After Jerry Garcia's tragic death in 1995, the Gathering of the Vibes music festival was founded as a celebration of the legend and all of his music, and to help fill the void in the broken hearts of every Deadhead now left without their “Captain.” Twenty years later, the Gathering of the Vibes is still celebrating Garcia and the wake of musicians he has influenced, and in turn welcoming a brand new generation of music enthusiasts into the fold of the Grateful Dead family.
Billy and the Kids
This year, the festival returned to the beautiful Seaside Park in Bridgeport, CT for an anniversary that would have made Garcia proud. The four-day event featured onsite camping, two stages, the beach, vendors galore and an extensive list of amazing artists including Warren Haynes, Gregg Allman, Wilco, Ben Harper, The String Cheese Incident and the Grateful Dead's own Billy Kreutzmann with his new band, Billy and the Kids.
The weekend started out wet with heavy rain rolling in on Thursday when most of the early birds were arriving and setting up camp. Thursday always starts out a bit mellower and the weather enabled a good portion of campers to get familiar with their neighbors and dial in their new accommodations for the next few days. For those people who grabbed their ponchos and danced right through the puddles up to the main stage, they were treated to an evening of tight tunes by veteran jam bands, Max Creek and the Dark Star Orchestra.
The rain diminished throughout the evening and by Friday morning the sun had risen to illuminate a more crowded campground than the night before. The Vermont-based quartet, Twiddle, opened up the main stage with an eclectic mix of rock, reggae and jazz, and by noon the area in front of the stage was already filling up. Fans continued to file in on Friday and by the time Gregg Allman hit the stage later in the afternoon, the place was packed. Allman's performance turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire festival, and not just because he played a bunch of Allman Brothers tunes including “Whipping Post”, “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider.” The reason his performance was so captivating was the way he played and sang. Many artists that have been around for decades start to sound old and weathered and a bit rough around the edges. That is to be expected, and most fans accept that and still are able to thoroughly enjoy the show. In Allman's case however, his voice was as rich and resonant as it was in the ‘70s, and he played his solid set with the vigor of an emerging artist. The quality of his performance struck me as out of the ordinary for any artist his age and the campsites appeared to be abuzz with the same sentiments all weekend long.
Following Allman's stellar set was another pleasant surprise. The String Cheese Incident treated the crowd to a reunion of sorts of Jerry Garcia's infamous bluegrass project, Old & in the Way. The band brought out Garcia's longtime collaborators Peter Rowan and David Grisman for a list of familiar tunes including a cover of The Grateful Dead’s classic, “Ripple.”
The Green Vibes stage was the place to be on Saturday morning as the roaming quartet, Primate Fiasco, made their way from the sidewalks to the stage for an upbeat blend of New Orleans-inspired jazz and rock. The veteran rockers, New Riders of the Purple Sage, followed the Fiasco and kept the seaside jumping with classic rock favorites including their big hit “Panama Red.” Later in the afternoon, Connecticut's own, Deep Banana Blackout, funked it up with an energy-packed performance that got the main stage area riled up for another great day of music. Grateful Dead's drummer, Kruetzmann, brought his latest project, Billy and the Kids, to the main stage after, and the sea of stoked fans danced all around the venue to their version of a list of Grateful Dead classics. Late night on Saturday featured the Warren Haynes/Wilco sandwich, which included a set by Warren Haynes and the Gaslight Anthem, followed by a solid Wilco performance, capped off with a another set by Warren Haynes and the Seaside Allstars, As always, Saturday night continued into the wee hours of the morning with music and dancing flowing all night long.
Sunday's lineup kept most fans around for the duration of the day. Per usual, the day started out with the world peace flag ceremony in which fans and the festival's emcee, Wavy Gravy, held flags and communally sent out positive vibes for peace in every country in the world, one by one. The music immediately started after the beautiful ceremony and bands, including Weezer and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, finally brought the fantastic festival to a close.
String Cheese Incident
For it's 20 year reunion, the Gathering of the Vibes once again proved that the music of the Grateful Dead is still as poignant as ever, and possibly more important, that the “family” is still intact—and growing. Many of the people who were there this year were there the year before, and will be there again next year. Surprisingly, many of the people in attendance have been there for nearly every one of its 20 years. It is this ongoing support combined with the uncanny sense of community that continues to make the Gathering of the Vibes one of the most unique music festivals in the country.
Text and photos by Scott Perham
*Disclaimer: The words expressed in photo blog reviews do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Music Connection Magazine.