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Dennis Rea: Zero-G and the Sea Prog Festival

By Published: August 21, 2013
People have attempted in the past to mount progressive rock events in Seattle and nobody has entirely succeeded. Some people who tried very early on couldn't get it off the ground. Some very ambitious people back about 12 years ago launched something called Progman Cometh. They brought in one of the greatest lineups of progressive rock musicians that Seattle has ever seen—including almost anybody who was anybody on the Canterbury scene—but they made the mistake of overestimating the audience, and they put it in a theater that seats one or two thousand people. They were never able to get more than 150 people in there at any given time during the three-day festival. We were determined not to make that mistake and not overreach, so our choice of the Columbia City Theater, which is a venue that holds at maximum about 250 people, it ended up being perfect.

You have to remember that there is not a large audience for this music. Even in a city this size, it is pretty much a niche music, but when presented in a venue like that you get a modest number of people in there, it feels like a happening scene, and that energy transmits to the musicians on stage. The musicians were delighted to have great sound reinforcement, to actually be playing in a theatrical setting, and I am certain that they would all want to come back. I am certain that others are going to want to hop onboard the train in the future. I am certain that everyone who was there had a wonderful time.

The thing about a festival is that it is not just a series of gigs. It is also a social event. Progressive rock festivals, the ones that happen that are scattered around the world, the social element is a very important part of that. We tried to create an environment where people felt comfortable, relaxed, and encouraged to interact with one another. The theater proved to be perfect for that, because of its size and availability of a large front room with a bar where we were able to book some smaller acts in between the main stage sets, so there was some continuous activity happening. We also located it in a small, tight knit community, the Columbia City neighborhood in Seattle, where there were plenty of dining and drinking options right nearby. It made for just a great weekend out for a lot of people.

AAJ: Can you talk about what some of the challenges were of getting the festival going?

DR: We had the same challenges that Zero-G always faces in getting anybody in the press to pay attention. Apart from some enthusiastic notices in the internet progressive rock community, the worldwide community, locally we did not get any press at all until the final week before the festival. What press we did get was surprisingly enthusiastic and well informed. That was a very heartening indication that perhaps people's attitudes regarding this type of music may be softening, and I am sure that as word spreads of the caliber of the music that happened at that festival, people are going to maybe reconsider what progressive rock means in 2013.

AAJ: My final question is with regards to a complaint that you hear from a lot of musicians when they can't get into a festival or a series for some reason, not just here in Seattle but anywhere. So my question is: can you talk about why sticking to a specific mission statement, or at the very least a standard of musical performance, is important to the success of an independent music festival or series?

DR: We made no bones about the fact that this was a curated festival and as such it unashamedly reflected the tastes of the curators. It is possible that in the future we might open it up to an application sort of arrangement, but for the first festival we wanted to see a really strong lineup. We wanted this to succeed, so we booked some of the best quality acts that we could get our hands on. We approached other acts too, a lot of them were unavailable, but we didn't want to overdo it. I would say that if we were to do this again you wouldn't see any repeats the next time. We will continue to plum the Seattle scene for musicians that meet this broad criteria that we have established. I will say that we are not really interested in a lot of the music that would be termed neo-prog, which is really more song based. We are more interested in the more instrumental heavy type of music.

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