music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Lockn’ Music Festival Review

September 12, 2017 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

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The increase in music festivals has been reaching a critical mass over the past few years. Newer festivals, often featuring larger mainstream acts, have been popping up. Festivals come and go, sometimes leaving chaos and disappointed fans in their wake. It’s hard to see exactly what will appeal to a wide enough base to support an event. Some festivals are going for the “bigger is better” approach, with multiple stages and plenty of activities and events outside of the music. Others, including the Lockn’ festival, are going the opposite direction. One band at a time. No significant breaks in the music. No major attractions outside of 4 days of straight, uninterrupted music. It’s a risky move, but it’s wonderful when it works well.

It’s not easy to put together 4 days of music without using multiple stages. You need to make sure that the entire lineup works. If a significant portion of the fans don’t like whatever band is on at 6:00 on Friday, that’s a problem because they don’t have any other options. You’re giving yourself one shot to get it right. Luckily Lockn’ knows it’s audience and pulled off a very difficult task. 4 days of music for jam band aficionados, and not a dud in the bunch. 4 days of fun and dancing, and no need for much in the way of outside entertainment. 4 days in the beautiful hills of Virginia with nothing but the music.

Five years ago Lockn’ set out to be a festival first and foremost about the music. 2 stages, so no breaks. Plenty of guest appearances and surprises. No overlaps or conflicts. A setup specifically for folks looking to focus on the music and nothing but the music. There has been plenty of growth over the years, including the addition of a forest area, the introduction of the rotating stage, and, in 2017, a complete re-mapping of the grounds, moving the main stage to be in the same area as the side stage. They tightened up the festival footprint, made the grounds easier to navigate, and made 2017 a rebirth of the event. This led to a festival that felt in many ways like a big community gathering, and the organizers and bands throughout the weekend did their best to cultivate that feeling.

The festival opened with organizers Pete Shapiro and Dave Frey taking the stage with local law enforcement and first responders. The closest major city to Lockn’ is Charlottesville, and Shapiro and Frey made it clear from the outset that they wanted to use this festival as a weekend of healing after the events that had taken place Charlottesville earlier in August. This was a theme many of the bands continued to touch on throughout the weekend. After a short performance from a local church gospel choir, the festival kicked off with local jammers Kendall Street Company for a half hour set. They warmed up the crowd, but when the stage started to rotate and Umphrey’s kicked in, that’s when things really got underway. The main show on Thursday was a run of hour long sets from Umphrey’s into The String Cheese Incident back into UM and back into Cheese. Umphrey’s started out on fire right out of the gate. They kicked out with “40’s Theme,” a common opener for the band, before jumping into an explosive “Mantis.” Their energy was tremendous and the drummers in particular were leading the way for the band. As the sun started to set we also got to see why Umphrey’s is known to have one of the best light shows in the business. They sandwiched a relatively rare “Draconian” into “Mantis” before closing their first hour with “Dump City” and a tremendous version of “The Floor.”

Umph

The stage turned and the String Cheese Incident got started. The band had been dealing with some turmoil with Bill Nershi missing their shows the previous weekend due to health issues, and, while he sounded great, he certainly still seemed to lack some energy. The band kicked off with “Restless Wind.” This was a smart choice, since it’s a song that was able to build on the energy that Umphrey’s had while still being very much a traditional Cheese song. Even though these two bands share a very similar makeup, their styles are not at all the same. It was more difficult for Cheese to find their flow in this setting, and it seemed that they wanted to give every member a shot to lead in the set instead of finding a groove and going with it. SCI has so many elements to explore that it’s difficult to get them all out in two 1-hour sets, and Cheese may have been better served by not trying to be all things to all fans. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t a lot of fun, with a fun “Betray the Dark” and an excellent run of “Texas” into “Colliding” that closed the 5-song set.

Umphrey’s returned with a little less fire but a little more funkiness for their second set. “You Got The Wrong Guy” introed the set and they moved into a pure fire “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” The set highlight was a beautiful version of “Hajimemashite.” They even threw in a cover of “Making Flippy Flop” from The Talking Heads before closing out with “Remind Me.” The 1 hour sets with a 1 hour break is an awkward format for any band that likes to stretch its legs, but Umphrey’s didn’t have any struggle making it work. In fact, giving them just an hour at a time allowed the band to go all out without needing to give the crowd a breather.

