The annual Gathering of the Vibes festival always brings together an eclectic lineup, and this year’s event in late July was no different. But while plenty of adults showed up to see Jane’s Addiction, Elvis Costello, Moe, Derek Trucks, Furthur and others during the threeday event, numerous teenagers got an entirely different kind of thrill: They got to explore the production side of the festival as they learned about live sound, got hands-on mixing experience and more.
Since kicking off in the 1990s, the Bridgeport, CT-based festival has always had a Kids Corner run by Gabrielle Fugere, with activities and performers for children, but as founder Ken Hayes pointed out, “Kids come back year after year—now they’re teens and they’re not interested in face painting! More recently, we started our Teen Scene stage as a logical progression to engage them in more exciting activities.”
This year, the School of Rock— teen performers from different regional branches of the popular performance school—played and ran instrument workshops. When they were added to the line-up, that sparked an idea in production manager Chris Hubbard’s imagination: “I mentioned, ‘What about the kids, like myself many years ago, that aren’t interested in performing but still want to be involved in music? They should have another avenue, be it sound, lights, video, staging—the behindthe- scenes stuff.’ And it all kind of spawned from there.”
The result was that teens got an interactive introduction to the world of concert production, from mixing sound to recording to manning lighting desks. On the audio side, the festival’s sound provider, DBS Audio (Coatesville, PA) provided Meyer Sound system design consultant Brian Bolly, who taught kids the basics of live sound.
“We got them on a Midas Venice and a bunch of Meyer UPAs, and they were actually mixing the School of Rock workshops live,” recalled Hubbard. “We’re not just talking, ‘Here’s a couple faders’; they really went into it. These kids were between 14 and 18 for the most part, and they were getting into ‘This is how an equalizer will change the sound of your kick drum or your vocals.’ They were smart—much smarter than I anticipated and very intuitive.”
Adding to the positive nature of the workshop was the fact that all the vendors involved with the Teen Scene stage donated their time and gear, said Hubbard: “It became a pet project of everybody involved, not just me; the minute I proposed this, they all said, ‘Absolutely! What can I do?’ I have to give credit to all our vendors—these are the biggest and best toys going, and these kids got to use them hands on. United Staging & Rigging, which is actually based in Bridgeport, donated a full StageRight deck, so these kids were performing on the same equipment as the main stage. BML Blackbird donated a full lighting package with Martin Professional Mac-101 moving head LED fixtures and did a full class on the grandMA lighting control desk, which is the big toy going around right now. Korg, too, donated halfa- dozen keyboards for the School of Rock workshop.”
For the kids who especially got into the sound aspects, Hubbard upped the ante by taking a group of 16 over to the main stage. “I wanted them to see the real deal with main stage artists playing to 25,000 people,” he explained. “They saw the engineers mix live on Midas Pro9s, and on a Yamaha DM2000 in a recording trailer. They didn’t get hands on, but they were going nuts with so many questions about ‘How many channels’ and such. There were two Pro9s at FOH—one active and one waiting for the next act—so Dave Brotman, the owner of DBS Audio who was the SE for the weekend, was more than happy to show the kids what was going on with the desks. They were blown away, man.”
Hayes, the festival founder, was happy with the results as well, as it provided something new to attract and entertain teens and families at the festival. “We definitely are looking at expanding this next year because the feedback from the parents was exceptional,” he said. “My bonding time with my parents when I was 12 was at Shea Stadium with my dad, you know? I think these days, parents are struggling to find activities that they can do with their kids together and this sort of sharing spirit is part of how the Gathering of the Vibes all started 16 years ago.”
As for Hubbard, he’s already looking ahead to introducing kids at next year’s festival to the world of live sound. “Regardless of whether School of Rock were to come back or not, no matter what, I’m going to hold the live sound workshop every year,” said Hubbard. “The kids really got into it and honestly, even if it was just one kid, being able to reach out to the next generation of sound engineers is near and dear to me, so I have to do it.”
DBS Audio Systems
Gathering of the Vibes