ProgPower USA IV -- Friday Performances

Ahhh, Friday! This was to be the Big Day for so many of us. The band I'd co-sponsored for ProgPower IV, Nightwish, would be playing at 9pm, and another anxiously-awaited band, Symphony X, would follow them to wrap up the evening's festivities. Redemption were opening the night -- I'd liked what I heard from them and picked up the CD already -- and Mercenary, by far the most extreme metal act to grace a ProgPower USA stage and a band I'd played frequently on WREKage here, were to follow. Our large group (me, Tony, Aki, Justin and his friend from Carolina) barely put a dent in our room-space and the DVD player easily accomodated Justin's XBox. Mental note: ask for the same room next year. :)

I got to the venue as early as I could to pick up my co-sponsor stuff from Glenn, and of course to slouch around before doors-open with the CD merchants and other folks I knew. I took this traditional shot of the Earthlink Live marquee before doors-open. Outside the venue, two guys were selling bottled water and sodas for $1 -- a pretty good deal -- and it turned out that they were part of Earthlink Live's house crew. "It's good to see the ol' house full again; it's been a while since we've seen that," one of them told me. It was an oddly poignant moment.

I also took this also-traditional pic of the somewhat-disjointed line outside the venue (that's my friend Phil Carter on the right edge).

With last year's mad-dash firmly in mind, I made a beeline for The End Records' table, intending to search out the CDs I was hunting before the Junn Horde descended upon the merchants' tables...and a good thing, too! It wasn't toooo bad after the Gold Badge holders were admitted at 3:30, but an hour later, when the doors opened for general-admission, things got packed in a hurry! I made quite a lot of purchases on Friday (and made a few treks back to the hotel at strategic times to drop off the goodies). Kudos to the Fairfield Inn's shuttle van, which was timely-placed for giving me rides back to Earthlink Live at least four times during the weekend. Anything that saves a walk is a Good Thing. :)

Redemption were first up and I thought they sounded great. Here are the pics. As last year, we were limited to the first three songs when taking pics from the camera well. Redemption #1, Redemption #2, Redemption #3, Redemption #4, Redemption #5, Redemption #6, Redemption #7, Redemption #8, Redemption #9, Redemption #10, Redemption #11, Redemption #12, Redemption #13, Redemption #14, Redemption #15, Redemption #16, Redemption #17, Redemption #18, Redemption #19, a crowd shot during Redemption, and another crowd shot. Ironically, the Redemption CD cover that I'd brought from home was the only one I didn't manage to get autographed.

After their show I stumbled into Nightwish's autographing session -- I never heard an announcement for it and I would've missed it completely had not someone mentioned it. It was held in Club Vinyl, a new small concert-capable club attached to Earthlink Live (they were apparently selling food there, too, but I never really saw much mention of this). The setting was cool, the noise-level wasn't -- some fewl had the club's stage monitors right behind Nightwish blasting at near-concert volume. Still, it was cool to (attempt to) chat with the band I'd co-sponsored and get a bunch of CD liner notes signed, and a few pics: Me and Marko from Nightwish, Me, Tarja and Jukka from Nightwish, and Tuomas, me and Emppu from Nightwish.

Amazingly despite the loong line, I didn't miss the beginning of Mercenary's set and managed to get these pics before "three-song-thirty": Mercenary #1, Mercenary #2, Mercenary #3, Mercenary #4, Mercenary #5, Mercenary #6, Mercenary #7, Mercenary #8, Mercenary #9, Mercenary #10, Mercenary #11, Mercenary #12, Mercenary #13, Mercenary #14, Mercenary #15, Mercenary #16, Mercenary #17, Mercenary #18, Mercenary #19, audience shot during Mercenary, Mercenary #20 and Mercenary #21.

They sounded great -- very impressive show. They weren't quite as extreme overall as I (and, I think, many people) were expecting. Later during their autographing session they have me a promo copy of their first CD, First Breath, and it's a great CD -- even has some backing female vox. (!)

I was backstage in Catering during much of Vanden Plas' set with Nightwish and their manager Ewo (the extremely cool chap who is also the "grim reaper" guy in Children of Bodom's video for "Better Off Dead" :)). This next photo, some backstage weirdness with Nightwish and Pagan's Mind, was taken during VP's set (I have NO idea what was going on. Guess it's something only Finns and Norwegians can truly grok. :))

About a half-hour before their show, I was told about arrangements to get a wheelchair up onto the stage during their set...but we'll get to that in a bit.

