Morsefest 2017: A Road Called Home

Morsefest 2017: A Road Called Home

Pics by Jon Fiala

Progressive rock invaded Tennessee this Labor Day weekend as it was once again time for Morsefest, Neal Morse’s weekend of prog in his hometown of Cross Plains, just outside of Nashville.  This was the 4th such weekend, which is rather shocking considering Nashville is not exactly the hotbed of prog. For anyone that doesn’t know, the Morsefest weekend consists of Neal Morse playing 2 of his albums on consecutive Friday and Saturday nights.  In 2014, it was Testimony and One.  In 2015, it was the ‘?’ album and Sola Scriptura. Last year, the unbelievable happened as Spock’s Beard reunited with Neal Morse and Nick D’Virgilio to perform Snow for the first time ever. This year the festival returned to its namesake as the now Neal Morse Band were set to perform Testimony 2 on Friday night and the mammoth Similitude of a Dream on Saturday night along with the usual addition of long epics and surprises. For anyone in attendance, the band and the weekend did not disappoint.

Having had the privilege of attending Morsefest two prior times, in 2015 and 2016, it is hard to come up with new words to convey the awesomeness of what this weekend is. To say that it’s just for overzealous Neal Morse fans would be to shortchange what has become a beautiful community of prog fans from all over the world. Since its inception in 2014, not only have the audio and visual elements grown beyond any expectation, but the festival has repeat visitors, many for the 4th consecutive year; fans who have become friends in the interim staying in touch on Facebook and planning the trip to Cross Plains together, with attendees from as far as Iceland, Japan, China, and South Africa just to name a few places. This time a couple even got married Saturday morning.  It has become that type of family event.

The weekend is exactly that, a full weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, where barely a minute is left unaccounted for, other than to get a quick lunch.  Friday and Saturday afternoon both began with a VIP session where the band played a take-off on Wheel of Fortune called “Neal of Fortune”.  Guests from the audience were picked to complete and win prizes while trying to figure out difficult answers like Randy George’s solo album “In the Light of the King’s Countenance”.  From there, the band did a signing session where each fan got to speak with each member and get anything they wanted signed.  This lasted over an hour.  Then they took pictures with each person.  Once this 3 hour meet and greet was over, the band ran through a sound check before letting the full audience back in. Meanwhile, the VIPs in attendance were fed a nice dinner down the hall.

As announced a few months earlier, Nick D’Virgilio was scheduled to open each night but no one really knew exactly what would take place.  Friday night he appeared with songwriter Stan Ausmus, a long-time Spock’s Beard collaborater, and the two ran through a variety of acoustic choices from the Octane track “There Was a Time” to Nick’s own “Mary Jane Says”. Nick surprised everyone by singing a Big Big Train song “Telling the Bees”.  The set closed with a tremendous version of the Spock’s classic “The Doorway”.  It was a great way to kick off the evening.

Neal Morse along with Mike Portnoy, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer, and Randy George, took the stage and jumped into the title track from the Lifeline album. From there, they played two 30-minute epics “So Many Roads” and “Seeds of Gold”, only taking a break between to the two to do a rousing acoustic rendition of the song “Supernatural” with Bill playing the lead on mandolin. The group segued into an impromptu version “I’ve Seen All Good People” inviting the audience of 700-800 people to sing along. Both “lost” epics were truly “Epic” but it was “Seeds of Gold” that had everyone on their feet by the time it was over.  Gillette filled in on the Steve Morse solo proving he doesn’t need to take a back seat to any guitar player.

After a short break, the band returned to perform the album Testimony 2. From the opener “Mercy Street” through the challenging “Time Changer” the band were flawless.  The addition of a horn and string section, along with a choir, elevated the proceedings to another level.  Morse than performed “Jayda” the story of his daughter’s miraculous recovery from a heart defect as a baby.  The emotional Morse was in tears at the end as his daughter ran onstage to embrace him.  There was barely a dry eye in the house.  The band then tore through the rest of story, recanting how Morse decided to get off the road, and leave Spock’s Beard.  Epic moments like “The Truth Will Set you Free” and “It’s For You” were pure prog ecstasy. The closing track “Crossing Over” was a beautiful conclusion to the evening as everyone stood in awe of what they had witnessed.

