The northeast is home to a larger number of festivals than any other region of the country, with festivals covering the genres of folk, electronic dance music, roots, jambands and bluegrass, all within a reasonable drive from the many major metropolitan areas. With numerous small and medium sized festivals, one festival stands out as the major music festival of the region: Gathering of the Vibes.
Located in coastal Bridgeport, CT, the setting for Vibes is Seaside Park, nestled along the Â shores of Long Island Sound, amid natural shade, green lawns, baseball fields and beaches. Inside the park are paved roads with little traffic beyond the occasional whizzing golf cart winding through the sizable population of festivarians, toting ice or billed artists to and fro.
Camping at Vibes offers a variety of choices. For the majority of attendees, West Camping is the destination for the weekend, wherein an annual tent city rises and falls over the course of the four day event. The more experienced Vibe Tribe occupy the East, otherwise known as “Boardie” camping, an endearing term that recognizes those annual attendees who spend the other 361 days of the year on the festival’s message boards.
For those music lovers that come in smaller packages, there is family camping with a strictly enforced rules regarding curfew and noise. Finally, for anybody that was willing to drop a bit of extra cash, the VIP camp was a stone’s throw away from the action but tucked away enough for those that liked to end things earlier or those that needed to sleep a bit later.
Having the camping area laid out in the manner in which it is gives the festival a much more small and intimate feeling in spite of the reality of it being incredibly large and spread out. But since it all sandwiches the concert field, early morning and late night walks aren’t the dreaded experiences at some events of similar size. In fact, the walks are quite enjoyable.
Thursday, July 19th
Vibes started on Thursday with George Porter, Jr. and his Runninâ€™ Pardners, the latest group from the legendary Meters bassist. From the onset, the funk statesman set the standard for the Green Vibes Stage with “Hey Pocky Way,” followed by a full series of dance-inducing numbers, including “Will it Go â€˜Round in Circles,” along with “Sailing Shoes” and “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley,” two numbers from Robert Palmer’s debut solo album for which The Meters served as backing band.
Zach Deputy, the guy who has come to be known as the one man band, has added five others to the mix. He and his crew took the main stage for a rocking set that included the funky “Tube Steak.” Seeing Zach move through the bass-grooved song was a departure from his regular seated sets and bodes well for the future of this prolific, up and coming musician.
Yonder Mountain String Band added one of the only doses of bluegrass over the weekend, highlighted by “2 Hits and The Joint Turned Brown,” “Complicated” and “On The Run.” Dark Star Orchestra took the main stage into the night with a full rendition of The Grateful Deadâ€™s 7/18/89 show from Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. This show included a packed second set featuring “Sugar Magnolia > Scarlet Begonias” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy >Hey Jude >Throwing Stones >Sunshine Daydream” along with an added bonus of “St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > St. Stephen>Not Fade Away” to close out the first night of music on the main stage.
Late night was a special treat for funk fans, with a Royal Family Ball featuring Royal Family Records artists Soulive and Lettuce in back to back sets that ran until nearly 4am and the first rays of sunlight began peaking over the horizon. Souliveâ€™s set included a number of intricate jazz tunes plus their take on “Eleanor Rigby” (off their Rubbersoulive album of Beatles songs) followed by Hendrixâ€™s “Third Rock from the Sun.” Lettuce followed with Nigel Hall, a member of the Royal Family and collaborator with Soulive/Lettuce guitarist Eric Krasno, contributing vocals on “Making My Way Back Home” and “Move on Up,” ending the first day of music at the Vibes.
Zach Deputy- “Tube Steak”
Yonder Mountain String Band- “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown”
Friday, July 20th
Day two began with campers waking up to the sound of rainfall on their tents and canopies, dampening campsites and clothes but not spirits. The day featured three members of The Grateful Dead playing in three separate bands and no degree of weather would trod upon the anticipation for the music that laid ahead.
