In Reflection: Gathering of the Vibes 2014, A #SensibleVibes Series
Gathering of the Vibes has been in my vocabulary since I was around 12 years old. For more summers than I can remember, I saw my brother pack up all his gear and drive to Mariaville, then Bridgeport, returning over and over to this mysterious place I could only picture in my head. I’d heard bad things about Vibes; I’d heard great things about Vibes. Finally, the year came where everything aligned, and I was going to see for myself.
Long overdue, but you could call 2014 my initiation into this group of forward-thinking, music-loving, accepting individuals, lovingly referred to as the VibeTribe. Words can only go so far to describe this blink in time, but I’ll do my best.
We awoke in the dark, groggy, cold air lingering, set on catching the 6am ferry across the Long Island Sound. After snoozing my alarm 6 or 7 times, I crawled off the couch, splashed some water on my face, and hopped in the car with Kat and Pat. Debating when to get ice and if we brought enough booze, we picked up more friends and caravanned to the ferry just in time for the sun. There is something fundamental about witnessing sunrise, a grounding solitude and a vital tinge of self-awareness, and all at once a perfect way to move into a festival about community and personal reflection as much as music. Gathering of the Vibes is also a very easy festival to get to. The organizers make sure festival-goers are aware of every mode of getting there: car, ferry, bus, train. Once you arrive, the event staff is overall informative and happy to be there – a reflection of the community. Still shaking off the sleep, we got pumped for the night’s music makers: Dead revivers, Dark Star Orchestra, followed by Dopapod.
By mid-morning camp was set up, and it was time for settling in: cracking beers, meeting neighbors, making friends, and exploring the lay of the land before the wonderful madness began. The Vibes community is a rare one; many festivals entertain a free and open atmosphere but this place brings something more: a free, open, and comfortably connected community among all – musicians, volunteers, employees, attendees – one that extends to our social, environmental, and mental well being. The location is a manifestation of the people: situated on the Long Island Sound, the physical environment is unavoidably beautiful and undeniably vibrant. The ocean breeze flows and lends a vitality to the air, and the attendees breathe life right back into the environment – interacting, sharing, appreciating. The stage set-ups were well planned. Vibes featured a Main Stage, with plenty of green space for lounging in the afternoon or dancing at night, and the more intimate Green Vibes Stage, situated on the edge of the beach, for the majority of the acts – they must’ve known how more stages make my head spin, or they’re just confident about the degree of talent they’re bringing. My money’s on both.
Strangefolk welcomed in the afternoon sun and helped us settle into the Vibes. Dark Star Orchestra took the stage around 8pm, soothing us with sounds of the Dead and ringing in Jerry’s birthday at midnight! The highlight of the night, though, was Dopapod‘s 1am set. Drawing the crowd to the Green Vibes stage next to the beach, Dopapod filled the salty air of their hypnotic sound. These guys are a jam band not to be pigeonholed. They’re a rock/metal band with funk and soul, a progressive rock band with electronic sounds, a jazz improv group with a psychedelic aura. For a moment, you might have felt like you bought ticket to Pink Floyd that night, but once the electronic components came in, their sound fully formed to remind us of the beauty of modern music, a sonic fusion of classic and contemporary. Artist at Large and spellbinding guitar player Stanley Jordan joined them as well as Todd Stoops & Adrian Tramantano of Kung Fu. Needless to say, the set was the best kind of strange and gracefully spanned more genres than I could possibly name. Look out for my conversation with Dopapod’s dynamic drummer, Scotty Zwang, as part of Sensible Reason’s #SensibleVibes series. You can also relive the full set here!
