Last weekend I was absolutely overjoyed to participate in the four day experience that was Lockn’ Music Festival (year two) in Arrington, Virginia (between Charlottesville and Lynchburg).
Everything at Lockn’ was titanic, from the “interlocking” main stage (which enabled seamless and immediate transitions from one artist to the next) to the phenomenal talent that filled up the Oak Ridge Main Stage at the concert site with an impeccable array of sound and color. The Oak Ridge shared its titanic glory with a much smaller, albeit much more intimate stage farther out in the woods, known as the “Triangle Stage.” It was here that my first night of Lockn’ went from enjoyable, to unforgettable.
I had arrived at the festival Thursday night in time to see such impressive jam acts as Lettuce, and Umphrey’s McGee, though I regret not coming earlier, with reports of praise coming from those who had witnessed Richmond’s own No BS Brass Band. The highlight for me that day was the blues giant Taj Mahal playing on the Triangle Stage. Every song felt like a conversation between the tightly packed crowd and the raspy legend on stage. Though I walked back to my tent with sore feet and droopy eyes after a two hour set (triple encore), I slept soundly knowing the experience would stay with me forever.
Day Two started out just as well with a set from an act listed on the schedule simply as Grateful Grass featuring an all-star lineup of Keller Williams, Jay Starling, Jeff Austin, Jason Carter, and Keith Mosely! In my enthrallment I missed the opening act on the Oak Ridge Stage, it was worth it.
The highlight of mid-day came in the form of what I like to call “The Suit Interlude.” The first band of this section was the undeniably classic Del McCoury Band, exhibiting absolutely beautiful musicianship, with Del’s vocal stylings just as fresh as ever. There was a surprise treat in store, as unbeknownst to me, Del has been touring and working with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The end of Del’s set and the beginning of Preservation Hall’s set blended into each other with a perfect combination of rich bluegrass and rootsy jazz. The rest of the night was very jam heavy, featuring multiple performances from the String Cheese Incident, as well as a concluding set from Phil and Friends. Bill Kreutzman also had a very intense collaborative set, where musicians like Sam Bush, Keller Williams, and even Taj Mahal got up on stage to play. I decided to leave that last one a bit early to get to the Triangle Stage for what was, again, an unforgettable highlight of the night, The Tedeschi Trucks Band. The smaller stage gelled perfectly with the subtle, acoustic, and soulful set put on by the married duo.
The next day I was eager to see the duo I had anticipated most going into the festival, Larry Keel and Sam Bush. I’ve seen Larry probably ten times at this point and Sam Bush at least twice, so I braved the morning crowd in 90+ degree temperatures, and was not disappointed. Larry has always been such a positive stage presence, especially with his wife Jenny on bass, but to see these two powerhouses up there having a good time was undeniably infectious. Saturday was just a flood of amazing acts, with an amazing blues guitar set from Gary Clark Jr., and a much more upbeat and funky set from Tedeschi Trucks. After a brief test of wills with Mother Nature on Saturday night, resulting in a slight delay, the music resumed and we were treated to an amazing collaboration of Steven Winwood and Widespread Panic. The evening ended with rock and roll legend Tom Petty.
I was worried that the last day of the fest would be somewhat bittersweet. Last days of festivals are always like that, with the nagging feeling of “work tomorrow” perched upon your shoulder. Grace Potter managed to shut that feeling up pretty well, and by the time Willie Nelson took the stage I was already too enamored with the experience to worry about anything else. From Grace to Willie, to Wilco to Panic, the evening culminated with the Allman Brothers Band reproducing their original set from the 1971 performance Live at Fillmore East (and more!).
The show felt mythical, with the titanic Greg Allman playing with two of the best blues guitarists in the game: Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Every moment after Allman first sat down that Hammond B-3 was sensational. With rumors that their touring days are on the verge of being over, forever, the significance of this performance was palpable throughout the crowd.
Event co-founders Dave Frey and Peter Shapiro seem to have found the secret recipe for concocting a perfect event. Lockn’ struck every chord it could for me. The production setup, amenities, the crowds, and the acts culminated in one of the best festivals I’ve been to. Having successfully resolved a few minor issue from their first year, and making changes that resulted in significant improvements (flipping the layout of stage and camping), Lockn’ definitely has a lock on future iterations of this festival. My calendar is already marked for next year.