Assembly of Dust weathered the storm through their uplifting set that was perfect for the early afternoon. Reid Geneaur stood center stage in a blue raincoat, acoustic guitar in hand, while Strangefolk co-founder Jon Trafton watched from stage left. “Telling Sue,” “All That I Am Now,” “Samuel Aging” and the debut of “Arkansas Down” wrapped up a wet set that built anticipation for Strangefolkâ€™s reunion set the following evening.
David Gans, musician, writer and the host of The Grateful Dead Hour took to the Green Vibes stage for a medley of looped and mixed Grateful Dead numbers that created a powerful auditory effect. Combining “Eyes of the World,” “Dark Star” and “The Other One,” all on a mandolin with no backup band — providing a profoundly impressive musical treasure of the weekend. 7 Walkers, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmannâ€™s latest project (and seemingly the one that he will ride until he hangs it up, if he ever does) played the main stage with George Porter Jr. on bass and guitarist/singer Papa Mali. With collaboration at festivals always a wild card, 7 Walkers brought out Scott Murawski of Max Creek and Mike Gordon Band notoriety, who sat in for “Sugaree,” trading his rock licks with the funk overtones of Mali.
With the rain winding down and the evening progressing, Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis made for one of the most intriguing and anticipated acts of the weekend. Take the guitarist from The Grateful Dead (Weir), add in a prolific player and student of the Dead turned Dead keyboardist (Hornsby) as well as a saxophone player from a legendary family who sat in with the Dead numerous times (Marsalis) and you have potential for unique interpretations of Dead classics. For 90 minutes, the crowd focused intensely on the interplay between the three and the Noisemakers, Hornsby’s band — that served as backing band for the trio. The outfit produced versions of Dead songs that stand out among the other renditions of the weekend including “Dark Star,” “Me and My Uncle >Mexicali Blues” and a set triple closing segue consisting of Â Â “Standing on the Moon> The Other One > Playin in the Band.”
Following the set, Branford Marsalis took to the media tent and answered questions on current and past collaborations, playing with The Grateful Dead and other topics. When asked how he has seen music festivals evolve over the last decade, he responded:
â€œI havenâ€™t played festivals in a long time, but festivals like this are interesting because the audiences tend to listen more. Itâ€™s an event, and itâ€™s a huge event. You can’t deny the spectacle is amazing. A lot of times thatâ€™s why people go to concerts. The energy that is generated when you have 25, 30, 50,000 people. You can’t generate that energy anywhere else. Itâ€™s an incredible spectacle.â€
Suffice to say, Branford may have found a deeper meaning from his experience playing festivals this summer, as well as giving an endorsement to the live music experience and attentiveness of the crowd at Vibes.
Phil Lesh and Friends headlined the main stage but opted to not collaborate with Weir or Kreutzmann, a surprise to many in attendance who felt for certain that a Furthur-esque reunion was on tap this night. Instead, a couple of songs by The Band, “This Wheels on Fire” and “Up on Cripple Creek” were played, perhaps serving as a warmup for Phil and co.â€™s appearance at the late Levon Helmâ€™s continuing Midnight Ramble the next night in nearby Woodstock, NY.
Other highlights of the show included the set I “intro jam > Till the Morning Comes,” “Bird Song,” “Pride of Cucamonga,” “St. Stephen > The Other One > The Wheel” plus an encore of “Shakedown Street” that sent everyone dancing out into the late night.
Conspirator, the onetime Disco Biscuits side-project turned main project thanks to the lack of Biscuits gigs, is helmed by the band’s bassist, Marc Brownstein, and keyboardist, Aron Magner, as well as Chris Michetti (RAQ) and a rotating cast of drummers. The electronic-fusion ensemble was tasked with keeping the party rolling on this night, something that was easily fulfilled through twisting electronica and the shredding guitar of Michetti. Following was a collaboration that has great potential to grow into a main act in due time, Gigantic Underground Conspiracy. The mash-up combines Conspirator with Big Giganticâ€™s Dominic Lalli on saxaphone and Jeremy Salken on drums, alongside the current Conspirator drummer, Ben Baruch, also of Underground Orchestra. By adding sax and another drummer to a live electronic-dance-music band makes not only for some great dance music but also for amazing visuals from the complimenting light show. The supergroup tore through “Necromancer” and “Red Velvet,” among other free-form jams before coming out for two encores to appease the occupying audience.
