BRIDGEPORT, CT—The 16th annual Gathering Of The Vibes at Seaside Park was hot both literally and figuratively. Psychedelics weren’t the only thing that melted minds this year. The staggering heat resulted in a lower than expected number of campers but in the midst of the dangerous and brutal heat wave the Vibe Tribe managed to keep their cool and enjoyed everything the festival had to offer, including the beach, the Ferris wheel and three stages of music: The main, the Green stages and the new School of Rock stage, which showcased youth talent.
The increasingly eclectic musical line-up included jam bands, reggae, country, metal, bluegrass, blues, funk, electronica and silent dance parties on the beach. The Ferris wheel added to the already carnival-like atmosphere and was a huge success.
Thursday kicked off with contest winners Darlingside. The self-proclaimed “string-rock” quintet from Massachusetts earned the festival’s opening spot on the main stage by being voted best band on Sonicbids.com. They proved themselves to be worthy of the accolades labeling them as a band to watch. Tennessee bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters and reggae band Roots Of Creation added heat to the afternoon.
Roots Of Creation played the Green stage, which was bathed in the cool breeze off the Long Island Sound for most of the festival. Singer Brett Wilson wowed the crowd and the jamming stage show was enhanced by a member of fire act Cosmic Karma Fire who swallowed lighter fluid and spit fire to the beat ROC’s bass heavy music. The band ended with an explosive version of “Exodus” and left everyone wanting more.
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk brought their progressive funk from New Orleans to start the evening followed by Dark Star Orchestra with Donna Jean Godchaux. Over the years DSO has become the traditional Thursday night headliner and for many, the real start of the festival. The crowd gathered and illuminated the field with glow sticks, glow hula hoops and glowing memories of The Grateful Dead. For those who weren’t ready to call it a night, U.K. band The New Mastersounds exploded on the late night stage with their powerful set of soul, funk, rock and dance music.
New Orleans powerhouse Big Sam’s Funky Nation kicked off the official first day of the festival. The afternoon shows included Ryan Montbleau Band, God Street Wine members Lo Faber, Aaron Maxwell, Dan Pifer & Jon Bevo and the legendary Taj Mahal.
Jazz-fusion band Kung Fu delivered a stellar set which included a funky sousaphone solo. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Caravan of Thieves and Levon Helm Band also played that day. Far healthier than his last appearance at Vibes, Levon Helm was all smiles as he rolled through “The Weight” and other classics by The Band.
Further played for over three hours. The set included “Minglewood Blues,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Sugaree” and “Mason’s Children,” “St. Stephen” as well as “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight,” by the Beatles. Big Gigantic captivated the late night audience while they also held the festival’s first silent disco down at the beach. Dancers were given wireless headsets and were tuned into the DJ, who spun until 4 a.m.
The McLovins made it to the main stage Saturday with their Phish-inspired set. Country-metal band Waylon Speed impressed many first time listeners. Deep Banana Blackout, as always, kept people dancing and on the field. Two years ago moe.’s set was cut short by a freak lightening storm that shut everything down and sent people running for shelter. This year moe. got to play a whole set. It was well worth the wait as the band offered “George,” “Billy Goat,” a great version of “Rebubula” and other favorites.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters made their debut this year playing one hit after another. “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Radio Radio,” “Everyday I Write The Book” and an extended “Watching the Detectives/ Help Me” had everyone on their feet. There was a brilliant medley of “This Wheel’s On Fire/The River In Reverse/On Your Way Down/I’ll Take Care Of You.” Elvis added a sentimental cover of Grateful Dead’s “It Must Have Been the Roses.”
One of the most highly anticipated performances was Jane’s Addiction. Their set opened with a very fit Perry Farrell and an inked and sculpted Dave Navarro flanked by two leather clad women swinging from the rigging on either side of them. The women posed in the shadows throughout the show and at one point posed in a recreation of the cover of the album Nothing Shocking. The band sounded every bit as good as they did in their prime, doing almost every song a JA fan could want: “Up The Beach,” “Three Days,” “Been Caught Stealing,” “Summertime Rolls,” “Stop!” and their encore, ”Jane Says.” They added covers of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” and The Who’s instrumental from Tommy, “Sparks.” Farrell was charming, funny, playful and extremely personable. He seemed to be channeling the spirit of Freddie Mercury complete with marching across the stage, male model haircut and dramatic poses. No one was disappointed. Perpetual Groove and another silent disco party kept the party going until very early morning.
On Sunday, things mellowed a bit with reggae legend Toots And The Maytals and yet another New Orleans hero, Dr. John And The Lower 911. Dr. John played his own hits along with classic New Orleans tune “Eiko, Eiko.” The Rhythm Devils with Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Steve Kimock, Keller Williams and Reed Mathis followed and led up to closing act John Butler Trio.
Missing from this year’s event was the call, “Is There Anybody Out There?” The sudden passing of Vibes family member, Mike Potashnick earlier this year left a hole in the heart of many, but founder Ken Hays was determined to make this year’s show something Mike would have been proud of. Hays stated that Mike P. was always making sure people looked out for each other. With this year’s community spirit, food and clothing drives, numerous Green and social organizations plus the fantastic music, Mike was surely somewhere out there smiling.