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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 5th Season - a diary, Day 1

While writing this I find out that it is quite a little Lord Of The Rings what I wanna tell about just 3 days. Well it is indeed a 'shortened' version and I decided to do one article per day. But I want to bring this down to "paper". So, if you're really bored one day, feel free to actually read the whole thing. :-) Well, here it is:

Friday morning at 7 am. Into the car.
The box of Oktoberfestbeer is there, good.
Promised it to the regulars.
One hour later, at the other end of town we pick up Dario (aka ProgressiveLunatic, aka LordPL) and FluffyGuts. Could have been 30 minutes to go, but some Al Qaeda guy was mumbling something about not wanting beer and an Oktoberfest in Afghanistan, so half of the city, around the Oktoberfest, became a high security zone. We had to go a long way around that... Anyway, we're at the highway now.
At the end of the road, our road, a weekend with 15 progmetal bands and people from 15 nations are waiting! Though the line up is a bit weaker than on the last two festivals, exitement has already taken control over me.

Fluffyguts is a girl from Australia, she popped up at the ppe forum, looking for assistance to trip from Munich to ppe. There was a free seat left in our car.
Gerhard (gdantell) said he might show up on short notice when his business trip will allow it.
Robert (Atomic) was checking out if he could join some 10 days ago, but found out that he hasn't any more work-free days for this year. Bummer.

German highways are a mess, half of the entire way is under construction and it takes us more than an hour longer to cross the border at Roermond. We tried to avoid the Friday afternoon rush in Venlo and decided to hit Barloo from the south, and find the road to Baarlo filled with a massive traffic jam. We leave the road and take the long way around it, navigating with a map on my lap. That's not easy in the Netherland, they have a rather strange idea of where to put signs on the road and where not. If we had to rely on the signs I guess we would have ben completely lost. Fortunately the truck in front of us is from Venlo, and considering that it's Friday afternoon, we guess that guy is heading towards home. The roads we pass sometimes are so small and designed in a way that we're expecting a dead-end several times, even though they're labeled as main road in the map. We find a road sign that leads to Baarlo - thankfully.
It's a quater past four when we reach the castle, our accommodation. Casteel DeBerckt is kind of a hotel and they have a deal with progpower, everyone who orders a package deal for progpower also books bed and breakfast at the castle for a pretty fair price. And it is indeed 'bed', not 'room'. They simply fill their rooms with progpower people, noone has his own room there. If you come alone, you'll end up sleeping in a room with absolutely unknown people, unless you told the progpower staff who you wanna join rooms with. We did that.
When we enter the courtyard, a couple of black t-shirts are already there, sitting in a circle around some beer and an ipod with speaker application, with - of course - Devin Townsend playing. The regulars. When they gather, they are mostly always making a circle. They see us coming, with the box of beer, and welcome us, shouting out "It's the Geeermaaans", raising their beer cans.

At the entrance of the castle they have exposed a room plan this year, but the lady who welcomes us still is confused because Fluffyguts is in a different room than Dario and me. We help her in pointing at our names on the plan. I should mention that they don't have a reception at the castle, you just get in and wait on the corridor until some staff comes along. Something like the castle would be impossible in Germany, a hotel without a reception, only functional furnishing that lacks any kind of design, no bar. I know, Dutch hotels are different to the ones I've ever been anywhere else. But still, the castle is a great place.
Entering our room we find Gary (Cyberfloat) and Simon (jimmyjoint) hanging out, just as expected. The Brits always go into their room and only get out when they're leaving the hotel. Ok, Let's hug! It has been an entire year. Before I can pull off my jacket Gary is holding a bottle of Jamesson under my nose. Ah dammit, let the party begin!
Wait, six beds in our room? Weird... looks like they've messed up the reservation and we're having spare beds. And one window is broken. Wait... there were two people in the room, a window is broken, three empty bottles of beer at the table. Not two, not four, but three. Hey guys did you....?

