It was a weekend full of good Vibes: The surviving members of the Grateful Dead graced Seaside Park’s bandshell; San Francisco rock band Primus headlined on Saturday night; and there was just enough rain for the kind of mud dancing beloved of hippie music festivals.
Although Gathering of the Vibes founder Ken Hays was unable to give official numbers on Monday, he estimates that nearly 20,000 festival-goers visited and camped in Seaside Park this past weekend for the annual music festival.
“I feel inspired by how well things went this weekend,” said Hays, who added that while Vibes attendance was down slightly from 2011, the Connecticut Family Day on Sunday brought in many more local visitors than in previous years.
This may have been the final year for the Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport, however. The festival has just completed the final year of its five-year contract with the city.
“Our ability to come back is dependent on the board of the Parks Commission and the City Council wanting us back,” said Hays. “I’m hopeful that they do.”
There are other concerns that may keep the festival from returning to Bridgeport, however. Hays says that in order to mount the show in Bridgeport, the festival must be able to turn a profit, something that hasn’t always been possible in the last five years.
“The thing people have to understand is that the show costs are over $4 million…
“There have been years … we’ve lost money multiple times within our time at Seaside Park,” he said.
Gathering of the Vibes is in its 17th year. In that time, it’s been hosted in six different locations. The first festival, was held at State University of New York in Purchase in 1996 as a memorial to Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. It was called Deadhead Heaven – A Gathering of the Tribe. The next year, the event morphed into The Gathering of the Vibes. The festival has been in Bridgeport twice, the first time, from 1999 to 2001, and again when founder Ken Hays, of Terrapin Presents, signed a five-year contract with the city of Bridgeport.
Although the city has seen a rise in crime in 2012 — the city’s 12th and 13th homicides took place on July 20, in other parts of the city — festival-goers said they felt safe at Seaside Park.
“There’s no reason not to,” said Jessie Bain, of Trumbull. This weekend, she said, was her third Vibes.
“I’ve always felt really safe here,” said Sharon Klipstein, 41, of Massachusetts, who was sitting with her 12-year-old daughter, Ava Lawyer, in the Vibes’ kids tent. Klipstein said that they camp in the family camping area, and that campground is very much a community.
“Your neighbors really become your neighbors,” she said.
Casey Hinphy, 24, of Long Island, agreed.
“Everyone looks out for everybody else,” he said.
Hays said there were no extra safety precautions taken, and praised the efforts of the Bridgeport Police Department and the Vibes’ own security team.
“The police department did a fantastic job,” he said. “It was truly the perfect example of community policing.”
Hays said that the Vibes staff has been cleaning up the grounds at Seaside Park. “We’ll have the park clean, immaculate, and back open,” he said.
Hays said that he would like to come back to Seaside, but doesn’t know when that decision will be made.
“I’m hopeful that I can figure out a way to make this happen,” he said.
A request for comment by the city was not answered at press time.