Middling Weather, Great Vibes
The thirteenth annual Gathering of the Vibes returned to Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Seaside Park over the weekend for a four day celebration of live music. As has always been the case, the festival was steeped in the music of the Grateful Dead, drawing on both band members and the GD catalogue to make the connection. Thursday’s performers included Donna Jean and Tricksters, featuring Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay and Mookie Siegel, whose set focused on strong original material anchored by a number of covers, including The Band’s ‘Time to Kill’ and The Beatles ‘Across the Universe’ in addition to ‘Till the Morning Comes,’ ‘Crazy Fingers’ and the JGB staple ‘Tore Up.’ The Dark Star Orchestra headlined the night, offering a thunderous take on the Grateful Dead’s 11/6/77 concert from Binghamton, NY. Donna Jean joined in for much of the second set, while Zen Tricksters’ founder and guitarist Jeff Mattson appeared on for ‘Mexicali’ > ‘Me and My Uncle’ and ‘FOTD’ in the first set. As a birthday tribute to Jerry Garcia, the band closed out the night with an extended ‘Don’t Let Go’ > ‘We Bid You Good Night’ featuring both Donna Jean and Lisa McKay, who sings Donna’s parts with DSO.
Friday afternoon found Ryan Montbleau playing an extended set of nearly two hours due to a late arrival from funksters PBS. Reid Genauer also offered up a single solo acoustic number to fill the gap before returning with AOD for a set that also drew in Donna Jean for ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough,’ her first time singing it ‘in about 35 years.’ Zappa Plays Zappa gave the most noteworthy performance of the day, covering a wide range of the late genius’ repertoire with stunning precision and accuracy. Zappa vocalist Ray White was on hand to help out on tunes like ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow’ and a long version of ‘Cosmik Debris’ that closed the set. The band was followed by Vibes’ staples and hometown heroes Deep Banana Blackout Longtime who played a high-energy set that featured a cameo from Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo. Before their set, the members of Deep Banana Blackout also backed eight-year-old Japanese guitar prodigy Yuto Miyazawa on covers of Black Sabbath’s ‘Crazy Train’ and Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Mr. Crowley.’ A few days later Miyazawa entered the Guinness World Records as the word’s youngest professional guitar player. DBB was followed by headliners the Black Crowes, whose set was largely based on their new release Warpaint, with hits such as ‘Remedy’ and and their cover of ‘Hard to Handle’ included, in addition to a mid-set version of ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ performed in honor of Jerry Garcia’s birthday.
Saturday found the camp grounds strapping down for an intense early afternoon storm that shut down the music, flooded the concert field and wiped out more than a few tents. Still, the staff was able to recoup to include solid, if slightly shortened sets from NRPS and Billy Kreutzmann’s new trio featuring Max Creek’s Scott Murawski and Oteil Burbridge. The trio dipped heavily into the GD songbook, playing ‘Eyes of the World’ and breaking up a classic suite by performing ‘Franklin’s Tower’ mid-set and then closing with a fantastic reading of ‘Help on the Way’ > ‘Slipknot!’. They did not hesitate to stretch out however, making the most of the power trio line up. During the final jam, attempts were made to have Oteil and the following act, Mike Gordon, jam across the two stages, but technical problems prevented it. Mike’s band also features Murawski, so he ran across to join in an opening jam already in progress. Kreutzmann also joined Mike for a few songs mid-set (‘Traveled Too Far,’ ‘Walls of Time,’ ‘Andelmans’ Yard’ and ‘Meat’) with ‘Andelman’s Yard’ offering one of the strongest jams of the afternoon. Phil Lesh and Friends played two sets to close out the evening, and while they did not include any of the myriad potential guests, they also gave a very strong performance. The first was anchored with a long, raging version of ‘Cumberland Blues’ and an open-ended take on ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ to close, while the second set was broken into two suites, ‘Watchtower’ being a standout in the first, and a segue from Particle’s ‘Elevator’ into Grateful Dead’s ‘The Eleven’ in the second.
Sunday found Friend Jackie Greene drawing a large crowd for a set with his own band, playing a mix of songs from his past four albums. He also sandwiched a couple verses of ‘New Speedway Boogie’ in the middle of ‘Rusty Nail’, and brought out Donna Jean, who, as was the case at the two previous Vibes, won MVP for the weekend, for a stellar version of ‘Sugaree.’ The rest of the day was filled out with a fine set from Sam Bush (with guest saxophonist Bill Evans) and a funky offering from Susan Tedeschi and Derek Truck’s Soul Stew Revival that included a slow, nasty version of the JGB staple ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman.’ Vocalist Mike Mattison also played earlier with his own group Scrapomatic at the Solar Stage (as AOD’s Nate Wilson and Adam Terrell did on Friday with the Nate Wilson Group), a smaller venue that featured band’s such as The Bridge and BuzzUniverse. Umphrey’s McGee was the penultimate group and they proceeded to tear apart the stage with a mix of goofy songwriting and blazing jams, especially the set closing ‘Miss Tinkle’s Overture’ > ‘JaJunk’. The festival closed out a gorgeous sunny day with The Neville Brothers, which framed the festival in NOLA, as Groovesect had played the first set on the main stage on Thursday. All in all, it was an excellent festival with very few, if any, spots in either music, community or the administration of the event. The Gathering of the Vibes will return to Seaside Park through 2012. Report by Dan Alford