoroughly pumped at performing live, their set was one of the highlights of the evening, and I don’t think there was a single fan who minded the delay after their show was over. “Even with the lighting setback, I don’t think that hurt us with people loving the festival,” George commented. “Even though we are kind of on the outside looking in at times, it seemed like people absolutely enjoyed the event. And that is what we always have tried to do here.”  Just nine hours later, the fans were all back in their seats and Rocket Scientists - most of whom were existing on three hours of sleep - provided an intense and enjoyable musical alarm clock. These bands who dealt with diversity, like Friday’s openers Tempustry and Puppet Show, did so with professionalism and prodigious respect for their fans as they all put on killer shows. There is a lesson to be learned there. These incidents made me think of fledgling bands who whine and gripe about everything under the sun.  Dealing with adversity is unfortunately part of the music business (and part of LIFE), so it's best to roll with the punches and deal with it professionally just as the bands at RoSFest did.

There were lessons to be learned all weekend. With progressive rock fans, the level of respect reaches much deeper than the more superficial faux worship of top 40 bands from the general radio listening/record buying populace. There is respect for the songs, the showmanship, instrumental prowess, and vocal capabilities, making the fans feel even closer to the bands. This was witnessed throughout the weekend when people sang along to old and new favorites such as Starcastle’s “Lady of the Lake,” Pendragon’s "No Place For The Innocent," Magic Pie’s “Change” and Spock’s Beard’s “Mouth of Madness.” Although progressive rock shows tend to be more laid back in that fans sit through most of the performances, the standing ovations were numerous and enthusiastic. It was obvious that the crowd in attendance appreciated the incredible displays of musical talents, from the first synth throb of Tempustry on Friday evening, until the last note from Spock’s Beard echoed off the ceiling of the Colonial Theater on Sunday night. “Look at the quality of the music which has always been high and we like to keep it that way,” says Tom.  “We feel that every facet of the fest has improved and we want to keep it improving. From the onset, we wanted to create an event that was as fan friendly as we possibly could. We do try to make it one big party for everyone.”

So what can a fledgling band learn from RoSFest; a fledgling band of ANY genre? Perhaps your music does not need to be as complicated as the bands that performed here, but you need to perform, write and record to the heights of your musical capabilities, and keep honing that talent as well. Give your all during a show and make sure your fans realize that you appreciate their efforts in coming to see them. Meet your fans and treat them like friends. Treat your professional team like family  members and listen to what they say. Propagating this kind of loyalty can only help create a sense of community between everyone involved, and that is what RoSFest is all about. That sense of community creates a strength that is essential in today’s music scene whether you play progressive rock, alternative rock, jazz, country or whatever. The highest number of bands are never going to be a huge commercial success, but when you create a strong community, you can certainly cultivate a satisfying amount of success with your careers.

Of course, RoSFest only lasts for two days (plus a pre-party on Friday night), but the satisfaction of this community of music is sure to linger on for those who participated on all levels. On Monday, the bands returned to their homes or continued their tours and the fans returned to their normal lives. The business professionals returned to their work, and even though George Roldan and Tom Smith returned to their own particular walks of life, they are already in the planning phases for 2008’s RoSFest, and looking forward to another great time for everyone involved.  “To step things up a notch, we are bringing a more professional crew in here to expedite things mainly on the technical side,” George said. “We always want to do whatever we can do to try to make it even better.”  Tom adds, “Once you have developed the reputation that we have, people like the hotels, the bars and restaurants are more apt to want to work with you. Going into our fifth year, we also have a lot more bands who are now coming to us that want to play here. This can only help improve the show.” With the time, effort and passion George and Tom put into this event and creating this wonderful community for progressive rock, it is beyond a doubt that 2008 will be another successful year, adding the final lesson to be learned. The fans will be back, the bands will perform again, the loyalty will once again be on display. Loyalty is perhaps the greatest commodity any band can create to ensure their success these days.

Division of Serge Entertainment Group