Exclusive Interview with Ken Hays, founder of Gathering of the Vibes

by Elise Olmstead

Gathering of the Vibes July 25-28 2013 

Taking place at beautiful Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, music fans have argued that Gathering of The Vibes is the greatest festival on the east coast. Appalachian Jamwich spoke with founder and producer Ken Hays last year, and we were lucky enough to get an update of how the venue is doing and get to know Ken a little better.

Ken Hays

Ken Hays

We’ve noticed a ridiculous number of festivals popping up on the East Coast, both big and small, and I was wondering what you thought about this abundance of festivals? Do you think it is a good or a bad thing?

It’s a great thing! I think the more that we can come together and enjoy live music and spend time with friends and family, it is a positive across the board. There are a ton of festivals, every weekend, large and small! People are seeing the value of a multi-day festival more and more, because you get to see so many bands at a reasonable price point.

We held our own festival this summer The Mad Tea Party Jam, and as beginners in the industry I have to ask you, the professional, two things: how do you stay sane, and what do you think is key to running a festival smoothly?

There’s an incredible learning curve when it comes to running music festivals. At our first festival, we really didn’t have a clue about what we were going to be facing. Keep level-headed, make sure you get at least 5 hours of sleep a night, and surround yourself with a bunch of great people who are emotionally invested, and hopefully have some experience. Something that makes Gathering of the Vibes unique from a lot of festivals is the number of families that come out with their kids. Last year we had over 2,000 kids under the age of 15 that came out with their parents, and I think that’s what differentiates us from the other festivals out there. We have a lot of incredible activities for the kids and for the teens as well.

Growing up did you always think that you would have this career?

No, no, it fell into my lap and myself and a bunch of friends decided that it was something that was needed by the Dead Head community. After the first Vibes it was clear that this was something that we all wanted to continue.

Can I ask what career you thought you were going to have?

Yeah, I was going to be a doctor! I became a paramedic and in high school I was an EMT. Emergency preparedness and planning is something that I’ve been actively involved with all my life, and has proven helpful now that I’m hosting a small city of 25,000 people!

Yeah, I’m sure that’s come in handy in a festival environment.

Absolutely, it’s a big responsibility to make sure that everyone is happy and safe all weekend long. With two and a half miles of coastal waterfront, we have Coast Guard out there, City Police boats, Fire Police boats, and we’ve got our own Vibes Marine unit on the water out there to make sure everyone is happy and safe all the time.

What motivates you to bring kids and families to your festival?

It brings a different vibe to the festival, to have so many kids running around having fun. It’s an annual reunion for families. In these crazy days in which we live, with so many tragedies on the 24-hour news cycle, I think it’s really important for everyone to take a step back and focus on all the good that’s happening in our lives, and give thanks. We really are blessed to have an opportunity to spend time with friends and family in a beautiful park and listen to some great music together.

There was a rumor last year that all the remaining members of The Grateful Dead would get up on stage. Obviously that didn’t come to fruition last year, but do you think it ever will? A lot of people speculate that we will never see the remaining members on stage together again!

I disagree with that, I think absolutely all the members of The Grateful Dead will be on stage together and hopefully in the near future. But I’m an eternal optimist.

Do you have a favorite band besides The Grateful Dead?

I’ve been a fan of The Red Hot Chili Peppers for quite some time, but also Tom Petty, and Neil Young. Those are some of the touring acts that when they get up on stage and perform live the magic is consistently there.

I heard that Hurricane Sandy last year inflicted some damage on Seaside Park, is that true?

Yes, super storm Sandy inflicted major damage on Seaside Park, but with the help of FEMA and City Parks and public facilities, Seaside Park has been restored to its beautiful pre-storm condition.

Is there anything this year at Gathering of the Vibes that will be different from last year?

We will be running the silent disco until sunrise on Friday and Saturday nights. We’ve expanded on the Kid’s Corner and Teen Scene since we’ve had thousands of kids out! There’s more music instruction and a larger ferris wheel this year. Nothing too different this year, though. We are going to open up the late night stage with Deep Banana Blackout on Friday, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation. As long as we have space available we will invite people with a single day ticket to enjoy the late night show. And Saturday Papadosio is going to play until sunrise as well. Definitely tons of activities for kids of all ages!