FESTIVAL: Lockn' Music Festival
VENUE: Arrington, Virginia
DATE: September 10 - 13, 2015
Review By: Diane Farineau
Photos By: Wiley Quixote
Carlos Santana - Lockn' Festival 2015© Copyright Wiley Quixote
“Well it’s just a box of rain, I don’t know who put it there…” accurately reflects the initial atmosphere for this year’s Lockn' Music Festival. Regardless of the year spent planning, booking and marketing and all of the logistical wizardry required to pull off a four-day musical tour de force, Mother Nature often has the final say in things and she was very clear that the opening day, Thursday, of this event was not meant to be. A significant microburst tore through the festival grounds in Arrington, Virginia late Wednesday night, leveling tents and washing out the carefully manicured roads and camping grounds. Much to the dismay of ticket holders, many of whom were already en route, event planners made the tough call to cancel day one in order to ensure the integrity of their structures and repair the inroads for the anticipated 20,000+ event goers.
Making the best of an uncontrollable situation Lockn’ attendees settled in to local hotels, and in to parking lots within a 100 mile radius, many opting to snap up tickets for an impromptu performance of Billy (Kreutzmann) and the Kids at the Jefferson Theatre that evening in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, festival staff from facilities to security and the ever patient box office friendlies, worked non-stop post-deluge on Wednesday through Thursday day and all night getting everything back in order for a 6:00 a.m. gate opening on Friday. The clouds parted as campers and daytrippers alike poured into the Oak Ridge Farm event grounds. While starting on a Thursday purposefully allowed the onslaught of attendees to arrive in waves, there were obviously significant delays and traffic challenges that resulted from a Friday start. Most people made the best of it, focusing instead on the lineup that awaited them.
Warren Haynes - Lockn' Festival 2015© Copyright Wiley Quixote
The loss of an entire day clearly necessitated significant schedule tweaking, but in a Herculean effort and with only a few notable cancellations (including Little Feat), the remaining three days were reshuffled to accommodate all of the scheduled performers.
John Popper (Blues Traveller) opening the festivital with the National Anthem, surrounded by local EMS professionals, under the American flag in recognition of the events that happened on 9/11. It was moving to say the least, and somehow further diminished the “lost day” prior, as if planning to open Lockn' on this anniversary was purposefully orchestrated.
Robert Plant - Lockn' Festival 2015© Copyright Wiley Quixote
Friday night left no doubt that the time and effort to get to Lockn' were well spent. The Doobie Incident, North Mississippi AllStars, Anders Osborne, Steve Earle and The Dukes, String Cheese Incident, Phil Lesh and Friends (Chris Robinson), rolling straight into a 50-year celebration of The Jefferson Airplane, hosted by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy, featuring special guests Rachael Price (Lake Street Dive), G.E. Smith (Saturday Night Live), Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm), Jeff Pehrson (Further), Justin Guip (Hot Tuna), and Bill Kreutzmann. Sounds like an all-star lineup fitting for the final act….only it wasn’t. The final performance was a tribute to Joe Cocker, hosted by the Tedeschi Trucks Band featuring a once-in-a-lifetime ensemble, all with personal connections to Cocker; including Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Chris Stainton, Chuck Blackwell and the list went on from there. The stage was packed. Mickey Hart’s Deep Rhythm Experience kicked off the late night set for those still standing followed by Umphrey’s McGee.
There were two general themes that quickly arose at this year’s event, including the Grateful Dead, and the celebration of collaboration. There was much discussion online when it was announced that the four Grateful Dead members were all on the bill for this event. Lockn’ organizer Dave Frey and Chicago Dead concert organizer Pete Shapiro are partners. Hot on the heels of their successful reunion much speculation ensued over whether they would or would not take the stage together again at Lockn'. Technically, that happened (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Jack Cassidy / Hot Tuna - Lockn' Festival 2015© Copyright Wiley Quixote
If Friday night set the bar high then Saturday leaped it and never looked back. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, an acoustic Hot Tuna set, The Jayhawks, Tedeschi Trucks and then Robert Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters. (While clearly not Led Zeppelin, they played enough of that repertoire for those of us still missing it as a bucket list item to place a check in that column.) Robert Plant was followed by Widespread Panic (a two-hour set) featuring special guest Jimmy Cliff in the last hour.
Interspersed in the big names were a number of local Rockin’ to Lockn’ contest winners; Lord Nelson, The Southern Belles, The Oh Hellos and Seth Stainback & Roosterfoot; excellent exposure for those up-and-comers.
One of the unique aspects of Lockn’s stage design are two side-by-side interlocking stages, which allows for seamless and immediate transition from one act to the next with only a minimum of jockeying for view by the audience. Saturday’s final two performances commenced with Billy and The Kids, featuring Bob Weir treating us to many familiar Dead tunes. Happiness ensued, hoopers hooped and twirlers dervished. Near the end of the set a ripple started across the field as Mickey Hart’s drum kit was rolled on stage and he joined them for the final songs. Meanwhile on the adjoining stage, Phil Lesh was setting up for his performance with Carlos Santana and Warren Haynes. Thousands of people held their collective breathe. Would he step over and join them?
He did not.
To have three of the four members perform together, however, followed immediately by the fourth was close enough. It was, simply, an amazing magical evening. Late night Saturday featured an encore by Mickey Hart and then several hours with Government Mule.
Crowd - Lockn' Festival 2015© Copyright Wiley Quixote
Lockn' is a thoughtfully curated event. Organizers have carefully made changes to layout, timing, as well as the invited list of talent over the years, all resulting in a well-run and enjoyable experience. While featuring jam band heavy hitters, there was something for everyone and some of the earlier performances or small stage shows had talent equal to the main event. Sunday morning featured a return by Keller Williams and his Grateful Gospel performance. Lest anyone think that Sunday was going to be a mellow day, 80s LA ska legends Fishbone revived whatever sleepy revelers remain in their beds and the day was off and running. St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Slightly Stoopid, and Trombone Shorty completed the early afternoon trifecta. Sunday night featured encore performances by Government Mule, Widespread Panic and Robert Plant.
Widespread Panic - Lockn' Festival 2015© Copyright Wiley Quixote
Maybe it is because Lockn’ co-founder Dave Frey was a musician himself, or because he has gone on to manage such big name acts as Cheap Trick and the Ramones, or maybe it was the experience he garnered organizing the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in the 90s, regardless of the alchemy, he seems to have gathered the wisdom and the elements needed to produce a practically perfect festival. While Mother Nature cannot be tamed, she certainly can be managed, which was powerfully demonstrated this year. Said Jerry Garcia; “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” The light that shown from this year’s Lockn' is unlikely to be extinguished any time soon.
CHECK OUT THE FESTIVAL PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS HERE