Another ProgPower USA has come and gone. This was the twelfth time I have succumbed to the madness, the excitement, the passion, the…well, it’s hard to explain, and that’s why I’m making a blog post about it. How do you explain this to anybody who has never experienced this event? Basically, you can’t. You have to experience it for yourself. We as fans of the festival can talk about it, but unless you actually attend and soak it all in and immerse yourself in it, you just can’t understand it. It’s been said that you only learn 10% by reading, 20% by watching, but 100% by doing. That’s what I mean. You just have to go and dive in with both feet, not just dip your toe in the pool. How do you do that? How would you even start to begin your journey? You need to start listening to the music, then attend the festival. In that order, not the reverse!

First of all, this is music that most of you have never heard or listened to before. Ever. This is typically not on the radio. Do yourself a favor and turn off the radio. Let that Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber float out of your mind. Feel better already? Good! Now, don’t confuse yourself with pretend metal. Nickelback and Staind? Nope, not real metal. If you have XM or Sirius satellite radio, you may know of the channel called Octane. That’s not real metal either. Turn that off too. Feel even better? Release yourself from false music and listen to better music. Quality music. Stuff you can’t find on the radio in the United States (or many other places, either). Yeah, that’s it. Just release your mind. Namaste. (Actually, that’s an inside joke as I’ll explain a bit later.)

So what is this music that I’m talking about? In the case of the festival, the term “ProgPower” is a concatenation of Progressive Metal and Power Metal. These sub-genres of heavy metal are quite different and diverse, but at the same time are complimentary. I’ll try to explain each of these below.

Progressive Metal: For the uninitiated, Progressive Metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal (yes, there are MANY sub-genres of heavy metal) that is a mix of old school progressive rock (say like Pink Floyd and Yes) blended with heavier aspects of metal to kick things up a notch or two. It’s hard to describe because the term Progressive Metal is quite broad, but there are a few basic sub-types of Progressive Metal. There are lighter aspects of the music, there are heavier aspects of the music, and there are technical aspects of the music. There can also be symphonic aspects as well. (Some people compare the technicality of Progressive metal to Classical Music.) But the most common aspects about progressive metal are ever changing time signatures, complex rhythms and song structures. Basically it’s heavy metal music that’s appreciated by the intellectual crowd. Not saying that you need to be a brainiac to appreciate it, but those of us who tend to have advanced degrees and technical jobs tend to gravitate towards this genre of metal. Probably the most popular band (and one of the founding contributors of this music) is an American band called Dream Theater. Another band that was one of the founding contributors of the genre was the American band called Savatage. For the most part, it is no longer around in its original form. However, you may have heard one of the spin-offs called the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Power Metal: Power metal is a sub-genre of metal that is more upbeat and a bit harder. It tends to mix traditional metal with symphonic and melodic aspects to the music. Typically these tend to have fast tempos (in a few cases, really fast!). There are typically two schools of thought with Power Metal: American Power Metal and European Power Metal. American Power Metal a harder edged metal that is more along the lines of traditional Heavy Metal. Probably one of the most popular bands that typifies this sub-sub-genre is the American band Iced Earth. The European version of Power Metal is actually quite different. The European flavor is what I call “Happy Metal”. And depending on the band, they can add some interesting… fantasy…aspects to the music too? I think many of these bands played Dungeons and Dragons growing up, or were huge fans of the Lord of the Rings series of books because some of those aspects wind up in the lyrics of these songs.

But if these are so diverse, how can they be complementary? Because some bands can mix the two and the blending of them can be greater than the separate parts. There’s an American band called Symphony X. They are a band that I tend to call “Power Progressive”. It has the harder edge aspects of Power Metal, yet has the varying time signatures and complexity of Progressive Metal. Get it? Right now I highly doubt it. Just turn your brain off of mainstream mumble jumble and start listening to this music. Listen to it. Then you’ll get it. The more you listen, the more you’ll understand.

So now that you have a background in the music, let me talk about this event. ProgPower USA is hard to describe. It’s not a concert. It really isn’t even a festival. It’s a week long journey into a musical abyss. Think about separating yourself from the world as you know it and diving in with this music for four solid days. Oh, did I mention that the people who attend this festival “get it”? That means that they understand what I’ve been trying to say here. We don’t have to try to explain ourselves all the time, like we do most of the year to the uninitiated. We just go and enjoy with like-minded folks. It’s nice to discuss different bands that we already know. We compare and contrast styles of different bands. We learn about new bands within these sub-genres. We embrace this music full on and soak it all in.

