Gathering of the Vibes 2012 Interview with Founder Ken Hays
- By Nick Rhodes
- Published on June 25, 2012
|Photo Coutesy of Gathering of the Vibes' Facebook|
Back in 1991, Ken Hays was working with Terrapin Tapes, a company he created to distribute blank cassettes to fans and tapers on tour with The Grateful Dead.
Now, over two decades later, he’s the man behind one of the biggest and most storied East Coast music festivals in Gathering of the Vibes.
Taking place July 19 to 22 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Dead-centric festival will feature Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann with their own separate projects as well as Dark Star Orchestra, Primus, STS9, Yonder Mountain String Band, Papadosio, Keller Williams, Conspirator and many more.
When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Hays realized that he would no longer be able to see many of the like-minded friends he had met from across the country the two or three times per year he was accustomed to.
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In 1996, moe. and Max Creek headlined “Deadhead Heaven – A Gathering of the Tribe” and 3,500 people attended. After that, the name was shortened to simply Gathering of the Vibes and the rest is history.
We caught up with Hays and asked him about his role with the festival, conflicting with All Good this year and what makes the beachfront festival so special.
Headstash Magazine: You have obviously been instrumental in the creation and success of Vibes, so tell me what your primary responsibilities with the festival now are.
Ken Hays: It's everything from giving guidance to department heads to helping out backstage and everywhere in between. It's a beautiful thing to work with literally my closest friends and family. My parents even come out every year.
It's always been a very grassroots, “winging it” type of environment. I think we've got it down tighter than ever this year, but we have 1,500 staff – half of which are volunteers
Last year, we had just about 2,000 kids under the age of 15 that came with their parents. That's huge. That's kind of what's differentiates Gathering of the Vibes from almost every other festival out there.
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We used to just have the kid's corner where toddlers were getting their faces painted and now, 17 years later, they're teenagers. So we’ve expanded our teen scene with video game instruction and the School of Rock stage where all these incredibly talented kids are put together in bands to jam together.
To have that number of parents bringing their kids is really, I think, a true indication that what we're doing is real, meaningful and inspiring. I think this is one of the reasons we see year after year families gathering together for this annual retreat in a beautiful 370-acre waterfront park.
HM: What else do you consider to be Gathering of the Vibes’ identity and what sets it apart?
KH: We've never strayed too far from our musical roots, but at the same time in terms of the lineup, there’s some pretty significant diversity. We had James Brown in 2003 and we’ve had the Harlem Gospel Choir, Buddy Guy, Jane's Addiction, Elvis Costello, Damian Marley and Nas. We really try to touch on multiple genres and keep the lineups distinct, unique and intriguing.
I love putting thousands of people in front of a band that they might have heard of before, but have never seen perform live. Anyone can do something in the studio these days, but to feel the energy of a band and to allow them to spread their wings is something that is inspiring.
HM: That seems like a really challenging each year. How do you go about putting together the lineup?
KH: Myself and a group of 10 or so friends closest to me get together and just brainstorm about which bands are touring, and then we start talking to other booking agents.
|Photo Courtesy of Gathering of the Vibes' Facebook|
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We have a hotline set up on site so if anyone has any questions or issues or problems or concerns, they call us up. Whatever the issue is, we'll dispatch someone out to talk with you and help you. If you've got a broken leg, we'll send a golf cart for you. It's the little things like that that make the festival special.
We're able to give that more intimate and hands-on customer service approach. There's no two-mile walk anywhere from the Main Stage to the campground – everything is within 20 minutes.
HM: What unique events do you have in store for the 2012 version of Vibes?
KH: This year, we have a much more interactive and engaging environmental educational component. I think in these days of general insanity and suffering worldwide, we need to give pause and understand what we can do on an individual basis to help our global community.
The question is where are we going to be five or 10 years down the road? The Yale University environmental studies program has been really instrumental in helping us give honest, non-subjective answers and discussions.
|Photo Courtesy of Gathering of the Vibes' Facebook|
HM: Vibes is obviously rooted in the jam scene and the music of The Grateful Dead, so what do you think of the future of that music and the more electronic approach so many bands and events are taking?
KH: It's absolutely raging. We save that stuff – like STS9 and Gigantic Underground Conspiracy – for late-nights, obviously. The whole electronic scene is thriving and honestly, it's amazing to see kids engaged in a genre that they love and the numbers prove it.
HM: One rough thing about this year is you guys are going up against All Good.
KH: It’s unfortunate, yeah. There's a festival every weekend and Tim Walther and I are good friends. We talked about this many months in advance and our issue is that we've got the minor league baseball team a half-mile from the venue. So we weren't able to move our dates and Tim wasn't able to move his.
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But we're going to make sure in the future that we do everything possible to make sure that All Good and Vibes aren't on the same weekend. It makes it difficult for the fans to choose and we want everyone to succeed.
HM: I’ll get you out on this one. You’ve mentioned it a few times already, but tell me about Seaside Park and what makes the venue so appropriate for the festival.
KH: Seaside Park is really a diamond in the rough. People think of Bridgeport as a rundown city because historically it has been, but it’s come so far. It's safe now and they've proven that the Vibes attendees are safe here. The Bridgeport Police Department has been awesome.
P.T. Barnum donated this park to the city back in 1875 when he was mayor of Bridgeport. The only stipulation he had with giving his property to the city was that it had to be used for open space and recreational activities. I think recreational activities and Gathering of the Vibes go hand in hand, and I think Barnum would be pleased with what we've accomplished.
HM: Thanks a lot for the time, Ken.
KH: All right, thanks.
Gathering of the Vibes takes place at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, CT this July 19 to 22 and will feature Phil Lesh and Friends, Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby, The Mickey Hart Band, STS9, Primus, Dark Star Orchestra, Gigantic Underground Conspiracy, Keller Williams, Papadosio and more.
Are you going to Vibes this year? Let us know in the comments below . . .