Saturday began early for the few hundred Inner Circle members, Neal’s fan club, who were treated to a private acoustic show by Neal, who was only joined briefly by his son Will and female vocalist Julie Harrison. The relaxed set was made up mostly unreleased material, some new, that Neal had written upon the band’s recent European tour. One called “He Died At Home” told the tale a soldier who took his own life as a result of PTSD, a truly sobering moment that left most grown men claiming they had something in their eye..

After another VIP session Saturday afternoon, the lines began to form around the New Life Fellowship Church, where the weekend was held. The merch table was overflowing with guests purchasing anything from Cds, Dvds, and shirts designed specifically for the event, the most popular being a shirt that said “Makes Zero Sense” a reference from the song “Makes No Sense” from the Similitude album. For any non-prog fan that sees the shirt outside of Morsefest, the shirt will most certainly cause an on-looker to agree with that sentiment.

This night began with another Nick D’Virgilio performance, this time with a unique performance with his band UniKue, a group made up entirely of Ukulele players.  The group of 6 members, with Nick on drums, was a real treat, one perfectly designed for this audience.  Playing songs like “Closer to the Heart” and closing with “Roundabout”, the group surprised everyone with how creative and spectacular this group of ukulele could be.

Then came the Neal Morse Band again, ready to perform their highly successful double concept album from last year, The Similitude of a Dream.  They had been on tour for the last few months performing the album in its entirety.  The tour coincidentally began in Nashville and now the band were set for their 50th performance of the album, which would also be the last show of the tour.  They would send the album and tour off in grand fashion as a band of about 20 players, professional lighting and video teams, sound-man extraordinaire Rich Mouser, video designer Christian Rios and a cast of dozens more, put on the show for the ages. For anyone that had seen these band on this tour before, it was like seeing it for the first time.

Neal, Mike, Bill, Eric and Randy, were in complete synch from the opening of Long Day and did not speak to the audience until halfway through the second act. Highlights from the first act included “Makes No Sense”, Bill Hubauer’s “The Ways of the Fool”, the rocking “So Far Gone” with Eric Gillette leading the way, and the grand “Breathe of Angels”. The choir was a glorious addition to an already transcendent number. Act 2 brought on a few “Sloth” masks in the audience when that song came on as Neal slithered across the floor.  The closing sections beginning with “The Mask” through “Broken Sky/Long Day (Reprise)” kept the audience standing and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the performance. The group returned for the encore of “Author of Confusion”, “Agenda” and “The Call”.  It was a perfect ending for this long tour that has cemented the Neal Morse Band as a major force.

Sunday followed with 2 church services by Neal to round out the weekend. And there it was, another Morsefest in the books. Amazing production, amazing performances and an all around great time. While the music, as expected, was incredible, it was the fans and community of proggers that made this weekend so special.  Neal and the band, along with Joey and Amy Pippen, organized a great weekend for all involved and left everyone excited about the next one. It is rare to get such an intimate experience with a band like this. Let’s hope it’s not too long until it happens again.

Night 1 setlist:

Lifeline
So Many Roads
Supernatural (Acoustic)
Seeds of Gold
Testimony 2

Night 2 setlist:

The Similitude of a Dream
Author of Confusion
Agenda
The Call

Bad dreams teams up with PledgeMusic for the release of their new record “Chrysalis”

Bad dreams teams up with PledgeMusic for the release of their new record “Chrysalis”

Argentinian progressive rock luminaries Bad Dreams and PledgeMusic have joined forces, and the band has launched their first ever crowdfunding campaign for the release of their third album entitled “Chrysalis” which will hit the shelves worldwide on November 17th, 2017.

“It’s been a very busy year at the Bad Dreams camp and we have decided to harness the momentum and use all our energies into making a killer new record” – says Gabriel Agudo, the band vocalist – “We have teamed up with Pledge Music to be able to bring our project from inception to completion with the help of those who really matter: you, OUR FANS. It is with only with your support that we will be able to see this through. Our new album Chrysalis will be out next November, and we are asking you to step in and join us to make that dream a reality”

Hailing from the land better known for tango melodies, Bad Dreams is a group of veteran musicians who had honed their chops as a Genesis tribute band for 10 years. After the release their first album “Apocalypse of the Mercy” in 2014, they have been forging a name for themselves in the international prog-rock scene. “Apocalypse of the Mercy” garnered worldwide recognition among classic and progressive rock fans, and the band opened for Steve Hackett and played alongside Marillion’s Steve Rothery and his band during their South American leg. In 2015 they became the first South American band to be invited to the prestigious Cruise to the Edge celebration, sharing the bill with household names in the prog-rock scene like Yes, Marillion, Mike Portnoy, Änglagård, PFM, Neal Morse Band, Lifesigns, Allan Holdsworth, and many others; and performing two very successful shows in front of an audience which was unaware of the band and welcomed then with warm, standing ovations.

