Five years in, Lockn' Festival continues to morph as an organic growth. Finding life at Infinity Downs Farm (Arrington, VA), Lockn's spirit is one that stems from the western Virginia communities that have shaped its evolution (under the guidance of Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey), as well as being guided by the necessities of balance between growth and finding that infrastructure sweet spot of high attendance paired with available resources. This all has to be factored in, while ensuring that all attendees have access to the stages and camping, within reasonable walking distance. Lockn' 2017 seems to have struck that mark.
With stages and vendors budged to a central location, wrapped like a nut within a shell of also-shifted camping locations, all came together to form an experience that I overheard expressed most accurately, as I caught one Lockn' lover saying to another, "I like this layout dude - it feels so much more down home!"
Thursday saw ticket holders filter into the fest grounds to check out the new design, while gifted with a look at "Long Strange Trip - the Untold Story of the Grateful Dead" at the mainstage, during the process of gathering their bearings. Walking brings hunger, and with fewer food vendors than in years past, the options were still broad and remained top shelf. One would have a hard time finding an energy source to complain about; follow that with ample port-a-john locations, and the scene was one of comfort and Virginia beauty for the gathering.
Important infrastructure celebrations aside, people came to hear some music! Thursday slammed! With an hour of the prog onslaught that Umphrey's McGee does best, followed by an hour of the exploratory world-grass that String Cheese Incident stretches the audience through, then another Umph, followed by a final SCI (with the addition of Umphrey's McGee's Bayliss, Farag, and Cummins - covering the Allman Brothers' "Jessica"), it was a mashup that's hard to compete with. Both groups are Lockn' veterans, appropriately so - acting as a hinge-pin for those trying to find their mental connection between prior years and the current incarnation. Even if one wasn't yet linked with the altered map their feet called home, the echoes amplified in those hills bears a lasting resonance with the ability ring anyone back to why we came.
Waking for Lockn's first sunrise, Friday promised an afternoon of heavy hitters, the Grateful Dead family standing as the flag bearers for the evening, appropriate for a festival intimately tied to their ongoing legacy. Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band preceded the untouchable Gov't Mule (Heart's Ann Wilson joining for Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and "Black Dog" and her own "Magic Man"), before the greatly anticipated Phil Lesh/Bob Weir/Terrapin Family Band/Nicki Bluhm rendition of the entirety of "Terrapin Station." Haynes returned to add to renditions of "St. Stephen" and "New Minglewood Blues."
Saturday brought the funky goodness that is solo Keller Williams (who was pleased to have a set playing his own music for the first time at Lockn'), the return of John Fogerty's rock credentials to the lineup (having appeared in the inaugural Lockn' with Widespread Panic), and the broadly beloved Widespread Panic for their fourth appearance at the festival. Talent, talent, and more talent - such was the day's spread. All things aside, it's rare to be able to catch Keller in a solo vein these days, so that was a treat unto itself and one to be grateful for.
Sunday's exit blues found life through JJ Grey & Mofro, before the delightful braid that was the phil.moe. set. Other sets lose focus in the shadow of this particular block of music because of the weight of absence. That said, once the mood settled, the phil.moe. set was a fine moment in honor of bassist Rob Derhak's absence from a cancer diagnosis. "Box of Rain" kicked things off and shone as a joyous starter to the set. The Revivalists later came up for The Band's "Ophelia." The set closed out, joined by Weir for "Sugar Magnolia" and "Sunshine Daydream," a reminder to keep a joyous spirit, regardless life's struggles.
Throughout the weekend, the neighboring Blue Ridge Bowl burned ferociously during the daytime sets (Antibalas, TAUK, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and Mighty Joshua were highlights), but its nights were billowed to a thick roar. Following the closing of the main stage each evening, The Blue Ridge Bowl brought scene legends: The Disco Biscuits, on Thursday night with an impressive light show and a more recent firehouse/Lockn' pillars, Joe Russo's Almost Dead. Jim James (My Morning Jacket) joined JRAD for covers of Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" and the Grateful Dead's "Brown-Eyed Woman." To the excitement of the crowd, Weir also visited for a time, playing "Black-Throated Wind," "Jack Straw," and a lively "One More Saturday Night."
The condensing of the Lockn' layout is a success born of experience. I remember the first year when the entry took me... well, let me forget that... what I'm saying is, this machine is now well-oiled and thoughtfully, passionately crafted! If you're missing out on Virginia's annual celebration of Dead culture and the ever-branching family trees, don't let another year slide by; things are just starting to cook, and you don't want to have to say you weren't there when...
Review by: Jeremy Sanchez
All photos by: Jerry Friend except the of the photo of Ann Wilson taken by Willa Stein