BRIDGEPORT, CT—At the 20th annual Gathering Of The Vibes fest, Allman Brothers alumni ruled the roost for yet another glorious celebration to the life and music of Jerry Garcia, whose birthday was also celebrated over the weekend. Warren Haynes was the bridge from the Allman’s camp to the Dead’s as he showcased his latest album, Ashes And Dust, with Railroad Earth, and played with the all-stars on Saturday night. Woodstock vet Wavy Gravy was the emcee, keeping things light and breezy with his cosmic wit.
It was a striking three days of glorious sunshine, as the salty air beckoned and PT Barnum’s statue presided over the vibetribe at Seaside Park, adding a circus-like feel to the event’s jugglers, stilted gents and more than a few merry pranksters in their midst, all bought together by the power of the Grateful Dead and their 50th year celebration.
Fest founder Ken Hays pulled out an eclectic mix of artists from his rolodex that played to the spirit of the fat man, including Sharon Jones, guitarist Doyle Bramhall, Weezer and Ben Harper. Friday belonged to the Allman’s and their offspring while Saturday’s offering took on a more Grateful Dead-like vibe with drummer Billy Kreutzmann’s band Billy & The Kids and New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
Friday night headliner String Cheese Incident opened their lengthy two-set headliner slot as David Grisman and Peter Rowan’s backup band, taking on the music from the Garcia spinoff “Old And In The Way” that was finger pickin’ good.
Starting with “Pig In A Pen” and closing with “Ripple,” the String Cheeses were perfect matches to Grisman and Rowan’s deadgrass. They both had ear-to-ear grins on “Panama Red” as they played to the spirit of Garcia, who must be up there somewhere giggling. Their second set was an instrumental and harmonic tour-de force as the band played as if they’d really had enough of their extended hiatus and had something to prove.
Allman drummer Jaimoe’s Jasssz added some New Orleans boogie-woogie to their set that ended with an extended “In The Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” Gregg Allman’s set was a smoking one that opened with “Statesboro Blues.” He played some nuggets from the Brothers’ lesser-known albums including “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” and “Queen Of Hearts” from his solo album with a horn section that added a nice texture to the tunes where previously the guitars shone.
On “Whipping Post,” his voice sounded incredibly soulful as the horns blew and Allman’s oozing organ filled in the musical spaces. Derek Trucks and Jaimoe joined them on stage for a jammy “Southbound” that had the fans dancing in the aisles. Tedeschi Trucks Band sent the blues to the stratus and back as singer Susan Tedeschi belted out some melodic bop, sounding a lot like Bonnie Raitt on “The Letter.”
On Saturday, Greensky Bluegrass added some nice harmonies to their homegrown mix. Billy & The Kids played a lengthy set starting with “Here Comes Sunshine” from the Wake Of The Flood album and ended with a killer “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that had Warren Haynes trading licks off guitarist Tommy Hamilton. The rest of their set was a bouncy stroll down shakedown street as the band and crowd fell onto a groove and didn’t let go.
Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy started his set claiming, “We’re going to play some new ones off our new record.” Guitarist Nils Cline tweaked at the edges of Tweedy’s stoneyed melodies with some jagged avant-garde noise rock. Warren Haynes joined them for their closer as he pushed Cline to the edge and back to the blues as they crackled then banged out the ending of the set.
Haynes played a set with Railroad Earth that showcased his latest acoustically-oriented album and then returned for an electrified showdown with his all-stars including Jackie Green, Branford Marsalis and Joe Russo. Traffic’s “Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” was a 15-minute blowout that segued into “Dreams,” and as the good ole Grateful Dead used to say, The Music Never Stopped.