2016 saw the coming of their sophomore record, entitled “Déjà vu”, marking a significant turning point for the band. “Déjà vu” was a record which pandered to no label, no media framework and no pre-conceived rules, taking a reminiscent of the prog most glorious melodies to a new dramatic level, coalescing all the passion, virtuosity and mellotron-ladden melodies trademark of the band in an upbeat, nostalgia-drenched musical ride. Invited one more time to the Cruise to the Edge Festival aboard the Brilliance of the Seas ship, this time around they stole the show in a couple of occasions in front of feverish and clamoring crowds, and their flawless performance paved the way for their third invitation to the event in February 2018.

A new chapter in the history of the band is now unfolding and Jorge Tenesini, the band founder and keyboardist speaks about it: “We wanted to take a new approach to the recording of our new album and decided it won’t be a better way to do so than bringing our fans with us along the ride. In our PledgeMusic store (www.pledgemusic.com/projects/bad-dreams) they can pre-order the new record, plus a variety of other exclusive items we wanted to include, making the album buying process even more interesting. But we didn’t stop there: we decided to also throw in our first ever live release in the form of a Limited Box-Set including a Blu Ray and a DVD of our concert during Cruise to the Edge last February which we named “Live From The Edge”. We are also preparing to document the recording process and offer all of you who decide to join us in this journey some special behind the scene access to the creative process as it progresses. Tell your family and friends and let’s do this together!”

For the recording of “Chrysalis” the Argentinian have enlisted some special guest: singers Lorelei and Durga McBroom, also known as “The McBroom Sisters”, who performed as live backing vocals for Pink Floyd since 1989, will lend their angelical voices to a track entitled “Goblin’s Seduction”, tune which will also include a fantastic saxophone solo courtesy of Jamison Smeltz. Jota Morelli, considered by many the greatest drummer to ever be born in the land of Pampas (with an impressive resume as the stickman for Al Jarreau, Gloria Gaynor, Alejandro Sanz, Frank Gambale, Scott Henderson and countless more) will sit under the drumkit in “Change” and the title track “Chrysalis”, which will also have a unique melody-soaked guitar solo, once again played by the band longtime friend Steve Rothery. Angel Mahler, a world-renowned composer, pianist and orchestra conductor will be featured in another track.

On the other hand, the “Live From The Edge” Blu Ray/DVD Box will include the band’s presentation at The Pool Stage during the last Cruise to the Edge in February 2017, including a guest appearance by Steve Rothery. Both discs will be house in a single box, with the Blu Ray sporting three audio tracks: Stereo Uncompressed PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio. A picture gallery of the show will be included in both DVD and Blu Ray discs.

Throughout and up to the album release, the band will keep the PledgeMusic and Bad Dreams fans updated with the album’s progress and news from their world through the PledgeMusic AccessPass. “We consider PledgeMusic to be the best in their field and after much thought feel that they as the new masters of the art, offer the band and the fans the most exciting possibilities” – concludes Gabriel Agudo – “We also want to thank all our fans for their amazing support over the years and we hope this excites them as much as it does for us!”

Sons of Apollo release debut track “Signs of the Time”

Sons of Apollo release debut track “Signs of the Time”

SONS OF APOLLO, the highly anticipated new project featuring former Dream Theater members Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses), Billy Sheehan (The Winery Dogs, Mr. Big, David Lee Roth) and Jeff Scott Soto (ex-Journey, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force) have announced their debut album ‘Psychotic Symphony’ for release on October 20th, 2017 via InsideOutMusic / Sony. Now they are pleased to reveal their first track titled ‘Signs of the Time’.

Mike comments: “Signs Of The Time was the very first thing myself, Derek & Bumblefoot wrote when we got together to begin writing for Sons Of Apollo in March of this year.

