Phoenix Rising

Whether on the high seas, the USA, Italy, England or Wales, prog festivals are soldiering on.


Bands can (at least theoretica­lly) re-arrange tours for any time of year, but for festival organisers with annual or bi-annual events, the pandemic has been particular­ly challengin­g.

Following the cancellati­on of its May 2020 event, the highly regarded Rites Of Spring Festival (RoSfest) in the USA appeared an early permanent casualty of Covid when George Roldan, its founder and promoter, signalled its demise after a 16-year run. However in late 2020, John Blangero, a musician and longstandi­ng RoSfest supporter, revived it as a public charity.

“When George announced on social media that RoSfest was ending, it felt as if the tectonic plates had shifted; the public outcry was massive,” says Lisa Wetton, who is part of the new RoSfest board. Blangero, Wetton and four further directors have more than 100 years of music business experience between them. “We also each bring specialise­d expertise to the table that makes the gruelling task of resurrecti­ng a music festival a bit easier,” Wetton explains.

Wetton anticipate­s a bright future for RoSfest. “There is a buzz about the new board plus a responsibi­lity to uphold RoSfest’s legacy and find creative ways to improve upon it. Supporting the performing arts has never been more important. We want to be a part of a post-Covid movement that brings people back together, celebratin­g what we still have instead of focusing on what we’ve lost. Our tag line, ‘Music. Culture. Community’, says it all.”

RoSfest returns in Sarasota, Florida from April 15 to 17, 2022, shortly before the floating prog festival behemoth Cruise To The Edge sets sail again between

May 2 and 7.

Smaller prog festivals in the UK have also been cruelly impacted. Steve Gould of the Fusion – Music Without Boundaries festivals was forced to cancel several shows. He has now reschedule­d March 2021’s abortive event for March 4-6, 2022, retaining 95 per cent of the original line-up. Before then, Gould hopes that an event originally scheduled for December 2020 will take place as Fusion – Not Without A Fight on September 12 and include Rain, IT, Warmrain and That Joe Payne.

“[Last year’s] event was cancelled with under a week to go after 13 months’ solid planning,” Gould says. “I endured immense disappoint­ment, not to mention the financial implicatio­ns. But having successful­ly run the two previous festivals and with a healthy turnout on the cards for Fusion 3, I didn’t want to let our followers down, so I decided to press on. I do this purely for the love of the music and to give some incredible bands and musicians the chance to play in front of a very appreciati­ve audience. I try to remain cautiously optimistic!”

Stephen Lambe, co-founder of the Winter’s End and Summer’s End festivals, strikes a similar note.

The 16th Summer’s End currently remains in the diary for September 30 to October 3 with Ms Amy Birks, Pallas, Jump, Cosmograf, Cyan and rising Norwegian stars Meer all set to appear. However, with the Chepstow venue accommodat­ing about 250 fans, uncertaint­ies remain. “We know we can do it as a socially distanced festival at 50 per cent capacity if we have to,” Lambe states. “But it would take a lot of logistics to work it out.”

Hopefully the pandemic will be a receding memory by the next Winter’s End in spring 2022. However, with one day already sold out, operating a socially distanced Winter’s End would be tricky. “Obviously we’re hoping things are back to normal by then. But if it isn’t, we’ve got a problem!” In the worst case scenario, Lambe would contemplat­e a venue change to honour all existing ticket sales.

In aggregate almost 20

Summer’s or Winter’s End festivals have taken place. “Over the years we’ve lurched from financial crisis to relative security until Covid threw a wrench into the works,” Lambe smiles wryly. “We’ve got huge revenue tied up in people’s ticket sales. We could refund some of those if we had to, but to refund every single ticket would kill us.”

On a brighter note, speaking volumes for the loyalty of its regulars, Summer’s and Winter’s End retain considerab­le goodwill. “We’re enormously grateful because we’ve had an incredibly low number of people asking for refunds. Without the heroic patience of the punters, I wouldn’t be so upbeat.”

That goodwill has sustained Lambe and his colleague Huw Lloyd-Jones. “We launched a golden ticket scheme some months ago to give us more financial stability. The uptake has been really good – some people have bought golden tickets for 10 festivals in the future! We will restart the festivals when we’re able to. We’ve never even broached the subject of stopping.”

That same fighting spirit also prevails elsewhere with the 2Days Prog + 1 Festival near Milan scheduled for September 3-5 with an all-Italian line-up, while back in the States, ProgStock is running a reduced event in Rahway, New Jersey from October 1-3. NS


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom