Friday the Jam ‘Lympics at LOCKN’ swung into full effect with it’s first full day of music. In fact, from the opening notes of Upstate New York’s own Donna the Buffalo at 11am at the Blue Ridge Bowl, until Joe Russo’s Almost Dead closed out the night at the same venue well after 3am, there was live music to be heard for over 16 straight uninterrupted hours. As any veteran of the festival scene will tell you, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Jam titans Phish closed out a long day at the main stage with a rare non-native festival appearance. After shaking off some early dust through opening takes of “Wilson” and “Down with Disease” the band proceeded to flex their muscles, showing why they are favorites to lead in the medal count at week’s end. Mike Gordon played the part of anchor in their version of the 4×100 relay, pushing and pulling the jams into deeper and funkier spaces throughout the first set. “Wolfman’s Brother” developed into an extended “Sneaking Sally”-esque jam, while the “It’s Ice” interlude grooved extra hard. The words said “falling on the ice” but the execution said, nailed the triple axle.
The second set featured highlight jam after highlight jam, including a crowning jewel of a “Ghost” that had the entire Phish team jelling in ways they haven’t quite yet in 2016. It contained multiple segments, deep pocketed groove, ethereal noodling, raging rock anthem. It segued perfectly into “Bathtub Gin,” which was just another vessel to be navigated into improvisation waters. And the rapids were still raging, and they pushed through it masterfully.
In order to get their proper stage set up, Phish was the only band to not utilize the rotating stage, shunning the seamless set concept with a 1 hour break. But in keeping with the LOCKN’ spirit, their show featured an almost seamless run of songs, with many noteworthy segues and nary a quiet moment, with no inter-song banter whatsoever. Just more wall-to-wall music.
As the fans trudged off the main field following the final rings of the “Character Zero” encore, the main stage laid silent for the first time in 12 hours. Moogatu, Turkuaz and Vulfpeck got the day started off, each hosting their own little dance party. Vulfpeck followed up Thursday night’s preliminary round set with a cover-heavy set, again featuring Antwaun Stanley on vocals. After they played “Game Winner” it was clear they had earned a medal. Joe Dart again showed off his acrobatic skill, performing a handstand for the entire rotation of the stage as their set came to a close.
Austin rockers White Denim rotated around on the other side, with a blast of pure rock energy. Their first few songs featured Scott Metzger on guitar, for takes on “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)” and a Roxy Music cover, that saw the band take full advantage of the two guitar assault, throwing their hat in the ring with the other jammers that would share the stage.
Charles Bradley’s and His Extraordinaires came swinging around the turntable next, picking up with the rock, instrumentally introducing their team captain, Charles Bradley himself, who was dressed to kill in a black vest and black pants. He lead the band through a program of classic soul and funk sounds that showered messages of peace and love on the overheated crowd. A midset wardrobe change allowed for some more instrumental magic. Charles Bradley, a man that has as many nicknames as the best boxers (including Black Rose and Black Swan) deserves two introductions, and he received it. He finished out the stage decked out in glittering gold, and gold he shall receive.
Peter Wolf, of J. Geils fame, continued with the elder statesmen segment of the festival, careening around the stage with rock star panache. He payed tribute even to his elders, including John Lee Hooker on a cover of “Serves You Right to Suffer.” The set featured straight blues, classic rock, and even dipped into some bluegrass with “Love Stinks.”
Closing out the daytime portion before Phish’s appearance, Ween closed out their two show stint at LOCKN’ with a late afternoon set, of ‘Space age daytime rock.’ In their qualifying round, they concentrated on some rarer material, but for their medal round they played a set full of fan-favorites and hits. A bit more rocking, a bit more accessible, and a whole lot of fun. The set was peppered with heavy hitters that had the crowd singing and fist pumping, particularly a midset run of “Spinal Meningitis,” “The HIV Song,” “Roses Are Free” (unfortunately with no Phish sit-in), “Your Party,” “Bananas and Blow” and ending on a blistering version of “Voodoo Lady.” After shredding a lengthy guitar solo, Dean Ween exclaimed “I got a cramp from all that rocking!” But for Jam ‘Lympics glory it was totally worth it.
More late night fun back at the village, Circles Around the Sun, the one-off band put together by guitarist Neal Casal for last year’s Fare Thee Well webcasts, played their live debut to a packed crowd at the intimate and appropriately named Woods Stage. Lights flashed over the trees giving the essence of a magical forest, and once the band kicked in the magic was ever-present. A four-piece Grateful Dead-inspired all-instrumental groove band, they had the crowd entranced. Meanwhile, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was back at the Blue Ridge Bowl for more of the same. This time they brought out Nicole Atkins for “Dancing in the Streets” and “Music Never Stopped” and “Turn on Your Lovelight.” The set also featured an explicit bridge between the jam worlds of past and present, as Shakedown Street included a jam on “Bathtub Gin.”
The final notes of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead were still hanging thick in the air later that morning when Keller Williams took the stage for his unique bluegrass takes on the very same source material. But that’s a story for another day. LOCKN’ day three beckons. Stay tuned!