Live Review: Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport, CT
This year's Gathering of the Vibes at Seaside Park in Bridgeport (CT) was blessed with some of the best overall weather in recent memory, as temps in the low to mid 80s and a gentle offshore breeze mixed with the exciting array of musicians that graced the Vibes three stages.
Grateful Dead alum Phil Lesh was the only member of the band to make an appearance this year. But he did his late bandmate Jerry Garcia proud, playing two, three-hour-plus shows at the festival, which was originally inspired as a one-off tribute to the fallen musician in 1996.
Opening day at the Vibes on Thursday (7/25) dawned amid unseasonably cold with a possibility of rain, which eventually hit the venue in time for the main stage closer, Dark Star Orchestra. That internationally known Dead tribute act reproduced, song for song, a complete show the Dead played on September 25, 1976, including popular favorites like "Cassidy," "Sugaree," "Dancing in The Street" and "Sugar Magnolia."
Leading up to DSO, festival openers Wild Adriatic and Ryan Montbleau attracted a respectable and responsive cluster of fans from among the campers and early birds who ventured out to the main stage viewing field. Montbleau, a Vibes regular, played a mixed bag from his catalog, tossing in a sizzling cover of The Fixx's "One Thing Leads To Another."
Heading into the early, chilly Thursday evening, Original Strangefolk warmed the crowd with their own brand of acoustic folk rock before welcoming "Grateful Dead Hour" host David Ganz -- who is no slouch when it comes to guitar and vocals. That pairing resulted in the first Dead cover of the festival, a solid "Shakedown Street," which drove the ever growing fans into a frenzy of bopping and dancing.
As the overnight rain moved off, Friday's (7/26) skies and temperatures turned favorable, drawing a considerably larger crowd to the fields for the 11am kick off with Indubious. Assembly of Dust and Railroad Earth each turned in great sets of easygoing acoustic driven material before Galactic arrived on stage with its more energized, horn-driven rock.
Galactic welcomed singer David Shaw from the Revivalists for much of their set. Shaw had some success urging everyone, including the girls, to take their shirts off as the band celebrated Mick Jagger's 70th birthday with a smoking take on "Gimme Shelterl."
Not to be outdone, the Tedeschi Trucks Band replaced Galactic's smoke with some real fire courtesy of Derek Trucks' intense slide guitar and wife Susan Tedeschi's smoldering vocals. Opening with "Misunderstood," the band mixed in a good dose of new material from the soon-to-be-released "Made Up Mind," including a slow and soulful "It's So Heavy."
"Midnight in Harlem" and Tedeschi's rendition of "Angel From Montgomery" rolled out as the sun dipped low in the sky further cooling down the audience ahead of the first of two night's with Phil Lesh and Friends.
Lesh, with backing players including John Scofield, John Medeski, Joe Russo and Furthur's John Kadlecik, showcased some of what the Dead was famous for back in the day -- psychedelic rock and long, seemingly aimless jams.
Set opener "Scarlet Begonias" was a grand slam as the temporarily dormant Vibes fans erupted into a sea of cheering, spinning, bouncing tie-dye. Lesh looked fit and happy, plucking away on his six-string bass as Scofield and Kadlecik traded incendiary solos.
Night 1 set 1 introduced an up-tempo Bluegrass "Friend of the Devil" that the crowd could barely keep up with before notching it back with a reggae splashed "Crazy Fingers," a nod to Garcia with "Deal," and a sweet sounding "Uncle John's Band."
The second set brought Phil and Friends back to the earliest stage of the Grateful Dead catalog, as they returned with "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)," into "Viola Lee Blues," and "Saint Stephen."
As a bright half moon rose above the ferris wheel at Seaside Park, Phil dealt out a rocking version of "Shakedown Street," before acknowledging that heavenly body with Garcia's plaintive ballad, "Standing On The Moon," before closing the show with "Ripple."
Saturday brought the greatest crowds who arrived early with the promise of even better weather, cloudless skies and temps into the high 80s. The lineup for Saturday was equally refreshing with Lukas Nelson kicking things off bright, early and loud.
Willie's son held his own with crunchy garageband stylings and well-scripted tunes, like "Four Letter Word" and "Baby I'm Gone," that had a decidedly Neil Young flavor. Nelson also gave belated birthday props to Sir Mick launching into "Sympathy for The Devil."
