BRIDGEPORT — It’s hard to determine who had a better 2014 Gathering of the Vibes — the audience, or the performers who poured on their talents across three stages during the four-day jam band festival at Bridgeport’s Seaside Park.
All but for a brief overnight spate of showers Friday, August 1, the weather was very cooperative, likely contributing to the absence of problems that might have otherwise been caused by attendees who both over-consumed and overheated.
This year, all the heat was coming from the vast and diverse range of performers, from top-notch headliners like John Fogerty, who mixed a few of his solo hits with a huge sampling of hits from his Creedence Clearwater Revival days, to internationally revered Reggae superstar Ziggy Marley, who dosed Sunday afternoon’s “Family Day” crowd with love and easygoing beats.
This year’s Vibes also provided a host of Connecticut performers opportunities to showcase their talents to thousands of concertgoers. Among them were Hartford-based Bronze Radio Return, who lit up the Green Vibes Stage; Bridgeport’s own Jen Durkin and Deep Banana Blackout; 14-year-old guitar phenom Bobby Paltauf; East Haven’s Kung Fu; the Funky Dawgz Jazz Band; and New Canaan’s rising folk star Nick Depuy.
And while two previous mainstays of the Vibes — Grateful Dead co-founders Bob Weir and Phil Lesh — skipped the festival this year, a blazing after midnight main stage set from Disco Biscuits featuring the Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart kept the memory of colleague Jerry Garcia alive.
The high energy ensemble made all the hard-core Deadheads who chose to stay up late very happy with a fantastic set that combined the Biscuits material with Dead favorites including “Shakedown Street,” “West LA Fadeaway,” an uplifting “Eyes of the World,” and “The Other One” featuring a feverish explosion of percussion courtesy of Hart and Kreutzmann.
Drummer and Almost Dead band leader Joe Russo, who has played with Lesh and Weir in Furthur, delivered a number of Dead classics as well, with a particularly interesting take on “Casey Jones” that built to a bluegrass-fueled frenzy. During a brief chat following his set, Russo claimed that after his duties with former Dead members ended, he agonized about putting together a tribute act focusing on their material.
But after some discussion with fellow musicians, and some soul-searching, Russo decided that he wanted to create a musical project that carried on the spirit and irrepressible magic that the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia had created, much like the surviving members of the Dead did with Furthur.
Leftover Salmon with Little Feat’s Bill Payne was another tasty treat, providing Vibes-goers with a nice taste of rootsy classic rock. Among their originals, the band sprinkled in Feat’s “Oh Atlanta,” and a thick and groovy “Dixie Chicken.” They also threw in “I Know You Rider,” for the Dead fans, many who responded tossing their hands in the air, or dancing around joyously.
Trombone Shorty with Orleans Avenue was probably the highest energy performer on the main stage Friday, while Rodrigo y Gabriela surprised many Saturday afternoon Vibes fans with their intense acoustic interplay that teased signature licks from Slayer, Metallica and Nirvana.
This year’s festival included some great jazz influences as well.
There was saxophone master Maceo Parker churning out a very tasty set, Primate Fiasco offering their own brand of urbanized horn play, and Vibes “Artist in Residence” Stanley Jordan lighting the fuse as he sat in with numerous acts from Digital Tape Machine and moe. to New Orleans’ own Dumpstaphunk and Sunday’s festival closers Dispatch.
Jordan said that he approached his invitation to the Vibes very seriously. He said he spent much time consuming and reviewing material from each band he was invited to jam with, so he could morph his unique guitar playing to compliment each act, versus forcing his own style on each of his collaborators.
Jordan said it was important for him to understand the concept of each band in his own mind so he could lend an instrumental voice and true understanding of each band’s material to his guest spots.
Along the long strange trip that was this year’s GOTV, audience members enjoyed additional jam band veterans like Widespread Panic, Rusted Root, and Slightly Stoopid, which displayed an amazing versatility with its horn-driven Ska and Reggae mixing with R&B, rock and even some folk and country influences.
Among other notable performers were Umphrey’s McGee, the sounds of Strangefolk, Keller Williams, Ryan Montbleau and a late night set of all Grateful Dead material meticulously recreated by Dark Star Orchestra. Donna the Buffalo turned a technical meltdown into a very special treat for fans as most of the band shut down for a few minutes leaving Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins on their own to cook up a brief impromptu Zydeco number that kept all the happy feet tapping.
The “Shame on you if you missed it” set happened Friday evening with a two-hour plus Talking Heads tribute from Philly’s Lotus, who invited Joe Russo and American Babies/Brothers Past guitarist Tom Hamilton in for a couple of numbers. The group shunned popular Talking Heads hits, delving deep into the groups catalog with throbbing takes on “Moon Rocks,” “Warning Sign,” and “I Zimbra.”
Without Weir or Lesh on hand, Fogerty was clearly the big draw tapping his experiences in the San Francisco and Woodstock scenes and delivering a powerhouse performance. He hit the stage right on time and blasted off straight away with “Travelin’ Band,” and a thick, swampy “Born on the Bayou.”
Referring to his trip with CCR to Woodstock, Fogerty told the crowd, “All us hippies got wet, got stoned, and then I went home and wrote this one” – launching into “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” Even his early solo hits, “The Old Man Down the Road,” and the chipper “Centerfield,” received monstrous receptions from the crowd, and a 20+ minute “Heard it Through the Grapevine” gave his stellar backing band a chance to show their stuff.
Sadly, as midnight approached, Fogerty’s voice began showing signs of wear as his vocals on “Up Around the Bend” fell a half-step flat when he stretched for the very top of his range. He snapped back immediately, however, turning in a spot-on encore of “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Proud Mary.”
Dumpstaphunk was another bright spot – but they were unfortunately relegated to the smaller and more audience confining “Green Vibes” stage and viewing areas. Despite some lingering tech issues, the band rose to the occasion by mid-set introducing a couple of guest horn players who came in just for the set.
“Dancin to the Truth,” from their latest project was as dirty and funky as you could get with not one, but two bass players pounding out the bottom end. Drummer Nikki Glaspie also got a turn at the microphone and nailed “Betty Davis” with her raspy soprano. The Vibes marked one of Glaspie’s final gigs with Dumpsta, however, as she prepared to hit the road with her own band, The Nth Power.