Shake The Hand That Shook The Hand: Gathering Of The Vibes Returns To The Land Of Barnum
By Gary Lambert
The great American circus impresario, theatrical producer and perpetrator of legendary hoaxes, Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891), is credited with one of the more famously cynical philosophical declarations in recorded history: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Not exactly a charitable view of his fellow man (although there is considerable doubt as to whether Mr. Barnum ever really uttered the infamous phrase). There is, however, tangible evidence that the man known as the “Prince of Humbugs” had a far more generous side: in 1865, Barnum donated to his beloved adopted hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut a beautiful, sprawling 370-acre tract of land on the edge of Long Island Sound, which was transformed into Seaside Park, a rare jewel of urban recreational design by the visionary landscape artists Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux (who performed similar magic with New York’s Central and Prospect Parks).
One can only speculate as to what Barnum, as a pioneering creator and promoter of grand spectacles, would have made of an event such as the Gathering of the Vibes, this year’s edition of the long-running music festival, which pitched its tents on the hospitable turf of Seaside Park for four days in August. But we’d like to think he was proudly gazing down on the proceedings, much as his bronze effigy contentedly surveys his great gift to Bridgeport from a pedestal at the heart of the park.
Photo: Gary Lambert
It’s a safe bet that no one at the festival felt even remotely like one of those “suckers” of whom ol’ P.T. allegedly spoke. There are few events that give more value for the dollar and deliver greater customer (and performer) satisfaction than the Gathering Of The Vibes, a three-ring (and then some) circus of multi-sensory delights. And this year, the Vibes Tribe really outdid itself on every level. The location represented a kind of homecoming for the Vibes after several years at a more remote location in upstate New York. The company that produces the festival, Terrapin Presents, is Connecticut-based, and Seaside Park was the site of two previous Gatherings, in 1999 and 2000. Just about everyone who attended this year seemed to be in agreement that the gorgeous spot at the water’s edge was the ideal home for this joyous summer celebration. There was plenty of room to roam, ample camping space, a beautiful stretch of beach to stroll and stunning views of the coastline. Even some nasty weather on Friday (there seems to be an unwritten law that every music festival has to have at least one day like that) didn’t do anything to dampen the spirits of the assembled throng.
Photo: Susana Millman
As we mentioned in our preview piece, the Gathering of the Vibes began in 1996 as a memorial tribute to Jerry Garcia called “Deadhead Heaven,” and even as its musical focus has broadened and diversified over the years, the festival has stayed true to its original intent, with Grateful Dead band members making frequent appearances, as well as longtime associates of the band and countless artists whose music displays the Dead’s enduring influence. This year carried on that tradition, with splendid performances by Bob Weir and RatDog, The Mickey Hart Band and Donna Jean and the Tricksters among the festival’s many highlights, plus a Jerry Garcia tribute by the Dark Star Orchestra.
For those who also like some non-Dead diversity in their musical diet, there was plenty to choose from, including: a slamadelic set by George Clinton and P-Funk (who later joined forces with Deep Banana Blackout for a salute to James Brown); fine performances by Railroad Earth, Assembly of Dust, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Wailers, Buddy Guy, Los Lobos and far too many more to mention here.
As has become a custom at the Vibes, there was a lot of intermingling between musicians. Bob Weir hopped onstage for a few tunes with Keller Williams, and Keller returned the favor during RatDog’s set; most of RatDog sat in with Les Claypool; Steve Kimock was all over the place during the weekend, rejoining old pals Zero, playing with Mickey’s band and continuing to stand in for Mark Karan in RatDog; Donna Jean kept busy by guesting with DSO, Zero and RatDog.
The weekend was a small miracle of peaceful assembly, and Bridgeport officials indicated that the Gathering would likely be welcomed back with open arms in the future. Congratulations and thanks are due to everyone who made it work so well, and especially Ken Hays and the entire Terrapin Presents family, who always put on one of the best parties of the year.
I might just be able to make this one. Close to my original home.
I knew nothing about this until now, but will surely be there if this takes place there again. I am very familiar with Seaside Park since I graduated back in the day from the University of Bridgeport which is directly adjacent. I spent many a tripped out time in that park and all along that coast. Bridgeport itself back in the late sixties and early seventies was not too picturesque, but UB is having a resurgence and I would love to come back and check it out.
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awesome festival... extremely well run. zero issues with anybody. i'll be back next year, that's for sure!
It's hard for me to imagine a better setting for this festival. The park is beautiful! Ratdog was magical! I can't even begin to describe what a wonderful time my friends and I had. I'm still high from the whole thing.
Anybody else feel something special happening saturday night?
"The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean."
A good, vibrant solidifying adjustment to the wayward strayings that have recently befallen us all.