MidSummer Prog Festival, Valkenburg, NL, June 23rd 2018
On Saturday 23rd of June, we headed to Valkenburg Openlucht Amphitheater in South Holland for the second edition of MidSummer Prog Festival. With a capacity of 850, the two editions of this festival have been sold out. Not much surprise when you consider the great line up ( this year featuring Lesoir with the Spethsonian Orchestra (NL), Lazuli (FR), Amplifier (UK), The Gathering (NL) and Riverside (PL) ) and the stunning and historic venue in front of a cave, and with a canopy of leaves covering the stage. We found the festival to be very well run with clean toilets and a great selection of beers. If we had one slight remark, it would be for the food of which the festival ran out quick quickly and for which you had to queue quite a while (only one selling point.) Another perk of the festival was the possibility to withdraw cash at the entrance, meaning there was no need to leave and go look for an ATM in the city if you needed cash for merch or more beer.
The venue is perfect for a prog festival with a seated area, the weather was nice and all the ideal conditions were gathered for a great day.First band up was local Dutch act Lesoir who were delighted to play at home. Having been lucky to see Lesoir a few months before, we knew what to expect but the addition of the orchestra gave their performance an extra dimension. The Dutchies sounded great, this time with an added backing-vocalist to give more depth to their melodies. A very professional act whose members kept smiling from the first note till the end of the set. It was obvious that they were enjoying themselves and their positive vibe translated to the audience .
Their set was well received featuring favorites like ‘Modern Goddess’ and always powerful ‘In the game’. All in all, a great start to the afternoon.
Then it was time for French band Lazuli. Their music features progressive, as well as world music, influences with the use of xylophones, French horn and the one of a kind instrument Leode, especially made by Leonetti Claude after a motorcycle accident prevented him from playing the guitar.
They played tracks from their entire discography including the audience’s favorite ‘Le miroir aux alouettes’ and songs from their latest album “Saison 8″. Lazuli was the only band performing in their mother tongue French and even though most of the audience didn’t understand the lyrics, people were enthralled by the vocal melodies of the language of Molière.
Together with the headliner, they provided the highlight of the festival to us, and judging from the audience reactions, we were not the only ones feeling that way.
The band came back for their very entertaining encore, performing ‘9 hands around the marimba’ to the delight of the audience.
Another positive during this festival was that the changeover between bands was long enough to allow the audience to grab a drink, go to the bathroom and have a chat.
The next band out was British prog rockers Amplifier which seemed oddly out of place on stage. Even though they performed a tight and groovy set, they were not able to charm the audience and we could almost feel the energy level sink a bit in the amphitheater. While it’s possible to find interesting melodic features on their albums, they sadly didn’t manage to translate that to the live stage for example with the excellent track ‘Kosmos (Grooves of Triumph)’ .
That being said, the band had a difficult job following the excitement that Lazuli and Lesoir provided before them, but they pulled off a professional show nonetheless.
A lot of people have been waiting for the return of iconic Dutch band The Gathering. They played their first show in 4 years the night before in Nijmegen; the band seemed very eager to get back on stage and show their fans that they are back in the game. Unfortunately, I think the festival audience might have hoped for a setlist featuring more of the bands’ classic tracks from the 90’s. The oldest songs we were treated to were ‘Marooned’ and ‘Probably built in the 50s’ both from the band’s 1998 double album “How to measure a planet”, and for some reasons, the band chose not to include any tracks from their 2 most popular albums “Mandylion” and “Nighttime birds”. Instead the band focused, rather naturally perhaps, on more recent material, playing 3 songs from their 2012 album “Disclosure”. Great for a concert venue full of The Gathering fans perhaps, but we’d rather have heard a more representative set of the bands whole career at a festival like this.
Nonetheless it was a really enjoyable gig and it was good to see such a seasoned band back on stage, even though the interaction with the audience was a bit limited and they appeared a little reserved at times.
To close this festival day, headliners Riverside were highly anticipated by the audience. By the time the Polish band came on stage, the sun had set which gave their performance an extra dimension. With his straight-faced sarcasm, vocalist Mariusz Duda connected instantly with the audience keeping it all through the gig with jokes and funny references.
The band’s setlist spanned their entire career from the challenging instrumental ‘Reality dream’ of their debut album “Out of myself” to rhythmic powerhouse ‘#Addicted’ from “Love, Fear and the time machine”. Other highlights of their show was the emotional ‘We got used to us’ and the fantastic ‘Second life syndrome’ played during the encore to an ecstatic audience.
In a nutshell, Riverside was the perfect act to end a lovely festival day.
Credits must be given to the festival staff and management for not only selling out two years in a row, but also for having built a passionate community of regulars in a short time. There is already talks of expanding the festival to two days next year, but no matter what the organizers decide to do we’re certainly coming back!
Al photos in this post by Robert Zant.