Last week the world’s greatest athletes wrapped up their quadrennial competition competing on the world stage in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympics showcased the greatest talent humans have to offer in achievements of physical performance.
This weekend, on a farm in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, the most talented musicians in rock are gathering to showcase the greatest talent humans have to offer in achievements of aural performance. It truly is like the Olympics of jam, or in LOCKN’ parlance, the Jam ‘Lympics.
Welcome, #LOCKN! Safe travels to everyone. Infinity Downs is now open for coffee, tasty breakfast, lunch, or just relaxing cool brews. If it’s a lay in a hammock and play some games type of morning… Infinity Downs is the place to be. Show field opens at 5PM, and until then, please be mindful of traffic during this busy time and respect your fellow campers. We’re so excited to have you.
LOCKN’ pushed the festival into late August this year, up from early-mid September previously. If the move was made to ensure better weather, it is paying off, with hot and dry conditions that allowed for efficient entry to the festival grounds for the 25,000 fans arriving from Wednesday through Thursday.
Who better than Umphrey’s McGee, back for their third straight LOCKN’ appearance, to carry the torch in to kick off this year’s festivities. Like any good opening ceremonies, Umphrey’s set provided a feast for the eyes, with sprays and splashes of lights constantly bathing the stage in a kaleidoscope of color. This year LOCKN’ is featuring a rotating main stage. So, as opening act Vulfpeck played the last notes of their set, Umphrey’s two guitar attack blasted immediately before the band was even visible. The stage fully rotated, and just like that, Vulfpeck had transitioned seamlessly into Umphrey’s McGee, without a wasted second of silence.
Between the opening notes of “Nipple Trix” and the closing sounds of “All In Time,” Umphrey’s set featured explosive guitar work and bombastic full band improvisations, a relentless assault of over-the-top rock theatrics. Like a DJ scratching on the turntable, the next band to turn around the table, Ween, got remixed into Umphrey’s set, as Gene Ween sat in for a cover of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.”
The opening ceremonies provided by Umphrey’s McGee was sandwiched between qualifying rounds by Vulfpeck and Ween. Both bands advanced to the medal rounds, and continued with sets Friday.
Relative newcomers to the scene, and riding high over a year that has seen their popularity skyrocket, Vulfpeck properly opened up the performances for the 2016 edition of LOCKN’ with their infectious and slinky funk. At a festival that is sure to feature many sit-ins and a good share of covers, they delivered on both counts, with Antwain Stanley sitting in for a few tunes and secondly with their nifty cover of Steely Dan’s “Peg.” Bassist Joe Dart showed off his gymnastic skills quite literally as he cartwheeled across the stage while getting the crowd involved in a “Christmas in LA” singalong.
Ween closed the main stage Thursday with a career spanning set that in typical Ween fashion completely disregarded rock convention. When at the Jam ‘Lympics, its best to show off your jamming chops, and Ween delivered with a whacked out free form romp through “Poopship Destroyer” that had the band completely bathed in red, with some perfect trippy echoed images being displayed on the big screens and Gene Ween’s voice getting spookily modulated. They segued right into a more spritely “Zoloft” before ending after midnight unceremoniously with “Pandy Fackler.” But as Ween reminded the crowd, “Tomorrow is game day.” Even after the over two hour set, it felt like the show wouldn’t be complete without their impending Friday night set.
The day’s competition may have concluded, but back at the ‘Lympic village the party was just getting started. In the secluded Woods stage EOTO was digging into their electronic groove while the forest flashed hypnotically in reds, greens and blues. Behind a wood door that bore Jerry Garcia’s unique hand print, Garcia’s Forest featured an endless stream of historic Grateful Dead jams. While at the Blue Ridge Bowl, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead reinterpreted the very same music to a packed audience of blissed-out groovers. The music never stops.
Like a two-sport wonder, Dave Dreiwitz, who had just performed with Ween on the main stage, pulled off the magnificient multi-band feat as he immediately appeared on stage with JRAD,the first on stage in fact. JRAD’s set opened with a spacey jam that dissolved into a long drawn out take on “Truckin’,” and then the set just spiraled into a tie-dyed blend of Grateful Dead colors, mixing and remixing the Dead catalog to thrilling effect, with takes on “St. Stephen,” “The Eleven,” “The Wheel” and “Estimated Prophet” peppering the set before a night closing “Terrpain Station.” The band served as the bridge between the ancient Gods of jam and the more modern styles and techniques of today. A perfect summary of what the celebration continuing at LOCKN’ is all about; the perfect way to end the first night and a look forward to the next three jam packed days.