Gathering of the Vibes Review
July 25-28 2013
Seaside Park, Bridgeport, CT
written by Elise Olmstead
photos copyright Appalachian Jamwich photography
Perfection…a word not often uttered when describing most anything, let alone a summer festival. Some occasions might be special, interesting, crazy, but perfect? The depiction was murmured by many who attend Gathering of the Vibes year after year, returning to the beach at Seaside Park to vibrate with the countless colorful souls who assemble for the music and celebrations. Since 1996, the festival founded as a gathering place for Dead Heads and other like-minded music fans has been a perfect summer occasion for those of all ages. The breezy location by the water is perfect enough, but is also combined with perks such as bike paths, great food, kid’s activities, and of course headlining musical acts such as Phil & Friends, Gov’t Mule, Black Crowes, and Dark Star Orchestra.
The venue, Seaside Park, is located in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut. It can be easy to get a little lost when finding the entrance, especially if you have to travel to anything other than the main gate to pick up your wristbands. Once inside there are areas for general camping, “boardie” camping, and family camping. The general area is obviously the largest and often furthest from the stages. “Boardie” camping and family camping must both be registered for in advance, but will provide a more centrally located spot under the shade of trees. Once you are set up and ready to go, the ferris wheel will provide a landmark for you to find the stages. The huge Main Stage hosts bands from 11AM – 1AM each day and is lined with a plethora of vendors including beer sales and an extensive art gallery. The food vendors are mostly located a short walk out the gate, and then a hop, skip, and jump past the ferris wheel is where you can find the Green Vibes stage, where you can watch the music while feeling a breeze from the water all day and throughout late night hours.
Thursday started out cold and rainy, but you couldn’t keep the audience from gathering to see Strangefolk at the main stage. Since Jon Trafton (lead guitar), Reid Genauer (rhythm guitar), Erik Glockler (bass guitar), and Luke Smith (drums) started making music together in 1992, the band has changed members, taken hiatuses, and is now touring once again with original lineup. Strangefolk brings to the stage their own magical blend of introspective lyricism and a New England working man’s musicianship, making them long established journeymen in the bluegrass genre. The rain can’t dampen the happiness that they spread across the muddy field, and as we walk back to our camp to warm up before Dark Star Orchestra, our smiles are beaming rays of sun cutting through the clouds. As we gathered with friends, family, and strangers for DSO, who played a 1976 (Capital Centre, Landover, MD) set that night, we felt like family together once again. As they play “Dancin in the Streets” and “Scarlet Begonias,” a new friend of mine who had never heard the Dead before grins ear to ear. She calls it “happy music,” and bops along as enthusiastically as the veteran Dead Head beside her.
Kung Fu takes over Green Vibes stage for a passionate late night set, making us all dance and squeal in delight with their funky riffs and synth noises. After amusing songs like “FUNGKU”( an anagram of Kung Fu and pronounced “Funk You”), Bobby Paltauf, a 13 year old guitar player, joins them on stage and absolutely blows our mind with his guitar shredding. Bobby appeared frequently in multiple School of Rock All Star shows over the weekend and left a lasting impression on the audience.
The Revivalists awoke us Friday with their show-stopping soul, David Shaw’s emotional voice like a trumpet resonating along with Rob Ingraham’s saxophone. The day continued a blissful, whimsical feeling, and skirts opened like colorful pinwheels as girls spun around with their hoops. The main stage was sprinkled with flowers decorating the hair of sun-kissed beach babes gathered to catch the moving energy of Railroad Earth. The band, who recently played Red Rocks Ampitheatre for their first time, gave us some gentle mid-tempo Americana songs such as “Lone Croft Farewell,” and “Mighty River” to sway back and forth to under the afternoon cloud cover. It is appropriate that while listening to a band whose name is based on a short story by Jack Kerouac that I should feel a lofty desire to write, so I walk the boardwalk a bit with Eric and stare out into the ocean with my notebook. The world melts away as we sit on the beach, and all we hear is the gentle lapping of the waves kissing against the rocks. Even through all the chaos of the festival constantly going on, we can look out to the water and remember the vast, quiet infinity that is our existence here together.
