This is Part 1 of ‘s coverage of Gathering of the Vibes. Check back tomorrow for a recap of Saturday and Sunday.
Gathering of the Vibes celebrated its 18th year with its annual four day festival at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut filled with a variety of music, food and art on July 25th-28th. Acting as one of the biggest playgrounds in the country, Vibes offers something for people of all ages with family camping, the School of Rock Teen Scene, a colorful Ferris Wheel and of course, music from every era and genre. Seaside Park was the ideal setting for the festival with its 375 acre lush greenery and endless blue shores.
With so much planning or lack thereof that goes into preparing for festivals, the music can almost get forgotten. There is so much to do before you can actually breathe, sit back and enjoy yourself that the music takes you by surprise. One moment you’re buying tickets, the next you’re packing up the car and then suddenly find yourself in front of the Main Stage, feeding off the crowd’s anticipation for the start of the show. The weekend began with the original lineup of Strangefolk, one of the first bands to play at the first GOTV’s in 1996, making this set not worth missing with Jon Trafton, Reid Genauer, Erik Glockler and Luke Smith. Their upbeat melodies built up a great hope and reassurance that this weekend was going to be amazing as the set contained gems like “Reuben’s Place” with “Helpless” (Neil Young) vocals and guitarist Jon Trafton teasing Phish’s “Bathtub Gin” during “Paperback Book.” Strangefolk was then joined onstage by Grateful Dead Hour host David Gans for the ultimate DeadHead party starter, “Shakedown Street”.
Dark Star Orchestra headlined the Main Stage with the Grateful Dead performance from Andover, Maryland in September 1976. The evening took off with a rockin’ “Bertha” opener, a solid “Let it Grow” and darling “Sugaree” for the first set and an intense closing sequence of “Scarlet Begonias>St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Drums>St. Stephen.” The show featured Jim Allard on bass and Jeff Mattson capturing Jerry Garcia flawlessly. With a light drizzle throughout the night, it wasn’t enough to damper the crowd’s positive spirits and added for an extra entertaining factor for the light show.
Thursday night ended with Kung Fu and The Dojo Allstars lighting up the night on the Green Vibes Stage. The Connecticut based band of Tim Palmieri (guitar), Robert Somerville (tenor sax) and Todd Stoops, (keyboards) were joined by talented musicians Chris DeAngelis (bass guitar) and Adrian Tramontano (drums/percussion), Nigel Hall (vocals/keys), Nick Biello (sax), Rob Volo (trombone), Cy Madan (keys), Ryan Cavanaugh (Banjo) and 13-year-old prodigy Bobby Paltauf (guitar). Needless to say, it was a funk face-melting over load.
Friday morning brought even more people to the festival grounds. The perfect wake- up call was hearing the electronic rock music from Upstate New York’s Jimkata echoing off the Green Vibes Stage. Their light-hearted synthesizers loops mixed with indie guitar strumming was more than enough to get the crowd moving and ready for the rest of the day. Assembly of Dust eased into the Friday afternoon with an early 70s rock combined with a mellow country sound. Jason Crosby on the keys, held his notes strong especially during “Telling Sue”. Singer-songwriter Reid Genauer sang out with a true Americana charm and was joined by his four-year son for “Second Song.”
One of the best things about Vibes is being introduced to new musicians that you don’t hear on the radio yet still have an incredible stage presence. Hailing from New Orleans, The Revivalists nearly tore down the Green Vibes Stage with their intense sound and energy. The musicians were literally climbing all over the stage and each other, charging the audience with a heavy dose of rock and roll mixed with southern soul. Dave Shaw screamed the lyrics with raw attitude, only to have the crowd screaming right back. Ed Williams shreds the pedal steel guitar apart and comes close to pushing it over onto the front row fans a few times. The Revivalists have made stops at more festivals this year than any other band (per Relix Magazine‘s festival guide) but what sets Vibes apart from the rest for the boys is the smell of the salt water on stage and having the longest set of almost 2 hours.
