Live For Live Music writer, Alexandra Miller, recently had the chance to interview the founder of Gathering of the Vibes, Ken Hays, in order to discuss the allure of this particular music festival, and to get a little taste of what to expect at Seaside Park this year! With 85% of attendees returning each year, it’s obvious, for a myriad of reasons, Vibes knows how to do it right!
This will be the 19th installment of the festival, although it was not always held at this scenic waterfront location. Founded in 1996 at SUNY Purchase by Mr. Hays, “Deadhead Heaven: A Gathering of the Tribe”, the original name of the festival, was initially created as a tribute to the late Grateful Dead member and legendary musician, Jerry Garcia.
Here is the poster and lineup from the inaugural year of the festival:
In 1997, the name of the festival was officially changed to what we have now come to know and love as the Gathering of the Vibes. The second and third years of the festival were also held in New York, although at two different locations: Croton Point Park, Croton on Hudson, NY (1997), and Crete Memorial Park, Plattsburgh, NY (1998). The gathering briefly returned to Seaside Park for 1999 and 2000, while making Greig Farm in Red Hook, NY home for 2001, the festival’s 30-year tribute to late rock icons Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. Bob Weir made his first appearance in 2001, and bassist/terrapin Phil Lesh made his debut 2002, the first year Gathering of the Vibes was held at former Camp Bisco stomping grounds, Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville, NY. Vibes remained at ILCC for years 2002-2006, before taking up residence indefinitely at Bridgeport, CT’s Seaside Park. 2005 was a special year for the Gathering of the Vibes, as it marked the 10-year anniversary of Jerry‘s passing, and the first year Bob Weir & Ratdog, and also Dark Star Orchestra (renowned Grateful Dead tribute band) performed at the Vibes.
Here is a poster from the 2005 Jerry Garcia tribute:
Vibes has continued to book members of the Grateful Dead, with Bob Weir & Ratdog (2005, 2007, 2009); Phil Lesh and Friends (2008, 2012, 2013); and Furthur with both Bob and Phil (2011). Gathering of the Vibes 2014 features Grateful Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann performing along with modern jam innovators, The Disco Biscuits. This year is sure to attract a crossover fanbase, a unique mix of veteran and first-time Vibers, young and old.
The Disco Biscuits‘ superfan and Vibes-virgin, Laura Sheffield, says it was her favorite band, along with the all-ages fanbase, that attracted her to the festival this year: “The Disco Biscuits are exactly what turned my interest completely to Gathering of the Vibes! I have never attended this festival before, however I have always heard the best things about it! For example, I am a caretaker for children in a daycare, and I have always been shocked to hear a number of parents tell me that they were going on vacation with their entire families to this specific music festival! This type of environment is what attracts me the most. It is mind-blowing and unbelievable that I will be seeing The Disco Biscuits live with Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann! As soon as I heard they were playing at Vibes, with the addition of these legendary drummers, I knew my decision was made to get a pass for Saturday.” – We couldn’t agree with you more, Laura! Laura has attended 35 Biscuits shows so far, and Vibes with be her 36th!
On the other end of the spectrum is 9-year Vibes veteran, Rich Tobin, who is actually a devoted attendee-turned-volunteer-turned-vendor. This festival has played a very special role in Rich’s life: “My first GOTV was in 2006, when I was 16 years old. My “show buddy” Woody and I rarely passed up a chance to see our favorite acts: Bob Weir & Ratdog, DSO, Les Claypool, Soulive, and Keller Williams. When Vibes came onto our radar it was an easy decision. This year will be my 9th consecutive GOTV. I’ve vended for the past 4 years at the crystal booth, Miracle Mineral, and volunteered for 2 years before that. Each experience for me was way better than just attending the festival, watching all that goes into making it happen, seeing the grounds untouched and knowing the awesome potential in the days to come. GOTV has a great sense of community that only grows the more you attend, which is why I think it gets better every year.” – Thank you, Rich! We concur! When we brought up staff dedication to production in conversation with Ken Hays, he says he has “an amazing team. Everyone takes pride in what they do.” Be sure to check out Rich’s wire wraps and glassblown art at the Miracle Mineral booth, along with the rest of the awesome vendors throughout the various Vibes Shakedown Streets!
