There is an ideal destination location proven to permeate a plethora of benevolent vibes – a festival in Bridgeport, Connecticut called Gathering of the Vibes is full of benevolent folks adoringly called “The Vibe Tribe.” The festival steeped out of the Grateful Dead tradition, people with strong values and good souls gathered to share love and the enjoyment of music at the 19th annual event located just 1.5 hours northeast of New York City for four days and three nights over July 31st-August 3rd, 2014.
Vibes commenced in 1996, originally called “Deadhead Heaven”, as a musical response to fill the void from the passing of Jerry Garcia. In 1997, the moniker was changed to “Gathering of the Vibes.” The music and atmosphere are rooted in the tradition set forth by Garcia and his Grateful Dead brethren. Thus it was fitting that the second day of this year’s fest fell on his 70th birthday. In an era where new festivals are feverishly popping up each week, Vibes remains a trailblazer. Held in six different venues over its 19 years, 2014 marks the festival’s tenth trip to Bridgeport. The vast 370-acre Seaside Park, donated by legendary promoter and former Bridgeport mayor P.T. Barnum, provides strips of bouncy beaches, long lawns and panoramic views of Long Island sound. One can camp along the outskirts of the beach and enjoy epic views and cool winds.
By all accounts, this year’s offering blessed us with arguably the greatest line-up of the year for jam aficionados, and it didn’t disappoint – with the weekend flowing well with an intense focus on quality music. GOTV 2014 delivered. Although rooted in the jam sphere, including Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee, Twiddle, Dark Star Orchestra and moe., there was a litany of deep and diverse offerings to the varied lineup with jamtronica acts The Disco Biscuits (with special guests Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart) and Lotus sharing a Talking Heads set, and reggae offerings that included Ziggy Marley and Slightly Stoopid and funk delivered by Dumpstaphunk, Deep Banana Blackout, Kung Fu and Orgone. Dancing in the Streets weekend long outfits included The Brummy Brothers, Primate Fiasco and the Funky Dawgz Brass Band while Stanley Jordan was tapped as the Artist-at-Large. When asked about how he makes the lineup so impressive, owner Ken Hays has claimed, “It is a result of sorting through thousands of comments and survey responses; we hope to deliver an experience that keeps our core fans happy while remaining diverse and current.”
The people-watching opportunities at Vibes are legendary with beautiful sights and smiles abound. The energy is palpable and the sharing of love is abundant as one can wander for hours and be stimulating to the core in a pleasant manner. One can enjoy the vast vending and food options, walk through refreshing water mist stations, take a ride on the enormous ferris wheel, or simply stroll by the beach. When one is recharging at the campground they can still hone in on the happenings on the main stage by listening to FM radio 89.5. Ticket prices were relatively on the high spectrum for this weekend music festival, but ultimately worth every penny. The music was abundantly strong and consistent through the weekend.
Thursday, July 31st
Ryan Monbleau delivered the goods at his 10th Vibes, Strangefolk was back yet again to satisfy hardcore fans while making new ones, Dark Star Orchestra opened the first night on the Main stage with impeccable energy and gusto with Stanley Jordan siting in on “Bird Song”, Dopapod played an incendiary late night set that included Kung Fu’s Todd Stoops on their popular jam, “Trapper Keeper.”
Friday, August 1st
Friday was a non-stop sensory overload of quality music. Keller Williams performed with guests Jeff Austin and Reed Mathis for a bevy of varied Grateful Dead covers including “Feel Like a Stranger”, “Scarlet Begonias” and “Shakedown Street.” Slightly Stoopid brought the soothing reggae rhythms and a take on Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre.” John Fogerty satisfied Creedence lovers with a greatest hits package that included “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Born On The Bayou,” “Looking Out My Backdoor,” “Long As I Can See The Light,” “Suzy Q,” “Down On The Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” “Proud Mary” and “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” Janis Joplin’s spiritual doppleganger, Jen Durkin, led Deep Banana Blackout through a frenzied late night funk barrage.
Twiddle : 11:00am : Main Stage
There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a quickly-ascending band blow up. 2014 has been the year of Twiddle. Road warriors, they have been on a relentless all encompassing tour and have garnered a loyal and rabid fan base known as “Twidiots” who are very vocal on their informative“I-Twiddle” facebook page. Veterans of the last two Vibes, the band finally earned a spot at the main stage and delivered a raucous set to perhaps the biggest crowd to fill such an early time slop. Playing in support of their recent release, Live at Nectars, Brook Jordan (drums), Zdenek Gubb (bass), Ryan Dempsey (keys), and Mihali Savoulidis (guitar/vocals) foraged through a jam-laden set the tantalized the senses. Led by guitar maestro Mihali, a highlight was the reggae-tinged, “Latin Tang” which included stellar brass work by Kenny Brooks. It was immensely satisfying to hear Mihali’s voice first thing in the morning as it remains as soothing and smooth as flowing clear honey. At one point Gubbs was scene holding a giant piece of faux-bacon which was ironic considering the music was smokin’.
