Phil Lesh on Recording New Music: 'What's the Point?'
Phil Lesh on Recording New Music: 'What's the Point?'

Surviving Members to Perform, Separately... Also on Tap at July Festival: Avett Brothers, Primus, Bruce Hornsby

The surviving four members of the Grateful Dead -- with their solo projects -- will join the Avett Brothers, Primus, Zappa Plays Zappa, Steel Pulse, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and others at the 17th annual Gathering of the Vibes festival, which will take place July 19-22 at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn.

Friday, July 20, will be "pretty much about the Grateful Dead" according to Vibes founder Ken Hays, including performances by bassist Phil Lesh & Friends, guitarist Bob Weir with Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis, and percussionist Bill Kreutzmann with his latest group, 7 Walkers. Percussionist Mickey Hart and his new band -- promoting the "Mysterium Tremendum" album that comes out April 10 -- will appear on Saturday, July 21.

"It's a kindred spirit thing," Hart tells Billboard. "It feels very homey, very warm and fuzzy for us. After Jerry (Garcia) died, these people...didn't want the groove to stop, didn't want the vibe to stop, so they put this (festival) together over the years. The momentum built and now it's quite formidable. We feel a bit of responsibility to carry it on and help them and be a part of it and enjoy it with them. I really do none of the work for it, putting it on and everything, but I do support it, and I always look forward to playing it."

Hays adds that having the Dead members on board in any capacity adds meaning to the festival. "We're keeping the torch alive for them," Hays explains. "As long as they're well and able to perform... we'll always have a place for all the members of the Grateful Dead and whatever they're doing. They are very, very close to my heart and to those of 99 percent of the attendees." But neither Hays nor Hart would commit to the Dead members playing together in any way since they'll all be in attendance.

"You just never know," Hays says. "They're all getting along beautifully together and making incredible music. I think all that we can do is lay out the framework and let the possibilities and their inspiration decide." Hart adds that "everyone's doing what they really want to do and really enjoying it. Everybody's having a good musical life. I'm always up to play with (the others); then the times right, perhaps that'll happen."

In addition to the music, this year's Gathering of the Vibes will feature an assortment of extra attractions. There will be a School of Rock Stage as well as a Kids Corner and Teen Scene; the latter will feature the hands-on technological display of concert sound and lighting equipment that was popular last year. The Silent Disco -- a late-night party at which attendees dance on the Seaside Park beach with headphones rather than listening to a sound system -- will return, as will the World Peace Sanctuary parade and flag ceremony on Sunday morning. There will also be a ferris wheel and a full array of waterfront activities such as jet skis, sailboats, paddle boats and swimming.

Wavy Gravy will return as the festival's emcee.

"It's consistent with what the Vibes audience has asked for," Hays says. "Last year we had Jane's Addiction and Elvis Costello and people loved it, but I think this is a little bit more back towards the foundation of our roots in terms of the music." The 2011 edition of the Gathering drew about 20,000 fans per day, according to Hays.

It's also the final year of the festival's five-year contract with Seaside Park and the city of Bridgeport. "We'll make some decisions after this year's festival as to the future and where we go from here," Hays says, though the festival has generated goodwill by donating money from previous years that have gone to build a splash pad and a handicapped-accessible playground.

Gathering tickets have already been on sale for awhile, and Hays says the festival is "about one-third of the way sold out." A weekend pass is $185 for general admission, $420 VIP. Single day tickets will be on sale soon at prices to be determined, while Connecticut residents and state employees will receive a 50 percent discount for the festival's final day, and children 15 and under accompanied by parents will be admitted free.

Festival information and updates are available at www.gatheringofthevibes.com.

Hays says he's working on locking in a few more acts he hopes to announce soon, but the festival's current lineup includes:

July 19 -- Dark Star Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band, Zach Deputy, Royal Family Ball featuring Soulive and Lettuce

July 20 -- Phil Lesh & Friends, Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby & Branford Marsalis, 7 Walkers, Greyboy Allstars, Conspirator, Kung Fu

July 21 -- Mickey Hart Band, Primus, Zappa Plays Zappa, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Deep Banana Blackout, Ryan Montbleau Band, Strangefolk, McLovins

July 22 -- Avett Brothers, Steel Pulse, Band Together