For those who were not ready for bed at 4am, Silent Disco on the beach was the destination at the far end of west camping. Hosted once again by Silent Frisco, DJs including the incredible Business Casual Disco, Motion Potion and Horizon Wireless spun albums and mixed songs live while a few hundred danced in the sand wearing headphones, the music only audible to them. Those outside the gates, including police and EMTs, having little work to be done at such an early/late hour took great delight in the audience that danced wildly at seemingly random moments, let out hoots and sang loudly with lyrics. Silent Disco is a most unique experience and holding it on the beach through sunrise made for a memorable and enjoyable addition to Vibes.
AOD – “Arkansas Down” (Full- Audience Shot)
Saturday, July 21st
Inside the festival grounds of Gathering of the Vibes can be found a wide variety of worthy non-profit organizations varying from HeadCount (voter registration) to The Terrapin Foundation (supporting the arts and natural resources), Save the Sound (protecting Long Island Sound) to Oxfam (feeding the hungry worldwide).
The active learning of Vibes gives a chance for attendees to reach out to the world beyond them, discover how they could help others through action and ultimately improve the world as a result of their efforts. More than any other festival of its size, Vibes makes it a point to give non-profits a voice and the payoff is an aware and engaged audience who take more than just the musical experience and memories away from the weekend. Elsewhere in the concert grounds was the usual wide selection of food, clothing and wares, as well as a Ferris wheel that provided a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
Zappa Plays Zappa got the main stage rocking, with Dweezil Zappa carrying his fatherâ€™s music into the 21st century. “Montana” and “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” stood out among a set of rarities that included “Orange County Lumber Truck,” “Trouble Every Day” and “Hungry Freaks, Daddy.” Mickey Hart Band was the fourth and final member of The Grateful Dead to grace the main stage. Playing alongside fellow Bay Area resident Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), the band played songs off the latest release, Mysterium Tremendum, while working in yet another version of “The Other One,” “Franklins Tower” with Crystal Monne Hall on vocals alongside Schools and Mickey, plus a finale of Creamâ€™s “The White Room.”
Dopapod, has had a breakout year through extensive touring and multiple noteworthy summer festival stops.Â Whatever they are doing, it seems to be working as the band garnered the largest crowd of the weekend at the Green Vibes stage. The quartet played incredible electro-funk and an interesting cover of Presidents of the United States of Americaâ€™s “Peaches” before encoring with their own “Turnin Knobs.” With amped up touring and no holds barred shows, Dopopod is making a name for themselves as they tour throughout the east coast and Midwest, generating a following that has steadily grown as a result of their collective musical efforts.
While the highly anticipated reunion of Strangefolk took place in late March to a great response for the 90s jamband, not all were able to attend the four shows in New York, Vermont and Maine, so Vibes became the main opportunity for thousands to see them. Playing classics such as “Lines & Circles” and a scorching “Whatever” that had festival founder Ken Hays cheering on guitarist Jon Trafton from behind the stage, the crowd of faithful fans sang along and danced just as they did in the band’s heyday. With “Touch of Grey,” Strangefolk added their own addition to the festival’s Grateful Dead roots and gave a nod to their appearance at the first incarnation of Vibes, known as Deadhead Haven, by capping their set with the tune that they had never publicly played before.
Primus headlined Saturday night with a weird and spacey set that provided sensory overload alongside their standard, but still unique stage setup, that comes complete with two giant astronauts flanking either side of Les Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde. An ominous and foreboding “Here Come the Bastards” gave way to a crazy set that surprisingly served up Â rarities for much of the first hour before hitting the throng with “Jerry was a Racecar Driver.” Sans Claypool’s love of the band and particularly its drummer, Stewart Copeland, the cover of The Police’s “Behind my Camel” came across as somewhat random. This said, the Police tune,Â an insanely extended take on a highly energetic “Tommy the Cat” and the “Whamola Jam” that came later were the only numbers that provided any familiarity for the crowd that was, in spite of the band’s headlining Vibes set in 2010, filled with quite a large number of casual fans of the band. The double encore of “Over the Falls” and “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” did little to appease a crowd that had thinned significantly. Most had expected more but still appreciated the stage setup in all of its weird and psychedelic grandeur.