I was on the side of the stage as Nightwish took the stage for their first show ever in the U.S., and when I got out to the front the camera-well area in front of the barricades was chock-full of people and cameras! This was really cool, except that I got stuck at the end of the row, at least at first. Here are my pics of Nightwish's terrific set: Jukka and the drum-kit (as the show begins and before the stage is full of people), Tarja, Emppu, Tarja, nice shot, Marco, Emppu, Tarja, Marco and Tarja, Emppu, Marco and Tarja, Emppu, nice shot, Emppu and Marco (Grrr! \m/ metal pic), Tarja, Marco and Tarja, Tarja, another nice pose, Emppu and Marco, cool lighting, Marco, Tuomas (finally got a decent angle to shoot from), ..and again, Tarja, a bit closer, Tarja works up the crowd!, Tarja looks happy, Emppu and Tarja, Tarja (as the Statue of Liberty, or maybe Galadriel) and Emppu, Tuomas, nice pose -- note Marc Brueland, in wheelchair, and family in background, Tarja, weird lighting, Tarja and Jukka! (barely). This was the end of "three-song-thirty" and I dutifully trooped out of the front with the rest of the photogs. The next few shots are taken from the side: Tarja and the crowd, Tuomas from the side, Tarja and the crowd (nice shot), ...not quite as cool...., and a front of audience pic.

After this, I went backstage and got onto the stage on the right side (audience-left). Not long afterward, Ewo, Nightwish's manager, turned to Marc Brueland on the side-stage and said exultantly "One more song and we're Walking In the Air!" Here's Tarja, Marco and Tuomas from backstage stage-right, ...the same, but wiv feelin' and my friends Phil Carter and Harmon in front of Tuomas are having a great time.

Something really special was about to happen, and almost no-one knew about it. I didn't know all of the details until after the show....

Remember the wheelchair I mentioned earlier? Marc Brueland and his family had flown to the show from San Diego because it was Marc's dying wish to see Nightwish perform live. He has a rare form of liver cancer and, as of ProgPower weekend, he'd been diagnosed with only a few weeks to live. His favorite song was "Walking In the Air," and just before they went into the song, Tuomas addressed the crowd and mentioned Marc. In this next shot Tuomas embraces Marc as Tarja looks on, and then Tarja embraced Marc B., on side-stage right in front of me. During the song itself, Marc, who had been on heavy painkillers all day and couldn't speak, actually got out of his wheelchair and headbanged. It was a moment that had Glenn in tears. This is pretty much the untold story of ProgPower USA IV...but it makes my co-sponsorship of Nightwish that much more meaningful. "We're making a lot of people's dreams come true, here," I'd said to Glenn during the show, and it was never more true than in Marc's case.

After "Walking In The Air" Tarja took a one-song break for her voice, and here's Emppu, Marco and Tuomas during their cover of Ozzy's "Crazy Train." Here's Marco, Emppu and Tuomas, and now Tarja has returned :). Glenn asked me to take this pic of him and Marc, still on the side of the stage and enjoying every moment. Here's Marco and an energized Tuomas, another shot from side-stage, and then their main show was over. Probably the largest single crowd of the weekend demanded an encore, of course -- here's the huge audience seen past Tuomas' keyboards right before their encore, and here's a darkened pic of Tarja, Marco and Tuomas during the encore. After their show was over it was definitely time to take a bow, which they managed to do while my slow camera was cycling between that pic and this one. :)

Nightwish's first-ever US performance was over -- but the memories, the joy, the pleasure and the pain, will stay for a lifetime. The only disappointing aspect of their show was that they didn't play too much from Oceanborn, the CD that originally got me "into" the band; and also, band sponsors weren't announced from the stage this year before their bands' performances, unlike at ProgPower USA III. Aside from those slight blemishes, the evening was great!

Backstage once again after Nightwish's show, I got this pic of Tarja and me, backstage. The contrast between beauty and ugliness in this photo cannot be overstated. :)

I missed the early part of Symphony X's performance so the pics I got are kinda lousy, from the floor. Here's Symphony X, from the floor, ..and again..., ..and again..., ..and one more time. They played a good set but there were serious problems with their sound. Theories about this abounded after their set, but the most oft-cited was that Michael Romeo's guitar was turned up too loud in the mix, causing some major distortion. Oh, well, their show was good enough to impress my friend Derek into acquiring a CD from them. :)

Conveniently enough, the first day of ProgPower USA IV drew to a close right as my camera had become full. Back at our palatial digs at the Fairfield Inn, Justin and Aki and Co. moved on to their hotel room (their reservation started Friday night, not Thursday, oops) and my friends Chris Oates from North Carolina and Derek Tatum from Tennessee had arrived during the day to take their place in the apartment/room we were calling home. Another trip to the City Cafe took place, with yet another batch of leftovers and to-go boxes to decorate the fridge. :) I headed off to my apartment again to offload my camera, mindful of the late hour -- I had to be at the SeismicRadio luncheon at 1pm.

But that's another day, and Saturday would bring more great performances!

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