Gathering of the Vibes :: 8.12 - 8.14 :: Mariaville, NY
Words & Images by: John Smrtic
Just over ten years ago, fellow Deadheads joined in sorrow and solidarity in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to mark the passing of iconic Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Back here on the East Coast, a mass gathering permit for Jerry mourners, or better yet, Jerry's life celebrators, was denied for New York City's Central Park. In comes proud owner of Terrapin Tapes, Ken Hays, who together with Dupree's Diamond News, assembled "Deadhead Heaven: A Gathering of the Tribe" on Memorial Day, 1996, at SUNY-Purchase College. The commemoration of Garcia's life and music continued with a similar event the following year, as the newly dubbed "Gathering of the Vibes" took up residence in Croton Point Park. After a stop in Red Hook, the Gathering of the Vibes has found a semi-permanent home at the Indian Lookout Country Club in quaint and lovely Mariaville, New York – home to the annual Camp Creek fest and also to a large Harley Rendezvous.
After a scaled-back 2004 Gathering, Hayes, now out of the tape/CD trading industry and focusing solely on productions, along with the rest of the Terrapin family, planned and pulled off a spectacular 2005 Gathering of the Vibes, or "GOTV" for short. With the likes of Bob Weir and Ratdog, A Jerry tribute with Dark Star Orchestra and many very special guests including, Keller Williams, Medeski Martin & Wood, John Scofield, Ominous Seapods, and a Deep Banana Blackout reunion, the Gathering ended up being a MAJOR East Coast festival draw. With estimates of nearly 10,000 attendees this year over the three day span, it seems that Hayes and crew have re-injected a breath of life back into one of the country's premiere festivals.
FRIDAY :: 08.12.05 :: DAY ONE
The Lookout, now in its familiar fourth year as GOTV host, serves as a wonderful backdrop for such festivities with its open fields, rolling hills, rural-country locale and feel, and even a nearby lake. To mixed blessings, the rough and tough Harley dudes provide security for the event, the venue being their home turf. On one hand, it's much better to have the biker boys rather than the cops searching your personal belongings and patrolling the grounds. On the other hand, many of these grizzly and hardened bikers don't understand the concept of peaceful, fun-loving gatherings... and the idea of personal, private property for that matter either. Add in three consecutive days of 90-plus degrees, mad humidity, and some damn fine vending, food, beer, and people, and BANG - the stage is set for the 2005 Gathering.
Wavy Gravy :: GOTV 2005
Of course, the Gathering wouldn't be vibin' without perennial master of ceremonies, Wavy Gravy. Wavy is one of the increasingly rare relics/survivors of The Great Acid Wave, and his tales in-between sets certainly proved that.
The Zen Tricksters got the opening Friday off to a nice start, beginning the event in true Dead fashion. After opening with Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," the Tricksters moved into Jerry mode busting out "Reuben & Cherise" and "Beat it on Down the Line" followed by "I'll Take a Melody" with Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay. By the time Assembly of Dust took the stage in the early evening, most campers were settled and situated, yet the grounds were spacious enough so that there was no elbowing for a great spot to let the tunes take over. Reid Genauer really has AoD firing on all cylinders, and the set was thoroughly enjoyable. This band definitely has more of an edge than Strangefolk, the front man's former band, though perhaps less poppy and groovier, with a touch of 70's rock and soul. Genauer's soothing, golden voice and amazing storytelling ability were on display for "Samuel Aging." Nate Wilson, who doubles as Percy Hill's keyboard man, laid down a memorable solo during "Aging" and took a beautiful lead on piano for "Stouthearted." Guitarist Adam Terrell sparkled with great solos on "Honey Creepers" and laid down the law on closer "Amplified Messiah."
Assembly of Dust :: GOTV 2005
The Jam Stage was only a few minutes walk from the main stage at the rear of the concert field and hosted numerous explosive performances throughout the weekend. Leo Nocentelli, blazing guitarist from the Original Meters, laid down a soulful, kick ass set as dusk now fully gave way to the thick, dark, cloudy night sky. Observing Nocentelli was a real treat, his mouth and nose contorting, legs spread wide like a tripod base, back bent, as the large, imposing figure laid out a rock-tinged funk sound. Nocentelli will get to display his chops again soon as the Original Meters are back for a reunion and tour, most notably with Art Neville, Zigaboo Modeliste, George Porter, Jr., and Nocentelli hitting the inaugural Vegoose festival in Las Vegas.
