LOCKN’ Music Festival 2018 Review (Dead and Festival)
For the past six summers, I have spent my days counting down to the annual LOCKN’ music festival. This is where it all started for me and where my pursuit as a musical writer became realized. LOCKN’ is always a grand musical experience, filled with constant collaborations and sit-in performances from the Jam worlds biggest acts. This year's festival was one of the smoothest and well-run I have ever been too. After six years, LOCKN’ seems to be listening to its patrons and striving to make every year better than the last.
Thursday’s musical performances included: Umphreys McGee and Lettuce back, to back, to back. These LOCKN’ alumni brought the heat to an otherwise gorgeous evening but before we get to the headliners; The Firecracker Jam, opened up this year and I used them as background while I explored Infinity Downs and the new festival layout. What I did hear from, Firecracker Jam, was high powered and fun. Again, Erin and The Wildfire, cross JBP paths and I was even more impressed with Erin and her band this time around. Having just seen them at Floyd Fest this year, it was interesting to compare both performances. Each set was vivacious and full of magnificent vocal work from Erin Lunsford. If you haven't seen or heard of Erin And The Wildfire, do yourself a favor and check them out.
It was quite a night for Lettuce fans as they came out strong, like a powerhouse of Progressive-Funk-Jam. I stuck around for most of their set but had to skip out on UM and the utilization of the rotating stage. Because I live within an hour of Infinity Downs, I have been driving back-and-forth, sleeping in the comfort and luxury of my own home for the past few years. The ride through the Blue Ridge is peaceful and quiet, the perfect way to decompress after being surrounded by people and loud music. I was able to stream most of the sets that I missed from my phone while I drove home. Thanks to Relix for making that happen. I truly enjoyed Joe Russo's Almost Dead's performance before I passed out in my own bed.
I arrived at LOCKN’ on Friday, ready for a raging night of amazing music. Friday seemed to have the best band schedule of the weekend with collaborations galore and some amazing acts coming together, many for the very first time. This is also where I must remind readers that, “The opinions expressed on this site may differ from their own.” Just keep this in mind while continuing to read below. My 3rd, Ghost Light, show did not disappoint and it was possibly the best I've seen from this band; as they get tighter and better, every time I see them. I look for Ghost Light to continue touring and making more studio albums and new material available soon. If you have a chance to check out, Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling, on stage together, don't miss out. Band Of Changes was an interesting mix of music with a cast of characters: Russo, Metzger, and Dreiwitz, with addition of some other players I was unfamiliar with. It was more Alt-Rock than Jam but still an interesting sound that brought the audience in early.
Turkuaz is up for one of the best sets of LOCKN’ 2018. I was so impressed with their entire performance and really enjoyed shaking my bones to their Post-Apocalyptic Electro-Funk. I have a hard time describing this band but I sure love their catalog of music. I know they must have been quite hot in those suits onstage. I chilled in the back for, Toots and the Maytals, which was fun, laid-back reggae. Taj Mahal would join the band onstage for a few songs, I think he was playing a ukulele and didn't add much to the overall sound. This was still a fun sit-in and it is good to see Toots back in Virginia. We are all still very sorry for what happened. Thanks for bringing LOCKN’ some true reggae music.
Jason Bonham was definitely the highlight of the, Umphrey's McGee, set Friday and with the addition of Derek Trucks, and even, Taylor Hicks from American Idol fame, were topnotch and outstanding musically. These collaborations will go down as some of the best in LOCKN’ history; still never topping that Mad Dog and Englishmen set. The covers of Led Zeppelin classics like, "When The Levee Breaks", “Good Times, Bad Times”, and “Whole Lotta Love” may remain the best, Led Zeppelin, music I have ever seen live, even beating Robert Plant. This is what makes LOCKN’ so special, the once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences.
P-Funk was one of the wildest, strangest and chaotic musical experiences of my life. I won't lie and say that it didn't have its moments but for the most part it was a complete train wreck, musically and otherwise. From the guy with his ass hanging out to George Clinton falling down, I couldn't keep my eyes off the stage. I was forced to watch some strange. Bird-like dancer with a long nose, sexually provoke the audience. The music was more Hip-Hop oriented with elements of Hard Rock rather than straight Funk that I was used to from Parliament Funkadelic. The entire performance was not lost when the band slimmed down from 15+ people to play “Maggot Brain.” This was one of the best renditions I have ever heard live and they even closed the set with Frank Zappa's "The Slime" which made up for all the nonsense beforehand.
Widespread Panic came out strong with Jimmy Herring lighting up the solos during “Sell, Sell, Sell,” into “Love Tractor.” Dave Schools leading in on the base as the band would develop strong transitions; moving pieces around like a musical game of chess. “Drums” would go on while Margo Price and a horn section was added to the stage. I was all around impressed with Margo and her vocal abilities. She did a good job adding her vocals to WSP staples like, "Up All Night" a song that I am only used to hearing JB sing. Panic and Margo would go on to cover “Honeybee” and pay respects to Aretha Franklin with “Rock Steady” which I still think was not quite the right voice for this song. I was looking through Twitter and saw Margo must have taken some LSD that night and was truly in the spirit of psychedelic music.
Saturday began with, Big Something, the North Carolina band that has been making the rounds in the Jam community for quite some time. I have had the privilege of seeing them perform many times and they always put on a great performance, even in the middle of the afternoon. Big Something will continue to grow their followers and released a new album, ‘The Otherside’ this year. Keller and the Keels, Virginia natives and Bluegrass legends, play all the hits from their album. ‘Grass’ and even covered Pink Floyd's “The Wall.” Keller is always a staple at LOCKN’ and having seen many iterations of his bands, I would just like to see Keller solo at LOCKN’. His improvisational solo sets would fit well within this lineup.
