Lockn’ was Rockin’ – Jam Festival of the Summer

This is the first review for  from famed live music photographer Phrazz. Check out his full gallery on his Flickr page and enjoy a full recap of Lockn’ Festival.

Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey hit a home run with their inaugural Lockn’ Festival, which was held September 5-8 at the laconic Oak Ridge Estate, a sprawling 4,800 acre tract of fields and forests in Arrington, VA. Furthur, Jimmy Cliff, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, The Black Crowes and Gov’t Mule brought their best performances to the estimated crowd of 25,000.  Although the musical fare was jam-rock heavy, there also plenty of bluegrass, folk, funk and jazz mixed in.

Furthur played four powerful sets over three star-studded nights, with sit-ins by Trey Anastasio and Susan Tedeschi.  Anastasio joined Furthur during their re-enactment of the entire Workingman’s Dead album while Phil Less delivered thunderous bass in a ground-rumbling duel with Joe Russo’s drums, while John Kadlecik’s deftly-delivered Jerry-esque leads, and Bob Weir’s impeccable rhythm and vocals were woven into a psychedelic sonic tapestry.  On Saturday night, John Fogarty of Creedence Clearwater Revival sat in with Widespread Panic on “Born on the Bayou”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Suzy Q”, and other CCR classics, ending with a powerful “Fortunate Son”.

In a welcome departure from most festivals this summer, Lockn’ had no DJs, instead featuring the best rock, bluegrass and jambands making great music.  The two main stages were set up next to each other at a slight angle, with little or no performance overlap, so fans could see every bit of music. In spite of an extremely long entry line, the festival was a huge success.  Frey, who worked for the legendary Bill Graham, also booked bands at Shapiro’s club, The Wetlands Preserve (the progenitor to the Brooklyn Bowl).  Frey and Shapiro decided to create a festival with “bands they’d like to see”, and little downtime associated with other large festivals. The only significant waits were the line to park and camp (6-10 hours), and the round-trip to the mysterious late-night “Triangle Stage” deep in the woods (40 min walk), whose schedule was only announced by word-of-mouth.

Keller Williams and Larry and Jenny Keel – Keller & The Keels – kicked off Lockn’ on Thursday with originals “Breathe”, “Take Me To The Tundra”, and “Freeker by the Speaker”, along with a rapid-fire delivery of jamgrass-laced covers, such as “Born To Be Wild”, “Another Brick in the Wall”, and an astounding “Pepper” (The Butthole Surfers), which had the crowd singing along raucously, “You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes”, as the afternoon sun blazed on the slowly-amassing crowd.

Warren Haynes fired up the crowd with his soulful blues-rock guitar riffs and vocals on originals “River’s Gonna Rise”, “Hattiesburg Hustle” and “Tear Me Down”, with tasty covers sprinkled in, such as Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” and Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic”. Warren Haynes Band had Alecia Chakour on vocals, and Nigel Hall on keys & vocals, along with Ron Johnson holding down the bass, and the legendary Ron Holloway on tenor sax.  The String Cheese Incident followed Warren’s blues-rock with their super-funky flavor of discograss, a rousing set that included “Desert Dawn”, “Far From Home” and “Mauna Bowa” > “Colliding” and got the crowd jumping with ecstasy.  Keller Williams added his funky acoustic strumming and clear vocals on the bluesy reggae tune, “Best Feeling”, as he “sat up in the branches and felt like a bird / it was the best feeling in the world”, with tasteful solos by Bill Nershi on acoustic guitar, and Michael Kang on electric mandolin, with a funky key jam-out at the end by Kyle Hollingsworth.  They ended their flawless set on Friday night with their perennial party favorite, “Texas”.

The music quickly switched to the Ridge Stage, where Gov’t Mule fired right up.  Warren Haynes, on lead guitar and vocals, was joined by Jorgen Carlsson on bass, Nigel Hall on keys & vocals, Alecia Chakour on vocals, and Danny Louis on organ, guitar, vocals & trumpet, with Matt Abts keeping the rhythm flowing.  A night chill breezed through the crowd as Warren broke into a slow, heavy “Dear Prudence”, where Grace Potter joined them to major applause.  Grace lent her soulful Joplin-esque vocals to a soothing “Gold Dust Woman”, and then performed a first timer, “Whisper in Your Soul”. In an apparent homage to Neil Young (who attended, but didn’t play), Gov’t Mule played CS&N’s “Find the Cost of Freedom”, then a scorching “Southern Man”, where Grace briefly hopped on the organ during a crushing Warren guitar solo, and then returned with her impassioned lead vocals.

Friday started out nice and breezy, with an acoustic duet by The Founding Farmers (Andy Falco and Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters, whose annual Festy Experience is hosted nearby), which included ‘Dusters tunes “Fork in the Road”, and covers of “Sitting on Top of the World” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Falco played a modified electric banjo guitar.

