Posted Oct. 18, 2012
By ROBERT PURSELL
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — It’s not something you’ll read about it big magazines. Heck, it’s not something you’d know about if you didn’t actively search it out. But every year on July 19 here at Seaside Park something magical happens.
The four remaining members of the Grateful Dead all come together, each with their own individual bands that they’ve started since the Dead broke up, and play music.
For four days straight.
It’s called the Gathering of The Vibes and it is without a doubt, one of the most unique music festivals in the country today.
The Gathering of the Vibes was an idea pitched around between Sally Ansorge Mulvey, John Dwork, and Ken Hays, students at SUNY Purchase. In 1996, they decided to throw a memorial party on campus for Jerry Garcia, the iconic front man of the Dead who had died just a few months earlier in California. It lasted for an entire weekend, with people from far and wide showing up to celebrate the music and spirituality that had defined the Grateful Dead for so long.
They decided to call it The Gathering of the Tribe. After moving around for a few years between different sites, one in Croton Park, N.Y., another in Plattsburgh, N.Y., the festival found what was a natural home at the beach on Seaside Park in Bridgeport. The rest, as they say is history.
In the time that has passed since it first came to Connecticut, the Gathering of The Vibes has gained notoriety in the area and amongst music fans across the Northeast for its dedication to promoting local bands as well as many of the old bands that had toured with the dead in the past (the Allman Brothers Band stopped by in 2003) as well as eco-friendliness and, as the name suggests, good vibes. To say it has been a success would be an understatement.
“I always bring my whole family to the Vibes every year.” said Chris Fleming, a local contractor based out of Fairfield, Conn., “It’s just such a good communal feeling. Growing up all I listened to was the Dead, and when I went off to college in Vermont it was the same thing. It was always about the music and the positive messages it conveyed. I’m glad they’ve been able to recreate that here, and that it’s something that I’m now able to share with my children.”
The festival started off small, with mostly regional acts and a few nationally known acts.
All of that changed when Bob Weir, a founding member of the Grateful Dead, showed up to the festival 2000 to play with his band RatDog, and in a memorable performance, he sat in and jammed with internationally known bass virtuoso Les Claypool. After that things really began to take off.
“That performance by Bob Weir changed everything,” said local business owner Robert Callahan. “It was incredible seeing him back on stage. It definitely caught people’s attention. Now it seems like every year the festival is drawing bigger acts in. Yet despite how big it has gotten its never lost that sense of community. That’s what I think is so special about this festival; it has remained true to it’s roots.”
The festival has evolved over the years to include rides and an arts and crafts tent for children to play in. It has expanded to having multiple stages throughout the four days, most recently adding a stage known as the “Green Vibes Stage” that showcases Northeastern bands.
One of the things though that it is best known for, is the Craft Vendors Row, called “Shakedown Street” affectionately by those who frequent the festival. It is a row of vendors and non-for-profit organizations that set up every year to sell handcrafted t-shirts, jewelry, and other merchandise.
“I think the whole vendors row is pretty cool. It helps spotlight a lot of local small businesses and raises money for charities like the Rex Foundation and the ACLU,” said Mike Dempsey, a local electrician. “It really is a pretty noble cause.”
Another feature that locals like is it’s seaside location.
“I always go on my boat, or on a friend’s boat,” said Fleming, “It’s definitely the best experience to go right up to the dock. You can listen to the music into the night and watch the sunset over the Long Island Sound. If you can find a boat, that’s definitely the best way to experience it all.”
In the years since Bob Weir performed there have been many a memorable performance. Damien Marley and Nas came through in 2010 as part of a memorable collaboration tour.
The Vibes has seen icons like Jimmy Cliff, Elvis Costello and Buddy Guy come through as well as performances in recent years by bands like the Black Crowes, Jane’s Addiction, The John Butler Trio and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. And while all of these acts have rocked the stage, the thing that most like most, is seeing the remaining members of the Dead back together.
“My favorite performance was definitely seeing the John Butler Trio.” said David Palmer, a local teacher and festival regular.
“They were one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.”
Sean Slain, another festival regular, remembers the first time he went to the festival.
“I had always been a huge Dead Head growing up, and getting the opportunity to see Bob Weir that close and personal is something I’ll never forget.” he said.
“It really is special,” said Joe Gaetano a local record store owner, “I mean seeing Bob, Phil, Billy (Kreutzmann), and Mickey (Hart) on stage is what does it for me. The fact that after all these years the guys can still jam, the fact they can keep the good feelings going, that’s what is so special about Vibes.”
So string some flowers in your hair, and head down to Seaside Park this July for a weekend of peace, love, and good vibrations.
IF YOU GO
- Try and find someone with a boat and dock the boat at Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport. Docking is free for the night if you can find it, so get there earlier in the day. If you can’t find a boat, park in the nearby town of Milford at any one of the free park and ride lots, and take the train into the Seaside station in Bridgeport for $5.
- Out of state festival goers can purchase camping and RV passes online, or can opt to stay at one of the many hotels in the surrounding area. The Hampton Inn in Milford offers discounts for those who show proof of entry. Rooms go for around $75 a night with the discount.
- Tickets for the full four days go for $182 and VIP passes go for $420. Individual day passes are sold at the venue for $50.