Cheese came out for their second hour standing at the front of the stage. They took a moment to address the Charlottesville white supremacist attacks with a heartfelt plea for peace and unity. They then jumped into “Shine” before bringing Brendan, Joel, and Andy from UM out for an extended cover of “Jessica.” After that they again gave everyone a turn, starting out with Kyle leading a solid version of the new song “My One And Only” before heading into a jam that went straight into “Hi Ho No Show.” The set closed with Nershi’s “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” Again, it just seemed like Cheese had difficulty finding their footing during the short sets, and Nershi seemed off of his game. While I enjoy the interlocking sets that Lockn’ is known for, this was a struggle, and giving Cheese another 15-20 minutes for each of their sets may have been helpful.

Cheese

Thursday closed out with The Disco Biscuits on the Relix stage (which was only about 100 yards from the main stage). I headed back to camp and was able to listen to the set from there before passing out. I had been up for about 22 hours and needed to rest up for day 2.

I spent the early part of Thursday at the Relix stage. Things started off with a funky set from the Marcus King Band before moving into instrumental jamtronic with TAUK. They were running behind schedule, so I only caught part of Sinkane before retreating back to camp for a rest. I sadly missed Blackberry Smoke and Jim James on the main stage, both of whom I heard put on excellent sets. I caught the tail end of Brandi Carlisle, and I was glad to see her after she was forced to cancel her 2016 performance at the festival.

I wanted to make sure to be prepared for a very Dead-centered Friday. Two full sets from Phil Lesh, including a performance of the Terrapin Station album, was going to be one of the biggest Dead experiences of my life. Phil’s first set included a sit in from former Dead member Warren Haynes as well as a closing run that featured Bob Weir. Phil’s Terrapin Family Band features Phil’s son as well as other friends that Phil has hand-picked for his house band. They have put together a solid groove and did their songs plenty of justice. Highlights included Warren’s sit in on “St. Stephan” and a very fun “I Know You Rider.” Bob came out to help close out the set with “Jack Straw” and “Uncle John’s Band.”

Warren Haynes then led Gov’t Mule through a two hour set that mixed tunes from their entire catalog as well as some fun surprises. The new album is a great rocker from the band, and they spent some time introducing the new material to the audience. The biggest highlight came when they finally brought out Ann Wilson from Heart for a handful of tunes. Instead of diving directly into Heart’s extensive and impressive catalog, they led off with some covers. They started with Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” and “Black Dog,” and Wilson had no problem channeling Robert Plant with her dynamic vocal range. They ended up performing 5 songs together, although the only Heart song was “Magic Man” before Wilson left the stage and let Gov’t Mule close their set themselves with “Mule.” I would have liked to have seen a longer sit in from Wilson and some back and some more back and forth between her and the band instead of Gov’t Mule primarily serving as a backing band for cover songs, but she was absolutely worth checking out.

Mule

Phil, Bobby, and the Terrapin Family Band returned with Nikki Bluhm providing additional vocals for their take on Terrapin Station. They had no qualms about finding space in the music to explore, and the album, which is only 35 minutes, too more than double that to perform live. Nikki Bluhm shined on her vocal parts throughout the evening, and the band was loose and energetic for “Dancin’ In The Streets.” The performance did start to drag at times, however, and the closing “Terrapin Station Medley” seemed to go on forever. The band clearly wanted to enjoy their time on stage, and they certainly did that, and the fans for the most part seemed to have no problem with their performance either.

Phil

There was more Dead to come, as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took over the Relix stage immediately after Phil, Bobby, and company left the main stage. Their massive set went late into the evening and led off with an excellent “Shakedown Street.” JRAD adds tons of energy and vitality to these old songs, and are by far my favorite Dead cover act. Other highlights included “The Other One,” “Truckin’,” (complete with crowd singalong), and an unexpected cover of Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” with Jim James guesting. They also surprisingly included their own version of “Terrapin Station,” which I easily could have done without after the extended version from earlier. That didn’t seem to make much sense, since JRAD clearly knew the song would be played earlier in the evening. But it was still a great set by an excellent collection of musicians.

I skipped the early music on Saturday to get some rest, although I did head into the forest for an early set from Holly Bowling. She does a beautiful job of interpreting well-known jam music on her piano,and it was a wonderful way to wake up. I sadly only caught the end of “Pigeons Playing Ping Pong” who are a band certainly worth checking out.

