Both performances were a total success! Everything sounded good and the audiences loved it all. This was, unquestionably, the highlight of my performance career so far.
My first visit to Philadelphia, and to St. Mary’s Church in Hamilton Village, was in September 2015 to hear Steve Roach and Jeffrey Koepper at The Gatherings. Churches have always topped my list of preferred venues, but I had never performed in one.
That was about to change – along with a few other things. St. Mary’s is not just any old church; The Gatherings is arguably the most importance concert platform in North America. I’m told that Robert Rich has described the Philadelphia audience as the world’s best for “our kind of music”.
I was floored – and honored – by Chuck van Zyl’s invitation to play there and on Star’s End Radio, which was offered immediately when I first met him after the Roach concert.
With our move to Evanston in May, and our camping vacation in July, I had about two months to prepare; as it turned out, that was cutting it a little close.
I wanted to play all new music for the church concert, and composed two new pieces inspired by the idea of a theme album based on the seven godly qualities (or cardinal virtues). They are One Pitcher of Water and Counsel of Perfection. Both pieces are a step in a new direction, with more integrated guitar and synth parts, a fair bit more multitasking, and moving towards a more illuminated sound.
In fact, One Pitcher of Water has so much going on that there wasn’t time to learn to play it live. So I replaced it with the 12-string solo Transcending Memory from my Souls Adrift, in Disrepair album, another piece getting its live debut.
I was greatly looking forward to meeting guitarist Jeff Pearce, for whom I was opening. I’ve been a fan of his for years, since discovering his album To the Shores of Heaven. He is one of the four formative guitar influences I singled out for thanks in the liner notes of my guitar album The White Island. To learn that Jeff is a fan of mine was one of those wonderful surprises…
Being all focused on setup and sound check, neither of us thought to pause for a posed photo together. But my wife Daci caught one of us on the fly:
Not surprisingly, Jeff is the terrific gentleman in person that you would expect from reading his online posts. Both his sets were a joy to hear. If you haven’t discovered Jeff’s music, let me encourage you to check him out – I think you’ll be glad you did!
Oddly, I wasn’t any more nervous than usual before taking the stage, though I was keenly aware of the 100 or so listeners waiting for me, and of the fact that many of my favorite musicians have played in this same venue. It really felt like setting foot on Mt. Olympos.
But I was well-prepared, I had my pieces all worked out, and soundcheck had gone smoothly. There was really nothing to do but get up there and follow the script.
Here is a five-minute soundcheck video captured by my wife Daci.
It all went so well! I quickly settled into full attention, fully absorbed in the sound, letting it flow as it needed to and simply following. Counsel of Perfection has some slow-moving string lines that dictate their own pace and rhythm, layered synth pad and guitar loops, and a section of piano melodies. The only way to get the pacing right is to breathe deep with it. Fortunately, I was right in there. The piece gracefully played out over more than 30 minutes – so nicely, in fact, that I intend to include it on a live album down the road.
The transition to Transcending Memory was smooth, and that piece was a change of gear, being a little hair-raising. And just like that… my 45 minutes were up.
45 minutes on one of the world’s most important ambient-electronic-spacemusic stages, for one of its best audiences – and they really enjoyed it! I’m not sure this has yet fully registered in my mind. That stage, and THAT audience…
Big thanks to everyone for listening with such attention! Some of them came up to me afterwards to thank me, to describe how the music moved them, and to have CDs autographed. Being asked for an autograph is a bit surreal to me – save me from getting puffed up!
For Star’s End, I pounced on the opportunity to expand the deep-dive piece Astral Drift (also from Souls Adrift, in Disrepair) into a longform exploration. From the time that piece was completed, I’ve been attracted to the idea of reworking it into a CD-length journey. This involved writing some new parts, throwing new synth sounds into the mix, and trying out various structural ideas. Every time I’ve played this piece, cool new ideas would bubble up and take over. Endless fun!
Chuck and his team were all great to meet and to work with. Thanks to all of them! I hope this is just the first chapter of an ongoing story.
Audio highlights, photos and video to come, when I get my hands on them.
The energy moves into the studio: to be recorded ASAP are the CD-length rendition of Astral Drift, which will be the next album, and studio versions of Counsel of Perfection and One Pitcher of Water.