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The North East Art Rock Festival, or NEARfest for short, was a multi-day event celebrating the resurgence of progressive and eclectic music in the United States and around the world. The event was held annually in early summer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, approximately one hour north of Philadelphia and less than two hours west of New York City. The festival was founded in the spring of 1998 by Robert LaDuca and Chad Hutchinson, with the first event occurring in 1999. NEARfest quickly grew to become "the most prestigious progressive music festival in the world."
On October 17, 2011, founders Hutchinson and LaDuca, and production manager Kevin Feeley announced that the final edition of the festival, entitled NEARfest Apocalypse, would take place on the weekend of June 22, 23, and 24, 2012 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The lineup for NEARfest Apocalypse was announced live on the long-running Gagliarchives Radio Program on Saturday, October 29, 2011. On May 24, 2012, it was announced that Eloy had to cancel due to medical issues, and on May 29, 2012, it was announced that U.K. would take their place as the Sunday night headliner.
The May 2008 issue of SPIN Magazine listed NEARfest as one of the top 72 festivals in the United States.
NEARfest is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The name "NEARfest" is a registered trademark of Progressive Arts, Inc.
NEARfest was held in Baker Hall, at the Zoellner Arts Center which is located on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (2000–2001, 2004–2012). Baker Hall has a capacity of 1,002 seats in acoustically superior conditions. However, in its inaugural year, NEARfest was held in Foy Hall at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania which has a capacity of 428 seats. In 2002 and 2003, NEARfest was held in Trenton, New Jersey at the Patriots Theater in the Trenton War Memorial, which has a capacity of 1,850 seats. All NEARfests were complete sellouts, outside of the 2011 cancellation.
In 2008, the festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with NEARfest X and marked the last event organized by Hutchinson and LaDuca. NEARfest and New Jersey ProgHouse veterans Jim Robinson, Ray Loboda and Kevin Feeley were their successors.
On March 25, 2011, due to insufficient ticket sales, the management announced that 2011 edition had been cancelled.
On October 13, 2011, Hutchinson, LaDuca and Feeley announced that NEARfest would return in 2012. However, on October 17, 2011, a subsequent announcement indicated that NEARfest Apocalypse, held the weekend of June 22, 23, and 24th, 2012, would be the final edition of the festival.
NEARfest Records was launched in 2003 to release select live performances from NEARfest. The first compilation DVD, "NEARfest 2005: Rising to the Surface," was released on April 10, 2007. Other releases includes live CDs of Steve Hackett, Djam Karet, Nathan Mahl, Thinking Plague, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Glass Hammer, Steve Roach, Pure Reason Revolution (out of print) and Hidria Spacefolk (out of print).
Despite the festival having ended in June 2012, NEARfest Records will continue to be an on-going concern.
NEARfest Apocalypse (2012)
NEARfest 2011 (cancelled)
NEARfest X (2008)
Camel, Magma, The Flower Kings, Änglagård, Kraan, Tunnels, Glass Hammer, Alamaailman Vasarat, High Wheel, and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
(The Laser's Edge/Cuneiform Records Preshow: Miriodor, Woodenhead, and IZZ)
Steve Hackett, Nektar, echolyn, Caravan, Isildurs Bane, Enchant, Miriodor, Gerard, La Torre dell'Alchimista, and Spaced Out
(The Laser's Edge/Cuneiform Records Preshow: McGill/Manring/Stevens, Doctor Nerve, and Dysrhythmia)
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Porcupine Tree, Deus Ex Machina, After Crying, White Willow, California Guitar Trio with Tony Levin, Djam Karet, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, The Underground Railroad, and Under the Sun
(Independently organized preshow: Land of Chocolate, The Red Masque, Electric Sheepdog and Wine of Nails)
From 2001 to 2008, the ever-changing festival logo was designed by British artist Roger Dean, famous for his work with Yes and Asia. Starting in 2009, Mark Wilkinson (Marillion and Fish album covers) took over the logo duties for the show. For the final edition of the festival in 2012, NEARfest Apocalypse, both Roger Dean and Mark Wilkinson provided artwork. Both artists also attended the show.
Prior to Roger's and Mark's involvement, there were two other logos for the show. The NEARfest 2000 logo was designed by Paul Whitehead, who is known for his album artwork for Van der Graaf Generator, Genesis, and Italian prog-rock band Le Orme. The inaugural NEARfest logo was designed by co-founder Chad Hutchinson in 1999.
In addition to Roger Dean and Mark Wilkinson, Annie Haslam of Renaissance has attended several NEARfests to display her oil paintings. Annie was in attendance at NEARfest 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2012.