ProgPower USA's Glenn Harveston: - Long Live The King!

July 31, 2013, a year ago

By Mark Gromen

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The title might seem like little more than ass kissing, but think for a moment. If you;re old enough to remember, look back to Feb. 2001, when Harveston, a fan, turned his passion into reality, with the initial ProgPower USA, at JJ Kelley's in suburban Chicago. At that time, the only national show was by a certain nameless promoter. Despite a long running string of shows, he was renown for announcing bands that never showed, ridiculous time overruns that often saw headliners given mere minutes to perform (or canceled outright) and leaving the paying customer with a feeling of being ripped off. If ProgPower USA dried up this instant, what sort of metal festivals would be left, in a country of 350 million? A handful of well meaning shows that manage to draw an overseas act or two, yet fail to register on the radar of most metalheads, annually drawing a couple hundred, at best.
Not only has Harveston's 14 year run introduced North America to countless European acts for the first time (with foothold established, many then became regular touring acts), but he's fostered an atmosphere of family amongst frequent attendees. Like summer camp for adults (with beer!), many (myself included) make the journey year in and year out, regardless of actual line-up, perhaps the biggest compliment one can give. Minor disappointments aside, I don't think I've honestly read/heard about anyone not having a good time at ProgPower USA..Drinking too much, missing signing sessions, or worse entire sets, not finding the shirt/CD desired: these are all self-inflicted setbacks. Those in America's southeast, who have never gone, can join the September 6-7 festivities without airfare and hotel. Everyone else should plan for 2014, as it might be the last chance to partake in something special. The success of the ProgPower USA series is amazing (having run some shows myself, knowing firsthand the difficulties behind the scenes), all the moreso since Glenn is only doing this part-time. At the same time, he's created a virtual transparency, keeping fans informed on various aspects of the show, from the odd band cancellation (often down to band's failings, not his), dispelling rumors and being accessible via the festival's forum (http://www.ultimatemetal.com/forum/progpower-usa-120/). For that reason, I decided to approach him with some hard hitting questions about the status of the festival and the few wrinkles that have begun to show on this aging beauty. I first interviewed him in the kitchen during that initial Chicago show and several time since, usual the typical "Explain how/why you selected Band X this year," interview. So as rumors of frustration/dissatisfaction, on his end, and hints of a possible end to the beloved series surfaced, it seemed time to dig a little deeper.
As usual, Harveston was gracious, and honest, in discussing his labor of love. Last year, he announced that he'd kill the festival, if certain levels were not met. Not knowing his forthright nature, some outside the PP community thought it was simply a ploy to drum up attendance, thanks in part to the history of "other" shows. Regardless, it's not a stance that could be used more than once, nor would I expect it of him. "First, I think the way you worded that is a bit misleading," begins the Southern gentleman. "You seem to be inferring that I have done that again which is not the case. Until now, I have not discussed the future of the festival with anyone this year. The only ones that called it a ploy last year are cynics that don't bother to attend or support the festival regardless. I don't exactly lose sleep over their opinion and that is putting it the most professional way I know how to state possible." Harveston continues,"I had NIGHTWISH, KAMELOT, SYMPHONY X, EPICA, the U.S. debut of PRETTY MAIDS, and more. It was a very strong and very varied roster according to everyone when it was announced. I was beyond ecstatic with the initial public reaction, as it was the best in years, to be honest. For whatever reason, those same people did not attend the show. When you book your most expensive roster ever with bands at the top of the genres, that does some damage. I am and always have been just a fan that does this out of his own pocket. If I had the multi-million dollar budget of the numerous cruises that keep popping up, we would not be having this conversation. In the end, it is really simple: if the sales don't justify the amount of work and risk involved, then it's time to call it day."     Fair enough and once 2012 was secured, Glenn publicly committed to two more shows, through 2014."15 is a good, solid number," he says of the number of shows he would then have under his belt. "I have not decided 100% on anything after that as of this interview because tickets are still on sale for this year. Let's just say the door is a lot wider open to walk off into the sunset. I have had a hell of a run. That said, a sold-out show would obviously have an impact on my way of thinking. I'd be foolish otherwise." Precluding that, might he envision a scenario where he'd bequeath or sell the festival name/set-up, or would he just prefer to walk away, so no one could soil the stellar reputation he established for ProgPower USA? "That's tough. At some point, all parents have to let go of their children. Let's just get to next year and see how things are, come next August."