Twiddle, Friday, 11am. Could you think up many better bands to play at this hour? Neither could we or anyone else. We weren’t the only ones to make a point to stumble out of our tents at 10am, music still playing in our heads from the previous night. The turnout for Twiddle’s morning set was one of the largest festival-goers said they had seen…ever. It’s quite a compliment, and the guys were completely humbled (See our upcoming chat with Twiddle via #SensibleVibes coming soon). Their set was more rock-heavy and less reggae-heavy than when I’d last seen them; the shift was refreshing and magnetic, and the whole band was sharply on the same wavelength, giving way to a set that felt natural and lively to all involved. There’s something about Twiddle that inspires warmth in people, which is probably why their fanbase is growing at a rapid pace. With a set like that morning and a chat to this band, it’s obvious why: their authenticity shines through in their personalities as well as their music. Bobby Paltauf Band also held down an early noon slot, dazzling fans with their funk-rock sound. At the age of 14, Bobby Paltauf has caught the attention of many and has played with the likes of Buddy Guy, The Meter Men, and Deep Banana Blackout, to name only a few. It’s the moments where speaking to artists ma
Friday afternoon and evening were stacked with amazing music – I’ll try to contain myself to the hightlights. Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass hit the spot in the afternoon and featured Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band) & Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green). Their Dead covers (one of my favorites, “Scarlet Begonias”) brought a hint of nostalgia and a smile to each face in the audience. Orgone put on a party at Green Vibes! The electric chemistry of eight musicians bearing the musical souls on stage was nothing short of contagious to the crowd; a great afternoon set. Growing up listening to Creedence, I couldn’t have been more excited John Fogerty, and he delivered beyond my expectations on both classic Creedence songs and his solo work. Lotus: Talking Heads Deconstructed – Gabriel Otto, are you sure you’re not David Byrne? Could’ve fooled me! While I really wanted to hear some more original Lotus goodness, I loved the white suits, and the set was so well done that I spent most of it wondering if this was what it was like to see the Talking Heads in the flesh. This feeling became a theme for me all weekend, sensing that I’d gotten a taste of the past in the present – it must be a Vibes thing. It’s these one-time musical experiences that give a powerful sense of authenticity to the Vibes experience in a country where things are so often manufactured in bulk and delivered to the masses. Witnessing sets that cannot quite be repeated was refreshing and only adds to this uncommon community.
To top off the night was Deep Banana Blackout! We got to their set at sound check – you could say we were a little excited. Deep Banana hit the Green Vibes stage at 1am and delivered the funk. These Vibes veterans are no strangers to late night musical throwdowns; Jen “Pipes” Durkin’s soulful voice like a firecracker and the band’s high energy sound filled the air and had the whole crowd in tune to their sound and groove. Again, I wondered how lucky I was to be a in place like this, one that was capable of shifting time and perspective to a more positive light. Talking to Jen Durkin, who has been involved with Gathering of the Vibes for many years, further strengthened this power and the elements that make this place is so remarkable (Get the scoop with Jen via #SensibleVibes.).
The music is in a word empowering, but also essential to the Vibes aura is the Non-Profit Village. Situated alongside the water and the Furthur bus, the Non-Profit Village had everything from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut to whet your political and social activism appetite to the Cell Motion BioBus, where attendees could take a closer look at wildlife from the nearby beach and learn how alternative energy sources can fuel scientific discovery. A longstanding organization at Vibes and well-respected organization in the music scene, HeadCount, featured an app called iCitizen. Called “democracy made easy,” iCitizen provides individuals with news on the issues they care about most and informs individuals about their local representative and his or her voting record. The app also allows app users to voice their opinions about their representatives and Congress. If interested, you can try the app yourself here, and check out our interview with iCitizen via #SensibleVibes!
Beautiful environment, captivating music, good causes…what’s missing? The people!
I was more or less going to Vibes solo when a new friend welcomed me into her camping family. On the most local level of a festival, I experienced people being kind for the sake of kindness and wanting to connect for the sake of connecting, over a mutual love for the music, a mutual respect for the community, a mutual desire to feel human and alive! No obscured motive, just genuine, effortless interaction. I became aware of this feeling’s presence throughout the community the longer I was there. I found that each person I spoke with – staff, vendor, patron, artist – was sincere and knew they weren’t just at any place or any festival. I’ll keep attempting to put my finger on the Vibes pulse, but only through first-hand experience will the picture become fully painted.
