It’s been a week since Matt Borghi and I returned home to East Lansing from our promotional tour of Philadelphia. (Matt wrote some great reflections and thoughts here and here.) I’ve wanted to post something but have been quite busy catching up on grading and other work. That, and I’m still taking it all in. To say that our trek was memorable is an understatement. It’s hard to select just a few things to mention, but I’ll do what I can. While I’d love to gush on and on about every minor detail, neither you nor I have the time. Instead of giving the play-by-play, there are a some overall feelings and impressions that are worth discussion. What I was most struck by throughout the weekend was the tremendous sense of community.
I’ve performed for many audiences over the years in a great many styles and in a great many places, from academic to public to corporate and everything in between. However, I must say that I don’t think I’ve ever been – with or without Matt – surrounded by and performed for such an active, engaged, and thoughtful community as my time in Philly. Jason Sloan told Matt and me that we’d be spoiled rotten, and he couldn’t have been more accurate. As mentioned in my last post, we performed a set at The Gatherings Concert Series along with Dave Luxton and Vic Hennegan, a live overnight set on WXPN’s historic Star’s End, and a Living Room Concert and interview on PRI’s prestigious Echoes. That was an exciting enough schedule, but the experience itself was unparalleled.
It wasn’t just the size of the audience, as that varied for everything (a couple hundred+ at The Gathering, a dozen-ish in the studio at Star’s End, and a cast/crew of two for Echoes). The common thread for all was a mixture of:
• engagement: They bought in. The listeners came along with us on our musical journey, as opposed to simply watching us play our instruments
• contextual knowledge: They got it. It’s not that I was wearing a tweed jacket and pontificating about art all weekend, but I talked with many folks about a wide range of musical topics including some common themes of the blog. And it wasn’t just about academic content and history, but rather many in attendance knew what we were going for and could discuss it intelligently.
• support: They cared. The ambient scene in Philly is not only strong but special. Its members know that they’ve cultivated something unique, and have banded together to ensure that it continues. (For an interesting look into that, watch the videos here.) A number of attendees traveled quite a distance, including one couple who drove from Rochester, NY. And it was a welcome change of pace to meet and talk with people who knew our names and music!
• lack of ego: Neither of the other performing acts nor the other artists in attendance got competitive. Matt and I, Luxton, and Hennegan all presented varying styles, and not once did I get a sense that one act was out to best another.
I like to joke that when Matt and I perform public ambient sets we generally have two people actively watching, one of whom doesn’t care. It felt so great to escape that for a few consecutive performances. The Gatherings audience was akin to those attending an academic recital or a contemporary music concert. The only difference is that they weren’t there to intellectualize it, only to take it in. All this and I haven’t yet mentioned the gorgeous venue The Gathering, St. Mary’s Hamilton Village in Philadelphia. The acoustics were superb and visually it was stunning.
Our Star’s End set was a powerful experience. We were live on the air, playing continuously from 4:00 AM to 5:00 AM, having been up since The Gathering earlier that evening/the night before. Matt and I made some music we’re deeply proud of, and we were surrounded by a small but attentive crew and private audience. The time flew by; we were in the music all the while. The feeling in the room when we were finished is hard to describe, but suffice it to say that it won’t be easy to recreate any time soon. We’re greatly indebted to Star’s End host and alchemist Chuck van Zyl for making those two experiences possible. Chuck really rolled out the red carpet for us, and all of his thorough work and assistance during the weeks leading up to our visit meant a great deal. He made both Matt and myself feel like part of the Philly family. (And while I’m gushing over Chuck, thanks to him once again for the nice review of Convocation several months back!) And thanks to Art, Jeff, and Royce for the mixing and sound, and to Rich for the videography.
Monday 10.21 included our stop by Echoes studios for our Living Room Concert and interview. Host John Diliberto and producer/engineer Jeff Towne couldn’t have been more gracious hosts. We performed a Living Room Concert comprised of three selections from Convocation with brief interviews to accompany each. Afterwards we put down our axes and enjoyed a lengthy, thoughtful interview. John asked some insightful and interesting questions, and about knocked me off of my chair when he told me he saw Lookout Farm twice (!!) in the mid-70s. (The jealousy has since remained deep in my bones.) Our episode will air sometime in November or December; stay tuned for more official information. Off the mic, our conversation with both John and Jeff was just as engaging and enjoyable. It was a true honor for both Matt and I, and we can’t thank John and Jeff enough for the opportunity.
It’s worth noting that Jeff Towne was intensely working behind the scenes at all three events. He helped to make the whole weekend a pleasurable and memorable one.
Our trip to Philly was easily one of my favorite musical experiences as a performer. The stars aligned so that not only the music was a success, but also the connections, audience, colleagues, and travel. Of course, looking back, Matt and I see it as our first musical trek to Philly, as we definitely hope to return.