Galactic takes the stage at 4:30 to a screaming audience, and David Shaw joins them for a rousing performance of “Hey Na Na.” Tedeschi Trucks, who has recently been joined by Lettuce’s Eric Krasno, fills the air with bluesy sounds of Susan’s voice and Derek Truck’s astoundingly precise and furious guitar playing. Everyone was understandably most excited to see Phil Lesh & Friends, consisting tonight of Phil Lesh, John Kadlecik, Joe Russo, John Medeski, and John Scofield. I’ll admit I was skeptical of how the set would go when they opened with “Scarlet Begonias,” which Dark Star Orchestra played the night before. A few other songs got repeated, but the set closing “Uncle John’s Band” had me smiling, and “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” is always a nice surprise to hear. Eric made sure to sing along to the entirety of “Unbroken Chain,” and their encore of “Ripple” brings tears down faces and hands outstretched to the sky. After wiping our eyes and gathering our thoughts, we make our way through the tightly packed gates out of the main stage. The crowd is blackout thick for Deep Banana Blackout at the Green Vibes stage and their high energy “Too Funky” tunes gets everyone shaking. “Get Up Offa That Thing” they sing, playing a rendition of James Brown’s song that really does get everyone up and moving right on through a “Bulls on Parade” mash up and a long tease of a finish.
The folksy, harmony-driven tunes of Von Grey gently started our Saturday morning over at the Green Vibes stage. Some breakfast sandwiches were in order before seeing the legendary guitarist Steve Kimock, who played some feel-good covers like “Come Together” by The Beatles and “Take Me To The River” by Al Green. We get cozy on a picnic blanket and feel the breeze come off the water as we meet up with friends and wait to see the next band, Twiddle. The Vermont based reggae/jam band shreds with such fierce speed and stamina it feels like any moment they will spontaneously combust. After taking it to the breaking point, they snap back into sudden smooth dub beats to sooth your beating heart. The sun was shining brightly on all of us and we couldn’t be happier as we swayed our sweaty bodies to the beat.
Bringing Gov’t Mule to Gathering of the Vibes added a huge bonus to the already stellar lineup. It is rare that I go to Gov’t Mule shows anymore, making me crave Warren Haynes’ superb songwriting that’s perfect to sing along to. They started out by playing some songs from their new album Shout coming out September 24th joined by Bill Evans on stage with his saxophone. Gov’t Mule then proceeded to give me the rock I craved with songs like “Brokedown on the Brazzo” and “I’m a Ram.” We stick around with the Cooter Crew just a little longer making sure to just “shut up and dance,” but the cold that Eric has developed sends him back to the campsite to lie in front of a fan.
I venture out on my own to see Phil & Friends tonight, and I’m baffled at first by the navigation aspect of getting inside the crowd toward the stage. Being somewhat directionally challenged, I usually trust strictly following Eric in order to get me through. Vibes allows chairs and EZ-ups near the main stage, yet not in front of the soundboard, so weaving through walls of camp chairs poses some interesting problems as well. Through a lot of diligence I make it to my friends in time for “China Cat Sunflower,” one of my favorite songs to hear because of its ethereal psychedeclic riff. They close the first set with “I Know You Rider,” which has us all singing along. I hang around the ferris wheel during the second set while I watch a long line of people waiting to see the stage from the height of the glossy candy-colored ferris wheel booths. “New Speedway Boogie,” always gets me excited, then “Stella Blue” and “Not Fade Away” carries me into bliss. The whole world melts around me and all I hear is the sweet sounds of “Box of Rain” singing “Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there.” The harmonious lyrics hit a nerve as I could see the festival reaching the imminent Sunday, when all the harmony and happiness of the festival seems like it all raced past.
The entire weekend I had been waiting for one set in particular – the Papadosio sunrise set that they had also played last year. That moment in my memory is one of those untouchably perfect vacuums of time and space, a shining relic on the mantle like a snow globe with us trapped inside. We laughed and played with friends while Rob Garza and James Murphy spun DJ sets before 4AM, then gathered for the climax of the night. Papadosio quickly carried me away with their angelic synth and calming lyrics. “Don’t limit emotion, trade puddles for ocean,” they sing, only the gentle thumping of the bass able to bring my feet back to Earth. Eric is smiling through his sinus cold and I’m admiring a friend’s crystal collection while picking up abandoned glow sticks from the ground. A Flying Spaghetti Monster walks by and we all praise his noodliness. They declare they can only play one more, and I feel as though I might cry. They pull out “Snorkel” and I feel like it was just for me, I shimmy one last little dance before letting the night slip away.
Sunday had just as many powerhouse acts as the rest of the weekend, featuring Blues Traveler, John Butler Trio, Black Crowes, and more. The day was started with a World Peace Flag Ceremony, led by adults, children, and puppets alike. Everyone enjoyed their day even through a slight sprinkle, but I had to get my sniffling husband home. As the car pulled out and we waved goodbye to Seaside Park, a smiling passerby yells “How was it?” and I reply, “Perfect.”
View photo gallery here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/99357132@N03/sets/72157634882829833/
Additional photos from Gathering of the Vibes by Richele Cole here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16974274@N05/sets/72157634855675959/