ProgDay: An old fest survives—even grows—alongside the rest | Music

ProgDay: An old fest survives—even grows—alongside the rest


Cool shades, guys: Marbin plays ProgDay this weekend
  • Cool shades, guys: Marbin plays ProgDay this weekend

Saturday and Sunday, ProgDay takes over Storybook Farm, southwest of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. This weekend of music has been recurring for two decades, so long to brag that the 21-year-old event is indeed the oldest prog-rock fest in the world.

Accordingly, it's got niche cred: Of the eight acts on this year's roster, only four-and-a-half are from the United States. (The excellently shredful sax-and-guitar-driven Marbin, with its split United States/Israeli membership, takes the half).

Such longevity is remarkable, but it raises a question: Can this outdoor celebration of instrumental virtuosity and flights of metaphysical fancy survive, even as the Triangle is increasingly crowded with music fests?

Yes, says ProgDay artist Michael Bennett. If anything, the increase in Triangle music fests is bringing more area locals to ProgDay. 

Check out full ProgDay info here.

INDY: ProgDay turns 21 this year. Can you give me an idea of what other long-running prog fests there are?
MICHAEL BENNETT: Actually, there is only one other long-running prog festival in the United States that is still ongoing. It’s called ROSfest and takes place in the spring in Pennsylvania. That festival’s focus is on the symphonic and neo-progressive genres, which are the genres that most U.S. listeners think of when you use the term “prog.”

ProgDay is different in that we do not specialize in any particular part of the broad collection of music that is included under the progressive rock umbrella. We try to book a variety of progressive rock of all types. For instance, this year our lineup includes space-rock (Quantum Fantay), fusion (Marbin), symphonic (Eccentric Orbit), progressive folk (Jack O’ The Clock), RIO/Avant (Ut Gret), and other bands that don’t fit neatly into any category. In fact, some of the bands I’ve just labeled don’t really fall neatly into their categories, either, but then that’s just part of being a progressive band in the true sense of the term.

If you were to go to both festivals, you would get a pretty good idea of what the current progressive rock scene has to offer from both expected and unexpected angles.

Does it surprise you that it's the world's longest-running?

It would be surprising for any festival to last this long, particularly one of ProgDay’s modest size. However, the festival has two great things going for it. 
The first is what I refer to as brand loyalty. There is a core audience that has a fondness for the event and returns multiple years, even when the bands are unknown to them. From the standpoint of longevity, the trust in ProgDay to deliver a great live experience is one of our most valuable assets. The second is that we have been fortunate to have attracted the attention of some of the best musicians in the world. Over the years, I have been taken by the number of bands that are really interested in performing at ProgDay and that have worked with us to make their performance happen. This is the primary reason we have been able to book so many of the amazing bands that have played at the festival.

There’s Hopscotch, IBMA's World of Bluegrass, and, starting next year, Moogfest, just to name a few fests, in the area now. Has there been any effect, positive or negative, from having so many other music fests in the Triangle?
If you are referring to our audience, while there is some crossover with artists that have played Moogfest, for the most part our musical focus is in a different area than other festivals. So there’s not so much in the way of direct competition. ProgDay also exists largely outside of the local scene. Recently, I’ve seen a small increase in attendance by people from the Triangle, but the majority of the audience lives outside the area.
Combined with the brand loyalty I mentioned, the result has been that our attendance has remained incredibly consistent over the years.
One positive effect is that the increase in concert opportunities has people in the Triangle getting more in the habit of going to live events. That may be a factor in the recent increase in ProgDay support.

Can you talk about the connection between music and your art?
Most of my art has been created for music-related projects. In the case of CD covers, often the music is not finished when the art is begun. However, when possible, I like to key off of the music. It may be an emotional attachment or atmosphere, or the concept of the art may be inspired by a lyric or other idea in the music. Much of my work has been for the progressive rock market, which has a longstanding association with imagination. I tend towards surrealism, and I like to do things that are not straightforward. That approach generally goes well with the projects I’ve done. In the case of ProgDay, since it is a daytime open-air festival, I usually try to incorporate something from nature, some musical component and a sun element. 

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