For four days, droves of Deadheads from all over the country came together to camp out at a beautiful seaside park in Connecticut and resurrect the familiar “family” that followed the Grateful Dead for years. The annual assembly is called the Gathering of the Vibes and for the past 18 years it has successfully kept the spirit of Jerry Garcia the Grateful Dead alive on the east coast.
Thursday has always been pretty much a travel day. The streets buzzed with traffic and early arrivals got a chance to survey the grand venue without the heavy crowds that soon followed. People flooded in through the gates while a sea of tents and tarps took shape in the two campgrounds that flank the stage area. Vibes veterans, Dark Star Orchestra, laid the soundtrack to the scene as everyone slowly settled in their spot.
Friday opened up to clear skies and sun, and the festival was in full swing by noon. On the second stage, the New Orleans based band, The Revivalists, got the growing crowds jamming in the afternoon with its soulful rock sound; generating a big buzz that would circulate the festival throughout the weekend. Revivalists frontman, David Shaw, also later performed with the band, Galactic, on the main stage. Friday evening was all about Phil Lesh and Friends, who performed one Grateful Dead classic after another in two sets that went until one in the morning.
The next day, Bridgeport, Connecticut's own Cosmic Jibaros got everyone up and moving early on the second stage with some very danceable Latin grooves. Saturday's lineup, all together, was stacked with great music. The main stage featured a rockin' afternoon performance by the Roots, which was followed by equally explosive performances by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Govt Mule and two more stellar sets from Phil Lesh and Friends. After Phil had finished on the main stage, the second stage featured DJs pumping beats until wee hours in the morning. For those who wanted a different kind of psychedelic late night experience, a “Silent Disco” was also held on the beach where about a hundred and fifty people all strapped on headphones and wildly danced to the same music under the moonlight.
When Sunday rolled around the dynamic of the festival community changed a bit. Some people were breaking down camp and heading home early, though this year saw many more campers stick around for the entire day than in previous years. This is likely because Sunday's lineup was just as solid as Saturday's. Along with many other acts, Sunday's crowd enjoyed a string of solid sets by Blues Traveler, John Butler Trio, Fishbone and the Black Crowes.
When the Black Crowes had finished its set, the mighty weekend officially came to a close and all remaining members of the “Vibe Tribe” headed back to their campsites to pack up shop until next year. People who were strangers before the weekend were hugging each other, exchanging numbers and making plans to meet up at next year's fest. Everyone was still happy and peaceful. And though the community slowly separated throughout the day on Sunday, the Gathering of the Vibes will remain an annual beacon to all those who still believe in the power of peace and love and music.
- Words and photos by Scott Perham
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