The 2015 version of Gathering of the Vibes had everything its legion of fans have come to expect from this annual four-day seaside festival that celebrates the sound and the spirit of the Grateful Dead. There was the eclectic mix of music ranging from rock and reggae to bluegrass, jam band and soul, as well as scenic surroundings, arts, crafts and a colorful, freewheeling lightshow anchored by a collection of Legend and COLORdash fixtures from CHAUVET Professional, provided by JDI Productions.
The festival, which drew over 25,000 people to Connecticut’s sprawling Seaside Park (it covers over two miles of shoreline on the Long Island Sound), is a far cry from the small get-together that Ken Hays and a group of friends held 20 years ago to honor Jerry Garcia, following the death of the Grateful Dead’s legendary frontman. Hays, who still runs Gathering of the Vibes, recently told an interviewer that he first thought the festival would be “just be a one-time gathering of the Deadhead community on the East Coast.”
How happily wrong he was. The mellow festival struck a chord with Deadheads (aka Grateful Dead fans) and the band alike. Every surviving member of the iconic group has performed at Gathering of the Vibes over the years, as have a galaxy of other stars like Gov’t Mule; Umphrey’s McGee; Elvis Costello; Crosby, Stills and Nash; John Fogerty; James Brown; Jane’s Addiction; The Black Crowes; Buddy Guy; Jimmy Cliff; Primus; George Clinton and P-Funk; Bruce Hornsby; moe.; Branford Marsalis and more.
The JDI Productions team had a special incentive this year lighting the Main Stage, knowing that 2015 represented the historically significant 20th anniversary of the festival. “The anniversary is noteworthy — how many festivals have been around 20 years?” said Derek Iorfida, president of the Cranston, Rhode Island-based production company and lighting designer for the festival. “Gathering of the Vibes is a part of our tradition around here and it’s important to music fans everywhere, so we really wanted to step up the lighting a notch and create even more excitement than usual.”
JDI’s Gathering of the Vibes lighting team, which included crew chief and dimmer tech Freddy Thompson and lighting directors Peter Therrien and Mike Gionfriddo in addition to Iorfida, called on the intense output of 24 Legend 230SR Beams to create and maintain a high level of energy on the main stage, even during the early performances that took place before darkness.
“The 230s are so bright, sharp, and colorful that they were huge to have during the daytime hours of the festival,” said Therrien. “Even in the bright sun, haze getting blown where you don’t want it, they still provided a great beam and gobo that could be seen and allowed for some great looks.”
At the heart of the festival rig were six 10’x 20.5”x20.5” truss ladder towers in a mirror image on either side of the stage along the upstage backdrop. These towers were arranged in a staggered formation running from lower to higher as they approached center stage. Each tower had four Legend 230SR Beams hung in a standard vertical format off pipes that were attached to the truss. “Hanging the beams this way helped to create what we called a wall of beams,” said Thompson. “Thanks to their intense output, these fixtures had no issue shooting out and over the artists to help create a huge effect.”
For added color and accenting, the JDI team hung a COLORdash Par-Quad 7 RGBA fixture in each of the staggered truss structures. “The Par-Quads added a nice color tone effect,” said Iorfida, who notes that the towers were also accented with LED panels and strobes.
Also critical to the look JDI created were the two rows of three truss sticks positioned over the stage. “We had six diagonally positioned 20’ sticks, divided into two equal rows,” said Iorfida. “There were two sticks over downstage, two across mid-stage and two across upstage. So what we had essentially are three 40’ bars of truss separated in the center. We did this so we could rake the angles of the truss to help create more depth in the rig and ensure that our wall of beams from the towers had plenty of room to blast light across the stage.”
Each of the 20’ sticks had four COLORdash Par-Quad 7 fixtures for color tone effects. In addition to these par style fixtures, each stick had a collection of moving washes, including three Legend 412 units, as well as strobes.
With over 20 acts performing on the Main Stage, including multi-Grammy winner Wilco, popular UK alternative artists Electron, the legendary guitarist Warren Haynes and Dark Star Orchestra among others, the lighting rig had offer the flexibility to support widely different musical styles.
“Our biggest challenge on this gig was keeping the guest LDs and local crew happy while running a 24-hour operation due to overnight load-ins and programming,” said Thompson. “The Legends were a gigantic help in allowing us to meet this challenge. The Legend 230SR Beams worked very well for the stage and our wall of light, They are light enough fixtures for one tech to set up, and have proved time again their roadworthiness in the field, We did not need to fix or change any lamps in these fixtures during this show; once they were set up they were good to go! True workhorses.”
The JDI crew was especially pleased with the reaction of guest LDs to their lighting rig. “Any LD with a band has a look in mind he’s hoping to create,” said Therrien. ‘Mike Gionfriddo and I, working as lighting directors, were the points of contact with the guest LDs, and we were happy to see how positive they were about our rig and how it gave them color, brightness and the opportunity to create some very cool looks.”
At the end of the four-day festival, everyone involved seemed to echo these positive sentiments. “All of us want this to be a homerun, not just Freddy, Peter, Mike and me, but also our lighting techs Jonny Fuller, Dillon Webster and Rebekah Ginsberg. Just like our audio friends from Rainbow Production Services, production manager Chris Hubbard and all of the musicians who performed on stage, we all really wanted to kill this thing for the Gathering of the Vibes 20th Anniversary. Looking back at the videos and photos from the festival, I think we did just that.