Gathering Of The Vibes - Dancing Together Into The Future
Last summer, I interviewed Bill Kreutzman and Papa Mali for a book/documentary film project I’m working on. The project is called JAMerica and it’s a history and overview of the jam and festival scene. As most people reading this will know, the festival scene has blown up over the past decade. More multi-day, multi-artist, multi-genre bills pop up every year in every corner of the country. I was curious if Bill thought the festival scene would have exploded this way if the Grateful Dead were still around. Bill’s answer was tellingly humble, “I think it was gonna happen anyway. We were just caught up on the wave like everyone else, even though we were some of the first.” Like any good band mate, as Bill fell back, Papa Mali took the lead on the answer: “I think the Dead were the first band to develop a sense of community that exceeded regional boarders. People, fans would follow them from city to city, state to state. People would go on tour with the Dead. People do that with the festival scene nowadays. It’s really obvious that the kids who come to these festivals, they want to experience what they didn’t get to experience by going on a Dead tour and they are getting that in a lot of ways. The bands that came up in the jam band scene have definitely used the Dead as an anchor.”
The “anchor” that Papa refers to is a blend of musical improvisation mixed with a multi-pronged focus on community-building. The Dead – and Deadheads – built a vibrant scene out of those two pillars, which held the dream together and also allowed it to become a creative, cathartic, collective space for both audience and musicians. In the same interview, Bill said, “To tell you the truth I always held the audience in a higher esteem than the band. I think they are more important, because without the audience loving us the way they did, we wouldn’t have been able to play the way we did.”
For many of us, losing Jerry felt like losing our anchor; our ship was adrift and stormy seas were rising past our formerly dancing feet. In 1996, Ken Hayes threw a small festival on the campus of SUNY Purchase called, “Deadhead Haven – A Gathering of the Tribe.” The event was organized as a memorial for Jerry, but the seeds planted that day amounted to much more than a memorial. The energy and wisdom around the Grateful Dead was (and is) too important to let die or fade into nostalgia. Think of Bobby’s vocal on “Throwing Stones” as a challenge that Mr. Hayes took up (and one that we should all rise to): “The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.” If we want to keep the spirit alive, it’s truly up to us. The following year, Hayes moved the festival to Croton Point Park, NY and christened it with its final name: Gathering of the Vibes.
Although I’d been hearing about it for years, 2011 was the first GOTV I attended. For the past eight years, the festival has been held in the 325 acre Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut. True to its name, the Olmstead-designed park (supported by none other than former Bridgeport resident – and GD lyric hero - P.T. Barnum) sprawls easily toward Long Island Sound, providing cool breezes and soothing vistas. It was immediately apparent to me that the spirit of the Dead was more alive here than at any festival I’d attended since Jerry beamed out. Some of it was the choice of vendors (Dye the Sky; Not Fade Away Graphics; Grateful Don’s Silver & Sarongs, etc.), and, of course, having the Rhythm Devils play with Keller Williams and Steve Kimock, and hearing other scene stalwarts like Dark Star Orchestra (with guest Donna Jean Godchaux), Max Creek, and David Gans turned the stages into a family reunion of warriors who’ve been keeping the spirit alive - with their own music and tributes to the GD – lo these many years. Furthur’s blazing headline set on Friday night solidified all those feelings and crystallized the energy of the crowd into a laser-point that, by start of second set, burned especially bright into the Seaside Park sky. Dear friends, is there anything better than the start of second set when the darkness has fallen and the energy is just right? I looked around and was blown away by the mix of ages in particular – so many kids who looked and danced like Dead freaks have over the years, but who’d never gotten to see the Grateful Dead, were getting an authentic mouthful of what the fuss was all about. Even better for me personally was seeing all the old-timers (which, alas and hurrah, I now find myself among) celebrating the music that was being performed at that moment - not on CD, or DVD, or streamed, or any of the ways we get through our days - but Here. Now. What better way to catalyze that energy than to open second set with a St. Stephen-The Eleven? Thanks, fellas.