As mentioned earlier, last year there was initially some uncertainty about moving forward, leaving little time to arrange this year's roster. How many of the acts had you made tentative contact with, or was everything from scratch, acted on only when sales levels confirmed a 2013 show? "I had a list ready to go once we hit the necessary level and was off and running. I have developed enough of a reputation over the years that bands understand that my offers do not sit on the table long. I move on to the next pretty quickly. That's one of the benefits of only having 12-13 bands every year. I will say that last year was the quickest I have ever booked a roster!" At first glance, unlike previous events, this year doesn't possess any real head scratchers. It's a solid line-up of progressive and power metal bands that might not get to play North America otherwise and certainly not under the top notch sound/lighting conditions available at ProgPower. Did last year's softer sales influence the decision to book "more known" entities, or was it more about the limited timeframe to compile the roster? "It was more about changing up the formula," contends the promoter, "to appeal to a different demographic. Last year was geared towards a younger demographic than our usual crowd. They did not turn out like I had hoped and the veterans continued to dwindle away also. This year was all about playing it safe and appealing to the hardcore veterans that haven't been to Atlanta in a few years. I wanted to lure them back with names they were comfortable with."   
The veterans are also the ones who help promote the show, word of mouth. On the other hand, they're also the ones who tend to complain about lengthy delays between bands, due to technical issues. In that regard, Harveston is a victim of his own success, people fondly recalling the "old days" (or perhaps forgetting any glitches, over the years), when everything was damn near perfect. "Center Stage is an amazing venue. The atmosphere and ambiance along with the actual comforts are a major draw for people. That said, the logistics are a bit different when it comes to the bigger bands compared to a place like Wacken. We don't have a rotating stage where we can set-up another band while one is performing. I think our track record for non-headliners is about 95% on time. The one major exception was the year DELAIN performed and we had technical issues with their in-ear monitor system. It was beyond anyone's control. I had the decision to let them play their full set or cut it to stay on time. I chose to let them go the full set. I have no regrets. They came all this way to play and I let them play. That put us behind the rest of the night. That was one night out of 13 years." Anticipating your question, as you sit there reading this, Glenn adds, "So how is it that we are 95% on time with all bands except with a few headliners?  That is simply a matter of headliners having a more complicated set-up or wanting things a bit more perfect than the "plug and play" attitude that works best in a festival setting. They are used to having 2 hour soundchecks and that simply isn't possible in this festival setting."
 Which leads to PRETTY MAIDS, last year. It was the Danes' first show in the USA in 30 years, yet they were seemingly rushed offstage, the curtain closed and the band were visibly unhappy. "If you think they weren't too happy, then you are lucky you weren't around me," he says, emotion still in his voice. "Each band is allotted a specific set length. PRETTY MAIDS were having such an amazing show that they honestly forgot to keep track of how long they were playing. They got to the end of their time and still had 4 songs on their set list. We told their tour manager to pick one more song and stop. That was giving them EXTRA time. That song ends...and the band keeps playing..all of their songs. The tour manager decided on his own to let them do all of them, despite us telling him they were done. That was another extra 20 minutes including the damn audience sing along! The only thing I could have done was turn the power off on them to stay on schedule by that point. Can you imagine what would have happened if I did that? They put us behind by over 30 minutes before we even started Symphony X's change-over. I have never had a band do that to us, to that extreme. After the show, the band found out how pissed I was and profusely apologized. They told me the same story. Their tour manager told them to keep playing and they did. They felt really bad about it and I believe them totally. As for the tour manager, let's just say that I have not been in touch with him or his booking agency since the incident and have no plans to do so in the future." Hopefully there is a future, beyond 2014, where Harveston is interested in reaching out to managers/booking agents, to keep ProgPower USA going. If you haven't visited yet, why not?    For more details visit Progpowerusa.com. Photos above: #1 - Glenn with Tarja Turunen at NIGHTWISH's US debut #2 - Ihsahn's US debut as a solo artist. #3 - Amaranthe's US debut #4 - Crew playing a prank on Tom "Eddie Vedder" Englund of EVERGREY
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