I recently returned from Chicago, where I spent three days covering Progtoberfest III, a highly enjoyable weekend of progressive rock music. I saw 37 of the 38 scheduled bands, and wrote reviews for each day. You’ll find those reviews at http://www.proglodytes.com.
In addition to the musical experience, I had more than a couple of enjoyable moments that really didn’t fit within the confines of a review. Still, these were good moments, and I’d like to share them with you. If anything, it’s yet another way of explaining why I love music so much.
THE CLASSIEST DIVE
Progtoberfest III was held at Reggie’s, a music club on the south side of Chicago. On the outside, it didn’t look much different than any other club. The inside was another story.
The first phrase to jump into my head was “classy dive.” The place isn’t gross, but it is well worn. I had no doubt that hundreds — if not thousands — of bands had performed here since the club opened in 2007. I was sure of this because it looked like every band left a bumper sticker on the club’s walls. I mean there were stickers EVERYWHERE. The walls, the bottom of the stairwells, the men’s room … EVERYWHERE. Yeah, Reggie’s is my kind of place.
YOU KNOW ME? REALLY?
Before the shows started, I found myself standing in the corridor that separates the Music Joint (the smaller, seated area) from the Rock Club. Both venues were being used for the festival, so merchandise tables were set up in the corridor.
I was casually looking over the CDs at one table when I heard someone ask, “Excuse me, you’re Cedric Hendrix, aren’t you?” Startled, I looked up and found myself face to face with a tall, stocky young man with his hand extended for shaking. The young man introduced himself as Erik Oldman, the guitarist for Suns of Ra, who opened the festival. “I follow your Facebook page,” he said. “I really like your work.” I was nearly embarrassed, but the moment turned into a fantastic ego boost. It was great to know someone out there was actually reading my posts, particularly a musician. Sons of Ra was great, by the way.
MEETING A LEGEND
I’ve always wanted to meet legendary drummer Chester Thompson. He is featured on my favorite live album of all time (Seconds Out by Genesis), and was part of Frank Zappa’s Roxy-era band, another favorite. I just wanted to say hello and thank him for his work.
I saw Chester outside the club just before the shows started. He wouldn’t be on stage until almost midnight, playing in bassist Alphonso Johnson’s band. He was on his phone and appeared to be in deep conversation, and I refuse to be THAT guy, who walks up and bugs him.
The band’s set went on until 1 a.m. or so. It had been a long day, coupled with a long shift at work the night before, short rest, and a five-hour drive. There was a “meet and greet” after the show, but I was exhausted. I went back to my hotel. I assumed Alphonso and Chester would be on to their next gig after their set. So my “meet Chester” window was closed. What a drag. Or so I thought.
The next day, I was strolling through the corridor between venues, when who did I see walking toward me? Chester and I made eye contact, and I did my best to fight the urge to geek out, even though I was sure he was looking past me. As we passed one another, I offered a calm “Hello, Mr. Thompson.” Chester stopped on a dime, turned to face me, and stuck out his right hand. “Well hello there, young man!” he said warmly. “How are you? What’s your name?” And just like that, I was engaged in 60 seconds of small talk with Chester Thompson. The entire time we spoke, he never let go of my hand. There’s no photo of this moment. Somehow, I think that makes it cooler.
YOUR NUMBER ONE FAN
Normally at concerts, the artist shows up, plays the gig, and leaves. I assumed that would be the case at Progtoberfest. Instead, I was delighted to see how many musicians stuck around after their sets to support the other acts on the bill. It was almost comical to find myself having a pleasant conversation with a fan during one set, only to find him on stage a couple of hours later!
The musician I saw most often was Fernando Perdomo, who plays guitar in Dave Kerzner’s band. It seemed like every time I looked at the audience, there he was. (It was really dark in the Music Joint when I took this shot. Trust me, he’s there.) This was particularly true when I saw him geeking out to ABACAB, a Genesis tribute band, as they played Seconds Out. It was nice to know I was around musicians that truly “got” it.
REPEATED MK RUN-INS
Mike Keneally wrote the foreword for my book, which should be published in a few months. He was also on the Progtoberfest bill with Beer for Dolphins. Each of us knew the other would be in town, and we planned to get together on Sunday. The funny thing is, I kept running into him throughout the weekend! It happened so frequently, I told him I was starting to feel like The Little Stalker that Could, which he found funny. In the end, I wound up standing next to him as we watched both Alphonso Johnson on Friday and the Chicago Zappa Ensemble on Sunday. Mike is not only an amazing musician, but a really great guy.
A TALE OF TWO PICKS
One of the most rock and roll things a musician does during a concert is toss used accessories like guitar picks into the crowd after using them. This usually induces a mad scramble by the fans to get their hands on these tiny souvenirs. I’ve never had a pick tossed my way at a show before. During Progtoberfest, it happened twice.
The first time was during ABACAB’s set when their guitarist/bassist tossed one of his heavyweight picks in my general direction, landing just to my right, between me and another fan. The second time was during Amalgam Effect’s show, when vocalist/guitarist Matt Spivack tossed his pick at me, landing at my feet.
In both cases, I assumed another fan had seen the pick fly, and would go after it. After all, I was there in a semi-professional capacity, and pick diving didn’t seem like a good idea. By in both cases, the audience was transfixed on the music, and paid the picks no mind. So I casually leaned down and picked them up. And now they’re on my coffee table.
GETTING A SET LIST FROM PETE LENTS
Speaking of ABACAB, the band’s set consisted of playing the entire Seconds Out album, which I have played and loved since 1982. The tribute band did a great job, and at the end of their show, I congratulated lead singer/drummer Pete Lents on his work. “Thanks, man,” he said. “Do you want a set list?”
Normally, a list of the songs the band played is a precious commodity eagerly sought by fans. While I appreciated the offer, I know Seconds Out backwards! I thanked Pete and said it wouldn’t be necessary. I guess he didn’t hear me, as he excitedly said, “Let me get you a set list!” Within 10 Seconds, the sheer of paper was in my hand. What could I do? I took the list, thanked him, and went on my way. It was a very kind gesture.
JUST THREE “SELFIES”
I bought a new camera for the festival, since I didn’t think I’d get much done with my phone. Between the two devices, I took nearly 1,600 photos. I guess I remembered what a photographer from Sports Illustrated told me: “We take 1,000 pictures to get one.”
While I was having a ball, it was also work. This festival wasn’t about taking “selfies.” In fact, I took exactly three. One with festival organizer Kevin Pollack, one with Mike Keneally, and one with another Frank Zappa alum, Ike Wills. Frankly, that’s all I needed.
MY TWO FAVORITE MOMENTS
I was taught that photography is all about catching moments, because they may not come again. My feeble photography skills make this difficult. But thanks to modern technology (read, “auto focus”), I actually look like I know what I’m doing now and then. Here are two of my favorites:
Like I said, I was forever bumping into Mike at this festival. On the third day, I found the Zappa alum (in the hat) digging on the Chicago Zappa Ensemble. I wondered how he’d feel about them. Based on the head bobbing, laughter, and cheering, I’d say he was having a ball!
A few hours into the first day, I stepped outside the club to get some air. There were two bands playing inside, people walking back and forth between the venues, and still more people lined up outside, looking to get in. The club had a small outdoor dining area, too. There, among all this activity, I saw Schooltree guitarist Sam Crawford, lost in his own world, warming up for his band’s set. He was a study in concentration, failing to let any of the movement or noise bother him. He is a true professional.
I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed this festival. There were other great moments from Progtoberfest III, but they are best described in pictures. I’ll save that for next time.