Stepping up the grassy hill to attend the third annual Lockn’ Music Festival, attendees were greeted with the sight of the event in all its grandeur. Fields of tents, cars, and RVs stretched into the distance far from the dazzling Oakridge stage. Held inside the Oakridge farm racetrack, Lockn’ provides a wide open space for its many thousands of attendees. Based on previous year’s success, the setup for year three is mostly unchanged, providing a great structure to explore the festival grounds and enjoy the music from almost anywhere.
One cannot discuss this year’s festivities without mentioning the unfortunate and literal rain on the parade. Due to an intense storm system on Wednesday, there was enough damage to the festival stage, vendor tents, and campgrounds that impaired their ability to safely run on its scheduled opening day. To the dismay of many, the festival shut all Thursday events down, turning attendees away to the many impromptu pop-up shantytowns in campgrounds and parking lots around the state. Some of the acts were lost, as Thursday was the only day they could play (Little Feat, Galactic, etc.), but Lockn’ was quick to remedy the situation, taking action to create a condensed schedule of music for the remainder of the weekend, making the best of the time and musical talents they had to work with.
Seeing as that first Friday fell on the important but somber date of 9/11, the festival did their best to honor the occasion in a way that didn’t dwell on the tragedy. John Popper of Blues Traveler took the stage first to deliver the national anthem, surrounded by a group of first responders from the attack on the Twin Towers underneath a big star spangled banner waving for everyone to see. After a few moments to reflect, the swaths of festival attendees bunched up towards the stage were finally greeted with the sounds of The Doobie Incident, a respective combination of classic rock band The Doobie Brothers, and The String Cheese Incident, who played classics from the Doobie’s career but with some added instrumentation from String Cheese. The rest of the first day’s acts followed in a seamless succession, as bands like Seth Stainback and Roosterfoot, Moonalice, and the North Mississippi Allstars all provided rocking, roots, and bluesy sets before New Orleans singer songwriter Anders Osborne and his band brought their original style of heavy funk/blues rock to the stage.
Steve Earle and The Dukes, with his deep southern tones and their unique country style provided a chance for audience members to gather themselves, and prepare for a torrential outpouring of musical experiences that evening which surpassed the literal storm from the days before. The String Cheese Incident revisited the stage to deliver their own set, followed closely by a performance from the always varying Phil and Friends, this time featuring the fantastic vocal stylings of Lockn’ veteran, Chris Robinson, who took the stage singing classic Grateful Dead tunes in front of Phil Lesh, himself. This was the first of many performances that emphasized one of the greatest elements of Lockn’: collaboration. The cooperative efforts of veteran musicians across genres made for some historical and downright crazy performances throughout the rest of the weekend.
The night ended with back- to-back powerhouse celebrations of music history: The 50 year anniversary of Jefferson Airplane, and a tribute to the late Joe Cocker. The first performance featured Jack and Jorma of Hot Tuna fame, alongside Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann, followed by an unforgettable show simply dubbed Mad Dogs and Englishmen. There’s something magical about seeing Susan Tedeschi, Leon Russell, and Chris Robinson all on the same stage alongside Cocker’s old backup singers like Rita Coolidge which created an image and a sound that attendees will not soon forget. Closing up with late night performances from Mickey Hart and Umphrey’s McGee, Friday came to a very rousing and very late conclusion.
Things ramped up early on Saturday kicking things off with one of the Rockn’ to Lockn’ contest winners, local country band Lord Nelson, followed by the always entertaining 80’s cover bluegrass group Love Canon. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe teamed up with keyboardist Chuck Leavell to deliver a remarkable performance of soulful horn-heavy rock before Hot Tuna once more took the stage, this time playing a sit down acoustic set of their own music and introspective conversation, allowing audience members a little period of relaxation. More great sets that afternoon with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who somehow get better with every performance. The soulful duo of quiet guitarist Derek Trucks alongside wife Susan Tedeschi, a woman who could sing the roof off a stadium, was soon joined by Grateful Dead legend Bob Weir for a few tunes. The appearance of Weir enamored audience members with another brilliant aspect of Lockn’: The Legacy of the Grateful Dead.
Ever since the grand reunion show in Chicago, speculation about the Grateful Dead at Lockn’ gripped the hopes of Deadheads everywhere. For many who were unable to attend that “last show” at Soldier’s Field, it seems that Lockn’ was a possible opportunity to see the four members in some capacity. Ever since Lockn’ organizers Dave Fry and Pete Shapiro announced that all four members were going to be there, the hearts and minds of fans everywhere were racing.
Before that was to be seen, we got musical legend Robert Plant with the Sensational Space Shifters , followed shortly by what at this point seems to be a Lockn’ tradition of Widespread Panic collaborating with a classic musician, in this case Jimmy Cliff.
Then came a show from Billy and The Kids, which may be the closest to the real lineup people may ever get, with Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart all performing on the Oak Stage, while Phil Lesh set up for his show on the Ridge Stage adjoining (but not accompanying). For a very brief moment in time, from the audience, one could at least see all four members of the Grateful Dead together, in some capacity on stage together.
The second Phil and Friends show was as interesting as the first, featuring two different but masterful guitarists Warren Haynes and Carlos Santana. Saturday finished with another late night performance from Mickey Hart, and an appearance of Govt Mule.
Sunday waved goodbye to the thousands of festival-goers, but not without a few more stunning performances. Richmond reps and Rockn’ to Lockn’ winners, The Southern Belles , followed by Fishbone, The Oh Hellos, and a hip shaking performance by St. Paul and The Broken Bones. Save for performances from Trombone Shorty and Slightly Stoopid, the last evening was comprised of artists (Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, and Robert Plant) who had played previously, but played additional sets in different configurations, proving that more is sometimes better.
It seems that with each successive and successful year, Lockn’ has become one of the biggest and most unforgettable festivals in Virginia. Through the efforts of vendors, volunteers, and staff, Lockn’ managed to overcome significant environmental challenges and not only compensated but turned obstacle into accomplishment by providing collaborative combinations into experiences unlikely to ever be forgotten by event participants.