The Gathering of the Vibes music festival offers the perfect hippie-licious respite from the hubbub of Babylon, and driving out of New York City is a big-sky burst of relief from the heights of the Tapan Zee Bridge; vast Hudson Valley landscapes extend in all directions instead of just buildings and more buildings. We drive north through a green tunnel, moving faster on the ground than we have in a long time, and in the car, we whirl from the speed and the clouds and the endless trail of travel intensity frothing in our wake.
The festival grounds outside Mariaville, NY are managed by a local group of bikers. These grizzly, tattooed dudes (and chicks) are happy to host a party each year in which the remaining members of the Grateful Dead headline a weekend of all kinds of stonegroovy bands.
Entering the crowd of sun-tanned, hairy people after being so long away is like slipping on an old t-shirt, velvety from years of service and wash. (This is, in fact, something I did literally this morning, rediscovering my wardrobe, before getting more metaphorical at the festival.) And yet, along with nostalgia is newness; new people, new colors, an extension of our trip, in more ways than one.
Tay and I pull up to a shady spot near the trees to camp, joining a group of uppity, active New England womyn with whom we make a weekend family, within the greater Grateful kin surrounding us, of course. We have entered yet another culture, a “sub” culture, if you will; one in which music, sensimilia, and bumper stickers form a trifecto Goddess head upon whose rain-soaked, muddy alter ten thousand thrumming festivarians kneel down to worship. In order to move among them without rousing suspicion, I don my handmade Thai Jesus sandals and new Moroccan djellaba, put up the hood, and say to people, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”
Our Vibes tickets arrived in the mail a few days before the show, just after we got home from Africa. They came with VIP camping passes and backstage laminates. Thus, the show, which is our first festival in two years (since Telluride ’05) is made that much cooler by our unearned rock-star status. Though perhaps we did earn it. Certainly, our “extended honeymoon” story is admired by many fellow dreamers at this party, and as the sun breaks through after yet another afternoon storm, we all bask in each other’s glow.
Meanwhile, Yonder Mountain String Band picks me back to the high peaks of Telluride, where we last watched them under a cold, high-mountain moon, full circle and so much has happened since! Then, in the blink of a banjo, those boys from Boulder pick me forward, mind wandering into all kinds of creative plans for the next year.
Then, it’s another trip backstage to catch a glimpse of Bobby, Mickey, Billy, Jorma, or any of the other legendary musicians who I’ve seen on stage so many times before, and who are now standing less than a guitar length away. The beer is free in the dressing room tent, which has a sign on the flap that says, “Inspire Others,” but it’s the same mud and rain as it is in the rest of the festival grounds, which feels equally cold and squishy between my dancin’ toes.