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Music & Events

Conversation with Gathering of The Vibes Founder Ken Hays

Written by Justin Henri

The Gathering of the Vibes music festival returns to Seaside Park in Bridgeport for its 17th anniversary. We recently had a chance to talk with Festival founder Ken Hays.

Gathering of the Vibes founder Ken Hayes

Gathering of the Vibes founder Ken Hayes

Bridgeport, CT– The Gathering of the Vibes music festival returns to Seaside Park in Bridgeport for its 17th anniversary July 19-22, and will have over 30 bands (see the line up here).  The festival has been held in 6 different venues over the course of its history and this will be its 8th time at Seaside Park making it the home. We recently had a chance to talk with Festival founder Ken Hays.

CTWeekender: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, we are very excited for the Vibes this year. This will be the 17th year of the Gathering of The Vibes, how did it all get started?

Ken Hays: Well it goes back to 1991 when I started a company called Terrapin Tapes, and the foundation of Terrapin tapes was we were a Maxell, Sony, and Panasonic wholesale distributor supplying tape and all formats of blank media to the live concert tape trading community.The Grateful Dead was one of the first bands to allow their fans to come in with recording equipment, microphones and a recorder and record their shows live. They would rope off an area near the sound board where the audio is the best, the sweet spot as it were, and people would trade live concert recordings they made through the mail on maxell cassette tapes. And the same time we were supplying blank media to the bands, The Grateful Dead, Phish, Dave Matthews Band, and many other band that record their shows live at the soundboard. That was how I started Terrapin Tapes, and honestly it financed me being able to go out on tour with the band (The Grateful Dead) and have a whole lot of fun. Then in August of 1995 , Jerry Garcia dies, and it changed my world. I knew that the dead would no longer be touring and I would no longer be able to go to all these cities around the country once or twice a year and see all my friends that live all over the country,and it was devastating not only to myself but to the entire community. The Grateful Dead after Jerry died had a beautiful tribute in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. A celebration of the life of Jerry Garcia and the music of The Grateful Dead, and it was beautiful. Tens of thousand of people. Then the Grateful Dead contacted Mayor Giuliani’s office in New York City to request the use of Central Park, for a similar gathering. The mayors office said no based on the cost that would be incurred by the city for , police, fire department, EMS, park cleanup, etc. So after New York declined, myself having a small database on 2×5 index cards and a small group of friends at a grateful dead style magazine, got together and said lets do this ourselves. So on Memorial Day weekend 1996, Dead Head Heaven: A Gathering of the Tribe took place at Suny Purchase College, and it was a beautiful gathering of 3500 friends and family. The bands Moe and Max Creek headlined, and it was a beautiful event. We knew had something here, wasn’t sure what, but we knew something. It was incredibly well received and we figured we were going to grow. So the next year we went to Croton Point Park, which is a beautiful county park right on the Hudson river, and we decided to change the name from Dead Head Heaven to Gathering of The Vibes, and that was in 1997. We had about 7500 people attending and here we are 17 years later. Over the last 3 years we have pretty consistently done about 22,000 people a day with about half of them being people who are camping on site.

CTWeekender: What made you decide to have Vibes at Seaside Park?

Ken Hays:  It’s an absolutely beautiful 2 and a half mile waterfront manicured park 50 miles from NYC and home in CT. We were at seaside park in 1999 and 2000, and then the city did a massive renovation. Hydroseeding 80 acres of land and putting in infrastructure for water and electric. So we moved to upstate New York until the park was ready for us, and we came back in 2007 and its getting better every year.

CTWeekender: We are very grateful to have you here in CT in our own backyard.

Ken Hays: You know I love Seaside Park. I love CT. The taxation though honestly is incredibly challenging for us, but having worked in the state for 21 years, we all need to do our part to get us through these challenging times, by making sure we don’t forget those that are hurting the most, and that’s some that Gathering of the Vibes is very passionate about. Giving back not only to Bridgeport but to those that are in great need. CT is known as being an incredibly wealthy state but  that’s not the case for everyone, and with the deficits that we are running and the cutting of social services across the board, and the cutting of teachers. We need to do whatever we can to support fundamental projects to help people.

Gathering of the Vibes at Seaside Park

Gathering of the Vibes at Seaside Park

CTWeekender: You mentioned giving back, can you tell us a little bit about the causes and charities Gathering of the Vibes support?