Grabbing all we need for the festival, print of booking confirmation, torch (2 km to walk back at night, no lights on the road...), we go down to the courtyard, make the circle of the regulars a little bigger and thankfully receive some beer. Finally, the travel is over. Hanging out, chatting and relaxing. Marcel tells me that they don't know which rooms they're in. I talk about the exposed plan, but he says that some are still on the road or even in the air. I don't get the point, but don't want to get into it too detailed now...
After a little while it's already time to get up and leave the castle. We stand up... and stand... and stand.... I start walking slowly, Dario wonders about it and I say "it's time to get this thing moving". That helped. Slowly the trail of the black t-shirts is heading it's way. Watch out Baarlo, we're comming!
A car is speeding down the road and almost hits 2 of the black t-shirts. Fool, it's progpower, don't you know you ought to use another road?? Another car aproaches, more carefully. When it reaches us, growling from inside, hands out of the windows. They'll be there faster... cheaters!
Simon, Gary and me are not talking much, as usual. Dario, as usual, talks. And talks. And talks. Glad he does. He's doing the talk for us all...
We reach Baarlo, reach the venue and pass by. We're heading towards the great chinese restaurant right before the show starts. A tradition. It simply is funny seeing them being scared behind their desk when the long haired mob of black t-shirts arrives, aproximate 30 of us. We cross the mainroad 20 meters beneath the traffic lights. We're proggers. Using the traffic lights would be mainstream, wouldn't it?
At the restaurant, the cheaters are already there, Asians are praying, the bigger tables get occupied by the regulars, we're adviced to use the next one. We thankfully sit down and Gary stands there... crying. What's up? Oh, it's four seats and we're five. He prepares himself to sit alone at the next table. Damn poor guy. We decide to mess up this whole place and Gary takes his chair to our table, at the front end of it.
Gary used to tell me about chilly festivals, chilly chocolate, chilly jam etc through the entire year. Now while eating chinese food, they all do stop chewing, breath in, reach for beer, drink, breath again, start searching for little red vegetables (paprikas?) in this delicious dish. I don't really think it's hot at all; I even added some chilly sauce to it, and still... too mild, European... well...
After a very delicious - mild - dinner and some chat we gotta leave, queue up at the counter for paying. Another mess at the restaurant. And it takes quite long, although nobody had else then buffet and one or two beers.

Going back, crossing the main road, but at the traffic lights. Huh??? Why that? Oh, ah, our English friends are leading the trail...
We aim the festival. Walking through Baarlo. Church bell rings, windows get closed, some kids are taken off the streets panically....
[soundtrack advice: establish this cut with a harmonica melody in 9/4 and add a dramatic church bell to the cut]
WE HIT IT!!!! The holy place! The venue! Sjiwa!!! (On all other 362 days of the year it's just the local youth club...)
At the entrance we queue up again. His holiness Rene, the man who organizes this every year, hands out the tickets personally. And that's quite due! It's a ritual. You hand over the ticket confirmation, Rene browses the stack of envelopes for your name and hands out yours. You receive it humbly and your prog aura expands to the measure of our planet and blesses entire mankind withing 5 seconds. And collapses back to a little bigger than normal size. Woossshhhh
It's strange somehow. After such a tight day I'm finally at the venue, and still I don't feel like having arrived. Next task is exchanging. You gotta give them Euros for some kind of Sjiwa currency, some plastic coins. They won't give you beer or anything for real money. Ah yes, the beer. small one is 0,2 liters, big one 0,4 liters. I tried to tell them that, where I come from, a big beer is actually one entire liter, but they never seemed to have any use for that information....
A small - very small - beer in hand I'm at the merch stand, the guy welcomes me and we chat a bit. Being here for the third year, even he already knows my face. I want an Andromeda t-shirt, size M, so I better get one at the beginning. No. They don't have one. That is always a problem at the end of a year he says. Almost pissed, I feel like shouting out to all bands "make more of the most common sizes!!!!!!!!!" Well, I take L then, telling myself that L is good in winter.
No band has played yet but I already have a merch bag. Including a progpower poster. Hehe...

Cirrha Niva is the band that starts this years festival. A dutch band that already has their 5th album out. I did not know about them before they were announced for progpower. Their music is dark, a bit depressive, but aggressive. No grunts - thankfully - the singer is a shouter, not taking much care of hitting the proper note for the sake of shouting, but he's never out of key. Their music is nothing special, pretty generic in style, though most bands do grunt in this genre.
I takes a bit until I notice that there is no bass player. He couldn't come, so they taped the bass and now play to the 'tape'.
The sound is not good. It's hard to seperate the instruments, the bass track is so silent, yes, unaudible for long sections of their gig.
The bands stage approach is a bit stiff, yet uncertain, but we, the audience are too. It seems we all need a bit of time for settling. Musicwise a good start of the festival, they do a good job in warming us up.
In the break I'm finally relaxed and do some talk here, some there.

Cloudscape is the second band. Number three in my personal favourites of this years bands. I like their style of "Sweden metal goes prog". They go on stage and just start, whithout any need of warming up. Some little feedbacks occur, from the drum mics I suppose; but these are just a worms guesses. The mix changes drastically for several times, suddenly the drums are completely off the PA. The engineer must have drastic problems. During song three engineer seems to have everything under control, but...
Why is it always at progpower that the drums are too loud and the guitars way too much in the background? I mean, we're celebrating a metal fest after all. Remembrance back into 2007, when the gig of Circus Maximus sounded like prog rock.
I'm at the wrong place, gotta go closer to the stage. Yes, in row four the sound is quite ok. (most of the time at progpower there is enough space to be wherever you want to)
The band puts quite some energy on stage. They're having fun playing for us and Mike Andersson is a great frontman, good good show! Sound... not good, sounds pretty 'cloudy', as if Devin Townsend were on stage.
Despite the sound and "Sweden prog metal" I liked their gig.
When they're done, the thank you goes around. Thank you band for playing, thank you folks for listening, thank you Rene, thank you Matthias... (Thank you Mattias? A couple of bands last year did thank him as well. That's weird...)

