Lucky to be at Lockn’ Music Festival 2014

The 2nd Annual Lockn’ Music Festival was a huge success, drawing approximately 30,000 fans to the massive Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, VA over September 4-7. Founders Peter Shapiro and David Frey listened to fan complaints last year to make major changes to the festival grounds, including building new stages, roads, and entrances, as well as hiring better-trained staff to handle parking, security, vending, and logistics. Music started daily around 11 am and continued until 3-4 am each night (except Sunday).

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Thursday

The music kicked off promptly at 4 pm with the No BS! Brass Band from Richmond, who treated the first fans to horn-loaded renditions of popular favorites by Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin, including a fiery version of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” with a “Black Dog” riff at the end, ending with a festive “Thriller”.

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The Revivalists, from New Orleans, started on the Oak stage, hosting one of the first sit-ins of the weekend from Lettuce’s guitarist Eric Krasno. They covered the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” with rocking soul that amped up the sweaty crowd, as lead vocalist David Shaw jumped off the stage to sing in the crowd.

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New York’s own Lettuce brought their extreme funk to Lockn’ with fast-paced tunes that set the groove for the night. One of the highlights was Alecia Chakour sitting in on vocals for “Do It Like You Do” from their latest album, Fly, with a swanky melody, smooth bass line, and sensual flair thanks to Chakour. She also dedicated “The Sun” to her friend, Brian Farmer, who was Warren Haynes’ guitar tech and recently passed this year. Lettuce broke out fierce classics like “Lettsanity” and “Last Suppit” along with one of their newer songs, “Phyllis”, and closed the set with “By Any Shmeeans Necessary”, joined by the No BS! Brass band.

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Just as the sun began to set and cool off festivalgoers, back-to-back sets by Umphrey’s McGee and The String Cheese Incident heated things up. Umphrey’s McGee executed their first set with precision and purpose as the 6 piece band rocked the stage with triumphant sound. String Cheese immediately followed Umphrey’s on the adjacent stage with a set of crowd-pleasing originals like “So Far From Home” and “Can’t Stop Now”. Umphrey’s returned with a solid “Wappy Sprayberry”, and a fresh song off their newest album, Similar Skin, “Cut the Cable”. Flexing their jam-band prowess, Umphrey’s tore into a half-hour version of “Puppet String > Higgins”, and closed with a rousing rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”.

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SCI ended the night on the main stage with a tribute set to Kool and The Gang, joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and JT Taylor (a founding member of Kool and The Gang). There was no fighting the dancing bug when a trio of backup singers joined in, where everyone on stage showed off their dance moves. The old school disco funk had the crowd singing along to “Ladies Night” and “Get Down on it”, with a wild “Celebration” encore.

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A new stage conveniently situated on the walk back to the campsites, the Relix Shakedown Stage, hosted late-night sets all weekend. Following the funk theme, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk packed the grassy amphitheater for an explosive dance party in a field framed by a colorful line of trees. Playing crowd favorites “Everybody Want Sum” and “Put It In the Dumpsta”, Dumpstaphunk was joined on stage by the Steel Town Horns for “I Know You Know” and “I Wish You Would”, closing the night with “Raise the House”.

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Friday

Friday morning brought blue skies and a hot sun making most festivalgoers crawl out of their tent just in time for Keller Williams‘s Grateful Grass set on the Acoustic Triangle Stage at 11am. His 5-piece all string band included mandolinist Jeff Austin from Yonder Mountain String Band, fiddler Jason Carter from Del McCoury Band, Keith Moseley the bassist from The String Cheese Incident, Ray Starling, and the man himself, Keller Williams, who altogether drew a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. The foot-tapping, southern swing style set was greatly appreciated by the audience and musicians, as Williams continuously thanked everyone for the chance to perform some of his favorite Dead songs. Walking out of the shaded forest area to the top of the hill, guests had an amazing view of the festival grounds and colorful tents, backed by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains.

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NY’s instrumental progressive rock band, Tauk, opened the main stage with an insane breakdown of The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy”. Tauk kept fans cool with fluid segues and refreshing grooves, which have appeared on Sirius/XM JamOn. When asked about plans for fall tour, bassist Charles Dolan beamed that they have shows booked until January, with a Halloween gig being announced soon.

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Friday began steamy, as the 6 piece bluegrass plucking madness of Cabinet took the stage, followed by Del McCoury Band, who dressed in their finest suits to play harmonious and authentic folk tunes. Drive By Truckers brought a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound with the help from four screaming guitars and simple lyrics. Their “Grand Canyon” set closer sent layers of ringing guitar riffs echoing across the field.