Over the festival’s four days, it occurred to me that the spirit the “Vibe Tribe” was keeping alive couldn’t be quantified by anything as simple as vendors, or dancers, or even the stellar lineup. As always, it was a mix of those things that put the real stardust into the air. How many good shows have been killed by a bad scene, overzealous security, or, lately, yappers who talk through the whole show? (Seriously, close your mouth and move your feet! p.s.) Put your phone away while you’re at it. Take a picture with your brain, it’ll last longer.) GOTV is dialed into the magic that made the original scene (with a huge shout-out to Bill Graham’s legendary model of caretaking) feel so special. It’s that combination of environment, caring, open-mindedness, and understanding of the audience-staff-band dynamic that creates a truly ideal experience. Remember what Billy said, “Without the audience loving us the way they did, we wouldn’t have been able to play the way we did.” With its roots planted firmly in the GD scene, GOTV has been constructed on a model that honors that dynamic and the blueprint, “the anchor,” pays off.
I’m going back to GOTV this year. The good people at the Grateful Dead Booth have invited me to hang around a bit and sign copies of my book, Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead. I did the same thing last year and was thrilled to talk Dead with so many friends, new and old. This year, the “Core Four” will be there playing with their different bands and configurations. My first thought on seeing their individual billings was: “Since we’ll all be there, and you guys are gonna be there, maybe we should, you know, get together?” As unlikely as that is, when GOTV gets going and the stardust gets sprinkled into the air, whatever comes rolling of those stages will be met by a joyful crowd in Seaside Park, dancing together into the future…
Get Peter Conner's book Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead.
I better go post about that broadcast on the Rex page!
I will be assisting a young musician named Henry Sidle with a presentation he's doing on behalf of the Rex Foundation, Friday at 3:45pm on the Green Vibes Stage. Henry will also play his new song Sunday afternoon on SiriusXM's "Tales form the Golden Road," which we will be broadcasting live 4-6pm from the Rhino/GDP booth in the main merch tent at GOTV .
Have done all but one. By far this setting is the best of all. On Long Island Sound, a lot of space though they push campers quite compactly. It is the best of mid-summer. I do like Mountain Jam also. Getting rid of the nitrous thing helped a lot last year. I have no issues with people getting out there BUT they just were so filthy and trashed every where. Just don't be so hot this year. Last year was brutal, nobody bought beer because it was to hot to move to get it. When its too hot for beer its too hot. Also last year was the first year of the black flies invasion. Tied to the intense heat? Perhaps. I usually never get attacked by bugs but last year was brutal. By my tickets the day they go on sale, so even whatever the weather calls for, I will be there. I
As an upstate, NYer (Rochester, NY) Grassroots is definitely on everyone's radar up here! Donna play around here all the time and have a big following. Tara and Jeb gave us a great interview for JAMerica too and so did Tara when her excellent solo album "Wood & Stone" came out last year. If you want to see some great DTB footage (and some other JAMerica clips) check this out:
Which is to say, two thumbs up for Grassroots!
another good festival to know about. in the future your post might want to go to: favorite summer festivals
...fingerlakes grassroots festival of music and dance...look it up...have fun in bridgeport that weekend...i can see every band that is performing at the vibes in a dozen places all summer...the bands at grassroots gather from every corner of the world, and the marshlands and swamps of america, to convene in trumansburg ny for the quintessential manifestation of the community of like mindedness that the dead spawned...dont get me wrong, i love the vibes...but the dead have always been and will always be a channel for me, for seeing new musics, seeing further into the history of our own indigenous musics, and via the deep improvisations of the band during their best experimental years, discovering the music of coltrane and others, which brings us, of course, right back to africa, and the east....grassroots is the ultimate musical community, and for better or for worse, 30000 folks will be in bridgeport that weekend, while 5-10k enjoy the best party of the year, tossed by donna the buffalo and their greater family...everyone be safe where ever you end up!
take some pix and post 'em here...or a link to where you've got 'em. Thanks, on behalf of all of us who won't get to go!
Looks like I wont make it this year short of a major miracle,have a great time Peter! and Mr. Pid!
"It’s that combination of environment, caring, open-mindedness, and understanding of the audience-staff-band dynamic..."
It makes the Vibes what they are. Everybody is having a good time. There is a bit of a clash with the adjoining Hispanic neighborhood in Bridgeport, but they're always happy to see you if you pick up ice and a few staples, mostly.
I'm thinking of making it down for Dead Day but I'm through with the full festival experience. I'll also be staying in a hotel room. Shower and a full breakfast makes this ice-cream cone kid a happy non-camper!
Hope to see ya'
Keepin' it real in Bridgeport
looking forward to the friday ticket, and DSO is always a treat on thursday night for us campers. see you freaks there!!!!!!!!!!!