It starts with this heavy, brutal Bumbleriff (initally coined “Korntera”), then goes into a cool verse with a 2-Pt vocal melody that I wrote sung by Jeff and myself…which eventually opens up to a HUGE vocal hook in the chorus that Jeff wrote (sung in 3-Pt harmony by Jeff, myself and Bumblefoot)

The middle section riffs are a few things that Derek brought in and show why he is the most BADASS keyboard player in the biz (playing the keys like a guitar player on fire!) and then we have the long extended breakdown and guitar solo which shows why Bumblefoot is one of today’s greatest GUITAR HEROES! This album is going to get him the recognition he truly deserves and this particular guitar solo is one of the tastiest, most insane solos I’ve EVER heard…

So all in all, this song has a little bit of everything that makes Sons Of Apollo so special…great heavy riffs, amazing solos with individual instrumental virtuosity and a big, catchy chorus with more hooks than a tackle box!!

I figured this would be a great “first taste” to introduce the world to this amazing new supergroup…and there’s a whole lot more of different musical styles and twist & turns still to come all throughout the album…”

The debut album, PSYCHOTIC SYMPHONY is now available to pre-order on 2CD Mediabook (featuring a second disc of instrumental mixes), Gatefold 2LP vinyl + CD, Standard Jewelcase CD & digital download.

Pre-order now here:
http://smarturl.it/SonsOfApolloPS

The full track-listing is as follows:
1. God of The Sun
2. Coming Home
3. Signs of the Time
4. Labyrinth
5. Alive
6. Lost In Oblivion
7. Figaro’s Whore
8. Divine Addiction
9. Opus Maximus

New Anneke group VUUR release trailer for debut album

New Anneke group VUUR release trailer for debut album

Anneke van Giersbergen’s new band VUUR have unveiled the cover artwork and tracklist for their forthcoming debut album, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’. The 11-track LP is due for release on October 20th via InsideOut Music and includes ‘Days Go By – London’, which the band released early June and can be heard here:

Regarding the cover artwork, band founder Anneke says:
“The cover is designed by Black & Finch with whom I’ve previously worked on the ‘Verloren Verleden’ release.

The lyrical themes of this album revolve around cities and freedom. Exposure to big cities can be overwhelming and you can feel engulfed by everything around you. At the same time it’s easy to be a stranger in a big city and for me that brings out a feeling of freedom as well. This past year I’ve thought a lot about the virtues of rural versus urban life, since me and my family are moving back to the city. It’s very exciting, but at the same time I know that sense of urban solitude from past experiences. The cover artwork represents this duality.”

VUUR’s full length debut was produced by Joost van den Broek, who was also involved in the writing process. Others co-writing partners are Mark Holcomb (Periphery), Esa Holopainen (Amorphis), Daniel Cardoso (Anathema), and both of VUUR’s guitar players wrote a song as well.

‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ tracklist:
01. My Champion – Berlin
02. Time – Rotterdam
03. The Martyr And The Saint – Beirut
04. The Fire – San Francisco
05. Freedom – Rio
06. Days Go By – London
07. Sail Away – Santiago
08. Valley Of Diamonds – Mexico City
09. Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki
10. Save Me – Istanbul
11. Reunite! – Paris

Dream Theater announce US dates for Images, Words & Beyond Tour

Dream Theater announce US dates for Images, Words & Beyond Tour

Dream Theater has announced the third and final leg of their “Images, Words & Beyond 25th Anniversary Tour,” which sees the pioneering group celebrating the 25th anniversary of their milestone RIAA gold-certified album, Images & Words. The North American headline dates kick off September October 25th at Oakland’s Fox Theatre. The trek takes the band throughout the US, including dates at NYC’s Beacon Theatre and L.A.’s Wiltern, as well as a stop at the Sony Centre in Toronto.

Like previous legs, the show will be presented as an “Evening with Dream Theater,” with no opening act. The tour will feature an unparalleled live set of Images & Words in its entirety, along with fan favorites from their deep, widely-acclaimed catalog.

Said founding guitarist John Petrucci of the upcoming trek, “We are so psyched to bring our Images, Words & Beyond tour to North America this Fall! It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 25 years since Images was released! We’ve been having a blast playing those songs each night, and sharing memories and stories from our time in the studio back in 1992. We know that this is such an important album to so many of our fans, both old and new, so we plan on making this a really special night by playing I&W in its entirety as well as breaking out some rare material, and a few of our latest tunes, in order to make this landmark evening compete. We hope to see all of you there! Don’t miss it”

Presale tickets for select headline shows will be available beginning Wednesday July 26th, 10 AM (local time), followed by a public onsale July 28th, with the remainder of the presales launching one week later, August 2nd, with a public onsales of August 4th.

