Three Days by the Cleansing Lake

It is a difficult thing when one exciting thing immediately follows another.

Just last night I returned home from the ProgStage festival. I am still ecstatic – that special feeling of being high on emotion and enthusiasm. However, in five hours, my emotions will be re-invested elsewhere: the Camp Nou stadium, where my beloved Barcelona hosts Real Madrid for El Clásico. As this is another thing which I am so passionate about, I will not be able to keep the excitement from ProgStage. Things which are so important require my absolute emotional attention.

Seeing as I am on borrowed time here, and am still so pumped about the festival, I feel I have to write about it to channel my feelings into some creation.

I go camping on the Dugit beach of the Kinneret four or five times a year. This is my getaway from the city. Me and my friends open up a small campsite, and feast on grilled meat, beer and vodka. There is something very cleansing about that setting. To enter the lake in the sunrise and watch the morning rays hit the Golan Heights always gives me a unique feeling of tranquility.

To think that I would stand in the same place and talk to Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings and Pain of Salvation‘s Daniel Gildenlöw, and discuss their performance with Transatlantic in Barcelona in 2010 (my favorite concert), still seems absurd to me. And yet, it happened, just a day ago. The three days of the festival truly were a bubble in time. It is such an unlikely assembly of my different interests that it still hard to grasp as something that actually happened in the real world.

What I liked most about the festival is the welcoming feeling. The artists weren’t separated from the crowds. The smaller Israeli bands (except for Orphaned Land) stayed in tents in the campsite, and the bands from abroad were in little houses on its outskirt. However, they roamed freely on the beach and inside the water park where the concerts took place. They stopped by to talk with local fans all the time. On the shows, there wasn’t even a security man between the crowd and the stage. I personally talked to most of the artists, thanking them for coming to Israel and giving a show, and sometimes we had a short discussion about something. I really had a dilemma about how much of a stalker I want to be. Daniel Gildenlöw is my favorite artist by far, and I’d be happy to have a big long conversation with him. However, I know that beyond me there are tens of other idiots who all want to bug him, so I tried to keep my distance most of the time.

The crowd wasn’t big, but I feel it really was for the best. If the place was fuller, that atmosphere could not be maintained.

The concerts were good. Orphaned Land gave a solid, fun performance which hooked the crowd. The Israeli fans are really eating out of the palms of their hands, and they were very fun. They also seemed truly excited about performing in a real metal festival in Israel for the first time. I think the festival setting keeps Orphaned Land at their best artistic behavior. They stick to their good heavy songs, and do not attempt (almost) their way too preposterous musical ideas (i.e. most of the ORwarriOR album). The Flower Kings were fun, but unfortunately had to cut their show short because the drummer had to fly back. It is a pity, because they write excellent music and it is a dream to see them live. But, it seemed that they were really stressed by the clock, and it made their performance lack some soul.

Of the Israeli bands, the ones whose names I have noted to myself are Bubble Bath and The White Rabbit. While I was in the campsite (were the music is heard well), I said that it is a shame that the Israelis band don’t do a cover or two. It is difficult to listen to original music of unknown artists, and a well placed cover can really pull the crowds into the show. And then Bubble Bath came up – a band covering prog rock classics. When they began with King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, I literally saw people running from the pool to the nearby stage. The band were really in character, including a guitar player in full Robin Hood kit and a 50-something British flute player and singer in tights and boots. But their highlight was the vocalist, who has a unique stage presence. She actually dances to the inconceivable tempos of King Crimson and Jethro Tull, and makes it look sexy. Here’s another thing I thought I would never witness. The White Rabbit were just a cool prog-metal effort, which I would be happy to check out if they perform in a bar near my house.

I saw Pain of Salvation live in Barcelona in February. While it easily fulfilled the “dream come true” role, the performance itself (except for the encore) did not blow me away.

They made up for it.

The main show of ProgStage was arguably one of the best I have ever seen. It actually started late due to technical problems. While we were waiting, one of the songs which was played was Bohemian Rhapsody. Me and a friend were among the first to begin singing, in what ended up as a 300-drunk-voices version of the Queen operatic classic, headbanging included. It was such great fun, Daniel (who was watching from backstage) later called it the highlight of the year. That really lifted the crowd up, but there was too much of a delay after it and the audience really grew tired before Daniel finally stepped up. The tiredness was shed away immediately. The setlist was perfect, including my three favorite songs: “Used”, “Reconciliation” (transitioning directly from “Morning on Earth”. Brilliant!) and “Beyond the Pale” for the finale. Those were easily some of the most exciting moments in my life. The encore was made up of an endlessly intense version of “No Way” (including a broken guitar) and “Sisters”. Tremendous!!! Gildenlöw was absolutely in his God of Rock mode. He was the perfect front man – interacting with the crowd (introducing “Breach the Core” with “I know this is neither the right time nor the right place”), leading the energy and performing like nobody else in the world can. Unfortunately, he failed to pull off some of the toughest vocal moments as well as in the studio version, but then again – he was playing complex guitar melodies simultaneously. Another star was new guitarist Ragnar Zolberg, who took the lead vocals on “Undertow” and gave it a new edge with his high-pitched voice. That concert rocked my ass, touched my heart and blew me away. It ended at 3:30, and I was fatigued after, physically and emotionally. Only a chilled beer I drank inside the waters of the lake cooled me.

The last day was much more quiet, which was necessary after the energy spent in the previous night. We didn’t drink much, and there were no concerts. Instead, we visited the master classes by Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold  (The Flower Kings), and Daniel Gildenlöw. These were interesting and full of insight. Apparently, Stolt manages to write 30-minutes prog-rock epics although he can’t read or write music, and in fact doesn’t even know chords. He just plays by feel. That defiantly makes me rethink things about progressive music. And in the end, the one man show of Gildenlöw. His session was full of funny anecdotes and deep, intelligent ideas about everything. He can really shift between the silly and humorous to the deep and brooding. This man is just plain gifted. He is a top notch musical technician, has plenty of heart, and is intelligent and very funny. I doubt he will get the true rock star treatment in other settings (his band is just too small), but in that little bubble in time, he got just what he deserves. After his Q&A session, I had a little discussion with him about Jesus Christ Superstar – the Original Concept Recording (which I prefer) vs. The Movie (which he prefers). Again – who would ever believe that something like that will happen. Amazing, amazing, amazing.

A big, big thank you to the ProgStage production team. I really hope that the festival was a success for you and that you will do it again. Thank you for a once in a life time experience!

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