Set List: Daydream Farmer, Latin Tang, Frankenfoote, Beehop, Polluted Beauty. Hatti’s Jam, Be There
Bobby Paltauf Band : 12:15pm : School of Rock
14 year old guitar phenom, Bobby Paltauf, is a rare current example of a teenager who plays with soul and an infectious enthusiasm. Like the other young acts which preceded him, Paltauf’s reputation is solidly built on talent and not merely as a novelty adolescent act. The Bobby Paltauf Band delivered a blistering show at the School of Rock tent. Although Bobby has outgrown the adolescent tent eons ago, it was good to see him so successfully inspiring his peers. Paltauf has played with some of the genre’s finest including Dumpstaphunk, Twiddle, Stanton Moore and Buddy Guy and is currently playing behind his Lost and Found record release. Bobby led his troups though an electrifying set of originals like “Lost and Found” and a unqiue take on “Eleanor Rigby.” Guitar wizard Mihali Savoulidis from Twiddle came out during fan favorite, “Black Rock” and the guitar clinic was on as they segued into a mesmerizing “2001” that included a bombastic crescendo. Rob Compa also dropped in to support the next generation of guitar stalwarts and they shared an intense call and response session. The highlight was the fiery set closer, “Eminence Front” that included Compa, Jen “Pipes” Durkin and the Funky Dawgs Brass band. Bobby is adept at song writing and a guitar maestro and one to keep an eye on as he keeps a busy touring schedule.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead :: 4:15pm :: Main Stage
In a rare performance, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead impressed a frenzied afternoon main stage crowd of joyous revelers who were provided an exquisite opportunity to dance and sing along again with their favorite songs of improvisational music covering the greatest jam band in musical history. The core four of JRAD are Joe Russo (drums/Furthur), Marco Benevento (keys), Dave Dreiwitz (bass/Ween) and Scott Metzger (guitar/Wolf!) and they are no strangers to delivering stellar tributes as they have been skewering Led Zeppelin tunes for a decade with Bustle in Your Hedgrow. With this incarnation, they add the talented Tom Hamilton (guitar/Brothers Past) to forge a dual-guitar attack. There are 324 Grateful Dead cover bands in the U.S. according to www.gratefuldeadtributebands.com, which include quality outfits like Furthur, Dark Star Orchestra, Reflections, Splintered Sunlight, Dead Sessions and Stella Blues Band. However, none is ultimately as fulfilling as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.
With original Grateful Dead members in Furthur, there is an expectation that can’t be realistically fulfilled, whereas JRAD surprises with crackling energy and new innovative approaches to the classics. The band commenced the much-hyped show to an anticipatory and excitable crowd with the old classic “Uncle John’s Band”, that didn’t emulate the Dead’s known takes, but rather pushed the envelope into new unknown worlds in a seamless fashion as everyone was offered a chance to solo and experiment with new directions as the sound engulfed Vibes with the band so impeccably in synch as a cohesive unit.
Set List: Jam>Uncle John’s Band> Lazy Lightning> Supplication Jam St. Stephen> The Eleven> Casey Jones> Deal Magnificent Sanctuary Band> Reuben & Cherise> Eyes Of The World*> Supplication Reprise#> Uncle John’s Reprise
Lotus : 10:45pm ;; Main Stage
Luke Miller (keys/guitar), Jesse Miller (bass), Mike Greenfield (drums), Chuck Morris (percussion) and Mike Rempel (guitar) have been satisfying audiences since their inception at Goshen College in Indiana in 1999. Unlike their genre contemporaries, who they are consistently lumped in with, Lotus brings a more diverse and varied sound as evidenced in the new repertoire of music released on 2013′s Build. A live touring juggernaut, they perform over 100 shows a year, complete with a stellar light show experience. With a beat and melody that is unpredictable and a distinct, Lotus is jamtronica at its finest, a musical force known to pummel your senses and leave one gasping from air from the relentless euphoric grooves. With an unpredictable pace and style, they share a unique sound with a slow build-up, that ultimately leads to a monumental crescendo that allows participants to bask in its afterglow as evidenced by a riveting and lengthy take on their popular anthem, “Spiritalize.”
Friday night’s show was special as they took the task of covering a plethora of quirky Talking Heads’ classics. They strangely mostly steered away from the most popular offerings in the catalog but “Found a Job” from More Songs about Buildings and Food was spectacular. The band was fronted by guest vocalist, Gabriel Otto, who plays in the Colorado band, Pan Astral. Otto was a riveting and effective David Byrne – even dressing up and using body gestures accordingly. The Talking Heads have been off the musical landscape for so long, it was pleasurable to hear the songs livein in such a professional manner. Lotus initially wanted to play Brian Eno songs so we can only be thankful they nixed that obscure idea for the more pleasurable Talking Heads display. The highlight was the soothing version of “This Must Be the Place” which is one of the greatest songs ever written and Lotus did it more than justice.
