Progtoberfest pleases with Jethro Tull, Weather Report, Genesis, Zappa alums, plus newcomers, tributes

Photos by Andy Argyrakis

The third edition of Progtoberfest more than lived up to its title with over three dozen progressive rock bands alternating slots all weekend on each side of Reggies Chicago. Yet for those who even glanced casually at the card put together by talent buyer extraordinaire Kevin Pollack and club owner Robby Glick, there was a lot more than merely its primary purpose, ensuring loads of variety between eras and musical experiments.

And it couldn’t be a Progtoberfest without some sort of shout out to Yes, which in this instance, came from the entirely teenaged School Of Rock.

All anyone had to do was visit the stage where Martin Barre was playing to find out exactly how as the longtime guitarist for Jethro Tull (truly the epitome of prog) also went as wide as hard rock, the blues and The Beatles. Alongside an insanely tight three-piece band, the fellas steamrolled through everything from Tull’s “Minstrel In The Gallery,” “Steel Monkey” and his own “Back To Steel” to the requisite “Locomotive Breath” and “Aqualung.”

The same spirit popped up with entirely different textures during Alphonso Johnson Band’s set, which may have centered around the jazz fusion stylings of his and drummer Chester Thompson’s time in Weather Report, but branched out to Latin-tinged rhythms gleaned from their mutual stint in Santana and a nod to Thompson’s tenure with Genesis for “Follow You Follow Me.” The players’ changeovers between tunes were clunky, but once they keyed into the groove, everyone’s extraordinary musicianship and seasoned experience spoke for itself.

Speaking of Genesis, tribute act Abacab turned in the entire “Seconds Out” album on the 40th anniversary of the exact date it released (with Thompson, Johnson and their whole band being spotted entering the club just prior to the tip-off). While the group lacked the striking visual presence of say The Musical Box, nuggets such as “Firth Of Fifth,” “Dance On A Volcano” and “Los Endos” were practically identical to the original concert collection.

And it couldn’t be a Progtoberfest without some sort of shout out to Yes, which in this instance, came from the entirely teenaged School Of Rock. Not only were everyone’s talents as future rock gods evident, but their mastery of “Roundabout” right up until “America” and at least an hour in between was quite impressive, magnified all the more by the fact that all of them were barely born before Jon Anderson left the band let alone began!

Fans of Frank Zappa got their itch scratched twice, starting with the Chicago Zappa Collective, a costumed, quirky and colorful bunch who nailed the oddities and idiocrasies of the late great iconoclast. And then there was The Don & Bunk Show (starring the now 80-something Don Preston and Bunk Gardner from The Mothers Of Invention), whose further bizarreness was boosted from later Zappa alums Ike Willis and Mike Keneally, plus Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard, Big Big Train, The Fringe, Genesis’ “Calling All Stations”).

A marathon super set between members of The Tangent and Karmakanic was appealing in concept and had its glimpses of brilliance and proficiency, but technical and transitional blunders kept it from being an all-out blockbuster. On the other hand, the guys from Progger could’ve easily played twice as long, demonstrating tremendous dexterity and power, while plowing through a mixture of its moniker and avant-garde jazz.

South American sextet Aisles also excelled presenting complicated but compelling tunes off the ambitious double disc “Hawaii” (a concept project about human colonies in space after the earth’s demise), alongside older cuts. Throughout them all, guitarist/producer Germán Vergara was a true treat to watch, jarring and jolting with extreme force as he steered the group’s frenetic rhythms.

And this year’s award for perseverance unequivocally goes to In The Presence Of Wolves, who began by winning over the audience with a more modern/alternative rock angle not that far removed from Riot Fest or the Vans Warped Tour. Unfortunately, the guys also got a lot of gear stolen out of their van later in the stay, though once Pollack filled in the crowd on the circumstances, their merch line lit up to further indicate the family-like bond that Progtoberfest continues to build amongst enthusiasts from all corners of the globe.

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For a list of upcoming shows at Reggies Chicago, visit