No Gathering of the Vibes next year

Photo of Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — Normally, this is the time of year when Ken Hays would book talent for the next Gathering of the Vibes summer music festival.

“Around Thanksgiving is when most of the major touring artists are looking at their summer schedules,” Hays said.

Instead, Hays announced Friday on that there will be no Vibes in 2016.

“Producing the Vibes as an independent promoter is a challenging endeavor,” Hays wrote. “And honestly, after 20 amazing years, we need a time out.”

And while the online statement promised a “triumphant return” in 2017, Hays said in a later interview that a comeback might not mean going back to Seaside Park in Bridgeport.

While the Vibes’ current, five-year contract with the city would conclude after 2017’s festival, Hays said, “The venue for 2017 is definitely in question.”

In 1996, Hays, a Grateful Dead fan and businessman, and local promoter Bob Kennedy launched the festival to celebrate the music of the iconic band following the death in 1995 of frontman Jerry Garcia.

Fans who had long followed the Dead, traveling from show to show, were looking to gather and celebrate Garcia’s life and legacy. First held at SUNY Purchase in New York, the Vibes became a memorial, a celebration and a reunion all at once.

While the venues have changed, over the years the Vibes has become most synonymous with Bridgeport. Hays noted that he has worked with three mayors since first coming to town in 1999 — Joe Ganim, John Fabrizi and two-term departing Mayor Bill Finch.

“We didn’t find out about the sad news regarding the Vibes until today,” Finch spokesman Brett Broesder said Friday. “It’s been a strong run, and their team has successfully worked closely with Mayor Finch and his team to hold one of the nation’s premier concerts annually. It’s brought entertainment, positive attention and an economic boost to the city for years.”

Hays, said he planned to phone Finch and other city officials with whom he has worked. He also said that Ganim’s re-election — the ex-mayor was convicted of corruption in 2003 but defeated Finch in September’s Democratic primary — had nothing to do with his decision.

Ganim who will be inaugurated Tuesday, could not be reached for comment about the Vibes.

“Back in 1999, Mayor Ganim was incredibly supportive of Gathering of the Vibes,” Hays said. “This has been on my mind for years. We wanted to get through 20 years. We did so successfully. And the time was right to rejuvenate myself and the festival and take it to greater heights.”

Every few years there has been speculation about the Vibes’ future in Bridgeport, though it typically coincides with the expiration of Hays’ contract.

Under the five-year deal the City Council approved in December 2012, the Vibes’ rent was increased from $40,000 to $50,000, plus a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment. The new contract also required the Vibes pay police $250,000 a year, plus an annual 3 percent cost-of-living increase.

Beginning in 2010, the city, responding to security problems at the festival and two drug-related deaths, upped police presence at the Vibes. But a Connecticut Post review in 2012 found that, despite assurances from the Finch administration, the city, not the Vibes, swallowed most of that overtime.

Broesder said the Finch administration could not immediately provide details Friday about the Vibes’ most recent bills.

“To the best of my knowledge, the Vibes lived up to all of their commitments, or at least most of them, to the point where it’s not a major issue,” he said.

Broesder said the financial terms of the current contract were not a factor in putting off next year’s show.

“The city has done everything they can to support the Vibes,” he said.

For all of those heartbroken fans, Hays did not rule out trying to do something in Bridgeport next year.

“I’d love to have some type of musical gathering, whether it be at Seaside or another beautiful park in Bridgeport,” he said. “It would be great to have a small, fun, musical gathering to celebrate Bridgeport.”