Rockin’ The Region at The Vibes

By Dave Hoffenberg

I had the honor and pleasure of speaking to the Gathering of the Vibes Festival pioneer, Ken Hays. The Vibes, as it’s called by the fans, is about to put on its 19th annual event. This festival has grown over the years from a weekend festival with 3,500 people to a four-day fest with 25,000 attendees. It is held at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn., July 31 to August 3.

The festival features world-class acts including the founding members of the Grateful Dead. This year is no different and, in my opinion, has the best line-up to date. There are two stages: the Main Stage and the Green Vibes stage, plus they have late night bands, a silent disco on the beach and even two bands playing as you walk around the park or as the Vibes calls it, “Dancin’ in the Streets.”

Acts this year include: Widespread Panic, John Fogerty, The Disco Biscuits with Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, Dispatch, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Umphrey’s McGee, moe., Ziggy Marley, Lotus doing the Talking Heads Deconstructed and one of my favorite funky guys, Maceo Parker, to name a just a few. There will be 50 acts gracing the park this year, all set to mystify you musically.

Local favorite, Twiddle, will be there for their third year, too. They kick off the Main Stage Friday at 11 a.m.

In addition to the previously mentioned Ziggy and moe., other bands present that have also played in Killington include Keller Williams, Trombone Shorty, Primate Fiasco, Allen Stone, Dumstaphunk, Rusted Root, Ryan Montbleau, Andy the Music Man, Strangefolk, Slightly Stoopid and long time Wobbly Barn favorites, Deep Banana Blackout.

Don’t miss Assembly of Wine. This band is made up of two great Wobbly Barn bands from back in “the day”: Assembly of Dust and God Street Wine.

The festival emcee and master of ceremonies will be a festival favorite, the beloved Wavy Gravy who is the original prankster with a purpose. Rolling Stone magazine has called The Vibes, “One of Summer 2014 must-see music festivals.”

Prior to Jerry Garcia’s passing, Hays was able to catch 350 plus Grateful Dead shows. After he passed in August of 1995, the Grateful Dead organization along with the city of San Francisco held a gathering in Golden Gate Park to honor the life of Garcia and the music of the Dead. The organization also wanted to put one on in NYC’s Central Park but then mayor Rudy Giuliani declined because of the costs it would take for fire, police, ems, etc. So Hays and longtime friend and promoter Bob Kennedy along with the folks at Dupree’s Diamond News put on their own celebration. They called it, “Deadhead Heaven – a Gathering of the Tribe.” It was held on Memorial Day weekend 1996. They had 3,500 friends and family come out to the campus of SUNY Purchase in New York.

The following year they had grown out of that place and couldn’t accommodate any more people at SUNY Purchase so they moved the festival to Croton Point Park right on the Hudson River in Westchester County, NY and they changed the name to the Gathering of the Vibes.

Besides the Dead, Hays is a big fan of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and as Hays says, “the list could go on and on.” Asked how he gets such great bands year in and year out, he said “I gather my closest friends and advisers and brainstorm over a bottle of Patron.” What’s great about the Vibes is it’s not just for adults, there are activities for kids of all ages. Hays says that happened organically right from the start.

“It was always something that was important that Vibes be kid-friendly. It’s about the community and as we all get older and have families, it’s important to have that bonding time,” Hays said. “It’s awesome, I hear stories all the time of three generations of family members coming to The Vibes. That’s what it’s about. There’s so much craziness happening in our world and to have four days to shut out all the insanity and to focus on what’s truly important which is friends and family joining together once a year to enjoy each others company and have some incredible music to accompany.”

The Vibes family is not just those you’re related to, it’s everyone that you meet along the way. Hays says, “We set up the stage and put the pieces together but it’s truly The Vibe Tribe, the attendees and the love for each other that pulls the festival all together.”

Hays couldn’t pick any of the previous 18 fests as his favorite but said that, “Every year there are what I refer to as those Kodak moments of time and spaces that I will never forget. I’m excited about this year, I really am. Based on the response on the message boards, social media and ticket sales, people are equally excited. So, bring it on!”

What makes it all worth it for Hays is when he can get up on the side of the stage and look out on a beautiful smiling crowd.

“That’s what makes it all worthwhile. I love what I’m doing and I love all the people who support me and support the Vibes. I just want everyone to come and have the best possible experience that they can. We can’t control the weather but we can control the overall flow and keeping that vibe positive and as uplifting as possible.”

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