Gathering of the Vibes has a rich history, a strong family, and a visionary as a leader. Over the past 20 years the festival has developed into a musical experience that is built on community and a deep love for music.
The festival that many have come to love today started out as a weekend of remembrance and celebration. It was August 1995 and the recent passing of Jerry Garcia was weighing heavy on the Grateful Dead community. Mourning fans on the East Coast planned to pay their respects to the late Garcia with a formal Central Park service scheduled by the Parks Department, much like what had taken place in San Francisco. After being postponed per request of the Grateful Dead, the gathering was ultimately cancelled by the Mayor’s office.
“Mayor Giuliani cancelled the official memorial in Central Park so we got together and did it ourselves,” shared Ken Hays, Founder of Gathering of the Vibes. “It all happened very organically. We went up to SUNY Purchase and spoke with the director of Performing Arts. They have a beautifully facility up there and they allowed camping, as they had held some family camping events on their campus in the past. Sure enough, we were going through and planning all of the logistics, we put up a small stage, invited some bands, and Deadhead Heaven – A Gathering of the Tribe was born. It turned out to be a beautiful weekend celebrating the life of Jerry and The Dead that following May in 1996.”
What began as a memorial to facilitate some sense of closure for East Coast Deadheads, this initial gathering of The Tribe was just the beginning of something beautiful for Hays and fellow music lovers. “I was with Bob Kennedy and were looking over a sea of tents during the sunset the first night of Deadhead Heaven and we knew that we had to keep this going,” said Hays. “This was something incredibly meaningful for people in attendance and it was one of the few ways to get everybody together. Every year when The Dead came to town we would hang out and party, and with Jerry gone we knew that opportunity to get together with our friends would be limited. Everyone got along so beautifully that weekend so we decided to do it again the next year- we changed the name and doubled in size.”
From the very beginning, this event was started out of love; a love for The Dead, a love of the community, and a love of music. It’s this type of affection that keeps attendees coming back to Gathering of the Vibes year after year. “Today, the festival is very similar to the seed from which it began: love of music and community. Those things never change and that is what is so unique about Vibes and the family it brings together,” shared Hays.
The “tribe” Vibes brings together over the course of the weekend goes far beyond your average festival family. Gathering of the Vibes is welcoming to children and prides itself on being a family-friendly festival.
“When there are children around, it heightens that sense of community and it seemed like the right thing to do,” shares Hays. “We’ve made sure we have activities to entertain the kids, we have designated family camping, and we have special security measures in place for children. Last year we had around 2,300 children and that continues to grow. I personally love going to the family area and the kids area and see all the smiling faces.”
For Hays, those smiling families and attendees are one of the most rewarding aspects of producing Vibes year after year. “Looking out from the stage and seeing so many smiling faces, and then going over to the kids corner and seeing parents playing with their kids, that is what is rewarding about this festival,” Hays explains. “It’s an incredibly meaningful role I play here. It’s those smiles and exposing people to new bands and art they have never experienced before that makes it worth it. My job is to help set the stage for thousands of people with their positive vibes to come and celebrate. Those positive vibes are contagious and hopefully they will go home and spread the positivity to their communities and people who couldn’t join in the weekend.”
Hays has been at the helm of the Vibes ship since the very beginning and has faced and overcome many obstacles along the way. Looking back on the past 20 years, Hays shared with Vinyl Mag one of his biggest learning experiences throughout this journey: “I’m incredibly lucky that I have an amazing group of people that surround me and support me. And I think I’ve learned that I’ve always been hands on and continue to be hands on. I’ve been able to let go and trust those who have my back more now more than ever. And I think that’s one of the things I’ve learn over the years; it’s to be able to let go and trust that the people in key positions have things covered. Micromanaging has been my thing for a long time and to be able to let go and know everything is going to be handled properly is huge, and I am lucky to have an amazing group around me.”
As we approach the milestone celebration for Vibes, this team Hays speaks so highly of is hard at work preparing for the momentous weekend. With community always at the forefront of Vibes’ mission and goals, teams are in place supporting green initiatives, non-profits, food drives, and other programs that give back to the local community. Additionally, the festival boasts a stellar lineup that includes the likes of Wilco, The String Cheese Incident, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Weezer, Gregg Allman, and Warren Haynes. “I’m excited about our Friday night with String Cheese doing a couple sets, and welcoming Wilco, Ben Harper, and Weezer to Vibes for the first time,” said Hays. “We also have a bunch of up and coming artists that are really great artists and I think people are going to be excited when they see them. I think we have a really have something for everybody”
Back in 1996, Hays may not have known what his gathering would ultimately turn into and look like 20 years later, but Vibes has truly turned into something remarkable. When thinking about the future and the next 20 years for Gathering of the Vibes Hays has a list of musicians he would love to invite to come out and play but most of all, he would just like to see the festival and Vibes community stay relatively the same as it’s been. “Honestly, I’d like to see more of the same,” Hays said. “At Vibes people are just stronger and more united as a community and family. I want to see more of that; more love that can be expressed and a desire from all to leave the space at Vibes better than how we found it.”
It all started when a much younger Jackie dove into her parents’ record collection, grabbed that trippy Magical Mystery Tour album, and played “Strawberry Fields” over and over again until it was engrained into her soul. She grew up on the dreams and stories of Simon and Garfunkel, “Bleeker Street” being one of her favorites, the seduction of The Doors, Van Morrison, because “Brown Eyed Girl” is definitely her song, and the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix…you get the picture. It may not show on the outside, but Jackie has a hippie heart, and that reflects in her musical tastes today. While some of her favorites may or may not be jam bands, her taste in music feeds into many genres. From alternative, Brit, and indie rock - OK, maybe all rock - to pop, to rap, to electronic, she loves it all. As a northerner, she thought she would never understand country until she found herself on a Georgia farm in cowboy boots watching Luke Bryan shake it for her- yeah, she got that. She is a chronic wanderluster, she doesn't believe in guilty pleasures, enjoys a great Moscow Mule, and is an absolute music festival fanatic- you’ll find her wherever the music takes her.