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Concert: Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport, CT

The 15th Annual Gathering of the Vibes rolled into Seaside Park in Bridgeport, CT, Thursday (7/29), bringing its annual four-day jam-band jubilee along with the bonus of spectacular weather, which appeared to energize virtually every act that took to its two stages.

Thursday afternoon's festivities got started with the Quincy Mumford Band, which combined enthusiastic stylings similar to the Grateful Dead, Phish and Dave Matthews. The Vibes opener succeeded in getting several hundred early birds wandering around the sprawling site and campgrounds down to the main stage.

Then the tribute to Jerry Garcia got going in earnest with his former backup singer Donna Jean Godchaux floating into the cavernous venue to the melody of the Grateful Dead's "Fire on the Mountain." Godchaux was the first of the Grateful Dead's surviving members to grace the 2010 Vibes event. Completing the lineup of Grateful Dead alum were Friday night (7/30) headliners Further, featuring bassist Phil Lesh and guitarist Bob Weir, followed by percussionists Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart in their recently-revived ensemble, Rhythm Devils, on Saturday (7/31).

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Hours ahead of Further's arrival, most of the buzz among hard-core Further fans revolved around Weir, who two nights earlier struggled to get oriented at a New York Nokia Theatre performance, spacing out lyrics and eventually cutting one of his songs short while band members vamped nervously.

While several well-circulated Internet clips of that momentary breakdown whipped the Deadhead rumor mill into a frenzy of worrisome trepidation, Weir bounced back into top form and apparently was no worse for wear by the time he arrived at Vibes.

He donned a hot-pink guitar for the opening set, taking control and leading the group through a memorable selection that included "Jack Straw," "Ramble on Rose," and a medley of "Estimated Prophet," "Eyes of the World" and "Not Fade Away."

Then, just when fans couldn't imaging things getting any better, Further showcased the musically complex trifecta of "Help on the Way," "Slipknot!" and "Franklin's Tower" to wrap the second set,then returned for a half-hour encore performing the entire "Terrapin Suite," from The Grateful Dead's "Terrapin Station" album.

The Rhythm Devils' set the following evening was markedly different, particularly in quantity, but not entirely disappointing. Perched behind their newly-staffed ensemble featuring Keller Williams, Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum, Davy Knowles on guitar and vocals, and Andy Hess on bass, Hart and Kreutzmann flailed away for only about 90 minutes compared to the nearly three-hour Further set the night before.

Kicking the show off with a double dose of Dead, Rhythm Devils wound their way through "Cold Rain and Snow" and "Uncle John's Band," with Williams handling the Garcia vocal parts with ease. Then it was time for Knowles to step into the batter's box and smack a few numbers out of the park -- most notably Robert Hunter's "So Many Roads" and the rollicking "Hey, Bo Diddley," which got several thousand fans up and dancing across Seaside Park's main field.

Following an excruciatingly long break, the recently reunited Primus arrived to lend their particular brand of madness to the Vibes festivities. Featuring Les Claypool, Larry "Ler" Lalonde, and original drummer Jay Lane, the energized set took the crowd to even greater heights with their unusual brand of so-called "psychedelic polka" music.

Fueled by Claypool's one-of-a-kind bass work -- which is really an understatement, the guy sounds like he's simultaneously playing three basses -- Primus rocked the crowd with quirky originals from the show opener, "To Defy The Laws Of Tradition," to their encore of "Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers."

Those who came to the late-night Primus show with no previous experience came away impressed with the band's choice of covers, which first paid tribute to Pink Floyd with a spot-on version of "In the Flesh," and later delivered a blistering take on "Behind My Camel," from The Police.

Other notable 2010 Vibes performances were turned in by Robert Randolph & the Family Band, showcasing possibly the best crossover pedal steel player on the planet. Randolph rolled out his own high-octane set of blues and covers, playing with the kind of effortless ease some of the old-timers remembered from another guitar god by the name of Jimi Hendrix.

Saturday afternoon's back-to-back sets from Galactic and Umphrey's McGee were also well-received. New Orleans' own Cyril Neville showed up, strutting out his funkiest stuff as Galactic's horn section mixed up their crazy jambalaya with some of the best Ska-driven power horn playing ever seen at Vibes.

Faced with a tough act to follow, Umphrey's McGee did not shy away. That veteran jam outfit upped the ante with an extended set featuring, "White Man's Moccasins," and "The Fuzz."

The joy of watching and listening to Umphrey's material comes from the band's incredible precision -- and the fact that most of its Vibes set was delivered with barely an interruption. Transitioning stylistically from rock to reggae, to progressive jazz, to heavy metal and back, guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss were in particularly great form.

Two additional high points of the 2010 Vibes festival were the Bridgeport-based group Caravan of Thieves, who wove their witty, gypsy-flavored melodies from the second, Green Stage. Scratch pioneer Mix Master Mike also played a late-night set during the weekend, displaying the talent has served him well as resident DJ for the Beastie Boys.


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