20 years in 4 days: A Gathering of the Vibes 2015 Recap

The 20th annual Gathering of the Vibes Music Festival made quite the statement this past weekend, bringing upwards of 20,000 people from all over the world to gather along the shores of Seaside Park in Bridgeport. Starting out as nothing more than a Jerry Garcia memorial, Gathering of the Vibes has blown up beyond the tri-state area over the past 20 years, providing attendees with a weekend of memories, meditation, and music. In celebration of Vibes’ past, here’s the breakdown of Gathering of the Vibes 2015, in a more present setting.

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Thursday, July 30

Along with a powerful spirit, the opening day of Vibes brought a heavy amount of rain. Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air, thousands of musical inhabitants set up camp and made their way towards Main Stage to experience the jazzy timbre of Ryan Montbleau’s voice. After a torrential (but brief) downpour, the sun made a rather profound return throughout Seaside Park, drying up tent flys and restoring the sunny disposition of each festival-goer. Max Creek took to the stage after Ryan Montbleau, performing several of their hits, including “Blood Red Roses” as well as a cover of “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens. It was also quite surprising to see a Max Creek band member rap suddenly, but boy was he good.

As bright stage lights, glowing hula hoops, and light up bracelets illuminated the audience, Dark Star Orchestra played around 9pm with an intensity only understood by those who have seen them live. Featuring tunes like “Franklin’s Tower,” “Scarlet Begonias,” and “Fire on the Mountain,” each audience member spun with delight, dancing with their friends as well as strangers to the triumphant anthems of the Grateful Dead. While most Dark Star Orchestra shows throw in a few surprises, no one in the audience was prepared for the intensity coming from DSO member Lisa Mackey’s diaphragm as she belted out her soul throughout their set. As audience members begged for more before closing out the evening, DSO also threw in a dash of Bob Dylan, putting their own spin on “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Forever Young.” After an already packed night of great music, and a continuation of music featuring some late night jammers, campers slowly drifted off to sleep to recharge for another dawn of music, and of course, good vibes.

Friday,  July 31

As the morning mist lay across Seaside’s waters, Twiddle brought an amplified alarm to sleeping campers around 11am from the Main Stage. Though their set time was much shorter than it should have been, adoring fans were pleased to hear a selection of songs from their 2011 album, entitled Somewhere On the Mountain, including its title track. Shortly after Twiddle finished their set, many fled to the food area for some decent breakfast food. However, before returning to the Main Stage to see The Word around noon, a vibrant new sound came from the School of Rock tent, known as the Funky Dawgz Brass Band. Whether they crowded dozens of fans in the performance tent or into the streets of the main drag as they played in between artist sets, many Vibers were grateful to experience a new and lively group to be added to the Vibes family, especially one that channeled a college frat.

For those who wanted a slight change of pace, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings graced the stage around 2:45pm, bringing a jazzier breath of air to the cloud of funk left behind from The Word and Funky Dawgz. With great enthusiasm to their latest release, entitled Give the People What They Want, Sharon and the Dap-Kings didn’t play many of their more notable tunes, and not many people from the crowd could recite the lyrics back to them. Still, the diverse spectrum of musical style changed from song to song, bringing the audience members from a steady sway to a jumping jive within a matter of minutes, which was definitely a treat to witness.

Following shortly after, blues enthusiasts filled the front of Main Stage in preparation for the Tedesci Trucks Band. Joe Cocker as well as Sly & the Family Stone fans were quite pleased by the Tedeschi Trucks set, after they performed covers of both “The Letter” and “Sing a Simple Song/I Want to Take You Higher.” To top it all off, they also covered “Let’s Go Get Stoned” by the Coasters, which both surprised and excited many audience members. Their set was also a great segway into Greg Allman’s set, where Derek Trucks himself was invited up to play “Southbound,” an Allman Brothers Band classic. Other songs included in Greg Allman’s set included “Come and Go Blues,” “Stand Back,” “Melissa,” and the great “Midnight Rider.” Though many would have been satisfied ending the night there, it was the String Cheese Incident that closed out Friday night, with one of the most impressive light shows to date. Having featured guests like David Grisman and Peter Rowan, the amount of white beards, yodeling, and intense mandolin playing was astronomical. Even if the music was too fast to dance to, let’s just say everyone tried anyway.

