Over this past summer, I’d been highly anticipating my first attendance at The Gatherings, a long-running concert series that takes place in Philadelphia, PA. The enchanting event has regularly featured performances by some of the top-notch recording artists in the ambient, electronic and space music scene ever since it debuted in 1992. Graciously hosted at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village (a gorgeous Episcopal Cathedral) on Saturday, October 7th, I was especially looking forward to experiencing the combined visual-audio aesthetics of two of the things which I love most: cathedrals and ambient music!

Coinciding with the 25th year anniversary of the first Gatherings event would be a mesmerizing concert performance by ambient-guitarist Jeff Pearce, which also followed the release of his brand-new album called From the Darker Seasons. Set to take the stage at 9 p.m., another fantastic musician named Greg Moorcroft who records under the pseudonym Eyes Cast Down (and likewise just released a new album called The White Island) opened the evening at 8 p.m. with a spacey set of his own.

Spearheading the whole event was Chuck van Zyl – a musician, producer and host of Star’s End Radio, which airs weekly on the Philadelphia public FM station WXPN and broadcasts every Saturday Night (Sunday morning) from 1-6 a.m. EST. The show also streams live via the WXPN website, and over the years I’ve frequently tuned in and drifted away to the beautiful cosmic soundscapes.

Before I arrived in Philadelphia on the previous Friday afternoon, Jeff Pearce had recorded a live performance that same morning for the nationally syndicated radio program Echoes with host and producer John Diliberto (who formerly hosted Star’s End many years ago himself). In fact, it was Echoes where I first heard Jeff’s haunting music during the mid-to-late 1990’s, and I’ve been an avid fan ever since. Jeff accompanied Echoes co-producer and engineer Jeff Towne (who occasionally hosts Star’s End when Chuck’s on vacation) to the airport to pick me up, and then we drove to Upper Darby where we met up with Chuck for dinner and conversation (which was mostly about music, of course!) at a local Vietnamese restaurant called Little Saigon. Thereafter, I got checked-in and settled into my hotel room where I managed to stay awake long enough to watch a couple of episodes of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.

After enjoying a late breakfast and a bit of site-seeing on Saturday, I arrived at the church that afternoon where I toured the vicinity and took pictures while others set-up equipment. I had the pleasure of meeting a few musicians whose music I play on my own Journeyscapes program, including Mike Hunter (who records as Ombient), Greg Moorcroft (of Eyes Cast Down) and ambient-electronic musician George Wallace. Time went by relatively quickly as the sun eventually set and the church doors opened to the public at 7:30 p.m. Eyes Cast Down took the stage at 8:00 p.m. and I clearly remember becoming sonically immersed in the drifty piano notes that suspended over long stretches of synthesizer washes. After Greg’s enjoyable one hour-set which was accompanied by the soothing aroma of sandalwood incense, Chuck introduced Jeff Pearce, who opened his set with one of my favorite pieces from his With Evening Above album called “After Dark”. Another performance highlight was that of his beautifully melancholic and popular song “Autumn and Regret” from his album Bleed. Perhaps the most strikingly memorable moment of the night was Jeff’s cover of “Love on a Real Train” by Tangerine Dream. A piece that originally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1983 movie Risky Business starring Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay, the titillating tune sits among the greatest and most influential ambient/electronic classics of all time, and has long been a personal favorite of mine. Further enhancing this dreamlike experience was the geometrical light projection spinning behind Jeff on the sanctuary.

After the concert portion was over, people mingled and chatted for a bit while I helped sell CDs alongside Joe who runs both an online and physical independent music shop in Philadelphia. Aside from CDs by Jeff Pearce and Eyes Cast Down were those of other familiar names in ambient/electronic music, such as Ron Boots, Erik Wøllo, Robert Rich and Steve Roach, as well as a Klaus Schulze boxed-set.

Once the event had wrapped up, several of us headed over to the WXPN studio so Chuck could take to the airwaves at 1 a.m. While there I met other music enthusiasts as I helped myself to a slice of delivered pizza and a glass of wine. At 2:00 a.m. Jeff performed a live-to-air in-studio concert for an hour, and afterwards I was treated to a tour of the WXPN facility, including Chuck’s own studio, where I was delighted to witness some of the on-air magic happen in person. By then it was early Sunday morning, so I headed back to the hotel in hopes of catching up on some rest before embarking on a flight back to Orlando, FL that evening.

In conclusion, I had a non-stop wonderful time during my brief stay in Philadelphia, and I’m happy to have finally met both Chuck van Zyl and Jeff Towne; radio programs such as Star’s End and Echoes have certainly had considerable influence on me and what I do. I also enjoyed the event’s pleasant lack of any sort of Grammy Awards culture, a noted phenomenon which has increasingly set the ambient music scene distinctly apart from that of the often-conflated new age music scene. Those in attendance – whether it be the performers or the audience members – were clearly there for the music first and foremost.

I’m also grateful to St. Mary’s Church for continuing to host The Gatherings Concert Series at their facility, which couldn't have landed a better spot location-wise. I certainly felt like I was in my element for the entire time I was there. Chuck and team did a stellar job, and I look forward to attending an event such as this again in the future!

Comments

October 12, 2017 @03:45 pm
Thank you, Candice! Playing for the Gatherings and Star's End listeners was a dream come true. Getting to meet and hear Jeff Pearce was another. Big thanks to them, to Chuck and everyone who helps make it all happen!
Greg Moorcroft
October 11, 2017 @11:43 am
Thanks for this wonderful and comprehensive review of concerts at The Gatherings and STAR'S END. It was great to meet you, spend some time together, and experience the live music of Jeff Pearce & Eyes Cast Down with our community. Let's stay in touch!
Chuck van Zyl

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