Friday night Phish served up an incredible show at LOCKN’ that looked like game, set, match for the Jam ‘Lympics. Saturday, My Morning Jacket volleyed back a set for the ages, with an almost unmatchable rock tour de force. Would Phish be able to continue the rally? In short: Yes!
The first set opened energetically with “Sample in a Jar,” “Martian Monster” and “Axilla.” With few exceptions, the set continued to build in intensity. “AC/DC Bag,” “Possum” and “46 Days” each got about as thrashing a treatment as they’ve ever been given, nearly matching the energy exhibited by My Morning Jacket the night prior. A mid-set “Fuck Your Face” was thrown in to drive the point home (“And this guitar is gonna fuck your face `cause it knows how to scream!”) if it weren’t received loud and clear already. A closing rendition of “First Tube” put an exclamation point or two on one of the most pure-rock-energy Phish sets you will hear. Before exiting the stage, Trey Anastasio held his guitar up ceremoniously, like a sacrificial offering to the Gods of rock. And lo, they were satisfied.
With that off of their chest, the band was free to close out the 4th edition of LOCKN’, Phish style. They continued more along the lines of the brilliant explorations from their show on Friday night. As on Friday, this set flowed together almost seamlessly, no breaks, no banter, just wall-to-wall improvisational mastery. Amongst a set with literally no lulls or duds, a mid-set “Twist” > “Light” combo stood high above the rest. The “Twist” evolved into a jam that saw the entire band locked in to an almost dizzying array of sound that seemed to end too soon. But it didn’t, because the “Light” that followed somehow reached deeper, soared higher and was debatably better even that Friday’s “Ghost.” They still had solid versions of “Tweezer” and it’s most-welcome partner “Tweezer Reprise,” “2001,” “Harry Hood” and one last rocker in Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” left in them before ending LOCKN’ with The Rolling Stones’ “Lovin Cup.” The PA blasted another Stones classic, the geographically-appropriate “Sweet Virginia,” as they festival-goers walked off the concert field for the final time of the weekend.
The day began twelve hours earlier with Hampton Road’s The Dharma Initiative and their grooving rock that swirled with flourishing keys and vocals. Doobie Decimal System, featuring Jason Crosby, Roger McNamee, Pete Sears and Jay Lane played a fun early afternoon set heavy on familiar covers like “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Ohio.” Twiddle returned for their second day to bring more blended jams and bopping energy. They were certainly one of the better bands at connecting the spaces between bands, both in and out of their set.
Reggae made appearances throughout the festival, whether in My Morning Jacket’s cover of “Could You Be Loved” or as an influence heard throughout Twiddle’s music. But when The Wailers took the stage, they showcased reggae in it’s purest form. Their set played like a greatest hits collection, “Get Up Stand Up,” “Natural Mystic,” “Buffalo Soldier,” “Three Little Birds,” “Lively Up Yourself,” “Exodus,” and on and on. It was all smiles under the beaming Virginia sun as fans twirled and bobbed in the midday heat.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s set started conservatively, with takes on “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go” and “Leave My Guitar Alone.” They continued to loosen the reins as they progressed, ending with some lengthy and rocking jams on a closing run of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” “Vibration and Light Suite” and “Narcissus Soaking Wet.” In their loosest state, they wear their Grateful Dead influence on their sleeves. Their sets will generally contain some Dead covers even, but not on this day. Which was fine, because after a short break, the stage was reconfigured and they would become the backing band for Phil Lesh.
Lesh‘s second set of the weekend would include a bit more traditional instrumentation than the first, and appropriately with a band that took pride in it’s Dead influence. Chris Robinson even came prepared in his Jerry Garcia t-shirt. After an opening warm-up with “Samson and Delilah,” the band played a bluesy one-two punch of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Wang Dang Doodle” in order to showcase the talents of special guest guitarist Gary Clark Jr. After he left, they proceeded into a set-highlighting version of “Hard to Handle” that was both right in Robinson’s wheelhouse as a frontman as well as a great vehicle for some classic Dead jams. “St. Stephen” and a slightly rejiggered “The Wheel” featured more superb playing throughout before they closed their set with “Turn On Your Lovelight.”
The Jam ‘Lympics rightly concentrates on team efforts, though one individual needs to be recognized here. Neal Casal played in four sets over the weekend. As a member of his own Circles Around the Sun, Hard Working Americans, Chris Robinson Brotherhood and finally in Lesh’s band, his lead guitar was a central and dominating force in every instance. Truly deserving of standing on the podium to receive an individual medal.
Gary Clark Jr. finished up the daytime portion of the last day of LOCKN’. After his first solo it was clear he was holding back something during his sit-in with Lesh. He is an enormous talent on the guitar and showcased both his playing and songwriting prowess throughout a set of mostly originals like “Bright Lights,” the soulful “Cold Blooded,” and rocking “When My Train Pulls In.” Despite his skills, amongst the other acts of the weekend, this one fell a little flat as a one-sided effort. His backing band took a bit too much of a backseat with repetitive rhythms resulting in songs feeling worn and dragged out.
About the biggest surprise of the weekend was the lack of surprises. With few exceptions, bands were content to play their own sets without inviting any of the many other musicians on stage for something out of the ordinary. That said, each band seemed to be inspired by the others on the bill, and put forth gargantuan efforts. So many bands played to the top, or nearly so, of their capabilities. Just as athletes push themselves to their limits amongst the best-of-the-best, so too did these musicians. LOCKN’ put the music front and center with almost every decision. The sound system was incredible. The rotating stage was a wonder and allowed for a nearly seamless day of music. It didn’t always work perfectly as some of the bands weren’t quite ready to take the stage on time and the sound had a bit of a hiccup on the changeover. Though the fact that you could ever time a band’s exit with the next band’s entrance is somewhat incredible, and it worked more often than not. Late night and late morning options (including a near-mythical stage set in the middle of the woods) gave fans the opportunity to see music with no downtime for over 16 hours of each day. As some are calling for the festival bubble to burst, LOCKN’ has found a niche in the crowded market that sets itself apart. If they continue to concentrate on the quality and experience of the music, it could be viable for a long time to come.