16 March 2008

NEARfest: Passing the Torch

NEARfest is happy to announce Jim Robinson, Ray Loboda and Kevin Feeley as the successors to the management of the festival. In January, co-founders Chad Hutchinson and Rob LaDuca made public their plans to retire from the festival after 10 great years at the helm. Following the 2008 event, Jim, Ray and Kevin will take over as the new guard. NEARfest will carry on with the same diversity that has made it so successful over the past decade. With the changeover will also come new ideas to help move NEARfest forward into its next phase.

Jim Robinson grew up playing various musical instruments, including trumpet, french horn and bass - even taking lessons from Dave LaRue (Steve Morse Band, Dixie Dregs) at one point. Jim founded the New Jersey Proghouse in 1999 (then called the Central New Jersey Music Showcase) after being inspired by his attendance at the very first NEARfest that same year. Since then, Jim has teamed up with Ray and Kevin among others, to develop the NJ Proghouse into a successful concert series. Since 1999, Jim as been the "official" head-cracker at NEARfest, but in recent years has assumed an important role in transportation. Jim's relationships with both domestic bands and labels, as well as running the NJ Proghouse and being a member of the ProgDay band commitee for three years, has given him a vast amount of experience on which he can build on with his new role with NEARfest.

Ray Loboda grew up in the '70s listening to progressive rock music and emulating his heroes in cover bands. Ray has been a NEARfest-goer since 1999 and never looked back. He met his good friend and cohort Jim Robinson at the NEARfest ticket day luncheon in 2000 and the two formed a strong bond in their common loves for prog rock, prog metal and especially Kansas. Ray and his wife Noreen supported the NJ Proghouse for a few years before becoming members of what Ray eventually donned the "Staph." Ray has forged many important friendships over the years with the likes of The Flower Kings, Riverside, Knight Area and echolyn, not to mention many record executives and band managers. Ray was also a member of the NEARfest transportation crew and the ProgDay band committee with Jim. Ray's business sense and PR skills will serve him well as he steps into the NEARfest management fold.

Kevin Feeley is instantly recognized by his snowy white hair and beard. Kevin has been the production manager for NEARfest since 2004 and can be seen pacing the stage with his headset often during the weekend. Kevin's professional background as both an audio engineer and a production manager allow him to run the stage at NEARfest as a well-oiled machine. In the past, Kevin has worked live concert and corporate events such as Grammy-winning artists like Steel Pulse and Spyro Gyra, the JVC Jazz Festival in Europe with Roberta Flack, the Bush/Quayle Inaugural and the first Clinton/Gore Inaugural. On a fan level, Kevin has been supporting progressive music since the early 70s by attending such shows as ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery Tour" and Yes' "Close to the Edge" tour. Kevin is a member of the NJ Proghouse Staph, providing audio and production services and equipment. Kevin also met his long-time girlfriend Suzan Picard at the smolderingly hot NEARfest 2000 preshow while watching Echolyn perform. In his four years with NEARfest, Kevin has brought may great ideas to the show helping it to become the smooth operation that it today. He also found us our great video technician Matthew Walker. Kevin's knowledge of the inner workings of the technical side of the festival make him an easy choice to help carry on the flame. And speaking of flames, he also makes fantastic hot wings.

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