For more information (and all up to the minute presale and ticketing information,) please visit www.dreamtheater.net/tour/.

Dream Theater recently concluded the European leg of the “Images, Words & Beyond 25th Anniversary Tour”, playing to sold-out crowds across Europe. The upcoming North American run caps off a year-long celebration of their ground-breaking album, Images & Words. After a short break in early 2018, the band will return to the studio to begin work on a follow up to their most recent opus, The Astonishing.

Dream Theater upcoming tour dates are as follows:
10/25 Oakland, CA Fox Theater
10/26 Los Angeles, CA The Wiltern
10/28 Phoenix, AZ Celebrity Theatre
10/29 ABQ, NM Kiva Auditorium
10/31 Denver, CO Paramount Theater
11/2 Wichita, KS Orpheum Theatre
11/3 Chicago, IL Chicago Theater
11/4 Peoria, IL Peoria Civic Center
11/6 Cincinnati, OH Taft Theater
11/8 Pittsburgh, PA Palace Theatre
11/9 Detroit, MI The Fillmore
11/10 Buffalo, NY Rapids Theatre
11/12 Toronto, ONT Sony Centre
11/14 Albany, NY The Palace Theater
11/15 Boston, MA Orpheum Theatre
11/16 New York, NY Beacon Theater
11/18 Asbury, Park, NJ Paramount Theater
11/19 Philadelphia, PA Merriam Theatre
11/27 Baltimore, MD The Lyric
11/28 Raleigh, NC Memorial Auditorium
11/29 Nashville, TN War Memorial Aud.
12/1 Austin, TX Bass Hall
12/2 Dallas, TX The Pavilion
12/3 Houston, TX Cullen PAC

Animals as Leaders and Periphery announce co-headlining tour

Animals as Leaders and Periphery announce co-headlining tour

Periphery and Animals As Leaders team up for what is sure to be one of the year’s most talked about tours, launching a North American trek, dubbed The Convergence Tour, on Oct. 31.

“This tour is a long time coming,” said Animals As Leaders’ guitar player Tosin Abasi. “Beyond being some of our favorite musicians, the guys in Periphery are some of our favorite people! Our careers share common roots and at times, common members. We can’t wait to bring this show to you all.”

“We are incredibly excited to hit the road with our good friends in Animals as Leaders this fall,” adds Periphery guitar player Mark Holcomb. “While we’ve done some short runs and one-off shows with AAL over the years, the idea to do a full-scale, co-headlining tour of North America has been something both our camps have discussed for the better part of seven years. Unfortunately, we were never able to line things up. Until now. We were also able to snag two amazing bands for portions of this tour as well, Car Bomb for the first half and Astronoid for the second half. ”

The Convergence Tour:

October 31 Columbus, OH Newport Music Hall
November 1 Chicago, IL The Vic Theatre
November 3 Grand Rapids, MI The Intersection
November 4 Detroit, MI St. Andrew’s Hall
November 5 London, ON London Music Hall
November 7 Norfolk, VA The NorVa
November 9 New York, NY Playstation Theater
Novembr 10 Providence, RI Lupo’s
November 11 Philadelphia, PA The Electric Factory
November 12 Pittsburgh, PA Stage AE
November 14 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade
November 15 Nashville, TN Marathon Music Works
November 17 San Antonio, TX Alamo City Music Hall
November 18 Dallas, TX Gas Monkey Live
November 19 Houston, TX White Oak Music Hall
November 21 Phoenix, AZ The Marquee
November 22 Las Vegas, NV Brooklyn Bowl
November 24 Los Angeles, CA The Wiltern
November 25 San Francisco, CA The Regency Ballroom
November 27 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
November 28 Vancouver, BC The Commodore Ballroom
November 29 Seattle, WA The Showbox
December 1 Salt Lake City, UT The Complex (The Grand)
December 2 Denver, CO Ogden Theatre

Car Bomb opens Oct. 31 – Nov. 15 while Astronoid supports Nov. 17 to Dec. 2. Tickets for all shows are available this Friday, July 28 at 10 am local time.

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