For the past four years, music lovers from Fairfield County and beyond have flocked to Bridgeport to attend the Gathering of the Vibes.
This summer, they'll do the same.
The Vibes—a four-day music festival organized by resident Ken Hays—began as a celebration of the life of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who passed away in 1995. The first festival, held in 1996, took place at SUNY Purchase. Since then, the festival—now in its 17th year—has bounced back between Connecticut and New York.
This July 19 through July 22, the Vibes—held at Seaside Park—will finish up the last year of its five-year contract with the city of Bridgeport. Hays said it remains to be seen whether the festival will return next summer.
"I'm torn—Seaside Park is an absolutely spectacular, unique venue. But it does come with its challenges, moreso on an operational and logistical level for our staff than for the attendees," Hays said last week. "We're keeping all of our options open. The city has been unbelievable and supportive as has the state."
Seaside Park is made up of two-and-one-half miles of coastline on Long Island Sound. The land was donated to Bridgeport by P.T. Barnum in 1875, intended to be used for recreational activities.
"For those who haven’t been down to Seaside Park, it's an absolutely beautifully manicured 370 acres along the shores of the Long Island Sound," he said.
Hays said the festival's been good for economic development and tourism.
"We booked up eight hotels last year, and we're well on our way of exceeding that this year," he said.
Earlier this month, the festival's lineup was announced.
"We were thrilled to announce the lineup," Hays said. "All of the members of the Grateful Dead will be with us this summer, as well as first time artists like The Avett Brothers, Steel Pulse and the Greyboy Allstars. We've got 40 bands on three stages."
Though the four surviving founding members of The Grateful Dead will perform at the festival, they're all involved in their own projects: bassist Phil Lesh will perform with his band; rhythm guitarist Bob Weir will be playing with Bruce Hornsby (who played keys for The Dead in early 1990s) and special guest Branford Marsalis; drummer Mickey Hart will perform with his band; and drummer Bill Kreutzmann will play with the 7 Walkers.
Other notable acts include Primus, STS9, Zappa Plays Zappa, Yonder Mountain String Band, Strangefolk, Dark Star Orchestra and Connecticut's own Kung Fu and Deep Banana Blackout.
"It's the largest and best beach party on the East," Hays said, adding there will be a few more bands announced over the next few weeks.
Tickets and other information
Music festivals have become more popular in more recent years. This year, the Vibes is being held over the same weekend, for example, as All Good, a music festival which moved from West Virginia to Ohio.
"As more and and more festivals emerge nationwide and worldwide, it's become a busy marketplace with very significant players," he said. "Without question there's much, much more competition out there, making it challenging for people to decide what festival to go to and how to spend their entertainment dollars."
He remains optimistic about his festival's success this year.
"Ticket sales so far are right on course with where we were last year," Hays said, adding just about 20,000 people attended the festival each day. "I feel good with where were at right now."
Weekend camping passes, which include admittance on Thursday, are available for $185. Those interested in attending on only Friday or only on Saturday can purchase tickets for $65, while those interested in attending only on Sunday can purchase tickets for $40. There are also VIP ticketing options available.
Bridgeport residents can purchase a three-day pass to the festival for $75, with no camping or late-night music. Sunday is family day at the Vibes, Hays said, with Connecticut residents getting half-price admission and kids under 15 years old admitted for free.
To read full ticketing information, click here.
Hays said there's also something for the kids at the Vibes. In addition to face-painting, hair wraps and children's musicians, kids can play music at the festival and learn about sound engineering and lighting for live music performances.
"So many kids are into music," Hays said. "Our goal is to really get them outside of their comfort zone with video games and into something where they can experience what treble is, what bass is, where they can get a better understanding of what they see on the mainstrage, of what all takes place behind the scenes."
For more information on the festival itself, including the full lineup, click here.