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Interview: Chuck Van Zyl on two decades of The Gatherings Concert Series (happens Saturday at St. Mary’s)

Air Sculpture performs at The Gatherings Concert Series in 2006 | Photo by Hunter Boyle

One of the virtues of coming up in the late-70s Philadelphia art and music scene, recalls Chuck Van Zyl, is that something interesting was always happening.

“Back in those days, and even today, there were always kind of offbeat things, unusual things happening,” he says. “Maybe someone in another town would think ‘Oh, that’s a crazy idea, putting on an electronic music show in a church.’”

But people did it here, Van Zyl included. Twenty years ago, the longtime host of WXPN’s late-night space rock soundscape Star’s End (36 years running, airing on late night Saturday / early Sunday from 1 to 6 a.m.) was searching for a way to branch out. The ambient and experimental music scene in Philadelphia ebbed and flowed in popularity and critical mass over the years, but there was no consistent venue to showcase it. A performing musician as well as a radio host, Van Zyl looked to bridge those worlds along with his contemporaries Peter Gulch (and his group The nightCrawlers) and Dana Rath, who together performed as Xisle.

“The three of us played tons of concert back in those days,” recalls Van Zyl. “At planetariums, in churches and art galleries. Back in the ’80s, you know, you were just trying to find places to play in—and some places weren’t always open to having an alternative kind of a concert like this.”

The name of showcase was also its mission statement – The Gatherings Concert Series, meant to bring together like-minded fans of esoteric music, purely for the sake of the music.

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