For those of us who have been attending for so long, it’s more than just the music. Remember how I just said that we don’t have to explain ourselves? That already breaks the ice for many of us. We already arrive with a mutual understanding for each other. Even if we come from diverse backgrounds, we are already destined to be friends. Not just acquaintances, but real honest-to-goodness friends. I’ve seen long lasting relationships and even marriages result from attending this festival. (Contrary to popular belief, there is a large percentage of females who are into this sort of music!)

But how did we get there from here? The music has been around in one way, shape, or form since the 1980s. It evolved to its current state sometime in the 1990s. There have been a number of festivals that have come and gone between then and now. A number of festivals are still around, but many of them don’t have the close bonds such as ProgPower USA. The venue that holds the event (Center Stage in midtown Atlanta, GA) can only hold about 1100 people. That right there limits the crowd. We’re not talking 50,000 people in a football stadium, yet not a small club of 100. It’s a nice size where people can mingle and get to know each other, yet not be so overwhelming that you get lost.

Another aspect of the festival is that it is unique in two factors. The first one that people who are well versed in Power and/or Progressive metal know that that most of these bands are from outside of the United States. Sadly, this music is not really popular here. (Imagine that!) Even American bands that are in these genres do not see success here – only overseas, which is really sad. However, ProgPower USA has become a place where these foreign bands are brought to the United States, often as an exclusive event -meaning they just come here FOR ProgPower. Some do use ProgPower as an anchor for a tour – but often times they just come here for the single event. Hence that means if you want to see a band, you need to travel to Atlanta. And hence us folks that are few and far between who “get it” travel to a “Mecca” where we are with like-minded folks who also “get it”. Get it? (Grin)

The other factor to note (and what makes ProgPower unique) is the fact that the promoters who run the event run a quality show. The creator and main person behind the event is Glenn Harveston. He and his wife Jen run the festival, albeit with a small volunteer army that works their collective butts off. The army has grown over time and now includes two up and coming promoters (Nathan and Milton) to assist Glenn and Jen. These folks are doing this because they are fans of the music and care about putting on a quality show for the fans. It’s not some big whig corporate promoter who’s out to make a ton of cash, it’s a small group of people who actually give a damn. That is what it’s all about. By the fans, for the fans. Imagine that!

PP USA crew 2016So what else makes this festival unique? Given the fact that 1) it’s small, 2) run by a tight knit group and 3) fans come all over and most importantly 4) unique once-in-a-lifetime shows – we have basically become one big happy family. Many of us who attend have been attending for quite a while. The festival started in 2001 and has been held every year since (twice in 2001, once a year thereafter). Because ProgPower is about the only place to enjoy the music AND the common bonds, we keep coming back! Add in the modern social media aspect (Facebook has pretty much transformed things for the fest in a HUGE way!); the festival has no plans on stopping for quite a while. Glenn wanted to stop in 2014, but we sold out the fest. We did it again for 2015. Add to the fact that the just completed 2016 fest was sold out in an amazing NINE hours after tickets went on sale – that was insane! The festival lineup for 2017 is so damn good that I see tickets selling out in nine MINUTES!

hakenmikeStarting this year and continuing into 2017, the festival is crossing over a bit. It’s no longer Glenn’s little festival that could; it is attracting the attention of some of the bigger fish in the small pond. Mike Portnoy (who used to be the drummer and major songwriter for Dream Theater – remember me mentioning them?) will be playing in 2017. That is HUGE for us. We are now attracting performers that some segment of the mainstream population may have heard about.

But how can you even begin to understand this magic, this craziness? For this most recently completed fest, Devin Townsend (a Canadian musician/performer) published a video blog of performing the fest (he was the final day headline act). This is by far the best compilation of what goes on at the show – behind the scenes, by the fan’s perspective, and the performance itself. Even though this is the tip of the iceberg, it’s a nice starter for those who have never attended the fest.

So, if you may be interested in this fest, start listening and enjoying the music. Jen has put together a list of YouTube videos of the bands that are slated to perform at next year’s event already! (14 of the 20 bands have been announced as of this date.) This is the way to start immersing yourself into this music. Get to know the music, and then you can start to get to know the fest. Turn off the radio, turn on this music instead!

I’ll post a review of the 2016 fest in another post, but for now I just wanted to get my non-ProgPower friends and relatives brought up to speed on why I attend and will continue to attend for as long as the festival exists and I am alive on this planet.

Oh, the inside joke about Namaste above? That’s a song by the Norwegian progressive metal band Circus Maximus, who graced the ProgPower USA stage yet again this year.