Words by Leslie O’Donnell, Photos by Steven Philips

With so many festivals popping up everywhere, The Gathering of The Vibes yet again stands out as the place to be. As a seasoned vibes goer from back in the Mariaville, NY days, I will always keep going. Now celebrated in Seaside Park in Bridgeport CT, The Vibes has a more relaxed, laid back feeling with beautiful seascapes of scattered boats docking out in the Long Island Sound.

The main selling point of The Vibes is the unbeatable line up they continue to deliver year after year. From Grateful Dead inspired artists, serious rock and roll, amazing singer-songwriters, add in a little New Orleans Soul and top it off with melt your face late night disco parties. Thursday kicked off with great weather, lucky for us compared to the 104 degree scorching heat of last year. Only the first day of the festival and already amazing music underway.
Being described as “Island-Infused, Drum ‘n’ Bass, Gospel-Ninja Soul”, Zach Deputy Band is exactly that. Hailing from South Carolina, Zach has put together a top notch band. I asked him how he got to pick his band for this tour : “I didn’t pick them, it was fate. I was playing a show in New Hampshire and there was an after party. I wasn’t planning on staying but my trailer got a flat so I went hoping I could get a ride to a hotel. People found out I was there and they pulled me up on stage and we just clicked. I said, You’re gonna be in my band.” Zach has had an overwhelming positive response from fans on the east coast and Canada, which is strange from coming out of the south. “I’m much better received on the east coast then the south. Playing the vibes is great, people who have never heard of me are coming up and saying ‘You’re my favorite new artist, just bought a CD’ I would definitely play the vibes again.” And I will definitely be there, thanks Zach! .

Another Thursday treat was Dark Star Orchestra. Continuing with the tradition of keeping Dead shows alive, DSO played a ripping show from 7/19/89 Alpine Valley.

After the main stage was done, the late night jam with Soulive kept everyone dancing until we made it rain! Despite the wet sogginess that seems to happen at every festival, Friday packed in everybody soaked and dancing all through the night.

7 Walkers featuring Bill Kreutzman, Papa Mali and the legendary George Porter Jr. If you have ever been to jazz fest, then you know what to expect from this tremendous super group. I had a chance to talk with George and he agrees. “The best time to go to New Orleans is Jazz Fest. I love taking songs I have recorded in the 60’s and make them fresh and new. More power to the players who have made their name with rock and roll, if the music is being pursued correctly, it’s O.K!” George also played with his band Runnin’ Pardners, he says it gives him a chance to take the songs he had and finish the work the way he always wanted to finish it. See you in NOLA next year!

Bob Weir & Bruce Hornsby with special guest Branford Marsalis follows. Dark Star, Big Boss Man, The Other One, Playin in the Band were some of the great jams that were packed in this set. Speaking with Branford who is very selective who he plays with, really enjoys his Grateful Dead experiences. With such great jazz chops, he is constantly reinventing his sound. I am a big fan of his solo project Buck Shot LeFunque so I asked if we were going to see a 3rd release. He said he still talks to all the players involved and we might see it in the future, fingers crossed! During Phil Lesh & Friends it literally looked like the rain was falling on stage but the band continued to be on fire: Till the Morning Comes opener, Up on Cripple Creek, This Wheels on Fire and a super sweet Shakedown! Phil, as always, brought some talented friends to this show including Jackie Greene, Joe Russo, Larry Campbell & Theresa Williams.

Saturday kicked off for me with vodka soaked cucumbers and my personal favorite, Zappa Plays Zappa. Being a huge Frank Zappa fan, it is always nice to see Dweezil representing with powerful rocking chords, shredding solos and a very tight band. Not to mention the comedy because yes, humor does belong in music. So when someone comes out on stage in an 80’s tight leotard and sings ‘Somebody Get Me A Doctor’, I am loving it.

One tradition that remains during The Vibes, local funk giants Deep Banana Blackout hits the stage Saturday. This 8 piece powerhouse funk band from Bridgeport brings the dance party every time! Definitely a highlight for me, seeing them every year is such a treat. Deep Banana fans know how to throw it down. With a great horn section and Jen Durkin wailing at the mic, it doesn’t get funkier than that. As with Bobby, Phil and Bill, Mickey Hart has put together another great band. Tremendous African influenced drumming paired with soulful vocals, they performed some original material as well as Grateful Dead favorites. Their version of White Room by Cream had the crowd roaring. You can never stand still while Mickey is on stage.

The Vibes, because it is such a big production, is also a favorite for the bands. I spoke to Dopapod about their favorite venues and they agreed, partially because the sound equipment at smaller festivals can’t handle the funky big powerful punches. It gives them a chance to play loud without sound cut offs or be limited to inside of a New York club.

After recording their last album in a barn in CT, they continue to deliver deep, groovy get off your feet and dance jams. As far as production goes, Primus always impresses me. Giant astronauts with projected faces, creepy cartoons and videos corresponding to the songs fill the stage. As always, their imaginative lyrics and intricate bass lines sound amazing in the open air. Others like myself who have followed Primus since their first album jumped up and down like school children while new comers and strict deadheads swayed and watched Les slap the bass in awe.

After Primus, STS9 sets the mood for the rest of the evening. With in your face electronic rock accompanied by a stellar light show. Happy campers from all influences enjoy dancing and getting down to the trippy grooves.

I have been to many festivals but GOTV has the best after parties. Unlike some venues where the music cuts off after the last head liner of the day, it’s not over for a long while. As the announcer says “Have a great vibes! Take care of each other! Everybody pitch in! RAGE ON!”, we all meander eagerly to the green vibes stage located right off the water.

The Machine set the mood with their uncanny spot on rendition of Pink Floyd favorites. Singing a long to every song, I made some new friends high-fiving during Dogs. Up next was Papadosio, that means dance party freak out that lasts non-stop unitl 7:00am. People covered in glow sticks basked in lights pouring from the stage mixed with the light breeze coming off the water. Rage on indeed!

Sunday at the vibes is always bittersweet. Everything is dry by now and it is the last day of shows. Festival favorites Keller Williams and Max Creek start the afternoon. And as Steel Pulse takes the stage, I let the smooth island reggae walk with me back to pack up camp. The last band to play, The Avett Brothers set the upbeat soundtrack to zipping tents and folding tarps. As always, another great vibes and I am already looking forward to next year.