Leo Nocentelli :: GOTV 2005
The main event Friday, however, would be Jerry's comrade and fellow Dead guitarist Bob Weir with his band Ratdog. Now say what you will about Bobby, but the last few years have brought tight, thoroughly enjoyable Ratdog shows. So spirits (amongst other things) were high when the boys from the Bay took the stage around ten pm. After a brief intro tuning jam, Ratdog dropped into a raucous "Bertha," jump starting the frenetic, gleeful crowd. Space within good viewing distance was now more of a precious commodity than before, but the vibe remained chill and the energy aloft as Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay graced the stage to add her characteristic vocals to both "Bertha" and a stirring "Cassidy," which followed. Kenny Brooks, who is responsible for much of Ratdog's unique identity, was super strong on saxophone for these numbers but stood out especially on a jazzy "Dark Star." A slowed, funkified "West LA Fadeaway" was another stellar offering in the early going as well.
Bob Weir with Ratdog :: GOTV 2005
Midway through the long, single Ratdog set, both the band and Mother Nature would tweak the intensity knobs to full tilt. A slow, steady drizzle turned into an all-out downpour as "October Queen" evolved into a serious, skull-thumping rock and roll jam, finally delivering "Truckin'." By this point of the steamy Friday night, the lightning was more impressive than a fireworks display; the crowd would roar louder than the thunder when a not so lazy lightning bolt would zig zag across the evening's blackness. Appropriately, and to more audience appreciation, "The Wheel" would be next, featuring Donna Jean for the fitting chorus, "If the thunder don't get ya then the lightning will."
The segue would continue for the rest of the show as "Help on the Way" became "Slipknot!" Weir delivered the goods on the ensuing "Dear Prudence," and the show would come full circle, rain now stopped, as Ratdog went back in for second helpings and finished both "Dark Star" and "Cassidy" from early on in the show. And not to disappoint those familiar with the "holy" trilogy, "Franklin's Tower" helped slip the fans into a perfect state of mind as Night One of the Vibes came to an end.
John Brown's Body :: GOTV 2005
Well, the night wasn't quite over yet for those with any gas left in the tank. Well after 1 am, Ithaca's dub reggae superstars John Brown's Body would deliver an ultra-danceable, highly-spirited set into the wee hours of the morning. For my money, JBB offers the most original roots sound this side of the Caribbean, displaying their versatility by switching to deep dub at the drop of a hat. Spreading the message of Jah and love, the veteran band may just be Tompkin County's funkiest export.
SATURDAY :: 08.13.05 :: DAY TWO
As amazing as Day Two of Gathering of the Vibes would be, one musician rose to the top of the explosive mixture of talent – Keller Williams. With the early afternoon sun pulsating down, heavy, palpable humidity lingering, and temperatures well over 90 degrees, K Dub remained as cool as a cucumber as he kicked the heat up a notch with his scintillating guitar playing technique and vast, eclectic songbook. Williams's "Tribe" gave a nod to the festival title and got a rise out of the audience as he asked, "Give to me your energy. Can I subscribe to your vibe?"
Keller Williams :: GOTV 2005
Keller put an unusual, yet welcomed spin on many of the songs in his repertoire. Crowd favorite "Kidney in a Cooler," was delivered in a hyperspeed, bluegrass style. Also played blazingly fast was the incredible segue, "Inhale to the Chief" > "Hypnotize" > "Jack-a-roe" > "Hypnotize" > "Inhale." The "Jack-a-roe" took the cake for highlight of the set as Williams added his normal comedic twist and a "Mother fucker" to the lyrics. As fast as the previous tunes were, Keller offered an equally slowed, almost be-bop meets spoken word take on "Celebrate Your Youth." A trademark guitar, bass, drum kit loop was mixed with intermittent hand-drum for a cover of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It." Some of the giant tree people props from BIG Summer Classic danced on the stage toward the end of the set as Williams set a loop and paid tribute to the guest of honor, "I'm here for Jerry. What would my life have been like without him? I don't want to know. He filled me with the goods right down to the marrow of my soul." Although there was no encore, Williams would be back in a major way later in the night for one more salute to the bearded fat man.