Ken Hays: On a local level, over the last 3 years or so we donated over $100,000 to the Bridgeport Parks Development fund. It’s our commitment to the board of park commissioners and the city council and the director of parks Charles Carroll . In order for it to be a true win win relationship we cant only just talk the talk about being green and the environment , but its doing meaningful things. A few years ago two Bridgeport firefighters passed away in the line of duty right before Vibes. The Bridgeport Fire Department contacted me and said hey Ken we wanted to see if it’s okay to do a boot drive at the vibes. So we had firefighter come down to the vibes to get donations. The proceeds went directly to the fallen firefighters families. Over the weekend they raised over $25,000, and I think that’s an indication of the makeup , and the wholesomeness and caring of the Vibe Tribe.

CTWeekender: Last year at Vibes I couldn’t help but notice the amount of families and kids at the festival. What makes it such a great event to bring kids to?

Ken Hays: What’s incredibly encouraging, is that last year we had just over 2000 kids under the age of 15 that came with their parents. That’s up from 1700 the year before. There are also tons of kids activities. There is the school of rock stage, the kids corner, teen scene, a ferris wheel, and swimming at the beach. Kids 12 and under get in at no charge Friday and Saturday as long as they are with a guardian. Sunday is Family day at The Vibes. Ages 15 and under are free of charge when accompanied by a parent. If you are over 15 and a CT resident and show your id at the gate you get a half price ticket (20 dollars). Last year we brought in about 4000 local residents on Sunday that didn’t necessarily want to stay the whole weekend but wanted to see what vibes was all about. We got incredibly positive feedback on it.

CTWeekender:  What else besides music and the activities for kids goes on at Vibes?

Ken Hays:  There are so many different activities as well as our sustainability village which sheds light on all different existing energy sources, and basically with the help from Yale University and their environmental studies program. They come out with models of wind turbines and solar panels, and just show people the progress that has been made in those energy fields. Just educating people so they can make up their own minds on which direction they want to go in. For example , which gas station is better environmentally then the other? Why don’t I know this? Am I boycotting BP because of what happened down south? Am I boycotting Exxon because of what happened with Valdez? Who has the best environmental track record, and who gives back? I still don’t know the answer and I should. One of the organizations that im on the board of directors for is is a 501( C )(3) non partisan group. Its mission statement is to sign up individuals to register to vote at concerts and festivals throughout the united states. Over the last few years has registered over 175,000 individuals to vote. More impressively of that 175,000 87% have actually placed a vote. When people do sign up to vote, they are engaged. The problem is these kids now are coming out of college and they are sitting on huge piles of loan debt, cant find a quality job, living at home with their parents when they want to be out on their own, they are feeling very disenfranchised and that their vote doesn’t count. We need to make sure that changes, it doesn’t matter which way they vote, but its important that they at least vote. My love and passion is generating money and awareness for nonprofits through live and musical events.

CTWeekender: I know that I am most exicted for The Avett Brothers. What excites you the most about this years festival?

Ken Hays: I’m looking forward to The Avett Brothers as well. I saw them two weeks ago at Bonnaroo infront of 65,000 people and they had the place rocking. They play Sunday on family day. Hugely talented musicians and a perfect way to close out The Vibes. We also have eight CT bands on the bill . One of the bands I’m excited to see is Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead with Bruce Hornsby and the noisemakers with special guest Branford Marsalis. They play Friday early evening. The lineup has a little bit of something for everyone, it has some reggae, CT favorite Max Creek is playing on Sunday. For those that have weekend camping passes or VIP passes (both are still available but will sell out soon) and aren’t ready to go to bed at two o’clock in the morning, will have access to the late night stage and The Silent Disco out on the beach till the sun rises. School of rock stage will be going all weekend. There are some unbelievably talented kids out there and to be able to put them on a stage in front of thousands of people on a big PA is life changing for these kids, and to see them inspired by something other than a video game is a beautiful thing to watch.

CTWeekender: Thank you for taking time to talk us today, I know its curnch time. We are very excited and will see you at The Gathering of the Vibes!!!

Ken Hays: Thank you and i look forward to seeing everyone there.


Tickets can be purchased here.

Gathering of the Vibes

About the author

Justin Henri

Into IT music movies and sports. Once fought an elephant and won. I am insanely good at fantasy sports. I love the Yankees and the 49ers!!

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  • Great interview Justin! Last year was a great time and as cliche as it sounds, the festival really does have “good vibes!” I honestly can’t think of a better way to describe it. With a fantastic lineup, this year is sure to be just as good, if not better, than last year.

  • I could not help but notice that ATMs distributed throughout the event would not disclose to customers the amount of interest that a customer would be charged for a cash withdrawal. Sustainability is economic as well as environmental, and requires transparency to all stakeholders. I would be very interested to know if this non-disclosure violates any state laws.