Jane's Addiction, Elvis Costello and the Grateful Dead spin-offs Furthur and Rhythm Devils headline the initial announcement of artists for the 16th annual Gathering of the Vibes Festival, which will take place July 21-24 in Bridgeport, Conn.
Given that the festival was created to honor the music and legacy of the Dead and the late Jerry Garcia, festival founder and Ken Hays is understandably pleased to have its surviving members taking part in this year's event. "It's incredibly meaningful to have all the founding members of the Grateful Dead at Vibes," Hays tells Billboard.com, "not only to me as an old school Deadhead but to the 20-plus thousand people in front of the stage." Dead guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh lead Furthur, which played last year's Vibes gathering, while percussionists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann are the pulse of Rhythm Devils, which will also feature Keller Williams, Steve Kimock and Reed Mathis. Hays launched Vibes originally as Deadhead Heaven -- A Gathering of the Tribe in order to keep the Deadhead community intact in the wake of Garcia's death in 1995.
"We knew after Jerry died we wouldn't have the opportunity to tour the country and stop in at every city and visit our friends once a year without the Dead touring," Hays explains. "[The festival] was a way we could bring everyone together in one place and could make it an annual retreat, which is really what it's turned into."
Costello says he's happy to be joining the Deadhead "family" for the Vibes weekend. "Any event that embraces the spirit of the Grateful Dead in the [former] home of P.T. Barnum has got my vote," Costello notes. "The Dead played the second festival I ever attended...in a field of mud outside of Wigan [England] in 1972...I've always loved the Dead's records, from 'Workingman's Dead' to 'From Mars Hotel.' That was great run of songs, many of the best of them only recorded on the 1972 tour. That turns out to be a valuable lesson, now record albums are a thing of the past. You can always take to the stage and do it again. 'St. Stephen' is my current favorite song. Maybe we'll put THAT in the set."
Having Jane's Addiction on the bill, meanwhile, is Hays' nod to frontman Perry Farrell's contribution to the festival world with Lollapalooza, as well as to the group's rendition of "Ripple" from the "Deadicated" tribute album that celebrates its 20th anniversary in April. "They totally reinvented (the song) and made it distinctly Jane's Addiction," Hays says. "Those guys are legends and geniuses."
Also part of the Vibes 2011 lineup will be moe., the Levon Helm Band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the John Butler Trio, Dr. John and the Lower 911, the Taj Mahal Trio, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, Toots & The Maytals, Dark Star Orchestra, Big Gigantic, the Infamous Stringdusters, the Ryan Montbleau Band, the New Mastersounds, Deep Banana Blackout, Assembly of Dust, Tea Leaf Green, Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad and the McLovins. More acts are expected to be announced within the next two weeks.
The festival has put tickets and camping passes on sale via gatheringofthevibes.com; prices range from $40-$150 for single day tickets to $205-$420 for weekend camping passes. For the first time, Vibes is also offering single-day VIP tickets, which include reserved parking, special viewing areas, a stage-side chill tent, food and beverages. A Vibes Party Bus will shuttle non-camping attendees to and from New York locations. About 20,000 attend each day of the 2010 Vibes festival, according to Hays.
This year's festival will institute a family camping area and continue the popular Kids Corner. Vibes is also adding a Teen Vibes Stage, which will offer musical instruction, jam sessions with Main Stage artists and hands-on sound and lighting demonstrations. "These kids will be able to play with the sound board and lighting consoles and get a better understanding of how it all goes down at a concert," Hays says. "We're just trying to do whatever we can do to engage the kids and give them an appreciation of not just the music, but what goes on behind the music."