Lockn’ 2015: Turning Lemons into Tasty Lemonade

The third year of Lockn’ Music Festival brought together another year of incredible jam and classic rock acts to a crowd of aging Deadheads and jamband lovers in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. The location was as ideal as you could get – mountains for miles on a hilly expanse with room for tens of thousands to convene for four days. Lockn’ has taken the lineup and style of the first few years of Bonnaroo and brought that formula back for fans of a wide range of jambands alongside special guests and classic rock acts that few would be able to see otherwise. Despite weather that cancelled Thursday’s music, the weekend was a great success for patrons and musicians alike; Lockn’ is all smiles, all the time.

The microburst that blew threw on Wednesday evening caused a significant amount of damage that disrupted festival arrivals from setting up campsites until Friday morning. Cancelling Thursday’s music was a necessary step for organizers so that they could assess damage, make repairs and ensure that the festival goers, once allowed inside the grounds, would be safe and the festival would not have lingering issues to address during arrival.

Although the music was cancelled on Thursday, bands made an effort to placate fans who were stranded in Charlottesville, VA, about a half hour away from Lockn’s home in Arrington, VA. Billy and the Kids, featuring Bill Kreutzmann, Aron Magner, Tom Hamilton and Reed Mathis took over The Jefferson Theater, selling the show out shortly after being announced that same day. They brought up friends Jason Hahn, Eric Krasno and John Popper for portions of the night as they drifted through the Grateful Dead catalog with a fresh take on the classics. Down the street Strangefolk performed for free at The Whisky Jar, entertaining a packed house and outdoor patio that brought to mind the band 20 years ago on the college circuit in New England, although now with a wider catalog and ardent fans singing along with the band. The Southern Belles, MOOGATU and Kings of Belmont all performed at The Ante Room in Charlottesville, making the best of the situation. Even though the bands had their Thursday sets cancelled, they made lemons out of lemonade while the music never stopped.

Arrival on Friday led to five hours of traffic on winding back roads, which hardly tested the patience of the older fan base – five hours of traffic is a walk in the park if you went to any of the first three Bonnaroo’s or Phish’s festivals in the late 90s and early 00s. While traffic made it seem the crowd was sizeable this year (28,000 per co-promoter David Frey), it was slightly down from last year, due in part to Fare Thee Well (another Pete Shapiro promotion) being a destination event that some attended instead of Lockn’. The festival was VIP heavy with the gen pop given a view from car camping on the hill overlooking the Oak and Ridge stages, giving a glimpse at how the other half lives – closer to the stage, in glamping tents and RVs that were even more proximal to the venue. Indeed Lockn’ is a festival designed to attract a VIP crowd with VIP tastes.

Friday’s music was streamed briefly in the car and once campsite was setup, the folk rock of Anders Osborne circulated over the RVs and up the hill, a serene sound to mellow the stress of car confinement away. String Cheese Incident took the stage at dusk, fresh off their rescheduled Doobie Incident set earlier in the day, which many were disappointed to miss due to Thursday’s cancellation. Cheese played a six-song set over an hour, ending with a 1-2-3 punch of “Rosie,” “Close Your Eyes,” and “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” Phil Lesh and Friends performed a set that felt more like a Chris Robinson Brotherhood show, aside from when Eric Krasno and John Molo drove the set, notably on “Playing in the Band,” “Gimme Shelter” and the transition from “Morning Dew” into “I Know You Rider.”

Jefferson Airplane celebrated their 50th anniversary with founding members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen alongside Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Jeff Pehrson, Rachael Price, GE Smith and Justin Gulp, as well as a guest appearance by Bill Kreutzmann. While there was no “We Built this City”, fans heard the early catalog and hits, including “Volunteers,” “White Rabbit,” and “Somebody to Love,” with Price and Williams handling the vocals for the absent Grace Slick. Sadly, no “We Built This City” was performed, despite being quite apropos for the setting.

The highlight of the day was the Joe Cocker tribute, Mad Dog and his Englishmen, fronted by Tedeschi Trucks Band and featuring some 20 players on stage throughout the night playing songs off the album and allowing a wide range of musicians to pay tribute to the late Cocker. Among the many highlights was John Bell on lead for “Delta Lady,” a rousing chorus for “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” Leon Russell shining on “Space Captain”, a pair of Beatles covers – “Something” and “She Came in Through the Bedroom Window”, as well as the rearranged Beatles “With a Little Help from my Friends” closing the set in grand fashion. Fingers crossed that this performance is available as a DVD in the near future.

Per past attendees, the venue set up had changed, but descriptions of the past were moot. The layout of the grounds – ample food and beer vending in just the right spots, clothing and art vendors set up in an easily digestible manner – made for wandering during the non-stop music an available option, never having to leave the concert field to explore. Participation row and the main food tent had a distinctly local focus, as Lockn’s is striving to make the event a more regional festival that draws locals in a part of the country that is light on the large festivals, All Good aside. Stages were set up side by side, with only two late night options, one slightly more convenient than the other. Blue Ridge Bowl was home to Umphrey’s on Friday night and Gov’t Mule Saturday night, as well as Melvin Seals and JGB Saturday morning and Keller Williams Grateful Gospel Sunday morning. Garcia’s had it’s own tent with a late night selection of Grade A Jerry tunes, while the Woods Stage, well, the Woods Stage was far and was a less attractive option with Mickey Hart and EOTO one night and Hart with Steve Kimock the other. No doubt these sets were better than imagined, but a 10 minute walk late at night at a festival takes an hour, and with limited music late night, Blue Ridge Bowl and Garcia’s regulated well.