Now I must add that one of the coolest concert/festival experiences I've ever had took place sometime late Saturday afternoon backstage at the Vibes. From a small tent next to the hospitality tent emanated a sweet distinct sound. It was "Eyes of the World," but it wasn't from a stereo and it sounded really, really good. So much to my surprise, I strolled in to find none other than Keller and Reid Genauer acoustically pluckin' out the tune, trying to work it out for their appearance later that evening with Dark Star Orchestra. I just kinda sat there dumbfounded, off in the corner with a shit-eating grin. "Hey guys... do you mind if I hang out here for a while?" I asked. A very "rasta-ized" Williams responded, "Ohhh sure man." And for once, I was that fly on the wall.
Genauer & Williams :: Back Stage GOTV 2005
Before DSO though, there was an entire afternoon and early evening of thumpin' good music to be had. Two of the Northeast's old school jamsters would rekindle the spark of the scene's roots. Deep Banana Blackout, complete with monkey-dressed, banana-toting freaks, would welcome lead singer Jen Durkin back into the fray, as is Vibes custom. Durkin, spunky and fiery as ever, and very pregnant too, dropped the "full frontal funk" on the masses and moved the asses to the late afternoon groove. Fuzz and crew would drop spirited versions of "Memphis Train" and "Mama Feelgood," with Jen even picking up and swinging around her mic stand in true Janice fashion.
Deep Banana Monkeys :: GOTV 2005
The sunset engagement would be a highly anticipated reunion of "North-country freaks" and jam-rockers Ominous Seapods. The Seapods vanished into obscurity shortly after the 2000 release of Superman Curse. Well, there was certainly no kryptonite around on this day as the once long-haired and bearded crew, now clean-shaven and with short hair, opened appropriately with "Blackberry Brandy." Honestly impressed about how tight these boys were, they rocked out into the sunset, including closing their set with "Bong Hits and Porn" then "Leaving the Monopole."
What happened next on this middle day of the Vibes would be a brain-melting, four-plus hours of carefully orchestrated Jerry-goodness. With Dark Star Orchestra serving as the primary band, the evening would unfold and be celebrated by the fifteen guests and one other band (Zen Tricksters) that graced the stage. The early moments would prove to be highly entertaining yet respectably mellow. DSO opened with a jam before busting out an ever-appropriate "Attics of My Life." It's probably important to note that beyond all the hoopla, this was even further a non-typical DSO show, as an entire Dead show was not re-created, which was totally fine.
DSO w/ David Nelson :: GOTV 2005
David Nelson would be the first guest and rightly so. Nelson played with Garcia back in 1964, pre-Warlocks, in The Black Mountain Boys. Nelson would later join Jerry in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. "Wind and Rain" was a definite standout before Martin Fierro joined in for "Rocky Road Blues." Fierro played sax, flute, and percussion on the Dead's Wake of the Dead album in 1973. He also played with Jerry and Merl in Legion of Mary.
The rip-roaring, kick-in-the-ass highlight (for me anyway) would be Bluegrass Boy himself, Peter Rowan, gracing the stage for a run through some of the material that he played with Jerry and recently departed Vassar Clements in Old & in the Way. Classics such as "Panama Red," "Land of the Navajo," and "Midnight Moonlight" would serve as the sweetest breeze on this gorgeous evening. Rob Barraco, who was on keys for DSO, even picked up a guitar and gave it his all for a tune. But the ultimate moment, early on anyway, came when DSO with Nelson and Rowan played "Lonesome LA Cowboy." A truly archetypal Rowan song, "Cowboy" displayed Rowan's status as one of America's finest songwriters of all time.
