Words by: Brian Bavosa :: Images by: Adam McCullough
Gathering of the Vibes :: 08.09.07 – 08.12.07 :: Seaside Park :: Bridgeport, CT
Twelve years to the day after the passing of Jerry Garcia, the longest running festival that draws on his inspiration opened its gates and welcomed another summer. This year, the 12th annual The Gathering of the Vibes, brainchild of Ken Hays, formerly of Terrapin Tapes, and Bob Kennedy, returned to a newly revamped Seaside Park. The Vibes was held at this scenic location on the Long Island Sound back in '99 and '00, after a few detours through other locales, mostly in upstate New York. With four full days of music it was time to slap on the sunscreen and conjure up the spirit of the man who left us 12 years ago.
| GOTV 2007|
When first stepping into Seaside Park, it's hard to not to be overwhelmed by the truly scenic surroundings. It is the perfect arrangement with two main stages directly next to each other – the Terrapin Stage and a green, cosmic Band Shell Stage that has been a staple of the park since being founded by circus maestro P.T. Barnum. Speaking of ringleaders, Wavy Gravy again made his presence felt by acting as occasional MC, and leader of the traveling circus known as the "Vibe Tribe" that attends the event each year.
In addition to the main stages, there were two others, the Solar Beach Stage located right by the entrance on the sand, which saw The Indobox, Fungus Amungus and others perform on Thursday. Another tradition, The Sound Stage, usually located in the non-profit village, saw dear friends of the Vibes, The Juggling Suns, The Kind Bids and David Gans perform throughout the weekend.
However, after U-Melt and John Brown's Body performed in the afternoon it was time for "The Tribute to Jerry", led by Dark Star Orchestra. No matter what your stance on tribute bands, these guys do the Grateful Dead cannon justice. From the first set closing "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot" > "Franklin's Tower" to the downright disco sounding "Dancing in the Streets," it was clear on this night that the "music played the band," and they certainly had a little help from above. Parts of this show were highlighted by the first of many appearances by Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay.
| DSO :: GOTV 2007|
DSO offered one of, if not, the strongest performance of the entire weekend. The second set was unique and powerful, while being perfectly played and spanning the entire repertoire of songs and eras. If nothing else, it set the bar high for the rest of the weekend. A fitting "Ripple" sent us on our way, with one final Jerry smile echoing throughout the final line: "If I knew the way, I would take you home." This Thursday at the Vibes Jerry certainly led us there.
Unlike the previous day, there was hardly a breather set on the main stages at any point. Fast rising stars Tea Leaf Green exploded with their West Coast, fun-loving rock, with veterans Steve Kimock, Greg Anton, Martin Fierro and the rest of Zero close on their heels. Zero's set featured favorites such as "Catalina" and "Chance in a Million," and even had an introduction from Wavy Gravy, which had many seeing psychedelic elephants courtesy of this far, far out circus.
| Trevor Garrod - TLG :: GOTV 2007|
Railroad Earth slowed things down a little with their bluegrass picking, followed by the drawl of ex-Allman Brother Dickey Betts and his band, Great Southern.
The second official member of the Grateful Dead family to play throughout the weekend was Mickey Hart. He led his all-star ensemble consisting of Kimock, Godchaux-MacKay, former Deep Banana Blackout singer Jen Durkin, and The Meters' bassist George Porter Jr. through such nuggets as the rap-version of "Fire on the Mountain."
The climax Friday night came with the one-two punch of funk pioneers, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and hometown heroes Deep Banana Blackout. Clinton and company "tore the roof of the sucka," and even though Clinton has lost a little pop over the years he still managed to get folks dancing. When DBB hit the stage, in full suits, and with Sam Kininger on the sax, they sounded as dapper as they looked. Their set was a tribute to James Brown. Tearing through the Godfather's catalog, DBB proved that if Clinton has gotten too tired to carry the funk torch, they would have no problem running the next leg of the race. Mix that with a powerful homecoming - DBB hails from Bridgeport - and Friday night's blowout was more than enough to push away the pouring rain that came earlier in the day, and keep the masses warm when temperatures dipped low. I can just picture Jerry and James Brown together side by side in the heavens after these tributes.
| George Clinton :: GOTV 2007|
Plain and simple, Saturday was a day for GOTV veterans. Strangefolk, Assembly of Dust, Donna Jean & the Tricksters, Les Claypool and Bob Weir & RatDog all graced the stage.
