Another year and another Lockn' down. I always like to reflect for a few days after a major festival, begin to sift through my thoughts, look over my notes and decompress. Lockn' Music Festival 2017 was an event that needed even more time; my head is still spinning from the amazing musical experiences that I had this year. I seem to always count my years, not by New Year's days but by Lockn's. It's what I look forward to most about summer and about festival season; meeting with all my friends, who travel to the Jam Mecca from all across the country, seeing my favorite bands and communing with my fellow Jam enthusiasts.
2017 was a defining year for Lockn' Music Festival and for myself, as well. While this festival grows and matures, so do I and so does the community around me. Lockn' feels like my festival, it feels like it was made just for me, but I think that is a collective feeling and that Lockn' is in fact made for us all, perhaps created to give a new light and meaning to what a Jam Fest could be. This year's lineup remained strong with heavy hitters and new jam acts alike. The attendance this year was much smaller than previous but this intimacy only increased the necessity for kindness and a family-type atmosphere that can only be found in this community. I am extremely grateful and humbled by my experience this year, getting to meet with many artists and media/staff personnel. I feel a part of this community even more than I ever have before. My commitment to this music has only increased after such a life altering festival experience. Thanks to everyone I encountered this year, you made this Lockn’ the best one yet.
Thursdays musical adventure began with a local act from Charlottesville, Virginia; Kendall Street and Company which must have been a dream come true for this young, small, up-and-coming band. They did a great job warming up the crowd with their original musical style but you could tell they were nervous. It was refreshing to see local musicians getting the opportunity to perform at such a high level festival before some of the biggest names in Jam music.
In all honesty, I am not an Umphrey's McGee fan. I have seen them almost a dozen times and I suppose, I just don't get it but I respect their musical ability and they have become a Lockn’ staple act, playing for the past few years. Umphrey's McGee rounded through some of their popular songs like, "Mantis" and “Draconian” accentuating their Prog-Rock style. While I was side stage, I got to take a closer look at the bands stage presence and interactions with each other; this band is truly talented and they play together efficiently. I even found myself enjoying many of the jams, until they transitioned into hard metal riffs that make me cringe and grit my teeth, like someone is running rusty nails down a dirty chalkboard.
The String Cheese Incident came out swinging with a high-energy "Restless Wind" but they kept it strict to the set list for their first performance of the evening. Bill Nershi looked in much better condition from his recent sickness and the band played a tight and effortless performance. Back with Umphrey's McGee for their second set, which seemed much more my style. I was super impressed with the Talking Heads cover of "Making Flippy Floppy" and they seemed to guide the crowd into a psychedelic journey that most bands only dream of achieving. The String Cheese Incidents second set was highlighted by sit-ins from Umphrey's McGee members in a fitting tribute to the Allman Brothers band with "Jessica." The String Cheese Incident always puts on a performance that is diverse and intriguing from electronic sounds to Bluegrass/Celtic Jams. String Cheese consistently proves that they are one of the best in the Jam scene every time they play Lockn’.
The Disco Biscuits were up late night on the adjacent Relix stage. The entire layout of Lockn’ and Infinity Downs had been transformed and moved around. I felt the show field was a bit small for the crowds that this festival produces and when the headlining acts came on, there wasn't much space to traverse the sea of spunions that littered the ground. It had been about seven years since my last Disco Biscuits show and after talking with Marc Brownstein (bass player) at the Baker's Dozen this year, I was disappointed that they did not play Frank Zappa's, "Pygmy Twylite" but after the show, Marc commented that it was originally on the set list but that they were unable to perform it due to an injury. The Disco Biscuits debut performance at Lockn’ Music Festival brought mixed opinions from the audience but after re-listening to this set on nugs.net there seems to be a time and a place for what The Disco Biscuits do and why not late night at Lockn’?
Friday's performances started early but the weather for the weekend was absolutely perfect. The Marcus King band took the stage a little after noon; I have been professing my newfound love for this band all summer. Having just lost their keyboard player, Marcus King still shows great professionalism and phenomenal guitar playing skills that rival any guitarist well beyond his years. At just 21 years old, Marcus King can play circles around some of the best players in this scene and I look for a meteoric rise for MKB. Lets bring Marcus back next year but with a better time slot. I talked with Marcus and the band backstage and was able to ask him about his love for Frank Zappa and a possible collaboration with Dweezil Zappa in the future. I'll see what I can do! I also imparted my sincerest hopes that Marcus King will continue the tradition of improvisational music and Southern Rock within our scene and the importance of real music vs. electronic is inherit in this musical subculture.
