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Yes celebrates prog rock with Yestival touring package
A name like Yestival certainly gives a clear sense of what this tour is all about.
The outing finds Yes — which has spent the past few summers playing entire albums during its concerts — hosting a four-hour celebration of progressive rock with genre mates Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. It’s an outgrowth of an event the group first staged in Pennsylvania and this year decided to take on the road.
Yestival also finds the band Yes in the midst of some interesting drama — not meaning the title of the group’s 1980 album. We got ahold of guitarist Steve Howe, who fortunately did not give us the, er, roundabout in his answers.
• Howe, 70, says by phone that he’s happy to be part of a show that gives the sometimes maligned field of prog rock its due. “I used to think of our music as, like, post-psychedelic, and Yes’ music even before I joined (in 1970) was not conventional rock,” he explains. “There was no blues influence, and that appealed to me. Prog rock is an opportunity to mix the jazz and the classical, flamenco, even, anything you like and put it in there and see what you can make of it.”
Related: Todd Rundgren at DTE, 5 Things To Know
• For its Yestival performances, Yes’ sets feature at least one song from each of its nine albums, including many rarities, and “Survival,” the first track from the group’s debut album, for the first time since it was released. “We’ve never showed a chronological development of Yes’ music in the ’70s, which I think is a great opportunity,” Howe explains. “This gives us a perspective about what Yes is and what this music’s like. It’s a very interesting way to approach the repertoire this time out. We’re bringing the focus to the songs rather than the albums, and I think we’ve got a good balance here with things that we’re bringing forth that have never been played.”
• Yes is bolstered this summer by Howe’s son Dylan, providing second drums alongside long-time member Alan White, who sat out some shows last year with health issues. “He’s a very versatile player in the same way that I am, I think,” the elder Howe says. “Part of his education over the last 10 years has been to learn every Yes piece, and he knows virtually every one ... because to him it was as good as learning Count Basie or Art Blakey — partly because he’s grown up with it, it’s in his blood. So this is a golden opportunity for him to show his strengths, and I think Dylan is going to delight many people not only because of his knowledge of Yes but in how prepared he is. He’s a practice maniac.”
• Yestival comes in the wake of Yes’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction during April, which Howe says “took our breath away a little bit. It was a lot of people in the room, and the television broadcast, and I wanted to make it a strength for Yes, a dignified thing. The award is quite special, I must say. It’s a one-time invitation. You don’t get it twice. It’s a fairly big deal, and I think we got through it fairly unscathed.”
• After the induction, however, Yes and its fans were surprised when former members Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, who had been touring as ARW, announced a name change to Yes Featuring ... The trio is legally allowed to do that, and Howe says rather than fighting, his version of Yes concentrates on proving itself with performances. “That’s an unstoppable force to us, and to some extent we welcome this,” Howe says. “Anybody can play the music; If they want to get up on the stage they can do anything, so why wouldn’t guys that have been in Yes want to do that? I can’t say a lot about it because we don’t want to put any fuel on any fires. We don’t want to fuel any flames. We basically have a discretionary agreement that they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. They’re not gonna change their mind because of what we think, but in a way only time will tell if they did the right thing. All I can say is ... good luck to them.”
• Beyond Yestival, Howe says the group is considering some new music, its first since 2014’s “Heaven & Earth.” “We’re working on it cautiously and casually,” the guitarist reports. “We wouldn’t rush into anything because we know that is a huge mistake. ... We have plans. We’re obviously building material and getting that material refined and then selecting, because it’s got to be great material. We haven’t fully concentrated on that but after this summer tour maybe one of our goals is to move into that in a creative way with the right producer and the right environment. It’s a bit of a jigsaw to piece together, but I would say it’s on the horizon.”
• If You Go: Yestival featuring Yes, Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy will be 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $29.50-$99.50 pavilion, $25 lawn with a $75 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.
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