I’m looking at a press update from Gathering Of The Vibes, and it includes a link to cheap hotel rooms and a poster design content for a food drive. And while most of this lineup is jam bands, their evenings this year include DJ sets from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation, as well as a set from Papadosio. Their inclusion of electronic music acts isn’t a thirsty move for marketability to sell additional tickets though. And everything about this festival screams “we really don’t give a fuck about following the rules.”
In this world where festivals are hiking prices and looking to do anything to sell more tickets and gain more power, The Gathering of The Vibes has spent the last 18 years focusing on music, and have no plans on changing. They have an open invitation to non-profits to set up booths. A “school of rock” program to teach kids about music. They even focus on environmental sustainability. They are selling 20,000 tickets while ducking the formula that most festivals seem to be duplicating, and all of these factors prompted me to reach out to the organizer, Ken Hays. I also had the pleasure of sharing this phone call with Stephanie Blatt, who heads artist relations.
Ken explained that Gathering Of The Vibes actually started out as a tribute event for friends and family of Jerry Garcia, one of the founders and the most recognizable name in Grateful Dead. It was originally called “Deadhead Heaven – A Gathering of the Tribe” and came together at SUNY Purchase because the office of New York City Mayor Rudy Guilanni didn’t want to cover the costs of this event in Central Park. The first Gathering had 3500 attendees, and attendance doubled for the second. I also found it interesting that the Disco Biscuits were on this lineup in 1998, then thought to jump to start their own Camp Bisco festival the following year. They played Gathering of The Vibes in 1999 and again in 2001, but it’s obvious that this festival inspired more than just music for them.
The way acts are booked for Gathering of the Vibes is abnormal. Instead of picking acts on whether or not they will be the biggest draw, Ken and a group of friends sit around with a bottle of tequila, and “…kind of walk through the process of when you’re setting up your tent… what do you want to be listening to? To late night. Until the sun comes up… what do you want to be listening to? And we walked through that whole programming together and contact band booking agents.”
Stephanie says “the jam band as a genre has always been about the inclusion of other genres. It’s been about musicians coming together and blending their music,” and The Gathering Of The Vibes has been doing this for years. This one festival has hosted James Brown, Rusted Root, Elvis Costello, Big Gigantic, Mixmaster Mike, Umphrey’s McGee, Moe., George Clinton, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jane’s Addiction, Primus, Fishbone, The Neville Brothers, and the Allman Brothers Band. These stages are filled with dozens more living legends in folk, rock, blues, jazz, and even electronic music. The goal is diversity. Both Ken and Stephanie said the word “musicianship” multiple times. They’re pushing innovative art by true artists.
Stephanie wanted to let us know that this event will continue to be diverse. “We’re not an EDM festival, and we don’t want to be an EDM festival. We definitely want to have part of that integrated into what Gathering Of The Vibes is. Because, again, jam band isn’t about one genre. It’s about all genres.” Ken immediately mirrored this sentiment with “it crosses the entire spectrum of music.” They ask fans what artists they want at the four-day festival. They ask interns who they are listening to. The lineups are often swayed, but you won’t have five stages of overpaid artists that have been booked because they are trendy. And even if “jam band” was the trendy thing to do, I think they would still grab a wide range of artists that represent different genres of music.
Gathering Of The Vibes and Do Androids Dance are collaborating to give away a free pair of tickets to this event. I will likely be in attendance for a couple of days, just as a reminder that good music and good events can survive without the marketing giants and giant corporations having their hands in the mix. All you have to do is click the Superglued link and “like” the Facebook pages of Gathering Of The Vibes and Do Androids Dance. You will be automatically entered to receive a pair of four-day passes. The winner will be notified via email. I thank Ken and Stephanie for their time, and can’t wait to check this event out for myself.