Saturday marked another wave of musical bliss. Dumpstaphunk held down the Green Vibes Stage in the afternoon with their filthy grooves and jazz-funk, New Orleans style sound. Sporadic flash performances by UCONN’s own New Orleans style band, Funky Dawgz Brass Band, kicked up the energy as they marched and danced all around the festival grounds throughout the weekend. Umphrey’s McGee’s set time was a little early to fully see their stellar lights, but as the night took over, so did their entire show. Their distinctive prog rock/metal/jam synthesis entranced the audience like so many times before; the balance of genres satiated my desire for many types of music I’d wanted to hear that night. The acoustics at the Main Stage were excellent – loud enough to hear from afar, but quiet enough that there was no noise pollution between the stages.
Umph got the crowd riled for Widespread, and at last we’d arrived at the moment we were all waiting for: The Disco Biscuits with Grateful Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. Gathering of the Vibes prides itself on creating once in a lifetime musical experiences, and these Grateful Biscuits were just that. It was as if two of my worlds had magically collided: the songs and sounds of the Grateful Dead so familiar to me from childhood and in connecting with my parents coupled with a band who taught me to appreciate modern jam and electronic influences in my teenage years – both beloved to this day. Admittedly, I longed for a few more Biscuits in this musical mixture of generations and styles, but the merging of generations and of these renowned musicians was an experience to behold. Between the wild drum solo Mickey Hart served up and the warm gospel finale featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir and Jen Durkin, the set will live in memories (and, OK, YouTube), impossible to replicate or repeat for another audience. Watch the full set below:
Another winner of the evening was Digital Tape Machine, featuring Joel Cummins and Kris Meyers of Umphrey’s McGee. Their set filled almost every musical void left from a day of incredible music. A full live band, Digital Tape Machine also incorporates elements of drum ‘n’ bass, hip-hop, funk, and deep house (to name a few) into their live performances. I stood mesmerized as Cosmic Karma Fire performed at the back of the crowd at Green Vibes, but the longer DTM played, the more the music moved through me and pulled me toward the stage to dance. This band is a must-see, and whether everything before let you down or blew you away, Digital Tape Machine would have the same wonderfully contagious effect.
After a quick rest at camp, the Silent Disco was the most wonderful way to welcome the sunrise. By the time I heard a remix of “Shakedown Street” while dancing in the sand as the sky lightened from night to not quite day, I had lost track of how many times I’d hear it that day, but the music and community feeling in that moment came full circle. Whether you’re taking your kids to a family workshop event and exposing them to a nurturing community, celebrating greatly influential people and music or the artists inspired by them, or simply wanting to connect with and be surrounded by a group of passionate individuals coming from varying lifestyles, you came to this place because you genuinely believe in the power of people to create, influence, and shape their lives positively, and the bond of music provides that catalyst to foster such a community and such a place as Gathering of the Vibes.
Vibes concluded on Sunday with Family Day,and the World Peace Flag Ceremony at the Main Stage. Maceo Parker welcomed Sunday early-risers with with soulful sax. .moe jammed through the early afternoon and Ziggy Marley brought some much-needed reggae sounds. It was a day for swimming if you were up for the adventure. The Sunday lineup of activities and music helped ease us back into our journeys home, as we each took some of the Vibes and its lasting moments with us.
It was in these moments of interaction with other festival-goers, the environment, vendors, musicians and their music that this intangible pulse, the Vibes pulse, became my pulse, too. The encouragement of self-betterment, self-expression, and camaraderie overflows here, and each individual goes away with a little bit, holds onto it, shares it, and brings it back the following year, and this is what makes the VibeTribe.
See you next year.
The vibrant photos in this review & gallery below were taken by the lovely Kathryn Korcz of Faces of Festivals