The Foundation Of Funk (basically The Meters) was by far my favorite set from LOCKN’ 2018. All the classic Meters songs were played with the addition of most of Dead and Co including: Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and John Mayer. This would actually be my first time ever seeing John in person and he did not distract from the experience, staying in line while George Porter called the shots. Tedeschi Trucks Band is on another level from any other band out there today. Soulful and Bluesy in one moment and on the verge of a Jazz meltdown in the next, TTB keeps audiences on their toes while delivering solid powerful performances. Covers like, “Whipping Post”, “Little Martha” and “A Song For You” highlighted the first night and I was really looking forward to seeing them again on Sunday.
I know most of you will condemn me for skipping, JRAD on Friday and Lettuce on Saturday but I decided to opt-out for the free Relix stream so I could stay clearheaded for Dead and Company's performance both nights. With an over abundance of Grateful Dead covers afoot, I went into Dead and Company open-minded and ready to have my mind blown. While I have had and still have, apprehensions towards Dead and Company, I had to give them an honest chance, John Mayer included. I wasn't off put by his guitar playing and can't deny his talent on the instrument. Dead and Company would open up with “Hell In A Bucket” which was a straightforward delivery. Bobby seemed in high spirits but the transition into “Scarlet Fire” was sloppy. Oteil would help bring it back with his expert bass playing. This entire set was a bit slow, the song selection seemed like a sing-along, letting the audience add their voices and spirits together. Everything was going fine until John attempted falsetto vocals and I cringed but during “Brown Eyed Women” John's voice sounded much better. Jeff Chimenti shines during his solos and he seems to be the backbone of this band; always smiling and having fun. “Ramble on Rose” was another slow sing-along, Chimenti and John having a lot of musical banter, which I really enjoyed. “Alabama Getaway” was basic but still a lot of fun and not one that I hear much live. “Deal” and a short break had me reflecting on my first Dead and Company show for the rest of the next set. I think Bobby sees his younger self in John and while John Mayer isn't my first or even second choice of guitarist to play Jerry's part but he certainly has Jerry's flares and solos down pat and in the end my opinion is of little consequence. It's good to see people enjoying The Grateful Dead’s music in any setting or format.
Sundays at LOCKN’ are always bittersweet. Spafford basically blew the metaphysical doors off of Infinity Downs. They would play only 4 songs, “Broken Wing”, “Slip and Squander”, “Electric Taco Stand” and “All In.” I bet many Spaffnerds were kicking themselves for missing this scorcher but Sunday was the hottest day on an otherwise perfect weekend of weather. I am always thoroughly impressed with guitarist, Brian Moss and his musical abilities and Red is the kind of Uncle we all wish we had; ready to show you what good music is all about. Spafford deserves a much later set next year if they return to LOCKN’. Keep killin' it! Having never seen The Blues Travelers live, I had a blast checking out John Popper and his crew trying out new songs and playing their radio hit, "Run Around." Popper himself was humorous with witty banter about losing his cell phone and being scared to try new things onstage. I would certainly check The Blues Travelers out again anytime and was surprised how good they were.
Tedeschi Trucks Band would again impress the audience with Jazz laced blues songs. The Indian influence in Derek's guitar playing are evident and when Branford Marsalis would join the stage for “Mahjoun”, a dual of sax versus guitar would begin and end in a cacophony of climactic musical conclusions. Derek Trucks with a rare smile seen across his face. When Eric Krasno joined the stage, I was exuberant. I love when Kraz sits-in and his improvisational technique's are out of this world. He is the ninja of the Jam world. Other notable songs from this set were “Statesboro Blues”, “Alabama (Neil Young)”, “Night Time Is The Right Time” and “Space Captain.”
By the middle of Dead and Company's first set on Sunday, I had forgotten all about John Mayer and was really enjoying his back and forth with Jeff Chimenti. John would inch closer to Bobby, trying to get around the plexiglass barrier that stood between them. Bobby, arms brandished, would shoo him away, taking us all to the gun show that night. The second set opener of “Shakedown Street” was noticeably slower in tempo, so much so, that I was completely thrown off. I don't know who is to blame for this but it was almost comical. John Mayer certainly has all of Jerry's guitar riffs, arpeggios and tone down but I think he may be relying on the envelope filter (Q-Tron) a bit too much. I would've loved to have heard some different guitar tones from time to time. Dead and Company are extremely improvisationally heavy and Jammy, much more melodic with fewer build-ups (crescendos) then I would like. They are chaotic at times, seemingly free-form and can expand into new territory at anytime. When Branford Marsalis took the stage, everything changed and this interpretation of “Eyes Of The World” was possibly the best I have seen live. Oteil really getting the VIP award while Branford and John would go head-to-head in many moments.
The Grateful Dead’s legacy extends well beyond LOCKN’ but it seems as though this festival is at the core of the celebration of the Grateful Deads music and surrounding culture. I feel as though this was LOCKN’s definitive year, as it has reached its maturity. Shapiro and his team really did their best to make this festival comfortable and filled with once-in-a-lifetime musical collaborations. It has been a pleasure being a part of LOCKN’ since it's inception and I look forward to a continued relationship with LOCKN’ and the Virginia community, as a whole. Live music comes and goes but this years LOCKN’ will have me reminiscing for quite some time. If I could only go to one music festival for the rest of my life, it would be LOCKN’. See you next year!
Virginia Is For Live Music,
LOCKN’ Festival Purist
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.