The music on Saturday was a start to finish day of the best Lockn’ had to offer, keeping patrons inside the concert grounds and focused on a barrage of big names and big hits. The funky smooth Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe satiated the crowd in the mid-afternoon, punctuated by Chuck Leavell sitting in for The Rolling Stones “Tumbling Dice.” A mellow Hot Tuna set preceded Bob Weir joining Tedeschi Trucks Band for a bluesy string of tunes including “Key to the Highway” and “Walkin’ Blues.”

Robert Plant and his Sensational Shape Shifters played a set of Zeppelin standards with a bluesy touch to the traditional tracks. “Black Dog” had a slight twist to it, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” was a pleasant surprise, “Going to California” sounded as grand as ever and “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock & Roll” were both crowd movers for an audience moved from their lawn chairs to rock out to Plant’s vocals and showmanship.

Widespread Panic kicked off their set with “Chainsaw City” and “Henry Parson’s Died” before heading into new material off Street Dogs, “Cease Fire,” “Jamais Vu,” “Honky Red,” and “Street Dogs for Breakfast.” Warren Haynes unsurprisingly joined the band for “Surprise Valley”, followed by Chuck Leavell sitting in for “And it Stoned Me” before the big guest of the night, Jimmy Cliff, graced the stage and gave the performance of the festival. His classics – “Sitting in Limbo,” “The Harder They Come,” “You Can Get it if you Really Want,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” – were not just sing-alongs for the audience but a time for Widespread Panic (as well as Leavell) to shine as the greatest backup band ever for the legendary Cliff. Covering The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” was unexpected and energetic throughout, while the obligatory “I Can See Clearly Now” was preceded with an introduction from Cliff, “This one’s from the movie Cool Runnings,” to which the audience cheered wildly and the spirit of John Candy laughed joyfully among the crowd.

Billy and the Kids played their stand-alone Saturday night set, with “Peggy-O”, “Dancing in the Streets,” and an extended “Throwing Stones,” seguing into “Not Fade Away” to close the set. Being Lockn’, the interlocking festival, as Phil Lesh and Friends began their set moments later, they picked up the beat of “Not Fade Away” and built a jam off the Buddy Holly song as they worked into “Scarlet Begonias,” “Hard to Handle,” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” a love letter to some woman/women that evening. Carlos Santana joined John Molo and Barry Sless as Phil’s friends, and his performance (when not overshadowed by Warren Haynes) was a true treat. The guitar prowess of Santana has been heard for over 50 years and to some, this was the first time seeing the legend, whose rapid fire guitarwork was given room to breathe on “The Other One” and “All Along the Watchtower.” A standalone Santana set would be a welcome addition to Lockn’ 2016.

Sunday was a crisp, dry day as fall began to hit the Blue Ridge Mountains and layers became required for many. Fishbone’s energetic ska amped up the crowd for The Oh Hello’s and St Paul & The Broken Bones prior to Slightly Stoopid’s 4:20 set of reggae infused set that was as lively as expected. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue matched Fishbone’s energy with the usual high-intensity set of New Orleans-tinged songs, notably “Feets Can’t Fail me Now,” “On Your Way Down,” and a cover of Green Day’s “Brain Stew.”

Gov’t Mule played a set of older songs, a few from The Deep End albums, “Thorazine Shuffle”, “Blind Man in the Dark,” featuring Jimmy Herring on guitar, and a closing “Soulshine” which featured a cover of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” sandwiched inside. A few newer tracks – “Endless Parade,” “Stoop so Low,” and the rock ballad “Captured,” all made for one of the tightest sets of Lockn’. Haynes shines proper when he is in the confines of his own band.

Widespread Panic performed nearly on par with the night before, with only Haynes joining the band mid-set for a rowdy “Ribs and Whisky,” and “Taildragger.” New songs “Steven’s Cat” and “Sell Sell” gave another taste of Street Dogs but the second half of the set was where the true heat and highlights lay. Thanks to Duane Trucks filling in for Todd Nance, Widespread Panic has found a career resurgence and a louder, more powerful rocking sound as they near their 30th year as a band. “Papa’s Home” > “Drums/Bass” > “Papa’s Home” followed by “Disco” > “Protein Drink” > “Sewing Machine” blasted the audience off through one classic Panic tune (Disco) and a pair of Vic Chestnutt songs (Protein/Sewing) that wade in the water of hard rock, something that has changed the Panic sound for the better in the past few years. Robert Plant closed the festival with less variety than previously suggested, but when its Robert Plant, who doesn’t mind hearing “Black Dog” a second time? For that, the audience had no complaints.

Overall, Lockn’ 2015 was a great success despite Mother Nature giving the festival an additional challenge before the gates opened. Aside from putting together a lineup for the ages, Lockn’ combined local flavor and influence as well as a Gathering of the Vibes-esque crowd to treat the Mid-Atlantic to a well-established festival experience to end the summer. With time, Lockn’ is likely to be the next Bonnaroo.

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