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Locals Bring Farmington Valley Vibes to 50-Band Festival

20,000 expected at Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport from Thursday to Sunday.

One of guitarist Jeff Howard’s first gigs, when he was in seventh grade, was playing with drummer Andrew Magennis at employee Naomi Kravitz’s farm party.

A video of him at 13 playing Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” there surfaced on YouTube and has garnered 103,754 hits to date.

The two Canton residents will play together again at a much bigger venue Sunday – the 17th annual Gathering of the Vibes at Seaside Park in Bridgeport.

“I’ve always loved Gathering of the Vibes,” said Howard, who described the audience as friendly, open and free-spirited. “They want to share the moment with you. It’s easy to feed off the energy.”

The , which starts Thursday and ends Sunday at 8 p.m., is like a mini Woodstock. Many people camp out in tents and grill food over the weekend at the festival. More than 50 bands are scheduled to play, including performers from a School of Rock band camp. Headliners are Primus, Phil Lesh & Friends and Bob Wier & Bruce Hornsby with special guest Branford Marsalis. Howard said the music festival has a carnival atmosphere with people in costumes and on stilts walking around the grounds. There are also rides, and vendors. Family day is Sunday. But most of all, the vibe is a “whimsical playful sort of feeling,” he said.

Howard, 18, and Magennis, 21, who formed a friendship through the Downright Music community in Collinsville, are playing in a newly developing Berkshire-based funk band that includes Wrba and John “Wayno” Waynelovich, of independent Mystic band , on bass and keyboard, respectively, Noah Weiss on saxophone and Tory Hanna as the lead singer. Wayno also does back-up vocals. They are scheduled for a 45-minute set on Sunday on the School of Rock Teen Vibes Stage.

“We’ve definitely grown as a group. We found a nice place and a tight groove together,” Howard said. “We feel like a real band now.”

Howard has played at the Gathering three times before with former band The McLovins, which he left in December 2011. The popular Farmington Valley jam band – now made up of drummer Jake Huffman, of Granby, bassist Jason Ott, of Simsbury, and new guitarists Justin Berger, of Philadelphia, PA, and Atticus Kelley, of New Britain – is also scheduled to play at the music festival at Sunday on the Green Vibes Stage at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

“I’ll watch them. It will be fun,” Howard said.

Howard, who is happy doing his own thing, has no regrets about moving onto other music endeavors.

“The thrill of playing live is still a part of my life and I’m still experiencing it,” he said.

The Vibes staff was interested in bringing Howard back to play. Several emails later, Wrba/Weiss got a spot. Howard gives a lot of credit to his mom, Debra for helping book gigs for the new band.

Ken Hays, who founded the Vibes in 1995 in honor of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, expects about , according to Weston-Redding-Easton Patch, which partnered with Gathering of the Vibes to .

Howard has been jamming informally with Wrba, Weiss and Wayno since about 2011, mainly at Mission Bar & Tapas in Pittsfield, MA. With summer gigs, including Magennis and Hanna, they’ve “made it into more of a real project,” Howard said.

The name of the band is in the works. It started off as Wrba/Weiss and the group has played around with names like Suitcase Rodeo and Mundane Mission Band. They have discussed recording a live album in the future, Howard said, possibly at Mission Bar.

In the meantime, they are preparing at least two Wrba/Hanna original songs – “Geronimo” and “On the Corner” – for Gathering of the Vibes, as well several covers with their own “fresh take and flavor” – from Phish to Jimi Hendrix and Bill Withers songs – that they “want people to dance to.” For instance, they’ve taken Stevie Wonder’s “Sign, Sealed, Delivered” and are slowing the tempo down and giving it a “raw feel.”

“We’re very excited,” Howard said. “We’ve been spreading the word hugely. It should be a real party.”

For more information about the event, you can visit gatheringofthevibes.com. Cash-only tickets for Gathering of the Vibes will be available at the gate, including options of a four-day camping pass for $225, single day passes ($65 on Friday and Saturday and $40 on Sunday) and VIP tickets that include “catered meals, discounted drinks and air-conditioned tents,” Weston-Redding-Easton Patch reported. Only weekend camping pass holders can attend on Thursday, the event website states.

Single ticket holders can enter starting at 10 a.m. Friday to Sunday and must leave the grounds one hour after the main stage act of the night finishes.

The show will go on rain or shine.

Seaside Park in Bridgeport is located at 1 Barnum Dyke.

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