Keller Williams put on a very fun Keller style set. He does what he does, and it’s almost always a good time. Watching him build songs using his guitar, bass, voice, and an array of pedals is like watching an artist at work. He’s a great storyteller on songs like “Doobie In My Pocket,” throws in covers like Weezer’s “Island In The Sun” (reworked to be “Lockn’ In The Sun”), and brings things back with deeper tracks like “Mantra.” Keller gave way to Greensky Bluegrass for a spectacular set. They hit on many of their top tracks, opening with a run that included “Old Barns,” “Lead Year,” “Letter to Seymour,” “Windshield,” and their most recent single “Living Over.” It was pure fire, and the band even threw in a fun “Terrapin Station” tease. I wouldnt’ say the band slowed things down, but they pulled back on their intensity mid-set with “Miss September,” “Hit Parade of Love,” and “Wings for Wheels” before ramping things back up. The closing pair of “Worried About The Weather” and “Atlantic City” showcased the band at both their technical and emotional best.

Another personal favorite of mine followed. I don’t get to see The John Butler Trio nearly as much as I would like, so this was one I wanted to be ready for. The band did not disappoint. Their rhythmic jams with Butler’s amazing guitar and banjo work is hard to top, and they have a unique sound while still being accessible. It’s hard to pick highlights with such a strong set, but the opening half of the set was unbeatable. “Cold Wind,” “I’d Do Anything,” and “Used To Get High” were all top-notch, and Butler had the crowd enthralled. A mid set instrumental “Ocean” showed off his unbelievable guitar chops, the downbeat “Blame It On Me” brought out the emotion, and the band finished up with a “Funky Tonight” that was an absolute party blast.

John Fogerty made his second Lockn’ appearance, and this one was with his band. His 90 minute set was simply one legendary track after another. Fans young and old knew all the words, and Fogerty brought everyone back to the heydey of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty and his band also sounded excellent. He had no problem hitting laying out his distinctive gruff vocals for the set. He even threw in some lesser known songs and covers, including “Love and War” and “Keep On Chooglin’.” Of course he finished up on a high note with solo hits “Centerfield” and “Old Man Down The Road” before closing his set with “Fortunate Son” and encoring “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Mary.”

Fogerty

Unfortunately the sun and the day caught up on me, and I wasn’t able to make it through much of Widespread Panic’s set. I planned on trying to make it back to the stage for a second night of JRAD, but missed out on that as well. Bob Weir sat in with JRAD for an extended run, and the band again performed late into the night. Panic’s set was a throwback to old times, and included a great cover of “For What It’s Worth.”

Keller Williams opened Sunday with a Grateful Gospel set that was a true 90 minute church service. Keller has no problem tapping into the spiritual side of the Grateful Dead, and he and his band pulled that out to great effect. Some songs lend themselves easily to this interpretation, but Keller didn’t rely just on those tracks, mixing in songs like “Midnight Moonlight” and “Not Fade Away” in with “Gomorrah” and “Mighty High.” While members of the Grateful Dead are still very much active, it’s good to know that the music will continue to live on in new forms for many years to come.

After church I left the main area and didn’t return until The Record Company hit the stage. I’m glad I made it for those guys, because they put on one of the best performances of the weekend. Just a solid rock outfit with a bit of a southern edge, these guys owned their slot and gained plenty of new fans. I’ll say the same for both JJ Grey & Mofro and The Revivalists. Both built a fusion of rock, funk, and soul, with JJ Grey having a bit more of a traditional southern roots and The Revivalists clearly building off of a New Orleans foundation.

One of the biggest collaborations of the week followed, with Phil Lesh filling in on bass for a 90 minute phil.moe set. While the original plan was for Phil to share bass duties with moe. bassist Rob Derhark, the moe. bassist’s recent illness meant that Phil was holding down the bass on his own for the set. They relied almost exclusively on Grateful Dead tunes, with a version of “Ophelia” featuring members of the Revivalsists thrown in and one moe. original with “Four.” Bob Weir joined the band for the final run of their set that featured Weir, Nikki Bluhm, and Grahame Lesh on “The Music Never Stopped” and then just Weir for a closing run of “Sugar Magnolia”->”Scarlet Begonias”->”Sunshine Daydream.” Just a huge run of classic Dead.

The final performance of the festival belonged to The Avett Brothers. I was surprised at the fact they got the last set since I was expecting a very folk-based performance. The Avetts have evolved, however, and the band came out on fire. Their most recent work definitely has kicked up the rock feel of the band, but they sprinkled that rock (and almost psychedelic) flavor on the whole set. Even songs like “Head Full Of Doubt” were kicked up a notch by the band. Bob Weir joined the band for the final third of their set, primarily focusing on covers like “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” although they did play one Avett Brothers original. While I didn’t know many of the Avett’s tunes, it was a great way to end the weekend.