The Funky Meters reminded the Vibes crowd where their particular style of musical gumbo comes from, laying down 70 minutes of solid New Orleans groove. Then The Roots took control, mesmerizing the fans with Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson mashing up several genres to achieve their own brand of jazzy hip-hop on tunes including "The Next Movement."
Grace Potter made a return to the Vibes trading her micro mini skirt for something like a Princess Leia robe, but instead of a light saber, she was packing a Gibson Flying-V and she was not afraid to use it.
Potter and her band the Nocturnals, rocked Seaside Park for most of their set, mixing rejuvenated classics like "Nothing But The Water," with newcomers like "Paris," "Medicine," and an emotional "Stars," which she dedicated to JJ Cale who had passed away the night before.
Potter also welcomed Warren Haynes, who was warming up for the next set, to sit in on Led Zeppelin's "Your Time Is Gonna Come," before wrapping with one of Cale's most memorable hits, "Cocaine."
Haynes returned with Gov't Mule after a short set change, pulling a few samples from his upcoming project, "Shout!" and mixing them with rocking blues, a clever cover of The Beatles "Love Me Do," and his own anthem, "Soulshine."
From a Deadhead perspective, it's always great to see a band like Phil and Friends two nights in a row, if not to compare and contrast the shades of difference in each performance, then to just drink in six hours of Grateful Dead material without fear of hearing the same song twice.
Such was the case with Lesh's Saturday follow-up. He opened with a rollicking "Cumberland Blues," and kept the mood up-tempo with "China Cat Sunflower," and an almost unwieldy "Cold Rain and Snow." The latter number saw some of the finest Scofield/Kadlecik interplay of the weekend with each guitarist layering new licks into the other's groove.
Set two brought a Vibes treat as Phil welcomed sax man extraordinaire Bill Evans to the stage. Evans, who was the Vibes first ever artist-in-residence, had previously played with TTD and Gov't Mule, and he was slated to play with Blues Traveler on Sunday.
In a press meeting after the set, Evans said he was excited to play improvisationally, and that Lesh specifically chose not to preview the setlist, or even the keys to the songs ahead of time. The band jumped on the wayback machine to open night 2 set 2 with "Alligator," and one of the Dead's earliest hits, "New Speedway Boogie."
An extended jam through "He's Gone," brought back more memories of Garcia, with Kadlecik's precise replication of Jerry's Mutron-infused noodling and soaring guitar solos. Then, the Deadheads got what they were waiting for, as the band shifted almost imperceptibly into "Dark Star."
As the evening drew to a close, Lesh, a liver transplant survivor, made his appeal for fans to become organ donors before leaving the crowd with, "A Box of Rain."
The more abbreviated Sunday (7/28) Vibes set opened with the die hard Connecticut-based jam band Max Creek, who paid tribute to JJ Cale with an extended "After Midnight." For that number, Creek welcomed guest guitarist Mark Barden, who tragically lost his son Daniel in the Sandy Hook School shooting last December.
Blues Traveler followed with a buzzsaw set of rockers including crowd favorites "But Anyway," "Run Around," and a jamming cover of ZZ Top's "La Grange." The influx of attendees to the field may have gotten hooked in by John Popper and company, but John Butler kept them in line with his own special brand of hard-edged acoustic rock.
Butler's "Long Way Down" was a crowd favorite, and he brought out his son John Lee to "help" drummer Nicky Bomba wrap up the set with "Zebra."
The Black Crowes closed out the Vibes main stage Sunday in loud and cantankerous fashion, holding nothing back in a steamy, jam-packed set that was heavy on the hits. "Twice as Hard," "Soul Singing," "Remedy," and their affecting ballad "She Talks To Angels," all had the crowd singing along.
And for the folks who were not too familiar with the repertoire, they threw in yet another Mick Jagger tribute with "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and a "Feelin' Alright" chaser that had everyone from toddlers to grandparents shaking their hips and tapping their feet.
Kudos also goes out to regional acts Kung Fu and Deep Banana Blackout, who kept the more energized Vibes goers dancing and funking away Friday and Saturday mornings from 1 to 4 am on the Green Vibes stage.
Special mention also to early ska devotees Fishbone, who rocked the Green Vibes second stage on Sunday, along with the sweet harmonies of Atlanta's own von Grey. Despite their young appearance, that string-driven quartet of four sisters has the makings of a new generation Dixie Chicks if they play their cards right.
And if they eventually get the recognition their talent merits, fans could say, "I saw them first at the gathering of the Vibes back in 2013."