Pegi Young and The Survivors came on next with a mix of fun songs, including “Better Living Through Chemicals” (about geriatrics’ pharmacopias), “Walking on a Tightrope”, “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers”, “Obsession”, and “Number 9 Train”. We ran into Pegi in the crowd, where Emily from Tennessee asked Pegi if Neil was planning to sit in. Pegi smiled and said, “Everybody asks that…no, I’m sorry to say,” which quelled rumors among Lockn’ fans.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Soul Rebels blasted horns New Orleans style for “Fire on the Bayou” (Meters), “Superbad” (James Brown), “Turn It Up”, “504”, Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, with encores of “Let Your Mind Be Free” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”, (with both bands playing together).

The crowd grew much larger and closer as one of the founding godfathers of reggae music, Jimmy Cliff, took the stage, opening with a mirthful “Bongo Man” followed by a soothing “Rivers of Babylon”. Telling stories about how he started into acting, Cliff treated his fans to a soul-searching “Many Rivers to Cross”, “Sitting in Limbo”, and a earth-shaking “The Harder They Come”, which really got the crowd dancing.  One of the most powerful moments came during “Wild World” (Cat Stevens) where Cliff told a story of how Cat played a song he didn’t quite like over the phone, so Jimmy made it his own.  Cliff’s version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” was a heartfelt moment with the crowd, who also sang along, as Cliff and the crowd connected with the deep roots of “You Can Get It If You Really Want”. The crowd roared as Cliff came back to encore with “Roots Woman”, and then “Come Into My Life” (first time ever played live!), “Johnny Too Bad” and a finale of “One More”.

String Cheese Incident kicked in Friday night on the Oak Stage with “Outside and Inside” > “Valley of the Jig”, whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy. They covered an awesome “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Talking Heads and ended with a festive “Restless Wind”.  Back on the Ridge Stage, Furthur played one of their tightest sets of the weekend, starting with “Shakedown Street”, “The Wheel”, “Cryptical Envelopment”, and a rousing “Estimated Prophet”.  They took off into an ethereal “Cold Rain and Snow”, which was one of Bobby’s best vocal tunes, then a heartfelt “Cassidy”, and ended with a blazing “Jack Straw”.

After Furthur, Zac Brown joined SCI back on the Oak Stage for the Zac Brown Incident, on a variation of the SCI song, “Sometimes a River”.  Followed with an extended jam in “Close Your Eyes”, and rocking covers of “Sweet Emotion” (Aerosmith) and “Freeborn Man” (Jimmy Martin).  Toward the end of the set they performed Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and ended the set with new fan favorite “Colorado Bluebird Sky”. The crowd and Zac rose boisterously for the encore, “Could You Be Loved” (Marley).

Saturday opened with hilarity by Love Canon, who treated the audience to spirited covers of Dire Straits (“Money for Nothing”), Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me With Science”), Peter Gabriel (“Sledgehammer”), J. Geils (“Centerfold”), and Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” theme song. They also did an incredible “Legs”, joking that ZZ Top started as a bluegrass band, but the “two bearded members got their beards stuck in their instruments”, and finished their set with a smoking “Crazy Train” (Ozzy Osbourne).

The London Souls continued on the Oak Stage (sans bassist) to power through classics like “Steady Are You Ready”, covers like “It Ain’t Easy” (Bowie), and a “Magic Bus” / “Get Back” medley. The Black Crowes took over Lockn’ on Saturday afternoon, with the most impressive set of the weekend.  They opened with “Soul Singing” and “Halfway to Everywhere”, and went on to “High Head Blues” followed by an incredible “Medicated Goo” (Traffic) and “Jealous Again”, with Jackie Green flexing his guitar chops, at times lifting up off the stage as he churned out bluesy rock riffs with aplomb.

They also did a killer version of the Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash”, and pulled out Crowes classics “She Talks to Angels” and “Sting Me”, with Chris Robinson belting out vocals with raw blues power, and whirling around like mad when the band was tearing it up. The Crowes closed their set with a raucous “Hard to Handle” (Otis Redding), followed by a resounding “Hush” (Billy Joe Royal, made famous by Deep Purple).

Trey Anastasio Band then took the Ridge Stage towards sunset, opening with a groovy version of “Cayman Review”, which describes a romantic adventure in Mexico.  TAB then went into a horn-loaded “Ocelot”, “Valentine”, and a slow, bluesy “Dark and Down”.  TAB’s newest member, saxophonist James Casey, switched to tambourine on a fun “Pigtail”, then switched back to sax to join Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman on trumpet, trombone, and vocals.

TAB then broke into a super funky “Gotta Jibboo”, followed by the cooling winds of “Frost”, a hopping Phish-rarity “Magilla” with blasting horns, and a jazzy “Sand”, with grooving bass by Tony Markellis.  The crowd chanted along with Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood”, then a brilliant “First Tube”, with Trey shredding his guitar, into a funny “Simple Twist Up Dave”.  TAB closed with “Architect”, “Push On ‘Til the Day”, followed by a scorching “Black Dog” encore.

Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of Furthur scaled Saturday night’s peak with Trey Anastasio, who joined them at the end of their re-enaction of Workingman’s Dead, on “Casey Jones”.  Trey stayed on for crowd favorites “Bertha”, and then really opened up on guitar for the Grateful Dead classic, “Truckin’”, into a thunderous “The Other One”, with Phil playing melodic bass lines, and the band added to the rhythm with ska and funk nuances. Trey continued for the rest of Furthur’s set, adding his scorching guitar improv to Kadlecik’s magic, finishing up with a fast-paced “Viola Lee Blues”, an a resounding “Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain.”

The Hackensaw Boys greeted us at noon on Sunday with a rousting bluegrass set that in spite of the growing afternoon heat, had the crowd dancing and sweating. The Tedeschi Trucks Band had one of the most fan-loved sets of the weekend, with noted sit-ins from superstars Oteil Burbridge (bassist for the Allman Brothers), his brother Kofi (on flute and keys), Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce, Dr. Klaw), Chris Robinson (of the Black Crowes, on harmonica), and a cameo appearance by Bob Weir on tambourine.  Derek Trucks showed why he one of the greatest blues guitarists with his scorching slide work on the Elmore James classic, “The Sky Is Crying”.  Susan sent her powerful blues vocals and guitar skyward, sprinkled with Derek’s slide work, peppered by whoops and calls from the crowd.  As he came up, Kraz shared laughs with his friend Derek, and many other jam dignitaries started to coalesce.  At the end, Tedeschi Trucks slide into Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” > “I Want to Take You Higher”, and Chris Robinson added his rock-honed vocals and tambourine to Susan’s lead vocals.  A horn section fronted by Maurice “Mo Betta” Brown, who blasted us with a scorching trumpet solo into “I Want to Take You Higher”, with a cameo by Bob Weir on vocals and tambourine, and an amazing harmonica solo by Chris Robinson to close out their set.

On Sunday night, Widespread Panic played their most memorable set, opening with “Conrad the Caterpillar”, “Pleas”, “Mr. Soul” (Buffalo Springfield), “Wondering”, “Party at Your Mama’s House”, “Stop Breakin’ Down” (Robert Johnson), after which Derek Trucks joined the band on stage for “Chilly Water”, “Me and the Devil Blues” (Robert Johnson) and “North” (Jerry Joseph).  Jimmy Herring was on point all weekend, along with Warren, Derek, Kraz, Trey and Jackie Greene – the pantheon of exceptional guitarists who propelled our shiny new Lockn’ music ship all weekend.

As many Widespread fans called it quits, Furthur closed out Lockn’ with special treats for their dedicated fans, including “Terrapin Station”, “Box of Rain”, “Weather Report Suite”, “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, “Playing in the Band”, and “Standing on the Moon”, the latter three with Susan Tedeschi joining Furthur on guitar and vocals.

Of unfortunate omission here is rock, blues and folk guitar legend Jorma Kaukonen, who played with Barry Mitteroff on a non-scheduled set deep in the woods that I missed.  Because of the long walk, I only experienced the mysterious Triangle Stage on late Saturday night in time to catch the Jeff Sipe Trio, who played refreshingly intense jazz fusion, accompanied by a campfire and laser show, with fire spinners nearby.  I had just missed Phil Lesh and son Grahame’s Terrapin Family Band, and also didn’t get back there in time to check out other bands that played, such as Indecision and Pegi Young (when her husband Neil was spotted, but did not play).  The Triangle Stage seemed like a bit of an afterthought, but the cozy vibe and low turnout were more socially entertaining, once the evening chill was taken off by a belt and a seat by the fire.  People who were already parked that far out got a special treat, since this late-night stage was within earshot of their tents.

The camping at Lockn’ was largely out in the open fields, but there were some rare shade spots and forest camping.  RVs were wisely located up the hill, away from the main tent city, which was fairly clean and easily traveled on foot, because of well-designated camp plots.  VIP camping was in a very good spot, right next to the main entry gates (and with the other perks was a sell-out this year).  The entry holding pens and traffic flow clearly was not planned well, and along with last-minute entry point changes, a disorganized front box office, poor communication, and signage led to a great confusion which added many unwanted hours to fans’ best efforts to arrive early and see the music on time.

In spite of the patience and endurance required to wait in line for most of a day, we were treated to impeccable performances that were supported by the best lighting, sound, and environment, and the overall vibe after Warren was that “we made it this far, let’s have fun!!!”  The entry fiasco was a distant memory by mid afternoon on Friday, and we were treated to the most rockin’ and socially fun Jam Festival of the Summer.

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