Primus- “Tommy the Cat”
Dopapod- “Turnin Knobs”
Sunday, July 22nd
The weather by Sunday had stabilized into 80 degree days with warm ocean breezes and occasional cover from the sun via intermittent clouds. Some adventurous folks headed to the beach and dipped into the cold waters of the Sound while others tanned on the shores and enjoyed the view of boats that were gathered lazily on the water.
The World Peace Flag ceremony started the day off before noon on the main stage with members of The World Peace Sanctuary naming off every country in the world before reciting “May peace prevail in (insert country here).” The collective group gesture echoed through the campgrounds and hence, the vibes had gathered.
Kids stages has become standard fare this summer, but Vibes was ahead of most others with its School of Rock tent. Featuring local school-age musicians as well as bands that are made up of regional musicians, the School of Rock stage was part of the kids area, preserving an area for the families in attendance and easing kids into the festival dynamic.
Keller Williams graced the main stage in the early afternoon, opening the always appropriate daytime number, “Here Come the Sun” followed by the definitively happy Williams classic, “Best Feeling” and a mash-up of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” and Keller’s ode to Bob Barker and The Price is Right, “Bob Rules.” A delightful surprise came when Keller, a guy who began his career in Grateful Dead parking lots, kept the Dead themed weekend alive when he welcomed Bob Weir to the stage for two set closing Dead tunes, “Scarlet Begonias” and “Brown-Eyed Woman,” each with Weir on vocals. Weir’s performance came as a total shocker, not because he played with Keller (whom he toured with in 2007) but because his band’s set had happened two days prior and all figured him to be long gone — again, quite a testament to Vibes.
AAfter his set, Keller was asked â€œWhat makes a festival stand out?â€ and replied:
â€œThe festival formula has been happening for so many years now that the folks really have it dialed in to a dime. Clean portos are always a beautiful experience. An amazing soundcheck with open-minded people in front of the stage is what works for me. I’m really lucky to be able to play festivals because itâ€™s a really fantastic way to be seen for the first time by a lot of people who might not ordinarily see me.â€
Max Creek, New Englandâ€™s long running jamband took the stage in their 40th anniversary year, where Scott Murawski and keyboardist Mark Merceir sang on The Bandâ€™s “Donâ€™t Do It.” Â Steel Pulse brought the only reggae of the weekend to the festival, a perfect Sunday late afternoon slot, with a notable version of “No More Weapons.” The Avett Brothers closed the festival out, bringing the ladies to swoon for a tune specifically written for them (see below) and couples to sway during “January Wedding” before provoking a bit of last gasp dancing during “Kick Drum Heart.” As the alt-country-folk quartet pulled the plug and we all bid the festival adieu, one last moment of beauty was in store for the final walk to camp in the form of a beautiful sunset over the western skyline. It was the perfect peaceful exclamation point to end a fantastic weekend in Connecticut.
With its feet now firmly planted in the multi-terrain land of Seaside Park, Gathering of the Vibes now has one of the few things that it lacked in the past: a stable home. For three years, this has served as a place setting for the event to serve up every bit of goodness that it was always capable of because that tumor of disorganization has been all but completely cut out. It seems that substantial and sustained growth is what lies ahead.
This year’s festivities were top notch, complete with a relaxing atmosphere and calm vibe for the duration. The staff was helpful and not overzealous, leaving the festival-goers sole job of being friendly and neighborly that much easier. By keeping this constant steady and getting great lineups each year, it can safely be said that the Vibe Tribe will be dancing through a generation of festivals in no time.
Keller Williams- “Best Feeling”
The Avett Brothers- “Pretty Girl from Bridgeport”
To learn about writer Pete Mason’s project, Phanart: The Art of Phish Fans, log on to www.Phanart.net.
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