During Dark Star Orchestra’s Dead set on the first day of Gathering of the Vibes, the field in front of the Main Stage is packed and we’re all dancing like it’s the 70s again—the prime time for original Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux to take the stage. Photo Cred: Matt Lax, UNregular Radio.
Heat index: 110 degrees.
The blazing sun reflecting off the Long Island sound and the campgrounds of Gathering of the Vibes is spectacular, a trade off for the humidity and the thousands of tents that are creating an intense Greenhouse Effect within the camp grounds. Luckily, the heat cannot melt music. And the ocean is there to jump into.
There’s a certain gap that I am looking for. Between the back of an RV and it’s trailer, I can easily squeeze, side-stepping over the connector. I make it across the line of RVs that runs along the road skirting the campgrounds, connecting the grounds to the beach. The gap is located directly underneath a turquoise peace sign flag sharing its pole with a huge Grateful Dead flag.
You may ask: which Grateful Dead flag? There’s hundreds in this camp site and over 40,000 people gathered for these vibes.
To which I reply: it’s the Dead flag on the pole under the turquoise peace sign flag, and if you stand underneath the pole with your back to the beach, you see a flag pole due West from the first, sporting the same Dead flag below an American flag. Our camp site is directly underneath the second flag pole.
“That’s this scene… people take care of each other. That’s what we need to do in this world,”
I hear a weathered tie-dye bikini wearing woman say as I walk along the beach on Friday morning; the blazing hot sun of Day II of Gathering of the Vibes is about to rise.
Out here amidst the camp grounds, we all look out for each other. Yet when the entire field in front of the Main Stage is full of beautiful dancing fans twirling and spinning, bobbin and grooving to classics like Friend of the Devil and Sugar Magnolia, or epic renditions of Stella Blue and I Know You Rider, the heat is powerless to stop anyone from loving the music: “YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!!!!!!!!” seems to be the general consensus.
Welcome to the Promised Land.
I’m pretty sure I am living proof that people take care of each other at the Vibes. I came here with literally nothing and barely any money. Suddenly I wake up with the sun at 6 a.m. and am having Swedish Fish for breakfast. I slept outside last night on my Boston University tye-died blanket.
I look down and remember I am wearing a faded purplish-grey Jerry Garcia shirt that my friend Kevin, who is wearing a flag-cape and his signature “BALZANYA” trucker hat and who creates the best functional art for his shop. He’s been designing since he was 13, and he and his friends have stands at festivals all summer (we’re usually hanging out with them this weekend, in a painted prison van that they drove from home- more stories to come)…. Nice… Glow sticks on my wrists, no idea how any of this fell into place, but grinning widely: so much so that as I walk along the beach this morning, a guy walking by smiles and slaps me five. A slightly wrinkled man with a corn cob pipe and a straw hat sees me also, “Mornin’! he says gleefully. I smile back, though all I’m thinking is: Where’s the bathroom!!???
Yes, you are correct—I communicate mentally to the tie-dye bikini woman. No certain idea how I got here, yes, but having the time of my life.
There’s only two questions I have left. One: how long will it take them to use those huge tubes to pump the SHIT out of these port-o-potties?
And two: What would Jerry do [right now]???
Try to stealthily snatch the car keys from Matt Lex’s shorts while he’s sleeping?
YES. Then get my laptop and start writing before I forget any of what has happened so far.
The day started at 5:30 a.m. with two hours of sleep. The guys from UNregular Radio picked me up. Some highlights of the trip. I woke up to a pleasant aroma as Dex and John of UNRegular got back into the car with Dunkin Donuts coffee. 7 a.m.
“What did you get? I was gonna ask what that smell was,” Matt says, suddenly sitting up after a nap. “Damn, can I get some of that hippie speed ball coffee?”
Cosmo is another of our team for this festival. He’s on a beer diet and has lost 20 pounds so far, replacing all food with… well you know. Thankfully we have a full supply in our cooler, enough to last the weekend for sure.
We pull into a diner on the way around 7:40 a.m. and the ladies there talk to us about Elvis Costello and how there’s a dangerous heat wave about to gather… heating up to a sweltering 100+ degrees. Considering as I’m writing this I am dripping sweat and the ink is almost running down the page of my notebook, it seems she was right. Luckily, because we’re camping RIGHT ON THE BEACH, the breeze is there to save everyone’s lives as we walk all the way to the music area.
Photo Cred: Matt Lax, UNregular Radio.
Coming from Main Stage A, the Infamous Stringdusters beckon the hundreds of accumulating sweating, melting creatures as we arrive on Day I—like the Living Dead, yet very grateful for banjo jams:
“Hey, hey, how are you guys doin’? Trying to chill out? Cooooooool down?”
The Roots of Creation was my favorite show of Day I. Followed closely by the Dumpstaphunk. But let’s face it, at 3 pm on Thursday afternoon we all needed a reggae show.
Photo Cred: Matt Lax, UNregular Radio.
And the Roots inject a little more wobble into their reggae, mixing it up as if the Easy Star All-Stars asked RJD2 to jam—and came up with something totally awesome, something original and perfect to dance to.