The String Cheese Incident returned to the main stage for a second night of two sets, much to the delight of fans. This Colorado band rarely tours the East Coast, making their appearance at Lockn’ even more special. The set was light and breezy with caribbean vibes that drove the crowd wild. The set took a turn towards electrified bluegrass when Sam Bush joined in on fiddle for one of their more popular new songs, “Colorado Bluebird Sky.”

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A last-minute addition to this year’s lineup was Bill Kreutzmann’s Locknstep Allstars, stepping up to fill the gap left when Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir cancelled his appearance. The Allstars included keyboardist Aron Magner from Disco Biscuits, guitarist Tom Hamilton from American Babies & Brothers Past, ace guitarist Steve Kimock and the legendary bassist Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers Band. The musicians shared intense chemistry, gliding through the set of Dead classics, with sit-ins by Keller Williams for “Bird Song” and Taj Mahal for “Further on Down The Road.” Kreutzmann’s set closed with “Franklin’s Tower”, a Dead cover played later by Phil Lesh and Friends (one of many “cover collisions” throughout the weekend).

The last main stage act was Phil Lesh, Grateful Dead bassist and founder, along with his Friends, drummer Joe Russo (Furthur), keyboardist John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood), legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield, and guitarist Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule, Allman Brothers) for a two hour set of improvisational spacey jams. They kicked off the party with a festive “China Cat Sunflower”. It was refreshing to hear other band’s covers such as Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” and Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love”. Deadheads rejoiced to hear familiar favorites such as “Shakedown Street” and a lengthy “Unbroken Chain”, a dark and mysterious “Mountains of the Moon” and a furious “The Other One”, followed by Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. Curiously, Phil Lesh and Friends closed with “Franklin’s Tower”, which was also played earlier by Bill Kreutzmann’s Locknstep Allstars.

The warm summer night was capped off with a beautiful acoustic Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi set on the Triangle Stage, and Chris Robinson Brotherhood on the Relix Shakedown Stage, who performed one Black Crowes cover, “Tornado”, and mostly originals, such as “Shore Power”, from their new album, Phosphorescent Harvest, along with a smokin’ version of “Never Been to Spain” (by Hoyt Axton). Chris Robinson closed the evening with an intense version of Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It.”

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Saturday

Saturday brought blazing sunshine and high humidity for Lockn’ fans, eager for two more days of incredible music. It was so hot that even the speakers were sweating. The steamy afternoon started on the Oak Stage with the bluegrass expertise of Larry Keel & Sam Bush, joined by Larry’s wife Jenny Keel on upright bass. The music shifted to upbeat rock, as Ween guitarist Aaron Freeman (aka “Gene Ween”) took the Ridge Stage, playing a new song (as of yet untitled), starting off with the crowd scratching their heads. He rocked through “All the Way to China”, and “Covert Discretion”, the latter a song about saving himself from his chemical dependency. He played most of the songs off of his new album, Freeman, which are very philosophical stories of his life and the battles with various influences of fame.

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Bluesy guitar virtuoso, Gary Clark, Jr. brought out-of-sight guitar licks and powerful vocals to the Oak Stage in the early afternoon, as the heat took over while fans sought or made any shade possible. Clark opened with “Catfish Blues” (Robert Petway) and “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round”, and as his guitar playing warmed up, so did the crowd, but the cold local craft beer helped dull the heat. Clark played an hour and a half with mostly originals, including “Don’t Owe You a Thing”, a fuzz-guitar finger-picking blues ballad, B.B.King’s “3 O’Clock Blues” and the sultry “Bright Lights”.

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Tedeschi Trucks Band proved to be one of the best acts of the weekend, with adoring affection for each other that speaks through their music. The crowd cheered with all the variety from soul, blues, and southern rock that was full of heart. They played blues classics such as “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (by Hambone Willie Newbern), “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” (Willie Johnson), a rousing version of Derek and the Domino’s “Keep on Growing”, and a beautiful version of “Bound for Glory”, which was dedicated to the late Brian Farmer. In a 10+ minute long “Misunderstood”, Derek showed off his deft slide guitar, moving to “Bound for Glory”, graced by Susan’s angelic vocals and soulful guitar, along with intense Hammond riffing by Kofi Burbridge.

