"These days they don't play my music anymore…"
Under the daunting mid-Atlantic sun‚ guitarist Scott Tournet (Grace Potter/Blues and Lasers) spoke these words of truth so too often lost into the cracks of society. It seems the ultimate battle between quality vs. quantity has left the latter victorious across the current musical landscape. Scavengers of passion and pursuit of the perfect note have combed through the rolling hills and open prairies‚ coming up with handfuls of hopeful pockets of refuge. Amid these said places‚ Gathering of the Vibes has remained a saving grace within the northeast offerings.

Cruising down the side streets of the infamous Bridgeport‚ abandoned factories and dilapidated neighborhoods sprinkled the field of vision many come to question as a location of such a seemingly optimistic festival. Activities were well underway Friday afternoon as we set up camp along the boardwalk overlooking the Long Island Sound‚ rays of sunshine drying out soggy fields from recent rainstorms.
Navigating the elongated horseshoe-shaped venue‚ Keller Williams & MDS twirled their way ("Best Feeling"/"Freaker by the Speaker"/"Eyes of the World" featuring Donna Jean Godchaux) through the carefree emotion running rampant throughout the surrounding environment. Diamonds glistened off the Sound as a lone couple kissed in the waters‚ prestigious sailboats and a ferry crossing the horizon line.
The funkified eternal grooves of George Clinton & P-Funk engulfed the stage and echoed along the sandy beaches as the tide retreated for the evening. Strolling the campgrounds‚ friends and friendly faces surfaced among the drenched city of tents and tarps.
Reconnecting and rehashing the first half of the summer came over a cold beer‚ a rolled cigarette and numerous laughs as the distinctive jazz-funk styling of Deep Banana Blackout (birthed in Bridgeport) filtered in from the distance. Year after year‚ the Vibes seems to breed a blend of comradery true to only itself‚ in the sense of all these little wandering dots (no matter how scattered) converging in Connecticut to rendezvous and reunite with other dots; to compare adventures‚ hardships and ultimately the next move once the music ends on Sunday.
Hurrying back to the stage for moe.‚ dark clouds immersed the night sky. The initial tune resulted in a never-ending opening set ("Not Coming Down" --> "Wormwood" --> "Stranger Than Fiction" --> "Hector's Pillow" --> "St. Augustine"). The performance picked up momentum ("Mexico"/"Hi and Lo")‚ but "the show that could have been" ended up a washout as lighting bolts and fat raindrops sent anyone outside into nearby tents or vehicles‚ resulting in the closure of the main stage until Saturday.
With a late-night party still unsure by promoters‚ festivalgoers grabbed any intoxicant within reach seeing as it was not even midnight‚ "Fuck no‚ I ain't tired." The ever-growing sounds of nitrous tanks and sniffing nostrils filled the air as my feet squished and squeaked‚ not from the rain primarily‚ but from hundreds of discarded balloons carelessly tossed into the forgotten night.

A nightcap walk down the beach‚ the James Brown shrills of Lettuce booming from the after-hours tent provoking rhythm and redemption for an evening interrupted by inclement weather. Fire-dancers amused themselves in the sands‚ as the last cigarettes of the day were lit‚ the last sips of lukewarm beverages put to rest before heavy eyelids sauntering into cozy sleeping quarters. Tonight we sleep‚ for tomorrow is another day.
Emerging from the depths of Saturday morning‚ I jumped into the chilly Sound to not only cool off and wake up‚ but also immerse myself in the watery beauty providing the southern border of the venue.
With Frisbees thrown and starry-eyed children blowing bubbles‚ Moonalice captured the innocence of Vibes through their calming acoustic melodies ("Stella Blue")‚ timeless covers ("A Whiter Shade of Pale") and 70's-Dead saturated numbers ("Sugaree"). The "who's who of rock music" ensemble breathes life into a sometimes overlooked interpretation of Americana.
The late-minute cancellation of State Radio meant allowance of time expansion for other afternoon acts such as the Ryan Montbleau Band and the Assembly of Dust. High-energy jigs‚ nitty gritty keyboards‚ stand-up bass fingering and swinging dance moves overtook the fields as the engaging stage presence of Montbleau provided for a V8 blend of genres. "We want some of that hick-funk!" bellowed from the crowd as AOD served up their always-enticing New England blend of backwoods folk. Joined onstage by his toddler son (holding a novelty guitar)‚ Reid Genauer belted out old favorites and new ("Samuel Aging"/"Revelry"/"45 Degrees")‚ while the spiraling guitar wizardry of Adam Terrell put the listener in a daze of not only talent‚ but joyous harmony few bands can conjure within an audience.

Sandy toes and refreshing shade under sturdy trees as the late afternoon emerged. Intriguing sounds floated from the side stage as The Queen Killing Kings enraptured my attention with avant-garde piano ballads comforting the vocals of Coley O'Toole . The predictable setlist and cookie-cutter melodies of Guster ("Barrel of a Gun"/"Fa Fa") blew through the campsites as I rested my eyes before the unknown adventures of Saturday night readied themselves to surprise me.
The ensuing darkness began at the mercy of The Levon Helm Band. An all-star cast of 11 priceless musicians‚ the group opened the floodgates with "The Shape I'm In." With his permanent smile‚ Helm anchors the relentless energy with his unparallel drum styling‚ harnessing it just enough to distill the dirtiest form of folk-rock and blues ("Deep Elem Blues"/"Chest Fever"); a blend of music missing for decades yet greatly desired amid the diluted masses consuming radio (Bob Weir joined in on "Tennessee Jed" and the unforgettable closer "The Weight").
A soothing breeze crept in from nearby waters as Bob Weir & Ratdog graced our presence in the crisp southern New England sky. A jolly grey beard adorned Weir's aging face; a surreal moment to observe the once youthful teenage delinquent‚ now a humbled icon. My body relaxed and thoughts evaporated through his calming‚ paternal intuition and blissful intent ("Jack Straw"/"Bertha"/"Scarlet Begonias").
Meandering down the boardwalk‚ I sat down on the concrete edge‚ feet dangling over the rocks below. With Perpetual Groove to my back in the late-night rave tents (an overflowing abyss of humanity and madness)‚ I looked out over the dark waters‚ the shoreline illuminated by the industrial Bridgeport skyline. The true essence of the word "family" entered my mind‚ as tranquility amid chaos entered my soul‚ throughout conversations with strangers that were struck and community beers handed out to those with empty pockets until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
A lot of dreary bodies and dehydrated heads awoke to the angelic sounds of the Harlem Gospel Choir. A truly awe-striking sight-for-sore-eyes as the gargantuan lung power and gospel soul cascaded down upon even the darkest of corners within the venue. Soon‚ the ball-crushing force of Blues and Lasers took seaside listeners hostage. Led by Tournet‚ the quintet was deafening and stole girlfriends left and right as their molasses rock seeped out of the speakers and onto the sparsely crowded lawn. A tried and true time warp‚ the band drags you back to an alternate reality; a reality were music violates your soul and you actually learn something about dignity and ambition within the process. Tournet and co-lead guitarist Benny Yurco play cat and mouse across the stage‚ while dueling drummers Steve Sharon and Matt Burr combine forces‚ each playing like one of John Bonham's tree trunk legs‚ as interim bassist John Rogone fingers the instrument in ways women only dream of.