Blue skies and sunshine greeted festival goers as the day continued, making for a terrific view, especially from a top the Wheel of Lights Ferris Wheel. The top cart was the best place to take in not only the beautiful venue of Seaside Park but for the Railroad Earth set on the Main Stage. The bluegrass jam band from New Jersey filled the air with a laid back summer time vibe with their blissful strumming and continuous flow. The crowd clapped along with the Carey Harmon steady rhythms and danced all over the field from Tim Carbone’s fiddle playing.
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi returned to Vibes this year with their 11-piece blues rock group, Tedeschi Trucks Band. Featuring Kofi Burbridge (keys, flute), Eric Krasno (from Lettuce, on bass), Tyler Greenwell (drums), J.J. Johnson (drums), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Kebbi Williams (sax) and Saunders Sermons (trombone), all of these artists make up a musical force to be reckoned with. Tedeschi’s strong female vocals can be heard across the festival alongside with blaring guitar riffs from Trucks. The surprise of the first set came from Bill Evans joining TTB with his saxophone, jazzing up the funky blues song “Love is Something Else.” The set continued with a gentle “Angel from Montgomery” only to flow beautifully into a bluegrassy version of the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree.” Trucks and Tedeschi have both made strides with their separate solo careers but when performing all together, their family creates nonstop harmonies that help us appreciate the musical bonds we share, especially at Gathering of the Vibes.
To celebrate the 18th year of Gathering of the Vibes, Grateful Dead former bassist, Phil Lesh was booked for both Friday and Saturday night, joined this year with his Friends: guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski, Joe Russo on drums and John Kadlecik on guitar/vocals. The evening got underway with a graceful and groovy “Scarlet Begonias” straight into a rockin’ “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues”. The night was filled with spacey, chaotic improvisational jams that swirled through the evening air. Each musician had their own sound going, making it difficult to focus on any singular part of it. Fans were left in awe as most of the songs were well over 10 minutes, each receiving a well-deserved jam with seemingly directionless patterns. Phil took a few minutes to thank the fans and festival for continuing to keep the Grateful Dead spirit alive and with tears in his eyes, he said, “It’s like coming home.” The highlight of the evening was pretty much the entire second set with “The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion” opener into an almost 20-minute “Viola Lee Blues” and “Unbroken Chain.” The moon rose over the tie-dye covered field, which seemed to glow brighter when the band went into “Standing on the Moon” sending chills down my spine from the saltwater breeze and Medeski’s righteous lingering chords. The set ended with the gentle lullaby of “Ripple” causing the audience to sing and sway off into the night.
The late night party got started with Connecticut‘s own Deep Banana Blackout on the Green Vibes stage, delivering hot New Orleans inspired funk. DBB is no stranger to GOTVs as they have been invited back for the past few years now, serving up soulful contagious dance music complete with a full horn section. DBB shocked listeners, particularly Phish Phans, as they teased Phish’s “Wilson” chant, which was played that same night by Phish at The Gorge in WA, proving that good news and music travel fast.
The Silent Disco was on the complete opposite side of the festival from the Main and Green Stage. It’s a long walk but definitely worth the trip. You walk up to the tent, where you are given a huge pair of headphones and given simple instructions for proper usage. As you look around, there are a few hundred people on the beach, all wearing the headphones, dancing their asses off and being surprisingly very quiet. There are two DJs that have two completely different sounds going that fans can choose to tune into. Friday night featured Conneticon and Sloedwn from 1am to 4:30am as well as Matt Haze, who sampled various European genres and beats while Saturday played host to Suspence and Cosmal. The clear crowd-pleaser was the artist MoPo, short for Motion Potion, also known as Robbie Kowal from California. He mixed 90’s jock jam with Phish with Talking Heads with Jay Z plus so much more. As the sun began to rise, creating dream like colors across the sky, MoPo remixed various Beatles covers such as, “Here Comes The Sun” and “Dear Prudence.” Silent Disco fans know how to party and with music from MoPo, it was easy to dance until dawn.