BRIDGEPORT, CT—Seaside Park in Bridgeport, CT, once again hosted the Gathering Of The Vibes music festival. This year was the 13th year for the event which took place July 31 through Aug. 3. Last year’s return was so successful that Seaside Park will be home for the Vibes for the next four years. For the third year in a row we were a part of The Tribe. For two years, seven of us went to the festival. This year we were 12 strong! The music was once again fantastic with Phil Lesh & Friends, the Black Crowes, The Neville Brothers and over 40 other bands. This year the festival felt more personal as we felt more comfortable and knew what to expect. Of course, the music was the main thing but there was so much more than that going on and I made a conscious effort to experience more.
The Kids Corner was larger this year and included a mural wall for the young artists wanting to express themselves. There was live music and tables for arts and crafts in the tent with a jungle gym, hoola hoops and riding toys available for all. The Teen Scene seemed to have a lot more going on than I’ve seen in previous years. There seemed to be people jamming almost all the time. For $5 a ride kids could spin themselves silly in a gyroscope. There was a psychedelic pyramid large enough to goof around or space out, depending on your age, of course. There were two separate vending areas, a large mural where artists and anyone else who wanted could paint, a “green” village and the Solar Stage (which deserved more of my attention) where some of the smaller bands played. There was a food drive, yoga in the mornings, and other booths for raising awareness and consciousness. Thursday was hot and sticky. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. which was still not early enough for a spot by the water. Groovesect started the festival followed by Donna Jean & The Trixters and Dark Star Orchestra, who played until around 1:00 a.m. Their set included a slower version of “Friend Of The Devil,” “St. Stephen,” “Scarlet Begonias” and “Not Fade Away.” The evening was perfectly breezy and the vibe among the crowd was kind.
Friday, Aug. 1, was Jerry Garcia’s birthday and from what I could hear, many thousands sang “Happy Birthday” to Jerry along with Radio Vibes on WPKN 89.5 in Bridgeport. The station broadcasted live from the fest for all four days and included music from the main stages, tracks from many other artists along with weather and “lots of goodies” in between sets. During the afternoon at the Solar Stage there was great music by Turbine and The Grapes. On the Main Stages were King For A Day, Ryan Montbleau Band and a rocking set by Assembly Of Dust who started off a little laid back then slowly built up to a high energy finish. That evening one of the more anticipated performances was Zappa Plays Zappa. Dweezil Zappa not only seems to have mastered Frank’s technical wizardry, he has his father’s sense of humor which, besides the music itself, made Frank Zappa what he was. He played excellent renditions of “Willie The Pimp,” “Cosmic Debris,” “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” and “Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy” (Zappa Plays Zappa is worth seeing again).
Deep Banana Blackout, who is always exciting, didn’t disappoint this year and began their set with soulful singer Jen Durkin singing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath in a strange, childlike voice that didn’t seem like it should have worked—but it did! Their set was funky and exciting and included selections from Santana. The Black Crowes finished out the night in high head fine-fashion. Watching Chris Robinson shake his moneymaker as he sang the night away added to the enjoyment of the show. Tracks from their new album were nicely incorporated with older material. Standout songs were “Thorn In My Pride,” “Remedy” and “High Head Fine,” which is a personal favorite of mine.
Would a hippie festival be complete without a downpour and mud? Certainly not, and following Saturday’s early afternoon deluge the sun came out and the field was beautifully muddy. There were people skimming across a giant puddle while others stood around watching and cheering. The afternoon line- up included New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Founding member David Nelson said he enjoys festival shows now more than he used to because he finds it easier to relax and take everything in. The Bill Kreutzmann Trio was gratefully deady and played “Franklin’s Tower” and the ultimate GD dance song, “Bertha.” Phish’s Mike Gordon played next, followed by Taj Mahal. Saturday night gave us an almost-four-hour set from Phil Lesh & Friends. Phil’s sets included “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Dire Wolf,” “Cold Rain & Snow,” “Scarlet Begonias” and ended with “He’s Gone.” Saturday was definitely the jammiest day of them all.
Sunday began with the World Peace Prayer followed by the very soulful and uplifting Organically Grown Gospel Choir which included Deep Banana Blackout’s Jen Durkin and superb singer Andrew Gromiller. The spirit was everywhere. Can I get an amen! Guitarist Jackie Greene and “Newgrass” mandolin player Sam Bush offered fans memorable sets. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi left no one disappointed. Umphrey’s McGee and the Neville Brothers all made Sunday a truly grand finale for the festival. The Neville Brothers ended their set with “Amazing Grace” and the festival ended with the playing of “Morning Dew.”
The only musical complaints were the unfortunate number of bands that wouldn’t allow their sets to be broadcast on Radio Vibes and the fact that none of this year’s performances were available for purchase as have been at past festivals. Other than that, everything this year was an improvement over last year. The grounds seemed less littered. I heard fewer reports of thefts from empty tents. There weren’t as many “unkind” folks acting inappropriately. There were more seasoned festival-goers who understood and respected what this scene is really all about. There also seemed to be more families with kids—always an encouraging sign. This festival is highly recommended to anyone who just wants to hang out with good folks, listen to good music and have a good time. Check out gatheringofthevibes.com for pictures and more information.