Highlights included Reid Genauer and AOD's take on Oasis' "Champagne Supernova" and a set closing "Roads." Strangefolk offered a high-energy set that brought me back full circle to their performances here in '99 and '00, ironically enough, when Genauer was still the frontman. Godchaux-MacKay led the Tricksters through their first-ever take of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," which was very well received. Keller Williams closed out the afternoon. As has been the standard this summer, Keller was joined by Weir for several tunes including "Brown Eyed Women" and "Scarlet Begonias."
| Keller Williams :: GOTV 2007|
Some of the most anticipated performances still lay ahead that evening. A near mirror image of the night sets here in 2000; Saturday was closed out by Claypool and RatDog. Claypool's set was everything the man represents - captivating, thumping and borderline scary. Wearing his patented pig mask, Claypool played a bassjo, which is a mix between a banjo and a bass. It featured Claypool's typical slap bass but with a twist that almost had him playing lead lines. His set even managed to throw in a pronounced "Other One" tease in a nod to what would follow a little later. The set eventually saw entrances by RatDog's Jay Lane, Jeff Chimenti, both of whom have worked with Claypool in the past, and Kenny Brooks. They ran through "D's Diner" and an encore of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."
RatDog was the final band of the evening, and kicked off their first set with a jam that morphed into the always-welcome "Shakedown Street." However, that would be one of the few high points since the next three hours were a little flat, slow, and, at times, lifeless. Not an entirely bad performance but I felt the crowd was ready to rock a bit more than Weir wanted to. One bright spot was the crystal clear guitar work of Kimock, who was still subbing for ailing guitarist Mark Karan this summer. Keller emerged for "Eyes of the World," and Godchaux-MacKay took honors for most time logged on stage over the weekend after lending her voice to a cover of "Come Together," "Ripple" (so what if it was played twice, on this of all weekends!) and the obvious call, "One More Saturday Night," which finished things with a frenzy.
| Bob Weir :: GOTV 2007|
Overall, Saturday stood out as a most enjoyable day, with perfect weather, a slight breeze from the water, and most of the acts that have come to define the Vibes over the past decade-plus.
Sunday's lineup was exactly what it should be - somewhat lazy, very eclectic and sprinkled with the divine. Opening up with a very interesting set by Kevin Hays, brother of festival promoter Ken, he explored the world of jazz on piano for the early risers. Rounded out by a full band, this was a nice way to kick off the final day.
| The Wailers :: GOTV 2007|
Martin Sexton delighted fans with a light, fluffy set. It is undeniable the influence this man has had on Keller over the years, as their sounds are very similar. I spent most of his set in the shade of the VIP tent, sipping a few frosty brews and letting his voice carry my closed eyes and head to a more peaceful paradise.
If island paradises were what you were looking for there was a makeshift version at the Solar Stage, where jam and pop got together, had a child and named it Scarecrow Collection. A very focused, fun local band, they carried over the good vibe from Sexton as my feet dug into the sand during their cover of "Mustang Sally." The Breakfast, who have also made a name for themselves in the Connecticut area over the past few years, followed. I stuck around to see a little of their guitar shredding set until I was called back to the main stage for the infectious reggae of The Wailers. If I thought I would escape Sunday free of religious music, I was wrong. True to their brother, Bob Marley, The Wailers knocked out hit after hit and soothed the soul with the powerful words of Jah.
| Buddy Guy :: GOTV 2007|
Another undeniable highlight of this year's Vibes was Buddy Guy, the weekend's last act on the Bandshell Stage. Guy's polka dotted guitar and blues licks are something that I consider a "must hear." His set even included nods to Jimi Hendrix (a "Voodoo Chile" tease) and Eric Clapton. The main stage was closed out by Los Lobos, easily earning Sunday the medal for "most eclectic day." Their oft-played take on "Bertha" was a nice way to cap off this Grateful Dead heavy weekend.
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