Pomp and Synthesizers

Local guitarists plan a prog day afternoon.

The Rick Ray Band: Making prog safe for pretentious - rockers everywhere.
The Rick Ray Band: Making prog safe for pretentious rockers everywhere.
For months, Rick Ray had toyed with the concept of a progressive-music festival in Cleveland. No one's done it before, he thought. Commercial radio won't air it, and the only ones who give a damn about prog rock are college DJs. So Ray hopped onto his computer and fired off an e-mail to Byron Nemeth.

After a couple weeks of shooting ideas back and forth, the two veteran guitarists drew up the blueprint for the Cleveland Progressive Rock Fusion Fest 2004. After recruiting DJ Randy Allar of WCSB-FM 89.3 to add color commentary on the history of prog rock between sets, the Rick Ray Band, the Byron Nemeth Group, INTRA, Rare Blend, and KMOB all signed on to jam on "a musical smorgasbord with cosmic consciousness for dessert," says INTRA guitarist Ray "Mato" Tomorowitz. "The way I see it, progressive rock and fusion have far too long simmered beneath the surface of popular-music culture. What started in the '70s [with pop music taking over the airwaves] has refused to go away. If we don't do [this kind of music] ourselves, nobody else will."

And who better than Ray, Nemeth, and company to give prog rock the props it craves? Between them, the five bands have been staples on the local club circuit for years, playing "indie music that's well-written and played." "It's more than just the regular, simplistic stuff that commercial radio has such a good grasp on," says Ray. "This is music that means more than money, more than fashion, more than the latest sound being crammed down people's throats by know-nothing record executives and commercial-radio programmers."

Ray backs up the claim by pointing to the bands' CD catalogs. His group alone has cranked out 24 original discs since 1999. "The compositions can be described as very intense, psychedelic, progressive, hard-rock, jazz fusion, with a small dose of blues and thought-provoking lyrics," Ray boasts.

Jim Milletti doesn't need a sales pitch. The owner of the Winchester in Lakewood immediately booked the concert, because it promotes indie music in its rawest form, he says. "Not just indie music, but prog music in the tradition of the European prog festivals, where there is an emphasis on music as art, and no bullshit bands that are following trends by playing simple music," Nemeth says. "[Milletti] likes this style also and is sick of the corporate crap that's forced down our throats on commercial radio."

"People want variety," says Vic Samalot, Rare Blend's guitarist. "Cleveland has a dynamite listening audience receptive to new music and genres. Thanks to college radio and the internet, indie music has a bigger voice than ever before." And it can only get louder. "Long live internet radio," chants Nemeth. "The sooner commercial, corporate radio dies, the better."