The Gathering of the Vibes opens Thursday for its 18th edition. Can’t be at the festival? Follow this live blog for updates all weekend.
For John Popper, The Gathering of the Vibes is something of a homecoming.
The Blues Traveler frontman lived in Stamford — not far from Bridgeport’s Seaside Park, the site of the festival — until he was 17.
In a post-performance interview on Sunday, the affable harmonica player reminisced about growing up in the city’s Newfield neighborhood (“I lived on 1780 Newfield Avenue”), attending Stamford Catholic High School (“that was my Vietnam experience”) and the changing face of Stamford’s urban landscape (“when I went back to see St. John’s Towers, I heard 70s music in my head, but the city — it doesn’t look like the 70s anymore).
Still, Popper feels a great deal of affection for his old home.
“You can’t not love your hometown,” said Popper as he puffed on a Parliament cigarette outside the Blues Traveler tour bus.
Popper added that “it’s awesome to run into old friends.”
“Sometimes, you drink a little too much,” he said of his Connecticut reunions.
As for the Vibes, Popper was effusive about the atmosphere of the festival and the amenities it offered. Performing at Bonaroo, for example, can be tough, because “you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“At Bonaroo, you’re always on a search for water and closer air conditioning,” he added. “Here, you can still find a gas station.”
And, as it turns out, a little slice of home.
Noted jazz saxophonist Bill Evans was the artist-in-residence at the Vibes this year, and took the stage with acts such as Phil Lesh and Friends, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Warren Haynes’ Gov’t Mule.
He said it was the first time he has tried something on this scale.
“I’ve sat in with many different bands, but never was it three days,” he said after he performed with Blues Traveler Sunday afternoon. “I know most of the guys I played with, and asked them beforehand if they wanted me to sit in.
They didn’t have to let me sit in.
“I texted (Blues Traveler’s) John Popper about it, and he replied, ‘Let’s rock!’ I texted Derek Trucks to let him know what I was doing, and he texted back, ‘Sweet!’ Warren Haynes was the same way. He texted back, ‘Let’s hit it!’ ”
Evans had a vague idea of what to bring to each performance, except one.
“With Phil (Lesh), I had no idea what was happening,” he said. “He just said, ‘React to what’s happening,’ and I could tell there was a lot of unspoken musical communication in the band.
“I just tried to add to it and not get in the way of the vocals.”
Up next for Evans is a summer of touring with his band, Soulgrass, which includes a concert scheduled for Red Square in Moscow.
“The lonely other there was by Paul McCartney, so that’s awesome,” Evans said. “That’s going to be fun.”
The McLovins were back at the Vibes for the fifth year, which is pretty amazing when you consider the band members are still just college students.
The jam band is for real, as any attention they received for being such a young group at the Vibes is now attention purely focused on their music.
The McLovins play a lot of festivals each summer, but saved up something special for the Vibes — a horn section.
“We do play a lot of festivals, but we wanted to bang it out this year for our hometown show,” keyboardist Atticus Kelly said after the band’s performance. “We wanted to do something extra this year.”
After Grace Potter and the Nocturnals honored the late J.J. Cale by playing his song “Cocaine,” Gov’t Mule paid tribute at the end of his set.
Warren Haynes’ band was joined by George Porter Jr. of the Funky Meters and jazz greats John Scofield and Bill Evans for a version of Cale’s “After Midnight.”
Cale died Friday after suffering a heart attack in California.
“It’s a huge loss,” Haynes said before he went out for Gov’t Mule’s set. “He was an amazing writer and artist. He wrote so many amazing songs.”
It’s a booth that travels the country from music festival to festival, and on tours with the likes of Crosby Stills and Nash and Jackson Browne, where people can get their paper money stamped with a slogan calling for the end to political corruption.
Some of the bills are stamped “This may not be used to bribe politicians,” and others read “The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed.”
“The goal is to stamp money out of politics,” Esrick said. “This is a way for the young voters to send a message because they feel powerless.”
For more information about the organization, which counts Ben and Jerry’s Ben Cohen as a major backer, visit stampstampede.org.
It wouldn’t be the Gathering of the Vibes without ink — lots and lots of ink.
The Vibe Tribe is a veritable tapestry of tattoos, from tenderfoots (body art newbies) to meat (someone who frequents tattoo shops and sports A LOT of tattoos).
Mark Tawney, 40, of Philadelphia, falls into the latter category. He has so many tats that “it’s all just turned into one big tattoo,” he said. Tawney has a massive gorilla swinging from a tree one side of his ribcage; a humpback whale plunging into the ocean on the other.
“They call me the biggest and the baddest,” he said of the reason for those tattoos.
Tawney is a family man, too. To prove it, he got four monkey tats next to his gorilla – one each for his wife, Stacey, and three kids – and a photorealistic illustration of his mom on his arm. She made Tawney promise that he wouldn’t get any tattoos “above the neckline, below the wristline, or below the ankle line.”
“Other than that, she’s totally cool with all of this,” he said.