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Saturday, August 1

Despite being three days into the festival, there didn’t seem to be any loss of energy whatsoever from Saturday morning’s crowds. After a warming up from Kung Fu, Deep Banana Blackout and Moon Hooch graced the Main and Green stage for equally memorable performances. As a veteran as well as a newbie to the Gathering of the Vibes family, Deep Banana Blackout and Moon Hooch’s sets showed great stage presence, as well as unbelievable musicianship. Upon hearing Moon Hooch’s “Number 9,” everyone who was once sitting rose to their feet, and anyone who was stopping around the Green Vibes area moved immediately to the stage to listen in. After an electric performance of jazzy house by Moon Hooch and the soulful growl of Jen Durkin, the Gaslight Anthem secured a spot as one of the first punk/heartland rock bands to take the Main Stage. Though many Deadheads may have left the scene, the crowd that was left certainly greeted the Gaslight Anthem with opening arms, singing along to their songs “Mulholland Drive,” “Sweet Morphine,” and “The ’59 Sound.” Despite being the odd band of the bunch, the Gaslight Anthem brought even more artistic diversity to the festival, provided some musical contrast, and more importantly, got everyone ready for Wilco.

In between set changes, it’s really hard not to notice music from the opposite stage, and sometimes following it will lead you to a brilliant discovery. In the case of Vibes, that discovery was known as Turkuaz. Before heading back to see Wilco, many jazz and funk fans perused over to check out this 9-piece ensemble. After the release of their EP Stereochrome, Turkuaz rallied all the audience dancers for their tune “Tiptoe Through the Crypto” and included their hit song “Bubba Slide.” The energy this group brings to the stage is unmatched, and whether each audience member was an adoring fan or a passer-by, there was heads bopping all over the Green Vibes area. If you don’t know these cats already, you should.

Wilco opened their set around 9:15pm on the Main Stage, opening with a selection of songs from their 2015 release, entitled Star Wars. Songs such as “EKG, “”Random Name Generator,” and “More…” were played surprisingly early in the set, which left room for earlier repertoire later in the set, including “Jesus, etc.” and “California Stars.” It was also quite a surprise to see Warren Haynes join in on their final number, along with Joe Russo on drums.

Though they should have just stayed on stage, Warren Haynes was sure to make a grand entrance for his set featuring the Seaside All-Stars: George Porter Jr., Branford Marsalis, Jackie Greene, Joe Russo, and Marco Benevento. Along with adding Eric Krasno from Soulive to the mix of musicians, the ensemble did a variety of cover songs, including “Karma Police” by Radiohead, “Tough Mama” by Bob Dylan, “Dreams” by the Allman Brothers Band, and “King Solomon’s Marbles” by the Grateful Dead. Not only did this large ensemble attract fans of every genre, but each song was a new puzzle to be unraveled, with their tricky interludes and extensive solos to mask the melody. With such a unique group of musicians, there’s no doubt that this performance was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it was a great way to close out Saturday night.

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Sunday, August 2

As Gathering of the Vibes came to a close on Sunday, many people took advantage of the single day ticket, making it a rather crowded atmosphere. It was odd seeing excited arrivals of people mixed in with dirty, tuckered out campers in one last attempt to rally for the great sets scheduled that day. After a long night of music by Lettuce and a visit to the beach for Silent Disco (it’s exactly what you think: music being projected through wireless headphones so no one on the outside of the listeners can hear it), it was not hard to notice the slow pace of Sunday. Luckily, the announcement of Weezer coming to the Main Stage around 3:45pm brought enough spark to pump that last bit of energy. Along with performing their new songs, including “Back to the Shack,” they also made plenty of room for their best throwbacks, including “Hash Pipe,” “Say It Ain’t So,” “Pork and Beans,” and “Beverly Hills.” For their encore, they even remembered to play “Buddy Holly,” which completed the list of songs Weezer fans wanted to hear.

For one of the final bands of the night, singer-songwriter Ben Harper teamed up with a large ensemble to create Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals. As people packed up their campsites and finished their final beers, Ben Harper kept the positive vibes through the full band versions of hit songs, including “Steal My Kisses” and “Ground On Down.”

As the sun set over Vibes for the last time, Harper closed out with his song “Better Way,” and it was finally time to head home. Seeing so many bands perform was both enticing and overwhelming at the same time, making leaving Vibes even more bittersweet. The range of genre, popularity, age, and background is what makes Gathering of the Vibes separate from other festivals. After 20 years, Gathering of the Vibes has remained one of Connecticut’s most well-known festivals, and it’s attention to bringing about change while discovering your own inner peace is what will bring success for future gatherings to come. Until next time, thank you vibes for a real good time.