Twenty years of existence in the music festival circuit is virtually unheard of. Most modern festivals, such as Coachella and Bonnaroo, have been active for hardly a decade, but that barely scratches the surface of the legacy that Gathering of the Vibes has built since its establishment in 1996.
What started out as a remembrance for Jerry Garcia, frontman of the Grateful Dead, by Deadhead Ken Hayes and promoter Bob Kennedy has turned into a four-day music extravaganza filled with not only traces of its Jerry-inspired roots, but also celebrations of music, art and camaraderie. Along the way, Vibes has hosted a plethora of musicians that include Furthur, The Rhythm Devils, Nas, James Brown, The Disco Biscuits and many others.
I first became a VibeTriber last summer when I went to catch Dispatch, completely unaware of the culture I was stepping into. My ticket was for only the last day of Vibes, but I was going to make the most out of it.
Upon entering the hippie-infested zone of Seaside Park in Bridgeport (the home of Vibes for the past decade), the tunes of Ziggy Marley beckoned to me. Immediately, I knew the vibes were special, and that the spirit of Jerry was with me. The music was mind-numbing as jam bands took over the stages and the gentle crowds welcomed me as one of their own.
Excitement for this year’s festival is palpable. They rolled out the lineup in February. Being the 20th anniversary of the festival, Hayes didn’t scale down the festival’s size. Instead, he opted for bigger and better.
While Vibes is notorious for their jam band atmosphere, this year has veered a bit with bands like alt-rock roarers, The Gaslight Anthem and the legendary alt-country band Wilco, which also happens to be celebrating its 20th anniversary. Especially noticeable in the lineup is the addition of the garage rockers, Weezer, who have been kicking ass and taking names since 1994 and recently put out the critically praised album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End.
The headliners are some of the strongest in Vibes history. Joining Wilco and Weezer at the top are Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, who have recently regrouped. Based on their performance at Boston Calling, the Criminals will shake the audience to its core. The String Cheese Incident will also be performing a set of original compositions coupled with homages to Grateful Dead classics, as voted by VibeTribers.
The must-see performance of the festival is no doubt Warren Haynes, who has brought together a motley crew of fantastic musicians that includes Branford Marsalis and Joe Russo to form the Seaside All-Stars. This one’s on Saturday, so if you have to pick just one day, make it that one.
While the headliners are fantastic, don’t discount the undercard names like Tedeschi Trucks Band (Derek Trucks of The Allman Brothers Band), Twiddle, Kung Fu and Trevor Hall. The single most underrated name on the lineup is Billy & the Kids, made up of Billy Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead and various compatriots. I was lucky enough to catch one of the last Grateful Dead shows at Soldier Field not too long ago. Judging from his extraordinary percussion abilities during “Drums” at the show, you’d be a fool to skip this.
I could go on all day about how amazing this festival is but I need YOU to become one with the VibeTribe and make the pilgrimage to Bridgeport to experience the festival that will open your spirit to an incredible and ineffable energy.