There were so many things about this year’s Gathering of the Vibes that made it special. For starters, the festival turned 20 celebrating two decades of peace, love and music. Founder Ken Hays noted that he would have never dreamed his vision of a musical gathering would have made it this far. Read more of my interview with him, here. Milestones were a big theme this year as it took place shortly after the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary which promised numerous collaborations and tributes to attract and please all lovers of music, not just the Deadhead community.
Alongside the historical significance of the music, there is the history of the landscape that makes this festival special each and every year. This year was the 11th time Vibes has returned to Seaside Park. I speak for more than just myself when I say that I love everything about this venue. It is entirely flat, there is a constant breeze from the Long Island Sound and tall trees for cool shade everywhere. Looking back in comparison to other festival grounds, this one wins every time. There are no hills that kick your butt or keep you from venturing to the music. Misting fans and heat exhaustion are rare, if you hydrate, and best of all no more sweltering, inescapable sun!
With such a flat landscape come endless possibilities for personal transportation. At Gathering of the Vibes, you may see or even get a chance to ride any of the following: a bicycle, a tandem bicycle, a tricycle, or a unicycle, a Segway, an electric, gas or kinetic scooter and long boards, skate boards, penny boards, the list goes on. This year you could even bring them into the music venues! Before you had to lock them up or leave them at your camp site. It was a dream come true. You couldn’t ask for anything more fun or convenient at a large scale festival. No wonder Rolling Stone magazine named Gathering of the Vibes one of their “must- see music festivals” for summer 2015.
Getting there Thursday was a breeze. Check in, security, maneuvering the grounds and settling in a camping spot could not have been better organized and coordinated. Every single person on staff was just as glad to be there as you were and it really made such a difference. Nothing was in short supply and the facilities seemed to always be stocked and at the ready. If you prefer a quieter camp ground, out of ear shot of the main stage, you can find it, however that’s not how we do it. Setting up our camp site we were able to perfectly hear Hayley Jane and the Primates who were opening the festival on the main stage.
Genres were abundant in Seaside Park over the weekend, with everything from Bluegrass to Reggae to R&B, funk, jazz, and soul and classic to modern rock. Not only was this music great, unlike other festivals, the family oriented-ness of the Vibes made this music suitable not only for you, but for your grandma or your youngest brother. Thursday’s lineup was smooth and sensational. After Hayley Jane and the Primates was Ryan Montbleau and Strangefolk. Over at the Green Vibes stage, you could see the Relative Souls, Banooba, and Fly Golden Eagle. The evening lineup was also sure to please. Over at Green Vibes you could catch Bombino, whose worldly rhythm and sound delighted the crowd or even those exploring or setting up their camp nearby. Over at the Main Stage was the much anticipated Dark Star Orchestra featuring Jerry Garcia Band member and keyboardist Melvin Seals. They rocked the first night with Dead favorites like “Eye’s of the World” and one of my favorites, “Women are Smarter.” Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe kept everyone company till the early morning at the Green Vibes stage.
Friday had nothing but gold in store. Right around brunch time, starting the day on the Main Stage was Twiddle, followed by The Word featuring John Medeski, Robert Randolph, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, and Chris Chew. Entering the afternoon, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings took the stage followed by the ever so talented Tedeschi Trucks Band. Closer to the shore at the Green Vibes stage, Nattali Rize, who Michael Franti has called a “bright light in the world” opened the day with Notis, followed by David Grans, then Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, Doyle Bramfall II and Tea Leaf Green. All were a spectacular mix of genres that truly filled the morning air with song.
That night, everyone’s favorite old head Gregg Allman took on the Main Stage, followed swiftly by the String Cheese Incident. This performance was very special as they were joined by David Grisman and Peter Rowan alongside Infamous Stringdusters banjoist Chris Pandolfi and fiddler Blaine Sprouse to showcase Old and In The Way. Grisman and Rowan were good friends of Jerry Garcia and played with him in the beloved quintet. They embarked on OITW’s self titled 1973 album and threw in a “Catfish John” and “Ripple” to everyone’s delight. With no better way to start Jerry’s birthday and close down Main Stage, Electron opened the late night, welcoming the ragers to the Green Vibes stage, followed by Oktopus who kept everyone grooving into the daylight hours. Two down, one and a half to go.
Saturday was day three, the day most find difficult to regain the energy they have danced away. Lucky for the Vibe Tribe they had two places to find salvation. At the Green Vibes stage, the Primate Fiasco acted as a five- piece energy boost, preceding the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Next up was a band very close to my heart, Moonhooch. This trio of talented young men brought funky energy, synths and jazz as well as an array of instruments to the Vibes Stage. Among those were saxophone, baritone sax, and euphonium, intertwined with occasional vocals and keyboard loops, the drums that hold it all together, and the climax of weirdness when Wenzl puts a traffic cone on his saxophone to manipulate the vibrato. Their sound is ridiculously fun and enjoyable. IF you haven’t seen them live, do yourself a favor and keep an eye out for these guys.
At the same time, Kung Fu restored the crowd to its full beauty at the Main Stage, followed by Greensky Bluegrass and by the time Connecticut’s own Deep Banana Blackout came on stage, good times were being had everywhere. This continued into The Gaslight Anthem and eventually Billy and the Kids to begin the evening. This set was significant as they shied away from those Deads songs played during the Fare Thee Well run, an example was the timeless “Dancing in the Streets.” Warren Haynes featuring Railroad Earth was next and not to be missed as Kreutzman sat in to play “China Doll.” They were followed by Wilco who played their new album Star Wars in its entirety before visiting their classics. Haynes returned to the stage to debut the Seaside Allstars consisting of George Porter Jr., Jackie Greene, Branford Marsalis, Joe Russo and Marco Benevento; a collaboration to celebrate the twentieth anniversary and was truly a spectacle.
I had forgotten that Sunday is a bit sad because people start packing up and even leaving very early. Empty campsite blues were shaken instantly by the music that day of course! School of Rock Allstars opened up on the Green Vibes Stage followed by Andy the Music Man, Band Together CT and Earphunk. While Zappa Plays Zappa was rocking out the Main Stage, Cabinet was holding down Green Vibes Stage, preceding John Brown’s Body who closed the stage down for 2015. The Main Stage kept rocking with Weezer, a non-traditional Vibes headliner. They played all their classics and really had the crowd enjoying themselves and singing along. Last but not least Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals closed out the show with a great set.
In conclusion, another great Vibes. Can’t wait for next year. Best large festival ever!
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