The Gathering of the Vibes Aims to Shed Some Green Light
If you ask Gathering of the Vibes festival founder Ken Hays how his brainchild helps the environment, he says, “Straight up, it doesn’t.”
“People are flying in on planes from all over, driving thousands of miles, and all the while burning nonrenewable energy sources,” he explains. “It’s not environmentally good, it’s just not.”
But don’t get too bummed out. Gathering of the Vibes, a music festival in its 17th year, being held July 19-22 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, makes a serious effort to limit its environmental impact. For more than 10 years, the festival has partnered with the aptly named Clean Vibes, a waste-management company for outdoor music festivals, to gather 18,000 pounds of recycling and 100,000 cans and bottles that would have otherwise gone to landfills. Vibes also provides extensive transportation and carpooling options, as well as shuttle buses for festival-goers staying at nearby hotels. Unused food is donated to local soup kitchens and food banks.
Initiatives such as the above have become the norm at most music festivals today. What separates the Vibes is its educational component.
“It’s important for us all as individuals to understand where we are today in terms of the environment and where we are going to be 10 years from now,” Hays says, adding: “Once 25,000 attendees get on site, it is our job to shed light, not to master,” quoting a line from the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station.” The Vibes are regarded as the new homebase for former and would-be Deadheads. The current festival boasts several mainstage bands featuring Grateful Dead legends including Phil Lesh & Friends, Bob Weir & Bruce Hornsby and Mickey Hart Band as well as the Dead-performing Dark Star Orchestra in addition to more eclectic offerings from Primus, to Steel Pulse, to The Stepkids.
Volunteers from Yale University’s Environmental Studies program bring models of nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind, and other renewable energies to the festival’s Sustainability Village, educating festival-goers about the technology behind these energy forms. Also in the Sustainability Village, nonprofit groups show the volunteers or “Vibe Tribe” what they can do in their everyday lives to limit their environmental impacts.
The festival’s website provides “Greening Tips” for attendees, such as “Before your arrival, repackage all of your food into reusable containers” and “Do your part to help clean up any litter that you see during the festival. Be a model for others.” These are simple rules, but as anyone who has attended a major music fest knows, ones that many music fans find all too easy to ignore. Hays hopes that while at Vibes, attendees can begin to not only recognize their responsibility, but to also act upon it.
He is also proud of the festival’s partnership with Headcount, an organization that registers people to vote at concerts. In the last presidential election, 86% of the people who registered at Vibes went out and voted. “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, as long as you are informed and you get out there and you are counted,” Hays says. “Among kids, there’s an overwhelming sense of ‘My vote doesn’t count.’ Kids getting out of college are disgruntled, apathetic. It is our job to get them excited.”
Hays seeks to pinpoint whatever people are passionate about, whether that is food justice issues or climate change, and encourage them to use that as a vehicle to action and change. “They’ve gotta lock on to that and step up and be heard and get to the voting booth,” he says. “I just wish that we all could do more. It doesn’t need to be monetarily. You can volunteer at a food pantry or join the PeaceCorps or whatever you want. I truly believe you can individually make a difference.”
He’s has learned from experience. In 1990, New Haven, Connecticut, was the first city in the U.S. to ban the use of plastic grocery bags. When Hays learned that this ban was due to the fact that New Haven had used 95% of its landfill space, he asked, “What can I do?” He contracted with a company in Atlanta to create a reusable nylon net shopping bag, which he named the “Green Bag.” The bags sold really well and people loved them. That is, he says, until the first Iraqi war.
“The bags just stopped selling. “The concern for the environment took second place to our servicemen and women dying abroad,” Hays explains.
The decline of his Green Bag aside, Hays took it upon himself to create a sustainable solution to New Haven’s landfill problem. Now, through Vibes, he simply hopes to inspire others to put in the same individual effort.
“I can’t emphasize it enough—everyone needs to get out there and be heard,” he says. “We need greater transparency and greater honesty.”