Talk of this break is the sound. Everybody wonders if the new loudness policy causes this, maybe it's not solvable to produce a good sound at lower levels with this FOH/PA. Fact is, everybody's complaining. Last two festivals haven't been too loud in my opinion. I don't understand this policy, as most people use ear protectors anyway. I tell myself to get arranged with it. I have heard so many crappy sounding gigs in my life, I have learned how to listen concentrated and enjoy a gig.

Headliner of tonight is Andromeda. If someone asks me for a good example for prog metal I point at Andromeda. Dream Theater? Who?
... I find a good place in row two. Nice sound here, I can hear the drums unamped, sounds way better than what the engineer offers. All other instruments and vocals come from the PA and surround me, I'm in a cloud of notes. Many notes! And all coming pretty fast and continuous. David Fremberg is one of the very few who sing on stage exactly as in the studio! Most of the biggest vocal heores in the world can't achive that. They got my body, my head, moving within the first tune, and that won't stop until the gig is over. I never bang head on 4/4 bands, time signatures and overall rhythm must be complex for me. But then I can't stop, I never bang on purpose. I'm wrenched, pushed and hustled in a centre of a continuous box barrage cloud of notes. Thomas Lejons drum breaks are absolutely insane, he is up in my Walhalla of drummers for now and ever. The entire band is. I'm blown! Looking around me I see that the others are too. Everytime someone is extra-impressed by some musical madness, looks around and looks into anotherone's eyes, a hug is next, we front-rowers do bang heads and hug. Marcel, the regular, is air-drumming. Another song is over, another little rest, suddenly the floor is playing techno. Ah, right we've been warned. Local teenagers are having a disco party in the basement. Must it be really that loud? No respect, these kids today. Woooooosh the Andromeda train goes on....
And then they're finished. What? Ah ok, two hours are already over. Thank you, thank you, thank you band, thank you audience, thank you Rene, thank you Mattias. ("He was at progpower from the beginning and did not miss one festival, for eleven years long!")

I feel like I wanna go home. This weekend cannot get any better. what a massive musical event did I experience right now! --- Nah, hey the entire weekend just started, man! Even though there will be no better band than this, it will be fun.
I turn around and look for the Brits - ouch my neck! I can't find them. We go outside and hangout there a bit, smoking, chatting, drinking, the Brits are gone. They left during this ultimate gig? Nuts....
Fluffguts comes along. Haven't seen her since we arrived at the venue. She's having party already. Good! :D
Local kids ocupy the basement, so no afterparty there tonight. The trail of the black t-shirts is heading towards the castle. Passing the local pig farm and an ugly smell we consider shooting some ham for breakfast but give up because we have no weapon. Not even a drum stick...
After a refreshing walk and talk - hell my neck still hurts - arriving at the castle, someone comes out the door and says "hey we gotta find a room where nobody's sleeping, someone sleeps in our room." Confusion... But the gods of prog are kind to us. Rene arrives on his bicycle, has loads of beer, grabs them beers and quickly dives into the downs of deBerckt.
We hang out in the courtyard, confused, not knowing where, what's going to happen. suddenly, on the second floor, there's music, loud music. Some of the regulars climb up the wall and enter the room through the window. When Dario and me come in, the reagulars already made up their circle, but there's place left at the table. David, Fabian and Johan of Andromeda are sitting there, and some more people. Fabian gives me a beer, we hang out, talking loud, because the music - Devin Townsend, what else - is quite loud.

Second row from left to right: Fabian (hidden), David (bald), me, Dario, Johan, and, hmm... was it the drummer of Cloudscape?
Hard to tell almost a month afterwards...

I tell Rene that I find the people of Baarlo cool. They simply bear the annual progpower without complaints and even help people wo are too drunk. Rene says that many of them just like the fact that something's happeing in Baarlo, and the few who don't go on holidays.

Progpower afterparty... drinking, talking music, listening... all are equal. No high noses, egos or something. Being the headliner, the festival master or just someone. We're all here for the same thing and we shall all be happy being together.

I find our British friends in our room, Simon the snoremonster and his endless attempts of trembling the house down.
Five snores and the Friday is no more. over and out.


Marcel said...

For all you non-UM board members (:P), here's my forum post:

Awesome description of the first day Raimond! :D

When I was talking about people still being in the air or on the road, I was trying to figure out if someone had heard from the swedes yet. They weren't there yet at the time :P That, and I prolly wasn't making too much sense cos I had drank a few beers already by then, and only had a 2 hour night's sleep before traveling over :P

Very much looking forward to your account of the second and third day! :D

guitarsean said...

Great read, Ray. I haven't been able to attend any festivals in a long time (except for MARS in 2007, which I played at). It's cool to live vicariously through you.

MAVIII said...

Hey now!
Wheres Part 2 and 3? Want to read more!
Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie!