With a name like Gathering of the Vibes, it’s hard to go wrong. The festival emerged over ten years ago as a gathering to remember and celebrate the music of Jerry Garcia. Since then, it has grown to an annual event showcasing top-notch musicians and drawing nearly 15,000 people each year. It is hard to believe that this year was my fifth, gathering with old and new friends to experience emotional and sonic journeys.
This year was a little different. No mud dancing, it was hot and dry all weekend; Phil Lesh was not joined onstage by his new friends but rather members from Furthur, the number of concert goes swelled overall and finally, I went by myself.
The music of the Grateful Dead, from Eyes of the World, Franklin’s Tower, to I Know You Rider and Brokendown Palace, has guided me through many beginnings and endings in life. Many bands, including Dark Star Orchestra, Bob Weir and Ratdog, The Dead, Furthur and Phil Lesh and Friends carry on the sounds that represent a pioneering genre in the history of music. But like Bach and Beethoven, I have my favorites and hail Phil Lesh and Friends as the ultimate transcendent Grateful Dead experience. Unlike most bands, Phil plays with a lineup of diverse non-Dead musician.
The Phil Lesh and Friends collaborative seem to enjoy every stroke, every key, every note, every song and every night of their tours. In 2008, I was fortunate to catch eight shows at Nokia Theatre in New York City, an amazing audio space that is also small and as intimate as NYC gets. I saw seven shows back to back, taking Monday off along with the band and returning for the final Tuesday appearance. Phil Lesh, by the way, turned 69 last year.
Each night and each set were unique, each Grateful Dead song that I had heard hundreds of times before sounded as never before. This is why I like Phil Lesh and Friends. However, for the most recent tours, Phil Lesh has chosen to perform with Furthur, mostly an ex-Grateful Dead artist mash up. Furthur did not push their creative limits at the Gathering this year but the Rhythm Devils picked up where Furthur could not reach. It is important for one to get their dose of the Grateful Dead at a festival. Yet what drew me to the festival this year was mostly the line up of musicians I had never heard before. Bands like Damian Marley and Nas, Galactic, Quinn Sullivan, Turbine, Lubriphonic, Macpodz, Domino Theory, The McLovins and Primate Fiasco, along with a finally stellar performance by Umphrey’s McGee.
I couldn’t imagine of anything more satisfying that those four days of fresh music by a waterfront stage, pink and purple Long Island Sound sunrises and the kindness of strangers.
But with the good comes the evil. The festival is still a massive trash producer. Thank you to all the volunteers like Josiah, below.