Glass Ham­mer chooses qual­ity over quan­tity

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY BARRY COURTER STAFF WRITER

For a lot of mu­si­cal groups, tour­ing and per­form­ing live shows are a big part of who they are. They love the grind of the road, the roar of a live au­di­ence, the chance to sell some merch.

For Glass Ham­mer, a lo­cal pro­gres­sive rock band that has been to­gether for a quar­ter cen­tury, play­ing in front of an au­di­ence is great and some­thing they en­joy do­ing. They just do not en­joy tour­ing, es­pe­cially when the likely out­come is to sim­ply break even.

“We don’t tour,” says

Steve Babb. “We just don’t.”

They do play live shows, last play­ing one at The Camp House here in May.

“It went re­ally well,” Babb says. “Peo­ple were stream­ing in when the doors opened.”

In ad­di­tion to 17 stu­dio al­bums, the band has recorded and re­leased three live al­bums and four live DVDs.

So they do get out and per­form, but the cir­cum­stances have to be right for a live show: It’s usu­ally a one-off,

and the sit­u­a­tion has to

be to their lik­ing.

A hand­ful of shows have met those cri­te­ria re­cently.

They are head­lin­ing this week­end’s ProgS­tock 2017 fes­ti­val in Rah­way, N.J., and they will be a part of the six-day Cruise to the Edge hosted by Yes in Fe­bru­ary, sail­ing from Tampa, Fla., to Belize and Costa Maya.

Their other big show this year was 2Days Prog + 1 Fes­ti­val in Veruno, Italy. The event was held in early Septem­ber, and Glass Ham­mer was one of the head­lin­ers on the clos­ing Satur­day night.

Babb says they were treated like roy­alty through­out their en­tire four-day stay. The en­tire trip from air­fare to ho­tels to food and even a pri­vate tour guide were pro­vided by fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers, which hap­pens to be the city it­self, with the help of spon­sor­ships. Not only does the city cover ex­penses for the bands, ad­mis­sion to the fes­ti­val and camp­ing are free for the fans.

“Ev­ery­thing was right for us,” Babb says.

For co-founder Fred Schen­del, the band has sev­eral things they look at when choos­ing to play at a fes­ti­val such as 2Days.

“We don’t want to lose money,” he says.

Go­ing over­seas for an ex­tended pe­riod of time takes them away from fam­i­lies and their stu­dio work here. They also look for fes­ti­vals where they can play in front of prog fans. This fes­ti­val ticked off all of the boxes.

“This trip was amaz­ing. Plus we ate like kings,” Schen­del says.

The fes­ti­val is about 15 years old and spans three con­sec­u­tive week­ends, with the first two ded­i­cated to clas­si­cal and jazz mu­sic. The third week­end fea­tures prog rock, which has also been called art rock or sym­phonic rock be­cause of its blend of jazz, ex­per­i­men­tal, jam and acid rock. The genre has a solid au­di­ence in Europe, and the Veruno fes­ti­val is the largest in Italy.

Also on the bill with Glass Ham­mer for the prog week­end were Pro­col Harum, Mo­torpsy­cho, Dis­ci­pline, Frost, The Tan­gent, Com­edy of Er­rors and So­phya Bac­cini’s Ara­dia.

Veruno is in the prov­ince of No­vara near the north­west cor­ner of the coun­try. Babb says the band’s driver/tour guide hap­pened to be the re­gion’s chief his­to­rian, and he took them to Lake Como in Lom­bardy and Lake Mag­giore on the south side of the Alps.

“It was beau­ti­ful but looked like other beau­ti­ful lakes, and then you see this fourth-cen­tury monastery with these stone paths. It looked like what you thought a fourth-cen­tury monastery would look like. Amaz­ing.

The his­to­rian “spent two days of his life with us,” Babb says. “I be­lieve they do this in the spirit of bands go­ing away and telling peo­ple how won­der­ful Veruno is.”

Be­cause of fears of ter­ror­ism, Babb says se­cu­rity sur­round­ing the fes­ti­val site was very tight. Past events have drawn as many as 5,000 peo­ple, but it was lim­ited to 2,500 this past year for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

“It takes place in­side the town,” Babb says. “It has prob­a­bly two places to eat to­tal. It’s not very big. Our dress­ing room was in­side the po­lice sta­tion, which says some­thing about se­cu­rity.”

Once in­side, how­ever, Babb says ev­ery­thing was very friendly and open. The band got to meet and spend time with fans and other band mem­bers through­out.

“I think we took more pic­tures with peo­ple than we ever have,” Babb says.

The band re­leased “Valkyrie” ear­lier this year and is set to re­lease “Un­told Tales,” a col­lec­tion of pre­vi­ously un­re­leased stu­dio and live tracks span­ning its 25-year his­tory. It also has two un­re­leased cov­ers of Ar­gent and Bea­tles tracks and a song fea­tur­ing Rush drum­mer Neil Peart.

Some years ago, Peart recorded some drum tracks as a sam­ple li­brary and made them avail­able to a se­lected num­ber of acts, in­clud­ing Glass Ham­mer. Noth­ing was done with the fin­ished songs, so Babb says the band de­cided to in­clude the song on “Un­told Tales.”

With­out hav­ing to be asked, he laughs and an­swers the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: “It is not pos­si­ble to use his drums and have it not sound like Rush.”

Con­tact Barry Courter at bcourter@times­freep­ress.com or 423-7576354.

PHOTOBYANNE-MARIEFORKER PHOTO BY REIHARD PFÄNDER PHOTO BY ANNE-MARIE FORKER

Kam­ranAlanShiko­hofGlassHam­mer. Steve Babb, below, plays bass dur­ing Glass Ham­mer’s per­for­mance in Veruno, Italy, dur­ing the re­cent 2Days + 1 Prog Fest. Glass Ham­mer, fea­tur­ing Susie Bog­danow­icz on vo­cals, was one of the head­lin­ers for the three-week­end fes­ti­val in Italy.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Mem­bers of Glass Ham­mer are, from left, Fred Schen­del, Kam­ran Alan Shikoh, Susie Bog­danow­icz, Steve Babb and Aaron Raulston.

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