Gathering Of The Vibes @ Seaside Park

“If we can only get the Senate and the House of Representatives to drum together, maybe we can end government gridlock.” – Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart

BRIDGEPORT, CT—At the 19th annual Gathering Of The Vibes in Bridgeport, Connecticut, jamheads united for a three-day fest of tunes and great food. The Vibetribe was in full force at this year’s model in their finest cosmic attire as kids, parents and teenagers all joined in. Located at Seaside Park, the venues got it all including a Ferris wheel and a sea breeze that cooled things off during Sunday’s performances under clear blue skies.

The other days had an English grayness to them as the threat of rain hung over the fest but luckily never came except for a light drizzle. Wavy Gravy, the fest’s MC, married a couple by Ken Kesey’s Further bus. Artisans, painters, marching bands and flamethrowers kept things upbeat and entertaining all within a hacky sack kick of the ocean.

Umphrey’s McGee, moe., Widespread Panic and the Disco Biscuits/Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann turned Saturday into a jam-athon of bouncy riffs and searing guitar solos that boomed throughout the venue from upfront to the festival campgrounds located along the water. The loud, clear mix helped spread the crowd out and gave everyone room to boogie.

The Disco Biscuits with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann played an incredible set that ended Saturday night as they turned the place into “Shakedown Street.” Vibes founder Ken Hayes introduced the band with an ear-to-ear grin as if he couldn’t believe it was really happening. Opening with “Story Of The World,” the Biscuits warmed up the crowd with their straight-ahead and pulsating sounds. For the second song, Rhythm Devils Hart and Kreutzmann joined them on stage and the rest of the night belonged to the Grateful Dead.

Starting off slow and funky on “West L.A. Fade Away,” they built the beat from the bottom up as they morphed the electonica-inspired sounds of the Disco Biscuits through an organic grinder of the Dead’s worldbeat. Drummers Hart and Kreutzmann hitchhiked onto the Biscuits’ mechanized thunder with a junglefied syncopation that spliced brilliantly into the band’s techno jive. With Kreutzmann sitting tight on a standard kit and Hart at the “Beast,” they gelled into a rhythmic unit combining man and machine.

By the time “Eyes Of The World” went down, guitarist Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig’s voice had a nicely worn-out tone and his guitar playing tweaked out notes, à la Garcia, that straddled the cosmic divide of oozy psychedelia and curdling pop. “I Know You Rider,” “That’s It For The Other One” and “Viola Lee Blues” kept the crowd happy on the week before what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday. “And We Bid You Goodnight” from the Live Dead album ended the night appropriately with some gospel singers adding their heavenly tones to the mix.

On “Cut The Cable,” Umphrey’s McGee sandblasted the crowd with its searing guitars and funkified beats. Widespread Panic worked up the fans in its two-hour set as lead singer/guitarist John Bell stood center stage to guitar maestro Jimmy Herring’s splintered blues. Moe. was an earthly, jazz-inflected unit of virtuosos that split signatures, twisted corners and left no musical stone unturned. Guitarist Al Schnier bounced his riffage off the underbelly of the band’s rhythm section and Chuck Garvey’s singing into well-thought-out musical compositions that meandered just enough to stay jammy.

The School of Rock kids played an awesome Stevie Wonder medley. Little Feat co-founder Bill Payne sat in on Leftover Salmon’s set and played a funky “Old Atlanta” and “Dixie Chicken.” Rodrigo y Gabriela took their nylon-stringed guitars to that happy place as they thumped and strummed their way through an instrumental set combining Latin and rock rhythms. Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros’ hour and a half set combined the revivalist shout-outs of a hippie commune with the sideshow stomp of a three-ringed circus.

Ziggy Marley’s performance on Sunday beckoned father Bob’s legacy as he played “Is This Love” and “One Love.” On his own “Wild And Free,” you could feel the balmy breeze of the Caribbean in your hair as a statue of Ringling Brothers impresario P.T. Barnum stared out to sea on the grounds grinning.

At the press conference prior to the Disco Biscuits’ showdown, Hart and Kreutzmann talked about the virtues of hemp, the evils of Monsanto and gridlock in Washington, DC. They were gregarious and to the point. Someone asked how they worked out the Dead’s “playing in the band” and how they knew when the songs were ready. Kreutzmann replied to “keep on doing it until it feels good and you feel relaxed playing it.” When asked, “What is your favorite song?” Kreutzmann added, “‘Eyes Of The World’ and the heavy-duty songs that you play and you say to yourself, ‘What song is this?'”