Hays sees the Greenwich Town Party as a homecoming

Audiences are expected to enjoy a day full of music, organized by Ken Hays.

Audiences are expected to enjoy a day full of music, organized by Ken Hays.

A Memorial Day weekend tradition in town, the annual Greenwich Town Party (GTP) is set to kick off on Saturday, May 24, thanks to a lot of hard work from the organizers.

Tickets again sold out in minutes for the main stage in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and a full day of music and fun is planned with Carlos Santana, George Clinton and Buddy Guy as the headliners of a show also featuring many local bands. And while the event is only four years old, the organizers behind the scenes have been bringing people together at events like these for almost 20 years.

Ken Hays and his production company, Baseline Productions, have a history of uniting and reuniting communities year after year at music- and arts-centric events like Bridgeport’s Gathering of the Vibes. This type of track record is what made Mr. Hays and his company an obvious choice when the nonprofit organization sponsoring the GTP was looking for a producer for the first event four years ago.

Greenwich is also Mr. Hays’ hometown, in keeping with the mission statement of the GTP that the event was created by the people of Greenwich for the people of Greenwich.

Mr. Hays is one of the lucky few who have been able to successfully combine what he loves with what he does for a living. Mr. Hays is a music lover and longtime devoted fan of the Grateful Dead. In 1991, not long after graduating from the University of Colorado, Mr. Hays launched a business selling tapes and audio equipment to fellow fans and followers of the Grateful Dead (affectionately known as Deadheads) at wholesale prices. The company gained a name for itself and eventually it was selling equipment directly to the band.

This financial success allowed Mr. Hays to tour with the Grateful Dead for many years and it was the platform for his foray into festival and event production. After the death of the Dead’s legendary guitar player Jerry Garcia in 1995, Mr. Hays’ relationship with the band and its surrounding community positioned him to produce a music and arts event that would bring fans together to celebrate Jerry’s life and musical and cultural contributions.

The event became a beloved tradition and has evolved into what is now known as the Gathering of the Vibes, a music festival with the same celebratory spirit, attracting bands from all genres of music and their respective fans. What started out as a tradition among a vast but tight-knit community has became a bona fide musical attraction with an expansive audience. The festival takes place in Seaside Park in Bridgeport and draws crowds up to 25,000.

Mr. Hays spoke with the Post recently and was adamant that although the events he produces are now often large scale, the sensibility remains the same as it was in the very beginning, which is that the most important thing is the music and the shared experience of the community. That sentiment is evident in Mr. Hays’ own attitude about work and what he expects from those participating in the events.

“We work with bands that check their egos at the door,” said Mr. Hays, adding that it’s important that the bands are “humble and appreciative.”

Mr. Hays spoke of James Taylor, who performed at the GTP in 2013, and how Mr. Taylor joined his band for sound check in miserable, rainy weather, something that “no other artist of his caliber would ever do.”

Mr. Hays calls the GTP a “reunion,” saying it provides an “opportunity to see people that even though you live in the same town, because everyone is so busy with their own lives you may not see them very often.”

This event may be seen as an effort to create a place and a time where you can count on seeing those members of your community year after year. And with the GTP going strong in its fourth year, it’s clear that it’s successful in doing just that.

Now, just weeks from the actual party, Mr. Hays says that production is moving along smoothly. Right now they are finalizing steps like loading schedules and accommodations for talent. There are a lot of moving parts when executing an event like the GTP, which will boast two large venues this year, utilizing both Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and Havemeyer Field.

Mr. Hays credits his dedicated team for ensuring that all goes according to plan. All his team members bring a wealth of expertise to the table, and he has been working with many of them since the beginning of his career. Equally important to expertise, Mr. Hays says of his team, is that “no one here is just going through the motions. We are all emotionally invested in what we’re doing.”

The GTP will feature three Grammy-winning and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists, including Carlos Santana, Chicago blues guitar legend Buddy Guy, and funk innovator George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic. In addition, a selection of Greenwich bands will be featured, such as Julia Zivic and the Brothers, the Bobby Palatuf Band, Unchained, Mongolian Monkfish, and Rang-A-Boom.

There will also be a variety of family-friendly activities, and some of Greenwich’s favorite food establishments will be serving up their local favorites. A variety of ticket options are available and children under 12 years old are admitted free.

The feeling that the Greenwich Town Party is a reunion doesn’t stem only from the fact that it is an annual event. Mr. Hays, a proud graduate of the Greenwich High School Class of 1983, said that while on stage to announce a band at a previous GTP, when he called out for any fellow graduates of the Class of ’83, he “heard cheers from the crowd. They were out there. This event is like a homecoming.”

For tickets and information, visit Greenwichtownparty.com.

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