Tauk played a simple, yet explorative set, accentuating their funky and deep level jamming but I see Tauk, as more of a late night experience and not really a band to see in the middle of a hot summer day. When Lockn’ posted earlier this year on their social media, "Who do you want to see this year at Lockn?” I immediately responded with the Antibalas and they took my advice. I think their rhythmic afro-beat performance is a perfect fit for this festival and the music is infectiously danceable. Unfortunately, after just a few songs, the Antibalas were cut short and could not continue their ritualistic performance. I would like to see them return to Lockn' next year to finish what they started.
During Blackberry Smoke and before the Phil Lesh and Friends performance, I got to meet and speak with Grahame Lesh, son of Phil Lesh. I have recently done an album review for his band Midnight North and you can check it out here: http://www.gratefulmusic.com/2017/06/midnight-north-album-review-lights-by.html
Grahame was kind and gracious in person and during his performance, I could see his growth and musical maturity shine through. During Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band, Warren Haynes sat in for rousing "St. Stephen" and after this, I begin to lose track of all the sit-ins, collaborations and amazing renditions of classical Grateful Dead tunes. I only took a break from the over-saturation of Grateful Dead music later that night in hopes to talk with Sam Cutler, former Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead Tour Manager, about his recent Phish comments but to no avail. He only replied with “No more questions about that, then.” I just truly wish I could have bought him his first doughnut.
Gov’t Mule plays an introspective and heavy, "Thorazine Shuffle" and many tunes from their new album, "Revolution Come... Revolution Go." I've always been a fan of Gov’t Mule but sometimes their jams/songs become slow and drawn out. They can always surprise you though, especially with jazzy covers of Weather Reports, "Birdland." Anne Wilson of Heart joins Gov’t Mule on a few covers: Led Zeppelin and Janis Joplin but surprisingly, she only sings one Heart song, “Magic Man.” Gov’t Mule returned like a well-oiled machine and finished out their set with high regards.
Of course, Bobby and Phil played the album Terrapin Station in its entirety with so many musical collaborations it made my head spin but really all of this was overshadowed by JRAD, who in all honesty, out did Bob and Phil themselves; turning the tables on Grateful Dead classics like “Shakedown Street,” “Uncle Johns Band,” and “The Other One.” Joe Russo is like a six-armed Hindu God, as my friend and fellow fanatic would say, "His pockets have pockets!" JRAD turns the head on Grateful Dead standards and flips them around, finding new ways to come at them, bend them, warp them, and transmogrify them. While Darkstar Orchestra adheres to the traditional standards of what the Grateful Dead represent, in juxtaposition, JRAD takes that to another level completely and topples all preconceived notions of what a “cover band” can do.
Saturday was again, filled with such amazing music that it's hard to cover it all here without writing a 100-page essay on the inner workings of musical collaborations and the terrestrial dynamics of improvisational music. Holly Bowling started off the early mornings with her great piano renditions of classic Dead songs and I saw her many times backstage enjoying the great music all weekend; she is a true fan. Keller Williams brings back his Virginia home-style jams to Lockn’ and it wouldn’t not be the same festival without some Keller Williams Grateful Gospel on Sunday morning.
This would be Greensky Bluegrass's first performance at Lockn' but they were a major hit and I am sure they will be back again. I enjoyed their songs “Living Again,” “Windshield,” “Old Barns,” and their rendition of “Atlantic City” was top notch. If you haven't seen Greensky Bluegrass yet, do it as soon as possible. John Butler Trio came out blasting high volume treble in my ears. I have never heard or seen John Butler Trio before but they seemed to be one of the out of place acts. They had their moments but for the most part it was heavy alt-rock, not much jamming going on here. "My little Pony On Crystal Meth" was the most interesting tune that I can recall and they did get into some rocking grooves but nothing to write home about. Special shout out to Steven Siegel out there in the crowd! Did anyone actually know he has a band?
It was my first time joining the photographers in the pit for John Fogerty. The bass upfront is so loud, it feels like it could stop your heart. Now I know how many of my photographer friends, like my partner for this event, Ron Adelberg feel; that rush of adrenaline and the power of the sound waves is addicting. Fogerty and his band had a lot of energy. They played all the hits and classics like: “Travelin’ Band,” “Green River,” “Born On The Bayou,” “ Proud Mary,” “Susie Q,” “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Looking Out My Back Door,” “Fortunate Son,” and so many more; all of them extremely well done and played with explosive high energy. Fogerty impressed, doing all kinds of master guitar tricks and sweeps on a PRS. The only song that I didn't get into was some country song, a duet with Brad Paisley that was not very good. I even enjoyed the baseball bat guitar for “Centerfield.” All in all, Fogerty pretty much rocked our faces off, unexpected and welcomed.