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Wilco opened with their 2001 classic, “War on War”, from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. During Wilco’s set, a passing sun shower provided a brief relief from the summer heat, as well as a bright double rainbow across the horizon. Frontman Jeff Tweedy cracked jokes about the weather, quipping “don’t rainbows suck?” during “I’m the Man Who Loves You”, then teased “Let it Go” from the film Frozen. As they dove into some serious jamming, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen smashed his keys with a pillow. Guitar duels ensued between Nels Cline and Pat Sansone, with rhythmic backing by bassist John Stirratt and drummer Glenn Kotche. Wilco played other favorites, “Handshake Drugs”, “California Stars” and “Kingpin”, closing their set with “A Shot in the Arm”.

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Phil Lesh and Friends kicked off Saturday night with a slew of segued songs, starting with a killer “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” and ending with a beautiful “Bird Song”. Mingled into the line was a somber “Wharf Rat”, along with a picturesque “Eyes of the World” and a psychedelically-tinged “Caution”, augmented with great walking bass lines by Lesh and lovely organ fills by Medeski. “Dark Star” was enhanced by the soulful vocals of Warren Haynes. During the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said”, Phil & Friends’ set was cut short due to a nearby lightning storm, which prompted Lockn’ authorities to order an orderly evacuation of the concert field.

‘You can’t have a Panic show without a little panic’, as a few fans commented while the skies grew dark over the fans rushing to their campsites. The rain delay was lifted after an hour, with Widespread Panic starting on time. Steve Winwood sat in for strong vocals that were as cool as the fresh air after the rain. “Can’t Find My Way Home” went into dark jam territory as Winwood added a touch of the blues. Sax man Randall Bramblett joined alongside Steve and Widespread for “The Ballad of John and Yoko” through nearly the end of the set. Winwood played the best version of “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”, which was also covered by Phil the night before. Winwood’s powerful organ solo brought recognizable delight for the set closer, “Gimme Some Lovin’.”

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One of the biggest acts of the weekend was the main stage closer of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. The legendary rock group opened with the iconic “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (The Byrds), blasting through top hits “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, “Free Fallin’” and “Yer So Bad”, with Petty on acoustic. His set finished with a rocking “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Petty encored with “You Wreck Me” and a sizzling “American Girl”. The familiar in-your-face rock had stretched out jams, and was much better live. Tom Petty is like hanging out with old friends, making jokes about music and poor memories of the past.

Late-night Saturday started up the hill on the Triangle Stage, for a rare appearance of Hot Tuna Acoustic, with founders Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady on guitar and bass, and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin. For his 17th birthday, Jorma’s son Zach joined Hot Tuna on stage to play guitar during their opener, “Been So Long”. Hot Tuna did a number of classic covers by Reverend Gary Davis, such as “I Am the Light of this World”, with Jorma’s incredible fingerpicking and Jack’s virtuoso walking bass thunder, which really took off at the last half of “Hesitation Blues” and the lively “Keep On Truckin'” encore, as well as sprinkled throughout their set, along with Barry’s tasteful mandolin picking and occasional audience support on the choruses.

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Late-night closers and the real “break-out” band for Lockn’ was Bustle In Your Hedgerow, who completely burned up the hillside at the Relix Shakedown Stage with passionate instrumental versions of Led Zeppelin songs, bringing a fresh intensity to these classic rock anthems. Led by the multifaceted Marco Benevento (with his army of keyboards and circuit-benders), Dave Dreiwitz of Ween on bass (a modern-day John Paul Jones), Scott Metzger (of Particle & Rana) on guitar (shredding Jimmy Page licks with aplomb), and the ever-limber Joe Russo (Furthur) on drums, pounded out Bonham beats to the responsive crowd. Bustle gained many new fans at Lockn’ with incredible renditions of “For Your Life”, which went into a dark and mysterious “No Quarter”, as Marco unleashed alien sounds from his vast array of keyboards and effects, with stratospheric keyboard solos.

Few people were sleeping, even at the campsites, but everyone said how much they loved listening to Bustle. A Native American tribal dance circle evolved around the sole campfire, and fans slowly soaked in the Bustle set as the three days of music, camping and walking started to sink in.