Here is the L4LM interview with Ken Hays, dedicated founder of the Gathering of the Vibes:
L4LM: What aspects of the original Vibes have you tried to preserve, and what aspects of other music festivals have you tried to avoid?
Ken Hays: “We’ve tried to preserve that festive community. In 2013, we had 2300 kids with parents, and that number grows 10-15% every year, so there’s really a communal aspect here. Each festival has its own characteristics. Our fan base and roots originate with the Grateful Dead, and we really stretch the musical genres to appeal to all generations.”
L4LM: A lot of bands have been with you from the beginning and/or are classic Vibes staples, namely Max Creek, Deep Banana Blackout, Strangefolk, & it will be Ryan Montbleau‘s 10th appearance this year, as well. Do you feel special to be a festival so many ecclectic musicians call home?
KH: “Very much. It’s always great to invite back bands that have been with us for a long time, who bring families and their kids. It’s really a family affair. In addition, artists who have never performed or who people have never heard of have a common denominator at Vibes: good musicianship.”
L4LM: In your interview with The Huffington Post in July 2012, you discussed how “Both EDM and jam bands are explorative” and there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that comes with the “live experience”. This year you have Lotus, EOTO, Dopapod, & Digital Tape Machine booked, and you’ve had STS9 in the past. This will be my 1st time seeing EOTO, and I really think they exemplify what you were saying about the livetronica experience in relation to the jamband experience.
KH: “[Jam bands and electronica] are a crossover, musically speaking. This year we have Lotus doing a special Talking Heads tribute set.
L4LM: This year, The Disco Biscuits are back, and with extremely special guests!
KH: “Yes, we’re thrilled to have The Disco Biscuits back again. They have played at Vibes 4 or 5 times, so to have them back this year with Mickey & Bill is unprecedented and incredibly exciting.”
L4LM: What do you do (if anything) to attract more West Coast attendees?
KH: “The music & overall sense of community speaks for itself!”
L4LM: What are you doing differently for 2014, and what elements of the past are you trying to do the same?
KH: “We have a good model that people like. We have increased the size & scope of Kids Corner & Teen Center because of the of kids coming with their families is increasing. We’ll of course have our Silent Disco on the beach. We continue what we’re doing based on a fan survey given every year. We’ve also increased the number of bands and activities.”
L4LM: I’ve read your dream performer is Neil Young. You think Vibes will ever get a hold of him?
KH: “I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, so putting Crosby, Stills, & Nash onstage again with Young would be a dream. “
L4LM: 2015 will be the 20th anniversary of Vibes. Anything special in store, or too secret to reveal ?
KH: “We will be revealing that in the weeks and months to come!”
Gathering of the Vibes has an inviting atmosphere you have to experience firsthand to understand and appreciate. From the extensive schedule of kids/family/teen activites, to the endless list of non-profit organizations involved with the festival, Vibes really does keep the warm spirit of the Greatful Dead alive, while also appealing to a diverse fan base of music lovers. The Terrapin Foundation will be partnering with Save the Sound this year for beach clean-up at Seaside Park, but these are just 2 of the many amazing non-profits working with Vibes! Live for Live Music cannot wait to return to the Gathering of the Vibes! If you have not purchased your ticket yet, or would like more information about the festival, be sure to visit their official website! For a full schedule of children’s activities or for information on Kids Safety Registration, visit the Kids and Families page on the Vibes website.
Here is the 2014 Vibes lineup. Visit their website or read L4LM‘s article on recently-added artists.
L4LM artists not to miss include: The Disco Biscuits w/ Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann; Umphrey’s McGee; Joe Russo‘s Almost Dead; American Babies; EOTO; Digital Tape Machine; Kung Fu; Slightly Stoopid; Mclovins; Twiddle; Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe; Allen Stone; Rodrigo y Gabriela; Stanley Jordan; Dumpstaphunk; moe.; Ziggy Marley;Dopapod; and too many to name! Here is a link to the full daily schedule of all performers!
Also, don’t miss the Silent Disco, which takes place late nights on the beach! This year’s Silent Disco features Business Casual Disco, Speakerbot, ConnetICON, Horizon Wireless, among many others! This takes place late-night, in addition to the other late night stage off the beach, the Green Vibes stage.
Artists performing at the Silent Disco:
[Special thanks to Ken Hays, Laura Sheffield, & Rich Tobin. All photo credits Gathering of the Vibes Official Website]