I was drawn to the Green Vibes stage after losing everyone I was with and, naturally, wandering towards the music, pretty burnt out but awake, just slightly physically tired from playing in the ocean all day.
“WHY AREN’T YOU PAINTED YET?”
a guy with a paintbrush who had been bending over a girl’s back catches my eyes and screams playfully from his body-painting tent.
Roots of Creation served us a homegrown reggae dance party with a lot more psychedelic melodious-ness. After two minutes into any song, I can never remember if the jam I’m listening to started as spacey dub mixed with the natural sounds of a live organ or reggae funk—the man behind the Moog synth and organ sounds, Tal Pearson, would start spinning a trippy jam, carrying us above the heat—then the reggae kept bringing us back to the earth to get down. + Fire spinner.
“THIS SONG IS CALLED PEACE, LOVE, AND MUSIC,” Brett Wilson says before the final song. “This is only the beginning of an amazing weekend. Be safe, party hard.”
Meanwhile at the main stage, things are getting FUNKED TO DEATH.
“We gon’ get some UUUGHHH!! Up in here!” Ivan Neville shouts about two hours later, laughing as his fingers slide across the keys from the main stage.
“We’re Dumpstaphunk, up from New Orleans, Louisiana, bout to get funky in here!” he shouts, still grooving in his “I WILL FUNK YOU TO DEATH” shirt and shades. “We’ve been wanting to play the Vibes for years. Thank you for inviting us to your party! Awww, Shake it!”
Cue the talented Nikki Glaspie (filling in for Dumpstaphunk’s original drummer Raymond Weber since he and the band parted ways last month), who has played jazzy beats since she graduated from Boston’s Berklee School of Music and moved from the city’s best jazz clubs to sharing the stage with Beyonce, State Radio, Richie Hart and Dean Bowman. There’s not many vocalists I know who can sing just as soulfully as Aretha Franklin and throw in even more sassy goodness—and there’s none I know who can do this while breaking out one funky beat after another and killing it on drums.
These guys are shredding solos like it’s their job. ‘Cause it IS, boy! And who said work can’t be play?
As the sun FINALLY sets on Day I of Gathering of the Vibes, EVERYONE is dancing. There’s a ferris wheel glowing in the foreground of an ocean who is hiding from view beyond the camps, a cool breeze … the field in front of the main stage is now totally filled with hundreds of swaying, shimmying, funkified, silly, cooler, peaceful, happy campers.
Photo Cred: Matt Lax, UNregular Radio.
“Gathering of the Vibes, whatchu’ gon’ do?”
“PUT IT IN THE DUMPSTA!” we all shout, as I do a dance-walk through the crowd, stopping to get down with kids who look the funnest to dance with.
“Whatchu gonna do. Whatchu donna do.” Neville keeps the beat bumping.
I turn around and see Skinny, our leather-skinned, shirtless neighbor from back at the camp site, smoking a stoge and grooving.
“RIGHT ON!” he says when he sees me, bumping my fist before totally forgetting about me. Skinny’s been in the music business, going to festivals and following the Dead, since the seventies. Although he confessed that the day Rick Danko died, he might have cried harder than when Jerry died. Apparently in ’85 while watching the Dead at Saratoga, the grounds turned into a huge slip and slide the likes of Day II at Camp Bisco X.
“Bisco was like shoe genocide to the sound of Skrillex,” Dex Motha Fuckin Ter adds, describing it perfectly.
Skinny likes to chill under the tent next to us with his son and say “Right on!” His general disposition is nothing but pleasant.
We’re all talking about how safe we feel with the security at the Vibes this year. It’s definitely become a more family-oriented fest, with a whole children’s area where no one can smoke or drink, and parents and kids can listen to music and play with bubbles.
It’s a beautiful thing, bubbles replacing any bad stigma the festival attained two years ago, when the Nitrus Mafia was banned forever after murdering a kid who tried to sell in one of their marked areas of the festival.
“Good thing they got rid of that hippie crack,” Skinny says. “That’s a big waste of money,” he explains to us and his son as we all nod.
Hearing that story was shocking and made me appreciate the security efforts here all the more.
During Dark Star Orchestra’s Dead set, the field in front of the Main Stage is packed and we’re all dancing like it’s the 70s again—the prime time for Donna Jean Godchaux, who sang back up vocals for the Dead throughout the seventies and their later years, to take the stage.
Donna Gene looked good and like she was having a lot of fun up there, from down here dancing on the field.
During the show, Dex’s friend came to hang out and dance with us.
“So you guys want to meet Keller?”
Stay tuned for more reporting live from Friday and Saturday at this year’s Gathering of the Vibes. I heard “That 1 Guy” has a homemade instrument—a magic pipe, and will be playing at the School of Rock stage tomorrow. And who isn’t excited for a three-hour Further set?
Meanwhile at the campsite, Uncle Rick has arrived and is looking for “ten of them Marijuana party cigarettes” … so I guess I’ll Garcialater.