Sunday

Sunday started out cool and mellow, with a welcome cloud cover to thwart the blazing late summer sun. Keller Williams played his Grateful Gospel set on the Early Triangle Stage at 11 am, with classics like “Ripple” done with a bluegrass feel, assisted by a skilled gospel vocal troupe. Keller then went into a light and airy version of the Dead’s “Eyes of the World”, where fans didn’t mind another ‘cover collision’, as it was fresh and tastily enhanced by soothing vocals and guitar work. Hailing from Charlottesville, Erin and the Wildfire opened the main stage at noon to a few early risers, but more fans arose from their camps to flood the concert grounds for SOJA, who brought a large local following and fired up the crowd.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals kicked the afternoon into overdrive, with straight-ahead power rock anthems like “Ah Mary”, “Low Road”, and “Sweet Hands”. “Nothing but the Water” went into part of Sly’s “I Want to Take You Higher” and ended with an eerie”White Rabbit”. Potter dedicated their encore to the memory of Brian Farmer with a sorrowful “I Shall Be Released”, with Grace taking the helm of the B3 and belting out vocals that echoed off the hills. GP&N ended their set and completed the tribute with The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”, propelled by Grace’s blasting organ & vocals.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Willie Nelson treated long-time fans to straight-ahead versions of many classics like “Crazy”, “You Were Always On My Mind” and “Georgia”, playing almost 30 songs in an hour and a half. He joked throughout, making fun of the hard road life and introducing songs like “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” with related stories to provide context. Wilco had another memorable set, with “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Hesitating Beauty” and “Hoodoo Voodoo”, finishing with “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”. Widespread Panic also played a great closing set on Sunday, treating fans to Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues”, where Randall Bramblett again joined the band, this time on harmonica. They closed with a funky version of the Bill Withers classic,”Use Me”, with Susan Tedeschi joining on guitar and vocals, and Bramblett on sax.

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The Allman Brothers Band performed Live at the Fillmore East, kicking off with “Statesboro Blues” (Blind Willie McTell) and “Done Somebody Wrong” (Elmore James), and a sweet & smooth version of “Stormy Monday” (T-Bone Walker) with soulful vocals by Gregg Allman, sweet slide work by Derek Trucks, and rhythm guitar by Warren Haynes, who took a soaring solo at the end. A few of the standouts were a nearly 15-minute “Whipping Post”, with ridiculous slide and guitar solo trades between Derek and Warren, and a lengthy “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. The Allmans closed out the set with “Blue Sky” > “Mountain Jam”, ending with “Little Martha” and an encore of “Mountain Jam Reprise” to close the main stage, while group and album cover photos of the Allman Brothers of yore graced the audience, who cheered to thank the Allman Brothers for a lifetime of music, reflecting on the band who will soon retire.
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See You Next Year

Entry into the festival was far smoother this year due to skillful planning, as well as better layout due to the purchase of adjacent land so all the campsites could be closer. The concert fairgrounds and camping areas were completely redesigned, with new stage locations and new roads built to handle more fans. VIP and Super VIP had larger camping and concert field space, more bathrooms and showers than last year.

Moving the late-night Triangle Stage to the nearby ridge made it less than a 20 minute walk from the main stage field (versus a long 45-minute walk last year). VIP facilities were larger and cleaner this year, under constant maintenance until after midnight. Patrons enjoyed more food choices, more fresh water taps, colder beer, and better use of space, as compared to 2013.

There was a temporary shortage of porta-johns, but more were promptly delivered the next day. There were complaints of minor thefts of tapestries, coolers, and other personal items, but in general the fans were well-behaved and all the major areas were kept safe and sound. The crowd was well-behaved, withstanding the blistering sun with umbrellas, wide hats, shade tents, and water mist guns. In spite of a cancellation by one of the major headliners (Bob Weir and Ratdog, which also cancelled a Furthur reunion), other musicians stepped up to the plate to fill the open main stage slots (namely Bill Kreutzman and Phil Lesh with their respective super-groups).

One of the newest additions to this year’s activities was the on-site biking program. Fans were encouraged to bring their bikes, or could rent one, courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain Bike Park. Oak Ridge Farm has over 30 miles of trails to explore with guided tours from the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club. Because of the beautiful weather, bikers could be seen pedaling at all hours of the weekend. Disc golf, yoga, and swimming hole trips, cultural awareness and crafts were also some of many activities that Lockn’ provided to patrons.

In spite of threats by the ABC to shut down Lockn’s liquor license, county and state police reported only minor incidents, and Lockn’ ran very smoothly, especially considering the amount of fans and crew this year. Thanks to careful planning, and expenditures on key infrastructure like new staging, camping, electricity, and roads, Lockn’ organizers seek to improve the area further, and bring more business into Nelson County next year. Although The Allman Brothers are retiring, we can hope to see many of the headliners return next year.

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