The worst of the heat lost its tight grip on the weekend very early Sunday morning.
Many moons ago, I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with the guys from Perpetual Groove. Late night Saturday, or early morning Sunday, it was great to see how far they have come in the past decade; since the time they were one of dozens of bands trying to break onto the jamband scene. Hailing from the same neck of the woods as Widespread Panic, P-Groove did everything they could to distance themselves from that portion of the listening public that was already spoken for. But in fighting so hard to define what they weren’t, often times it did not seem like they knew what they were. Let this be a lesson to all young musicians out there; spend more time worrying about your sound and less about whom it sounds like. Truth be told, there are bands that have achieved more fame on the jamband circuit who have yet to come to this realization. Thankfully, P-Groove has come out of the past ten years wiser, calmer and more in tune with their tunes. This current chapter for Perpetual Groove is one that their longtime friends have been waiting for for many years. Welcome to who you are.
When we woke the cloud cover was thick enough to throw a few sprinkles our way in the early morning and, more importantly to keep the heat at bay. The cooler temperatures, and the fact that we knew we would be in our own bed before the day was through, lightened the weight we would normally feel on day 4 of a festival and we easily made it to the mainstage in time to catch the world peace prayer. Now, say what you want about an east coat festival- and I know all you people who chose to go to Horning’s Hideout this weekend probably already have- but one of the many things about GOTV that always makes me check my attitude is the dedication that Ken Hays and other organizers have shown to the simple mantra offered up by Mahatma Gandhi all of those years ago. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Sure, the organizers of GOTV have made money organizing this festival, but they also dedicate a lot of time, resources and money to helping to change the world we live in. During an interview earlier in the week, I saw Ken Hays get visibly irked at the thought of those of us, and I am not throwing stones, who don’t do enough. “We all live here. It’s the only world we got,” he said while rubbing his hands across his head and muttering to himself in frustration, before collecting himself and being the interviewee the GOTV 2011 DVD needs him to be. But he is right, and he lives it. Every year, a portion of time and a lot of space at GOTV is dedicated to the idea of bringing peace to the earth. Maybe it’s a long-term goal with a lot of short-term obstacles to thwart before we can even see the finish, but it’s still an admirable goal. Out in the crowd in front of the mainstage on a cool Sunday morning, to hear the many children waving the flags of every nation on the planet and repeating over and over “may peace prevail on earth” you start to think that maybe this generation is getting off on the right foot. Pair that with the philanthropic work GOTV does in giving back to the city of Bridgeport and you can see that GOTV walks the walk.
To help relate the music to you in my writing, I often use an old trick- I relate it to a movie or a scene that we all know and, shazam, you have more of a feeling about the sound than you would if I left the reference out. Don’t believe me? Look back in this article, all 4 parts. There are already 34 movie references. Find them all and call me at home to tell me about them. I’ll send you out a prize. When the music of Dr. John began to ring through the early afternoon sky, I though that this was the music that would be playing in the movie about my life. Take a minute to make sure you get that. I’ll repeat myself. It is the music that would be playing in a movie about me. It is by no means the soundtrack to my life. No, it’s the soundtrack that, I assume, would go swimmingly with any decent screenplay and performance about me. If you know Dr. John at his best, than you have just learned a little more about me. If you already know me, than you may have just learned a little more about Dr. John.
One of the few giddy moments I had all weekend was when Rhythm Devils took the stage. I have seen all of its members individually many times. I have even seen Reed Mathis play with Steve Kimock and Keller Williams play with the drumming duo of the Dead. But all of them together? This was going to be epic. First and foremost, Kimock is a God. Its true. A Greek God mind you, as they have all of the interesting stories about God’s that have mortal emotions. Yes, Kimock’s godward story is that of the talented musician who wants to share his gift with everyone, and is always chasing the proper path to do it. His constellation in a crooked line of stars in the western sky. Look for it. Reed Mathis, bassist extraordinaire, has changed drastically since his Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey days and, when I first noticed this I dropped my shoulders and pouted. But what I have come to understand is that Reed allows himself to form a symbiotic relationship with whatever band he is playing with. He finds the needs of that band and fills them better than any other bass player could. He has not so much changed as much as the music that he is playing has changed. And his facial hair has changed. Reed, you kind of look like a cross between Brent Mydland and Guy Smiley. With Rhythm Devils you could hear the same low-end flashes of exuberance and playfulness you have to turn back the clock to the mid-70’s to hear in Phil Lesh’s playing. And whenever Reed plays with Kimock, you can hear the respect that he has for Steve through his playing. It’s like a young boy trying to impress his father. He does everything as best he can, hoping for a sly smile from his elder. By no coincidence, every one of these efforts is heard and appreciated by the audience. Keller? Well, he is not there for his guitar playing, but the fun he injects into every phrase, every vocal run up and down the scale, every guffaw he weaves into his words keeps the mood light. This is the modern version of The Grateful Dead that I want to see. They are hungry. They are polished. They are diverse and they embrace it.
This is a festival for Grateful Dead lovers after all and, by design, we are all forced to leave Sunday night. So, it is no surprise that as The Rhythm Devils set wound down, people started to make their way to the exits. I will not try and give you a full review of the John Butler Trio who followed the Rhythm Devils, as I was one of the many who was ready to get back to the real world and get a decent night’s sleep before Monday hit and it was back to work. But, as Laura and I walked slowly through the campsites that were nearly empty already, I noticed the trees. True, they had been there all along, but only now could I really appreciate the space between them and, paradoxically, the tight canopy above us. None of these trees were as young as I am, yet the arborist who planted them knew exactly how much space to put between them so that, when they were at full size, the bulk of the sky would be covered. Bits of late afternoon light dotted the ground, most of the trash was dutifully stacked near the receptacles and the grandeur that may have inspired Bridgeport’s most famous resident to start the greatest show on earth was all around me. All along, the oceanic sounds of John Butler were playing in the background. It is not a coincidence that these two events happened simultaneously.
Gathering of The Vibes has stuck to a simple formula and has grown to enormous heights. Still, sixteen years from the outset, it has that simple formula in its every aspect. “It has a cool feel,” said Ryan Montbleau while strolling through the grass covered road to his van. A simple description for a simple plan, but he was right. Gathering has a cool feel and that cool feel comes osmotically passes into you while you are there. I have seen how a festival is run and feels west of the east coast. To come to where I were brought up and know the dark under belly of the east coast is a bit frightening. After a few days I realized that east coast fans might seem rough around the edges. Staff too, but, get past the immediate sarcasm, and you find people good to the core. For them, it’s just a matter of upbringing. There was nothing contrived about Gathering of The Vibes 2011. Well, maybe the ferris wheel. Overall, GOTV 2011 was pure fun, philanthropy and power. I am glad that my inner vibe was called and I hope that it gets called for many years to come. You’ll feel it too. It will start in early 2012. Will you respond?