The much-anticipated Gathering of the Vibes music festival will draw 20,000 to Bridgeport for its 18th year of music and entertainment.
The four-day festival will started yesterday and runs to July 28 at Bridgeport's 370-acre Seaside Park, which has hosted more Vibes festivals than any other venue, according to Vibes founder Ken Hays.
The "perfectly manicured absolute jewel" of a park spans over two miles and includes a mile-long stretch of beach on the Long Island Sound, Hays said.
This year’s musical highlights include performances by jazz guitarist John Scofield, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the Roots, the Revivalists and Dark Star Orchestra, among others.
The lineup also includes a number of up-and-coming artists who “cover the musical spectrum.” Hays said the festival provides good exposure for emerging artists because many guests will be hearing their music for the first time. The full lineup is listed on the Vibes website, along with audio and video recordings of each artist.
“In terms of musicianship and diversity, [the performers] are well represented,” said Hays.
But the festival is about more than just music.
“What separates or distinguishes Vibes from all other music festivals is… how family friendly it is,” Hays explained. “Last year we had over 2,000 kids under the age of 15 that came with their parents.”
The festival has “really, truly turned into an annual reunion for friends and families,” said Hays. “It gives everybody an opportunity to take a step back from the 24-hour news cycle and enjoy time in a beautiful park right on the water with family and friends and great live music.”
Hays said he remembers spending time with his dad watching the New York Mets at Shea Stadium and hopes to foster a similar family environment at Vibes.
About 2,500 kids will attend this year’s festival. Younger guests can take advantage of the School of Rock Teen Vibes Stage, where “kids who are musically inclined can jam together,” said Hays.
Other attractions include juggling classes, yoga, face painting, puppet workshops, a World Peace Flag Ceremony, a giant Ferris wheel and an array of food and craft vendors.
Special pricing is available for Connecticut residents and active military members on Sunday. A further discount can be applied if tickets are purchased in advance online using the code CTSUN.
Bridgeport city employees and residents can purchase a three-day pass at the gate for $75 beginning on Friday morning.
Sunday admission is free for kids 15 and under when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Park campgrounds attract some 12,000 overnight guests every year. Festival-goers can purchase single-day and weekend passes, as well as RV passes for campers.
Vibes originated in 1996 as a tribute to the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. The “Gathering of the Tribes,” as it was first called, attracted 3,500 people to the SUNY Purchase campus, where it was held over Memorial Day weekend. While Vibes has expanded over the years, its mission and purpose remain unchanged.
“What we’ve found is that so many families are coming up with their kids and their friends of friends that this is a really meaningful time to focus on what’s really important,” Hays said.
Eighteen years after the first gathering, Vibes has grown to become "the Northeast's preeminent music festival," according to the website.
“Looking at 25,000 people smiling… it’s an amazing scene,” Hays said.
This is Seaside Park’s ninth year hosting the festival.
Hays, a Weston resident originally from Greenwich, says it’s a pleasure to bring Vibes back to his home state.
“It’s just a beautiful, beautiful spot,” he said, “and it’s home. Connecticut is home.”