Widespread Panic comes back to Lockn’ with a glorious “Fishwater” opener for my 73rd Panic show. I was again down in the pit for the beginning of Widespread Panic and I've never had such an amazing experience. To be that close to JB and the boys is an encounter I will never forget. I am so glad that Panic made it back to Lockn’ and have returned home. I went backstage and saw Phil Lesh watching the show, getting his fill of Panic. I was hoping for a sit-in but just having him right there near me was a cool experience, knowing he is there as a fan, just like me. Talking with some of the staff and security at Lockn’ they seem to truly love this crowd and this type of festival is much more laid back than most country or metal shows. Widespread Panic covers Leon Russell’s, “A Hard Rains Gonna Fall” a song that has been following me around since before Red Rocks this year. The highlight of this year’s performance was the blistering “You Should Be Glad” and a “Blue Indian” with a real Texas swing to it. “Chilly Water” had great improvisational breakdown but I still felt like Panic left us hanging with no encore and no, “Goodnight Ladies and Gents.” I hope that they will be back next year for more than just one performance.
Setlist: Fishwater > For What It's Worth > Who Do You Belong To? > Fishwater, Junior, Ride Me High > I'm Not Alone, Airplane > A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Rebirtha > You Should Be Glad, Blue Indian, B of D, Chilly Water
Late with JRAD was phenomenal and Joe Russo says it best about the sit-ins with Bob Weir: "Bob Weir ladies and gentleman, god damn!”
Sunday started for me with one of my favorite live acts The Eric Krasno Band, who I have covered twice already this summer. Kraz is an exceptional guitarist and master improviser. His band includes some talented musicians as well. I look forward to seeing Kraz and his band as much as possible in the future. Jorma Kaukonen with Moonalice brought those vibes back to Lockn’ that only a classic psychedelic 1960s rock legend like Jorma can bring. Sunday had a laid-back feeling all together. There also seemed to be a heavy police presence this year at Lockn’ from dogs searching patrons at the front gate, to 30 sheriffs closing down Garcia’s Forest late Saturday night. I hope this heavy police presence does not start affecting the positive and peaceful activities of the festival and the festivals patrons. JJ Grey and Mofro just made me hungry with all that talk about Creole food. Margo Price was straight up country-folk. While The Revivalist were more Alternative Rock than anything near a Jam quality performance. They put on a high-energy show though and the lead singer got down in the crowd and sang with the audience.
Sundays musical choices seemed a bit slower and more popular in nature then Jam worthy but Phil.moe was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness some of my favorite musicians collaborate and play songs from the Grateful Dead canon. Phil Lesh sat in for moe. bass player Rob Derhak, as he undergoes treatment for cancer. While Rob could not attend the festival in person, he did attend it virtually via a robot that he controlled on stage during the show. How cool is that? Only moe. could pull such crazy high jinx.
Many may disagree with me but I was unimpressed with the Avett Brothers original material. I know, I know, perhaps I am being a bit too critical but it seemed too pop folk oriented and extremely emotionally charged for me to get too excited about. I need something a little heavy to get me going. The Grateful Dead covers with Bob Weir sitting in were well done and definitely drew my attention in more. I finally gave in by the time they played “I Shall Be Released” which ended this festival perfectly.
Lockn' Music Festival and Infinity Downs is a place beyond time and space, beyond past and present. A place where you can find yourself, lose yourself and be reborn, all in the same weekend. It’s an experience that every Jam fan, fanatic or enthusiast should put on his or her bucket list. I have never had such truly amazing, consistent musical experiences anywhere else in my life and for five years Lockn’ brings this experience right to my back door. I am so grateful that this music has a home and that people like you, still care about real music! You know what I mean, none of this Pop BS, rap-hip hop, neo-country, electronic sacrilege but the true Jam. Lockn’ Music Festival is the definitive gathering place and sanctuary for all us. This has been a hard year for music festivals and especially the Jam scene. It seems we are getting smaller and now is the time to come together and make this even stronger and more influential than every before. Tell everyone about Lockn’ Music Festival and the bands you see. Turn someone on to good music. Explore new up-and-coming Jam acts and get involved. We all have that person that turned us onto good music, be that person. I will continue to support Lockn’ and I am again, so grateful for my experiences this year and every year. I hope that after reading this you will understand how important Lockn’ is to keeping this whole community alive and thriving. Thank you all for reading and I hope to see you in 2018. This must be the place.
Virginia is for Lockn’,
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.