Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

Gathering of the Vibes Returns to Bridgeport's Seaside Park This Weekend

Gathering of the Vibes

July 25-28. Phil Lesh & Friends (2 nights), The Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, The Roots, Funky Meters, Galactic, John Butler Trio, Dark Star Orchestra, John Scofield Uberjam, Original Strangefolk, Railroad Earth, Blues Traveler, Fishbone, Steve Kimock & Bernie Worrell, Assembly of Dust, Max Creek, Ryan Montbleau Band, Deep Banana Blackout, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Rob Garza, MC Wavy Gravy and many more. Seaside Park, One Barnum Dyke, Bridgeport. $42.50-$475


Here we go again. It's Vibes time, and this year is the ninth edition to be planted firmly in Bridgeport (and the 17th overall).

In the late 1980s, I had a childhood friend whose mother was a student at the University of Bridgeport. We'd often accompany her to the university's campus while she studied, and we'd go outside and play and explore in and around Seaside Park. It was pretty sketchy business for a couple of 11 year olds. There were used needles and used condoms everywhere, empty dime bags, and though it was largely unpopulated most of the time, the few other humans we did encounter on our journeys tended to be completely insane and/or threatening. It was a wasteland.

Fast-forward almost a quarter or a century (has it really been that long?), and Seaside Park looks a lot more like it was originally intended. Especially for the one long-weekend a year when Gathering of the Vibes sets up shop.

Giant stages are erected. Tent cities pop up overnight housing thousands. There's a Ferris wheel (this year, the largest such mobile wheel in the country), and a silent disco on the beach that goes late into the night where you can dance in the sand, but only hear the music if you're wearing headphones. There are food vendors galore, each with their own unique and compelling smells, and boats anchored in Bridgeport Harbor whose occupants are trying to hear some tunes for free. Kids from the local School of Rock play to crowds of real-life music fans in some tents, and other kids hang out in the family camping zone or in the Teen Scene or Kids Corner. Another smaller stage (Green Vibes Stage) hosts many local acts, helping expose them to larger audiences. Everywhere you look, people are wearing colorful clothes, spinning their hula hoops, blowing bubbles, holding puppets and greeting each other with warm smiles. Hippie icon Wavy Gravy is the emcee.

If you look closely at the statue of the seated P.T. Barnum overlooking the water, you might see his stone ends of his mouth curl up a bit. Seaside Park is a public space indeed, and it now hosts one of the biggest parties in the Northeast.

Festival founder Ken Hays is especially keen on stressing the family-friendliness of the event.

"Last year we had 2,000 kids under the age of 15 that came with their parents," he says. "That's something that's most unique to Vibes. Based on our family camping reserved numbers, that number is going to go up considerably this year. Parents have a great comfort level of how safe it is and what a positive bonding experience it is with the kids."

Following Hurricane Sandy, it took a great deal of work to get Seaside Park back into working order.

"The park's great with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars from FEMA and an exceptional job by the parks department and public works," says Hays. "The sea wall is completely repaired. The electrical grid has been restored. It took a heroic effort to get it completed but it's looking great."

Phil Lesh & Friends return this year to headline two nights in a row, and this time the band will include John Kadlecik and Tom Russo from Furthur, John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood and John Scofield.

"Sco' used to play with Miles Davis," notes Ken Hays. "Also, Vibes is known for artist cross-pollination. That's when the magic happens."

The newly-back-from-hiatus Black Crowes will also perform, with Vibes mainstay Jackie Greene now officially in the band. Other old faces to return are Warren Haynes with Gov't Mule, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and of course, Deep Banana Blackout and Dark Star Orchestra.

There's not too much new going on this year, but that's mostly because everything has seemed just right the past couple of years and there's no need to rock the boat.

"Nothing radical has changed," says Hays. "We've got a good model here. Tickets are rockin' and we're getting ready... I'm from Connecticut and we've got a lot of great Connecticut talent. To put some of these bands that play in 500 people at a show in from of 20,000 people is a great rush for them, as it is for the attendees."

One small addition this year will be that day ticket buyers will be able to pay an extra $20 to access the late night stage that were formerly only open to campers.

"We've got a really solid lineup, and based on ticket sales it's clear that others feel the same way and we're going to have a full house."

Follow Mike Sembos on Twitter


Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun