Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds perform at the inaugural Sound On Sound festival held in Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Sept. 24 and 25, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Some music traditions are simply too beloved to fade away, even in the face of the challenges brought on in the past several years by the pandemic that made gatherings and specifically large concerts a challenge.
But with tens of thousands of people making their way to the first ever Sound on Sound festival held at Seaside Park the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the largest city in The Land of Steady Habits returned to its place as an annual live music destination for friends and family from all over the country looking for two packed days of performances by respected artists.
Held on the same grounds that for a long stretch hosted the famed Gathering of the Vibes, Sound on Sound brought a premiere lineup of bands and singer-songwriters to play to enthusiastic audiences on consecutive days with a pair of adjacent stages looking out over Long Island Sound.
Large crowds were formed by early afternoon each day, with sunny skies throughout Saturday and even despite overcast skies and steady winds all day Sunday that would ultimately culminate with a storm cutting it all short by about 45 minutes.
But nevertheless, event organizers successfully brought in a world-class collection of musicians, many of whom expressed their own joy at being involved in a first-time event in a place that — while perhaps not at the top of every vacationer’s mind — has earned a place in the hearts of the many musicians who’ve made their way through or to Connecticut’s largest city.
By design, the schedule allowed for serious music goers to take in some of all of the performances, as none on either main stage were scheduled to overlap. And though previous festivals on the grounds had been rooted in the music of the Grateful Dead, with a heavy concentration of bands from the Northeast, the first ever Sound on Sound brought in a head-turning list of performers spanning many genres.
Saturday saw nationally known bands taking the stage in the afternoon, as Trampled By Turtles, Band of Horses and CAAMP each took their turn on the Seaside Stage. Meanwhile, about 100 yards away, the Sunset Stage played host to an assortment of acts both young — such as country star Zach Bryan — and more seasoned, like The Revivalists, the award-winning roots rock squad out of New Orleans.
Back at the Seaside Stage, The Lumineers put on a spectacular 90-minute long set to a massive crowd, with the members of the Denver-born folk-rock group prancing out onto a lengthy catwalk that put them right in the middle of it all. Father John Misty, who recently came through his DMV homeland for an unforgettable show at The Anthem, closed out the night with a colorful and remarkable performance over on the Sunset Stage.
In what turned out to be one of the weekend’s biggest keepsakes, legendary songwriter and vocalist Stevie Nicks mesmerized the large crowd on hand, showing that she’s not lost one bit of the magic that helped make her one of the world’s most adored artists in her time as a central figure in Fleetwood Mac, and since then as a songwriter on her own.
The Phoenix native basked in the bright lights with gratitude for being a part of the first Sound On Sound, even as the nighttime temperatures along the water began to dip. With a vivid, rolling projection of visuals illuminating the stage, Nicks shared interesting details about some of the songs she played, a mix of Fleetwood Mac songs as well as her own and a number of covers.
She paid tribute to her close friend and another beloved songwriter, the late Tom Petty. A man she had admired from afar long before they met and began a friendship that lasted decades, Nicks expressed her eternal gratitude to have the chance to record a song with Petty in the early 80s, and she was emotional in sharing that with the large audience at Seaside Park.
“Thank you, Tom,” she said, queuing the start of the hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with the big screen showing portraits of Tom and shots of him performing with various outfits over the years.
Stevie paid tribute to another artist she respects, Stephen Stills, who was a well-known member of numerous bands, including Buffalo Springfield. She shared memories of spending time with him and other members of the group, putting into context her newest recorded song in years, a cover tune that she’d perform for the Sound On Sound crowd.
“All the years between then and now, I wanted to record this song,” she said. “Something about Stephen Stills speaks to me. He’s an important person to me. This song, I think it meant something then and it means something today. It’s called ‘For What It’s Worth.’”
Stream Stevie Nicks’ recording of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” via Spotify:
Opening up, Stevie told those on hand that she’s certainly had her share of tough days as of late.
“When I get depressed, I take my mattress off the bed and put it on the floor,” she cracked. “I don’t know. Everything gets better. I feel like a different person. It works. You must try it. … This song’s called Gypsy.”
With a mix of relatable conversation and the sheer surprise of numerous Fleetwood Mac masterpieces, it became an emotional night for many of the seasoned concert goers on hand — and even some of the younger ones who have more recently discovered this talented, captivating human being, who thanked the audience for invigorating her and her bandmates before departing with a simple message: “we love you.”
Though the second day of the event would eventually usher in unfavorable weather, it would have been impossible to not appreciate what was yet another fantastic assortment of established and on-the-rise artists.
And after hearing considerable attendee feedback on the flow and waiting lines at the event, event organizers made adjustments resulting in an easier transition from stage to stage and quicker access to food and beverages.
The Sunset Stage was loaded Sunday with bands like 90s stars Spin Doctors, widely acclaimed The Head and The Heart and Gary Clark Jr., already a blues guitar master at just 38 years old. Fans made their way back and forth to the Seaside Stage to see a pair of ascending indie singer-songwriters in Jade Bird and then Noah Kahan.
Later in the day and into the evening, The Roots put on a weather-defying set at the Seaside Stage that had the massive throng moving in the rain and whipping wind, just before Brandi Carlile and her band of talented fellow musicians rocked nonstop for 60 minutes.
Closing out the Sunset Stage on Sunday night, The National entertained a boisterous, passionate concentration of fans and used an illusory light display to decorate some of the most ardent songs played on either stage all weekend.
But with the wind picking up, and a storm working its way up the Sound, Matt Berninger said he and his mates were cutting their set just a tad short. While that was most certainly not what his fans wanted to hear, it was a practical and ultimately a timely decision on part of the event organizers.
With The National bidding farewell, it was only minutes later that another of the weekend’s premiere sets was underway as Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds took the Seaside Stage for an important duo acoustic presentation that on its own likely drew tens of thousands of attendees to the park.
Celebrating a “beautiful day of music” that put him in the company of many of his friends, referring to some of the others on the bill, Matthews was jovial, even spunky from the start, perhaps aware of the impending weather working its way up the Sound.
“We’re going to play until they say we gotta get everyone to their cars,” he said, and he reminded people not to scatter should it begin to storm. “Thank you for your understanding, because I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
For those who braved it, the blustery set put on by these two longtime friends — albeit ultimately cut short — was a fruitful and stirring dose of music that recalled the beginnings of the famous Dave Matthews Band.
Having met in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Matthews was bartending at Miller’s, Reynolds’ famously encouraged Dave to form his own band. The two would tour together as well, releasing the classic album, Live at Luther College, in 1999.
They’ve each achieved a lot since those days — the pair was presented with the Key to the City of Bridgeport over the weekend — and they showed in short time at Sound On Sound the same improvisational synergy that caught the ears of so many listeners in the 90s.
Listen to the classic Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds recording, Live at Luther College, via Spotify:
Enduring versions of tracks like “Satellite” and “Don’t Drink the Water,” stripped down to just two guitars, revealed the compelling strength in the songs that Matthews and company offered up to the world.
An enchanting take on “Crush” morphed into an eye-popping display of command of the strings, with Tim in particular absolutely hammering down near the bridge one second, carefully brushing or plucking a string on the neck the next, his hair flying with each gust. And Matthews would continue to heap the praise on his friend the entire time.
“I hope everyone got their thirst quenched,” Matthew said of the day. “I hope you got hear some shit that you wanted to hear and see some shit you wanted to see. I hope everyone’s feeling alright. Thank you so much.”
For a moment the wind calmed, and Dave’s banter didn’t just center on the element, as he’d share some insight into songs, too, like “So Damn Lucky,” a track he wrote after wrecking his car — “a piece of shit” Pontiac Sunbird — in the ’80s.
“This song is about if things had not worked out quite so well,” his voice turning gravid.
But, alas, the sound of thunder in the distance would signal an early end to the set, and Dave would carefully express his disappointment.
“Hey y’all. They want us to stop now. I’m sorry. I would have liked to have spent more time with ya.”
As the foul weather moved in, dropping torrential rain on Seaside Park, it might have put a damper on the last couple sets. But it couldn’t have taken away from what was a weekend delivering terrific performances, lasting memories and the promise of returning live music on a grand scale to a region that clearly embraces it.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Setlist Sept. 25
Bartender (Dave Matthews Band)
Save Me (Dave Matthews)
Stay or Leave (DM)
Don’t Drink the Water (DMB)
When the World Ends (DMB)
Lie in Our Graves (DMB)
So Damn Lucky (DM)
Stevie Nicks Setlist Sept. 24
Outside the Rain
Dreams (Fleetwood Mac)
If Anyone Falls
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Gypsy (Fleetwood Mac)
Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty)
Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Edge of Seventeen
Here are images from the inaugural Sound on Sound Festival held at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Sept. 23 and 24, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
Gary Clark Jr.
The Head and The Heart
Band of Horses