Overally, Lockn’ once again hit a homerun for music lovers. The crowd was into the festival, the bands all shined, and the festival had most of the basics well covered. There were some concerns, however, possibly due to the relocation of the main stage and the smaller footprint of the festival. It felt like there were far fewer vendors this year than in 2016, and many of them were located by Garcia’s Forest, which many people didn’t even go see due to the distance between that and the main stage. The main area only had a couple areas to get water as well. This wasn’t a problem due to very reasonable temperatures, but last year got very hot every day, and limited access to water can be awful in those situations. This was particularly troubling because there were way more areas to buy beer than there were to get water. There were also fewer food vendors than last year, although I had no problem finding healthy and reasonably priced food. I liked the new setup for the festival, but I think they need to tweak it to include more vendors (both inside and outside the venue) and much more access to water both in the venue and in the campgrounds.

Luckily, however, the heat held back and the faults of the venue were more minor annoyances than major concerns. I fully expect Lockn’ 2018 to be even better than 2017 was. This is a festival for music lovers, period. They upped their diversity level by adding bands like TAUK and The Disco Biscuits while still maintaining their roots with various Dead projects. They came in with a black cloud due the events in Charlottesville but turned it around and built a positive community for those 4 days. This festival is set up to be a jam band standard for the long haul, and 2017 was another step in the right direction for that to happen.

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Charles Bradley cancels tour dates
Charles Bradley cancelled all of his upcoming tour dates due to illness. The soul singer cancelled dates in August as well, including a set at Hoxeville. Bradley cancelled dates in 2016 due to stomach cancer, and these dates appear to be due to a reappearance of the cancer. We wish him good health moving forward.

Dead & Company announce dates
Dead & Company announced a fall run of shows leading into early December. The band will start with two dates at Madison Square Garden before heading down the east coast and then through some of the south.

November 12 New York, NY – Madison Square Garden
November 14 New York, NY – Madison Square Garden
November 16 Philadelphia, PA – Wells Fargo Center
November 17 Boston, MA – TD Garden
November 21 Washington, DC – Verizon Center
November 22 Hartford, CT – XL Center
November 24 Detroit, MI – Little Caesars Arena
November 25 Columbus, OH – Nationwide Arena
November 28 Charlotte, NC – Spectrum Center
November 29 Atlanta, GA – Philips Arena
December 1 Dallas, TX – American Airlines Center
December 2 Austin, TX – Frank Erwin Center
December 5 New Orleans, LA – Smoothie King Center
December 7 Orlando, FL – Amway Center
December 8 Sunrise, FL – BB&T Center

jcsevents

Grand Point North
September 16-17
Waterfront Park
Burlington, VT
Trey Anastasio Band, Grace Potter, Dawes, Joseph, Son Little, Hurray for the Riff Raff

The Festy Experience
October 5-8
Infinity Downs
Arrington, VA
The Infamous Stringdusters, Ani DiFranco, Drive By Truckers, Elephant Revival, Sam Bush Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Jerry Douglas, Cabinet, Billy Strings, Beats Antique

Hillberry Music Festival
October 12-15
Eureka Springs, AR
Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, Dumpstaphunk, Dirtfoot

Suwannee Roots Revival
October 12-15
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, The Wood Brothers, Peter Rowan Dharma Blues featuring Jack Cassidy, Donna the Buffalo, Steep Canyon Rangers

Hangtown Music Festival
October 26-29
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Dark Star Orchestra, Leftover Salmon, Turkuaz

Suwannee Hulaween
October 27-29
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Ween, Bassnectar, The Disco Biscuits, Portugal The Man, Lettuce, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Benevento/Russo Duo, Greensky Bluegrass, Kamasi Washington, TAUK, Dumpstafunk, Spafford

Dominican Holidaze
December 1-5
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, The Disco Biscuits, GRiZ, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, TAUK, The Motet, Lotus, Spafford

Strings & Sol
December 8-12
Now Sapphire
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds in Mexico
January 12-14
Riviera Maya, MX

Gov’t Mule’s Island Exodus
January 13-17
Jewel Paradise Cove
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes, JJ Grey & Mofro

Jam in the Sand
January 18-22
Jewel Paradise Cove
Ruanaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, Hot Tuna, Rumpke Mountain Boys

Jam Cruise
January 17-22
Medeski, Martin, Scofield & Wood, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Maceo Parker, Lotus, Lettuce, Gramatik, Keller Williams, The New Mastersounds, Dumpstaphunk, Turkuaz, The Main Squeeze

Gem & Jam
January 25-28
Tuscon, AZ
STS9, Greensky Bluegrass, Lettuce, Breaking Biscuits, Emancipator, Railroad Earth

Panic En La Playa
January 26-30
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Bonnaroo
June 7-10
Manchester, TN

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Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!