(Part 1 of the Bands of Progtoberfest series)
Being an opening act isn’t easy.
The first band on stage is there to warm up the crowd and prepare them for an evening of musical entertainment. Their notes establish the evening’s tone, and could ultimately determine just how engaged the audience will be. A poor performance sets a bad precedent, and the opening act has about 30 seconds to see to it that doesn’t happen.
The first band on stage must also make an impression on its own behalf, lest it get lost in the shuffle of people waiting to hear the sounds of the evening’s headliner. After all, opening acts want to ultimately become headliners.
It’s hard enough setting the tone for two or three bands in one evening. Imagine the feeling of opening on behalf of three dozen other bands, performing over three days. That was the task Sons of Ra faced at Progtoberfest in Chicago last year. The band not only accepted the challenge, they relished it, performing an airtight 35-minute set. The audience at Reggie’s Music Joint got to see something truly special. “(Progtoberfest) was the main thing we were looking forward to all year,” said guitarist Erik Oldman. “We’d been playing locally and regionally, and I really wanted to get us on a major bill. This was a big opportunity for us.”
The band was familiar with Reggie’s, having played there on several other occasions, including their EP release party. The band’s friends usually attended those shows. This was a little different. “We were one of a handful of local acts playing the festival,” Oldman remarked. “Being (at Reggie’s) was one thing. But seeing that many people there was something else!”
Sons of Ra are a power trio, and natives of Chicago. The band also features Keith Wakefield on bass and Marc D. on drums. Their sound is a hybrid of progressive rock, metal, and jazz-fusion. That being said, the band is not beholden to any of these forms, choosing instead to use the genres to create a sound all their own, rather than being merely the sum of their influences. The band used the wealth of sound at its disposal to record their first EP, called Anthropology, which was released in 2016.
The band playing on that EP and the one performing at Progtoberfest nearly sounded like two different groups. The Progtoberfest band sounded more seasoned and experienced. They were comfortable with their material (to say nothing of the cover of King Crimson’s “Red”) and played with confidence and a touch of swagger. Without a doubt, they knew what they were doing. “Since a tenet of the music we play is that some sections of the piece are improvisational in nature, certain sections of the piece evolve and tighten up over time,” Oldman said. “We also had a fairly rigorous calendar, playing out regularly since the EP was released. So the sheer act of playing it live so much really helped to tighten things up.”
Sons of Ra have no interest in resting on its collective laurels. The future beckons, and they are ready to move forward. Oldman calls Anthropology a “snapshot” of the band’s progress. “We’re ready to move on, and go deeper into this unified fusion sound,” said Oldman. “We’ll be paying homage to bands like Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but with a fresh approach. We’ll also aim to make ourselves more accessible (to casual fans) by writing a few shorter tunes.”
The sky is truly the limit for the Sons of Ra. It would be ill-advised to ignore this band.