DSO w/ Peter Rowan :: GOTV 2005
The fire really got burnin' though when Keller finally returned to the stage as the pace changed drastically. A mammoth "Scarlet Begonias" into "Fire on the Mountain" would get the festival rockin' and rollin' as Williams displayed his characteristic zeal and flash. Reid Genauer would join Williams and DSO for "Bird Song" and then the one I had been waiting for - "Eyes of the World."
The Zen Tricksters then took the stage and played for what otherwise would have been the setbreak – to keep the vibe and good times flowing. Most notable was a "Mountains of the Moon" into "The Eleven," featuring former Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten on keys.
When DSO retook the stage, a Jerry band reunion was in order as Melvin Seals, Gloria Jones, and Jackie LeBranch joined in. Classic standards like "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and "Harder They Come" were brilliant and full of fun. Closing up the set, DSO would be joined my Donna Jean for amazing spins on "Deal" and one of my favorites - "Mission in the Rain." The encore would feature just about everyone who played during the sets for two choice songs - "Sisters and Brothers" and "Ripple."
DSO w/ Keller Williams :: GOTV 2005
Sometimes when a band has so many guests, things can get cluttered and sloppy. But all involved were sure that this was just the opposite. Minimum time was taken as guests came in and out, and all the musicians are so damn good, not a single one had any trouble blending with the backing band. This wasn't the end of the night though. This reporter put away his camera and shook his groove thing for a few more late-night hours as The New Deal brought their unique live house and breakbeat treats to the Vibes. It is truly a joy to see what our scene has grown into and openly embraces.
SUNDAY :: 08.14.05 :: DAY THREE
Sunday would feature many standout sets, including those from Railroad Earth and newcomers Zox. The old school bluegrass vibe was rekindled again as the Del McCoury Band dazzled into the late afternoon. Some standouts included "She Can't Burn Me Now," "Rain and Snow," and a nice little "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."
Last but certainly not least, Medeski Martin & Wood with legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield in tow delivered what was more than likely the hottest set of the entire festival. Scofield, a common MMW collaborator, stepped into jamband fame while elevating jazz to new heights with his seminal 1998 album A Go Go featuring MMW as his backing band. Well this late Sunday afternoon would be no different as the masterful quartet preached the gospel through their amplifiers. Of course, we would be treated to a solid take on the aforementioned title cut, "A Go Go," as well as "Hottentot," from the same album.
Before that though, the crew would dip into the MMW bag o' tricks and open with a rippin' "SaSa," where keys guru John Medeski displayed his instinctual, bouncy know-how to the flow. On "I Got a Woman," Scofield oozed rhythm and soul from his guitar, also stepping up with his first big solo. Drummer Billy Martin was just absolutely sick the entire show, as always, but he was noticeably fluid on this song. Meanwhile, Chris Wood is so money on upright bass that the huge, bellowing sonic hue camouflages itself chameleon-like into the soundscape. Of course, Wood would also get his moment in the spotlight with his usual solo, which would have made good old Mingus proud.
Billy Martin - MMW :: GOTV 2005
This MMW-Sco show was without a doubt a stellar sendoff into the now drizzling Sunday evening in beautiful upstate New York. Though at first blush, a Garcia/MMW connection may be a stretch, the true spirit of improvisation and spontaneous creation that began with jazz and took a bend into a band called the Grateful Dead was never more apparent. Not to mention, Scofield has some serious chops – and that's an understatement.
Music – it's about passion and creation. We have bands like all those at the 2005 Gathering of the Vibes to thank for making our hearts smile and our lips pulse. So thanks Ken Hays and the entire Terrapin Family, and thanks Jerry Garcia, for enriching our lives and for making our worlds spin a heck of a lot more smoothly.
Ken Hays (founder) :: GOTV 2005
"In the attics of my life, full of cloudy dreams unreal.
Full of tastes no tongue can know, and lights no eyes can see.
When there was no ear to hear, you sang to me.
I have spent my life seeking all that's still unsung.
Bent my ear to hear the tune, and closed my eyes to see.
When there was no strings to play, you played to me."
--"Attics of my Life"
JamBase | GOTV
Go See Live Music!