Set List: Pull Up the Roots (w/ Suitcases tease), Moon Rocks, The Great Curve, Middle Road, Found a Job > Shimmer and Out, I Zimbra*^ > Spiritualize^, Warning Sign, What Did I Do Wrong, Born Under Punches > Golden Ghost > Crosseyed and Painless& (w/ Flower Sermon tease) E. Gilded Age, This Must Be the Place
* American Babies on additional vocals
^ Tommy Hamilton on guitar & Jason Hann on percussion
Saturday, August 2nd
Veterans Leftover Salmon brought the bluegrass and guest Bill Payne from Little Feat led a bouncy “Dixie Chicken” and “Oh Atlalnta.” Kung Fu showed of the guitar chops of Tim Palmieri and shared a new song called “Chin Music”, while Umprhrey’s McGee satiated their fervent fan base with an energetic set that included Stanley Jordan for “Hajimemashite” before closing with a solid cover of Tool’s “46 & 2.” Widespread Panic jammed over their time limit and included a cover of JJ Cale’s “Travelin Light” with a sit in by Col. Bruce Hampton.
Dumpstaphunk :: 6pm :: Green Vibes Stage
Dumpstaphunk are quality veteran musicians who know how to throw a party proper. With Ivan Neville (keys), Tony Hall (bass), Nick Daniels III (bass), Nikki Glaspie (drums), and Ian Neville (guitar) providing the infections grooves, one is forced to gyrate and jam for the full set. The band is unique is its powerful dual-bassed attack of Hall and Daniels, while getting stylized vocals and key playing from Ivan and the seemingly effortless guitar frenzy provided by Ian. The set was noteworthy for many as the last opportunity they may see of heavy-hitting all-star drummer Glaspie in the band as she has recently announced she will be departing the band soon to focus on her other project, The Nth Power. The fireball didn’t disappoint and dropped the heavy beats from behind the skins throughout. Labeled with contemporaries like Galactic and Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk again proved they are the masters of their genre.
Set List: Dancin to the Truth, Blueswave, If I’m in luck, Reality of the Situation, I Wish You Would, I Know You Know, Meanwhile, Water, Lt Dan, Ramble On
The Disco Biscuits :: 11:45pm :: Main Stage
There is often a divide between Disco Biscuits fans and those that admire the Grateful Dead. So it was amazing to see the two iconic bands join forces for a unique and special performance. Although the Philadelphia based Biscuits played a few songs out of their own catalog, most fans were salivating for the main event, “Disco Devils” in reference to the name, “Rhythm Devils” which is the nickname for the two Grateful Dead drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. The drumming legends came out to participate in a series of Dead classics including a lengthy and jam heavy, “Eyes of the World” and an intense “The Other One.” The singing was underwhelming, but that was not one’s focus when such succinct and eloquent jamming was taking place. Disco Biscuit’s bassist, Marc Brownstein has been quoted, “The Grateful Dead are the patriarchs of our entire scene, The Dead’s approach, business model, and concert format have been adopted by every jam band since. They set the standard.” At a festival that celebrates the music and lifestyle the Grateful Dead set forth, it was satisfying to witness the Biscuits collaborating in such successful fashion and creating musical magic which culminated in an ironic version of “And We Bid You Goodnight” complete with a choir.
Set List: Story Of The World > I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing > Confrontation > Home Again* > West LA Fadeaway *, I Know You Rider *, Eyes of the World * > The Other One > Shakedown Street > Viola Lee Blues , I-Man
Sunday, August 3rd
Maceo Parker brought his professional brass musings, the McLovins proved they belong with a mighty euphoric set. Ziggy Marley represented Rastafarianism and his father in a reggae romp for the ages, while moe. delivered the jam goods, and Dispatch closed the festival in style.
Brummy Brothers :: 3:00am :: Beach alcove
The Brummy Brothers had a daunting take over the weekend and they delivered in spades. They had a roaming commission – seen all over the venue sporadically at random times to deliver the Americana goods. The four young men from New Jersey have been on a tear of late and have played at a myriad of festivals far and near. The crowds have been getting bigger as the skill level of the outfit is no longer a secret. Despite enlisting some members through Craigslist, Dave Brumberg (bass), Eric Brumberg (mandolin), Andrew Morris (guitar) and Russell Gottlieb (banjo) play uber-effectively as a unit and know each others’ tendencies well. They vary writing and lead singing duties, but are perhaps most effective when harmonizing as a unit as evidenced in “600 Miles to Boston.” “Cell Phone Blues” and “On Our Way” are catchy originals that will have you tappin’ your toes or frenetically dancing, and Floyd covers of “Money” and “Have a Cigar” resonate deeply as one gets lost in the relentless smooth groove.
Gathering of the Vibes presented an exemplary barrage of quality musical acts and a spectacular escape for many.