Being There (Guest Commentary)

Jean Roby Commentary May 2014

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2014 All Rights Reserved


New York-based SHADOW CIRCUS was to appear at a three-day prog event in Québec city in mid-May. Then, a few months before the event, the organizers were told that the band had locked the door definitely on their prog years and, from now on, would devote their talents to… blues – becausethere are more blues events and festivals in the US, and these attract much more people than prog ever does. According to John Fontana, founder and guitarist/keyboardist, the dramatic switch of musical orientation was a collective decision taken after assessing the overall state of the band. Basically, it was down to what plagues the vast majority of prog bands all over the world (UK probably being the sole exception). Too few concerts, and at modest venues more often than not. Low record sales resulting mainly from lack of exposure through the medias and record stores (whatever the type). And a general lack of support (to say the least) from the music business – North America being oblivious, when not downright hostile, to prog music, there aren’t many bars and clubs, if any, that hire prog bands for gigs.


Most people should deeply regret the demise of SHADOW CIRCUS. Their first release, Welcome To The Freakroom (2006), established convincingly their brand of symphonic prog. Their sophomore album, Whispers And Screams (2009), confirmed their originality and musical depth. Their third (and last), On A Dark And Stormy Night (2012), was their best yet and, accordingly, garnered wide critical praise and fan enthusiasm.


Some people will simply shrug it off. What’s the big deal about one band going astray – isn’t there plenty more fish in the sea ? After all, prog isn’t on the brink of death, judging from the number of bands that keep sprouting everywhere these last few years.


And then some others might feel inclined to shun or even despise SHADOW CIRCUS for throwing in the towel. Since the issues they were facing are the common lot of most prog bands, the Americans could’ve endured as do others. Maybe they were less prog than they wanted us to believe ?...


Whatever your reaction, one fact stands out. The demise of any prog band is a definite loss for all – the musicians themselves, theirs fans, the prog audience in general.


That said, in the case of SHADOW CIRCUS, there isn’t much we can do… But, if we care at all about prog music, we should take a closer look at our own behavior regarding lesser-known bands and new ones.


Buying CDs is important, though not enough. SHADOW CIRCUS’ most basic issue was that they only wished more people to listen to their music and see them perform it live. Which implies that whatever internal reasons the band had to move away from prog, the « blame » doesn’t rest upon their shoulders alone. We, the prog audience, share a part of it.


Music has to be performed live. Face-to-face contact between musicians and audiences is essential to both, and, in many ways, it is a matter of life or death for musicians, especially those who, while carrying the torch like others, do not benefit from the fame and acknowledgement that the public and critics bestow on the happy few.


Generally speaking, being a musician is not an easy life path, whatever the musical genre. And being a prog musician is far from being the easy way out – you’re not mainstream, you’re not even playing on the sidelines or in the wings, but much farther than that. So, most of them have a day job, and a life partner and/or a family, and, like evryone else, obligations and bills to pay. Thus, if you can’t earn a decent living by playing prog, at least you hope to be able to perform live as often as possible.


We do go to concerts… but many of us are quite choosy : we pick only this or that band we already know. Thus, since the majority of prog bands cannot afford to stage their own concerts by themselves, we do miss a lot… unless we attend prog festivals. And that’s where it hurts most deeply. There aren’t many such events in Canada and the US and, even though some have become famous, a lot of them take place in small venues or peter out after a few years, mainly because of low attendance. Thus, if an event takes place and you’re wondering if the price and journey will be worth it, just go ! Go out and find out ! Prog is about exploring and pushing musical boundaries, so push your own envelope and discover. I cannot imagine that it will turn out to be a waste of time and money.

To put it simply, the music is there for us… shouldn’t we be there for it ?


Jean Roby (5/4/14)


PS By the way, the 10th edition of the Terra Incognita Convention will be held in Québec city on May 16, 17 and 18. It will feature IZZ, INNER ODYSSEY, GADI CAPLAN, GLASS HAMMER, 3RDEGREE, NÉODYME, FABIO ZUFFANTI & BAND, UNREAL CITY and SONUS UMBRA. If you can attend, be there ! For more information, visit :