Another NEARfest is over, and a festival I avoided for its first 6 years because it seemed too retro and nostalgic has become an annual event for me in the last six years. NEARfest 2010 was one of the best, a great mix of old and new, nostalgic reunions and edgy directions. A tip of the hat to Ray Loboda, Jim Robinson, Kevin Feeley, and founders Chad Hutchinson and Robert LaDuca for another perfectly organized festival. For these guys it really is about the music and the fans.
My NEARfest Awards
Best guitarist of the festival: Steve Hackett.
He should be mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Beck. Honorable mention: Dave Bainbridge of Iona who had the most expansive timbral pallette at the Festival.
Most atypical guitarist of the festival: Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief.
He did more with a couple of chords and a lot of overdrive than a lot of guitarists did with a million nano-notes.
Most exotic axe: The uilleann pipes of Martin Nolan. Instruments actually don’t get very exotic at NEARfest. We need more musicians slamming on metal pipes like Present.
Most Versatile Musician: A lot of musicians did double duty on keyboards and guitar, but I thought the bassist with The Enid had the toughest job, doubling up on timpani, field drum and xylophone, providing the percussive bombast of this symphonic rock group.
Best Singers: Joanne Hoag of Iona and Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief.
Artist who would be best served by getting another singer: Steve Hackett. Hackett has pleasant pipes, but his limited range and expression really holds his songs back. There isn’t one piece of his that I couldn’t hear improved by someone else singing it.
Most Bizarre Appearance: Nick Beggs, bassist for Steve Hackett. From 16 rows back, he looked liked a very masculine woman with his black leather skirt and vest, mid-calf boots, blond pigtails and Madonna arms. He strutted and bounced across the stage, often with his back to the audience and shaking his ass. As my friend Gino said, “That was the most unsexy butt shaking I’ve ever seen in my life.” Imagine my surprise the next morning when I saw Beggs at a table at the Comfort Suites with his former bandmates from Iona. My vision was blocked by an umbrella, so the first thing I noticed was the Madonna arms. As I peered beneath the umbrella I saw long bleached blonde hair….. surrounding three days beard growth. Turns out the leather skirt was a leather kilt. He can play the bass though.
SCATTERED NEARFEST THOUGHTS
With the exception of Magma in 2007, the Sunday headliner is never my favorite act and sometimes my least favorite.
The seats at Zoellner are just too small. While my gut stayed well within bounds, my shoulders were a good 3-4 inches into the adjoining seats.
Even though they seemed to be using a smaller PA system, I thought NEARfest 2010 had the best sound I’ve heard there in 6 years. Loud, clean and well-balanced.
The lights at NEARfest are rarely innovative, but this year they were especially utilitarian.