Interview: Gathering of the Vibes’ Harry Moran

At most major concert festivals, there's one person in charge of coordinating non-profit organizations (NPOs). Usually, he or she has a few other responsibilities, and has to juggle NPO's with food vendors, second stage programming, or sponsor services. Then there are a handful of festivals that actually have one individual totally dedicated to NPO's and the message they bring. Gathering of the Vibes (July 21-24, Bridgeport, CT) is just such a festival, and the man in charge is Harry Moran.

This affable, mustached festie veteran has amassed one of the most vibrant non-profit lineups of any music festival on earth. In doing so, he has helped turn Gathering of the Vibes into a positive reflection of the music community itself. We caught up with Harry on a busy day as another Vibes approaches.

What can attendees of Vibes expect in terms of non-profit presence, social conscious raising activity and things that just go beyond the music?

We’ve got a tremendous, diverse group of non-profits and one of the main things that we offer are some high visibility exposure in our non-profit village, which we call our sustainability village. We gave them a place to setup and talk to attendees right in the thick of things.

And who will be there?

In terms of some of the people we’ve got coming this year we’ve got the ACLU of Connecticut, more locally we’ve got Bridgeport Community Landtrust and the Regional Business Council. We’ve got both of our solar buses coming back. The Solar Motion Bio Bus which is a mobile bio lamp for kids and teens as well as the solar bus that does Solar 101 classes and charges peoples cell phones for free and bake solar cookies and all kinds of fun stuff. Connecticut Community Boating is helping us with our shoreline safety and security and at Seaside Park again. Connecticut Clean Energy Fund is there to promote awareness of clean energy programs that are available in Connecticut and elsewhere. Family Centers which is more of a social services, education, human services group. Deerfield County. For the first time this year we’ve got Greenpeace with us, which is gonna be very cool. They’re bringing a solar truck, which is gonna be involved with powering some of our Green Vibes World. So we’re excited to have them with us. New England Organ Bank promoting organ donation awareness will be with us. Another exciting first time attendee in terms of non-profits is Oxfam America, the international relief and development organization.

You forgot one.

And of course we’ve got our long time friends and partners at HeadCount.

That is quite the list. I had no idea it was so many. It seems that it’s a real priority for Vibes – almost that you’re trying to create an experience and a message that is really integral to the festival.

Absolutely. This has been something when my period of doing this with Vibes which goes back to 2002, this has grown from having 4 or 5 non-profits of a more local kind of nature to now this incredible lineup. I think people have really come to expect it to be a major integrated part of the event.

What do you think it brings to the festival?

I think what it brings to the event is that it lets everyone know that sure, a part of it is about getting together and having a great time, but at the same time we know that we live in a world where there are things that we want to change and we have tremendous power as a community to get together and bring about change.

Is the Vibes fan base receptive to it?

Yeah. I think of course it’s a large crowd and everybody is different, but we’ve seen really good traffic through the non-profit village – particularly over the last couple of years. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the non-profits that they have people coming to visit them and that people are genuinely interested in what they are doing.

I can definitely second that. I think what we find is that the demographics at Vibes are fairly mixed – there’s a pretty large age range. You have everyone from the older Deadhead where social consciousness has been a big part of their life and they really identify themselves that way to the younger kids who are just really excited about all the new things at their disposal and all day we’ll have just different types of people and different kinds of conversation at the booth. I think you guys really have an audience that does buy into the bigger picture so to speak.

That’s great to hear that. That’s what it’s about and I think we’re getting more and more traction with that every year.

You mentioned so many non-profits – are any doing things that are particularly interesting or fun that fans should know about in advance?

Well one of the things that I should mention here would be the Terrapin Foundation which is the charitable arm of the event if you will is sponsoring our annual food drive. Last year we were able to collect over 5,000 pounds of non-perishable food items which went to Bridgeport Area food banks. And this year we’ve been really promoting this well in advance and we’re actually hoping to double that number. From the information that I’m hearing from our contacts at the food banks, times are still very tough and their shelves are pretty sparse, so this is gonna be a huge difference in terms of keeping food on peoples tables. So that’s a big part of the tangible outreach of the program.

So people coming to Vibes should definitely bring some canned food for the food drive?
Absolutely. We really appreciate that and our message is if everybody can bring one pound of food, it’s gonna make a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.

What would you love to do in the future if everything continues to gel for Gathering of the Vibes what would you like to see happen next with the non-profit area?

Well I think that really what we’re doing is working pretty well overall and getting your feedback is encouraging too since that’s what we’re always trying to do is to reach out to people and see what’s working and what’s not working. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel with anything. The one area that we’re working more and more on is working with our non-profits to do some cross promotion so we can help each other in terms of getting the word out. And I think that’s been becoming very effective. And of course with social media we’re able to do so much more than we were a couple of years ago.