Lockn Festival 8.25 - 8.28.16

Arrington, VA

Words By Eric Lewis
Photos By Bain Stewart Media

Somewhere nestled between the mountains and the trees there is a farm. On this farm is a family. A family brought together from across the nation for four days out of the year. This year, I was lucky enough to join in and become a part of the Lockn' fam. Welcome to Lockn' 2016.

After haphazardly setting up my tent and necessary shade on no sleep, I followed that festival smell of body odor and patchouli to the gates. Past the constant tide of people and beyond the mental fog of “what have I gotten myself into,” I found myself holding a Star Hill Brewery local brew at the Main Stage with no preexisting knowledge or expectations for the first band. Lockn' could not have chosen a better band to kick off the party. At 7:30 PM the bustling crowd settled as focus turned to the stage lights, as Michigan-natives Vulfpeck took to the stage. Accompanied by what I would deem probably the funkiest bass player in recent history, Vulfpeck blasted off with “Concious Club.” Bringing their blend of tight punctual rhythms, driving bass and jazzy melodies, the group sparked off a chain reaction of bodies moving. The smiles of every member spilled out infectiously into the crowd and by the end of their set I was absolutely certain I picked the right festival this year.

As if it couldn't get any cooler, following Vulfpeck's farewells, the stage began to spin. Questioning that this wasn't some secret ingredient they put in my Gouda Boy's philly cheesesteak, I watched in awe as the stage physically turned 180 degrees and we were face-to-face with the lights and power of Umphrey's Mcgee. This addition to Lockn's Main Stage assured stage-hopping for headline acts wouldn't be a problem. Never disappointing, Umphrey's kept the train rolling, including their own take on Billy Joel's “The Stranger” featuring the iconic Gene Ween sitting in. After Umphrey's capped off their show, the enigmatic Ween took the show over. Filling the night with their signature alternative sound for two solid hours on their first set, they were met with equal enthusiasm from the crowd. At the conclusion of Ween I was pretty spent, and looking around I felt I was in similar company, but there was still EOTO! Featuring Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident, EOTO played their brand of improvised electronica jam to the dazzling sights and sounds of The Woods Stage. On stage, they electrified the cool night air with a sound experience that is never the same twice. If you thought that would be enough, you're dead wrong. Because Joe Russo's Almost Dead absolutely brought the house down out at the Blue Ridge Bowl, starting at 1:00 AM with “Truckin'” and not ending until nearing five in the morning following the entire "Terrapin Suite." JRAD was mind-boggling. Being my first time seeing JRAD, I now knew what all the fuss was about, and damn was it well-warranted.

Finding myself somehow alive on Friday morning, breakfast burrito in hand, I headed to the Blue Ridge Bowl. The beer in my right hand of last night had been replaced with a refreshing iced coffee from a neighboring tent. As I found a spot in the audience to post up, I was greeted by the sweet, Bluegrass infused sound of Donna The Buffalo. Their singer Tara Nevins led the group playing fiddle, accordion, and singing with a voice that on occasion reminded me of an early Stevie Nicks. Attention shifting from the early morning show, the progressive dual-guitar drive of Moogatu shook the air surrounding the Main Stage. Although I was finally awake and aware, no amount of coffee could have prepared me for the colorful display of Turkuaz that came next. With a full brass section barreling ahead and singers dancing on every beat, their energy was a triple espresso shot to the dome. Mixing a blend of 80's pop cut with early dance and disco, they were out of this world. Decked out in their signature color suits, they were captivating. Never missing a beat, Vulfpeck spun into position again for their second set of the festival. Looking perfectly comfortable on stage, the unstoppable groove-force poured out some real viscous, funky jams that never let down.

Coming in hot on Vulfpeck, White Denim was next up on the Main Stage. The four Texans shifted gears and propelled forward, fueled with soulful, Southern Rock tendencies. Fuzzy riffs and hot licks abound, they kept the tempo rolling on; even including a sit-in from Scott Metzger of JRAD. Next up was Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires. With funky backing, the soulful and evocative vocals of Charles Bradley dug down deep into the heart. Reminiscent of 60's and 70's Soul and R&B, it felt like a trip back in time and damn did it feel good.

Afterwards, the great Peter Wolf picked up the pieces. Rocking out J. Geils Band songs, originals and covering a few classics, the 70 year old Wolf never ceases to remind us what Rock and Roll feels like. Succeeding Peter Wolf, Ween was once again the main attraction. As the sun was setting, they kicked off with “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese” and played songs spanning their entire discography. Including songs like “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down),” they ended their last set with “Buckingham Green” to a deafening crowd. Having never seen Ween live, I hadn't known what to expect. But they were easily one of the best live bands I think I've ever witnessed.

In their wake, I felt like I could've left Lockn' right then and been perfectly happy with what I had seen so far. But amazingly, it only got better. The very next band was and is one of my favorite bands of all time; a band I've wanted to see since I was 16. Phish walked on at 8:30 PM and proceeded to melt our faces for nearly four hours. Trying in retrospect to explain the experience of seeing Phish live will never do it enough justice. Flying right into Gamehendge track “Wilson,” Phish blew me away. Although somewhere I felt afraid they would never live up to my expectations, they exploded past them and then some. Ending the first set with an a cappela cover of “Space Oddity,” they were incredible. Second set included other classics like “Punch You in the Eye” and they closed out with a “You Enjoy Myself.” Frankly, I could have written this solely about my personal pilgrimage to witness Phish, but incredibly enough there was still so much more to see and hear.

Just after Phish, Circles Around The Sun took over The Woods Stage. Being the band's first actual show, they were a great band to transition into. If you had been lucky enough to catch any Fare Thee Well shows, you might have recognized Circles Around The Sun as being the band responsible for the original music used in the intermissions. The band, the brainchild of the music-machine Neal Casal, they were a perfect bridge into the second night of JRAD. Once again, JRAD grabbed the helm and played their own fantastic takes on Dead classics like “Shakedown Street,” “Franklin's Tower” and more. Bringing out the soulful Nicole Atkins on a few songs made it even better. I slept extremely well Friday night to say the least.

The always fun and always great Keller Williams' Grateful Grass greeted us all Saturday morning. Playing plenty of Dead tributes and even featuring a cover of Johnny Cash's “Big River,” it was a perfect start to the day. Next up was the DJ Williams Projekt out at the Main Stage. The talented guitar work and musicianship of D.J. was impressive and included music of varying influences.

Moon Taxi was the next act to take the stage. Let me just go ahead and say, Moon Taxi was phenomenal. I've heard their studio recordings before, but like with many bands I wasn't sure how well they would translate in a live performance. Not just playing their songs with precision, they had one hell of a stage presence. Lead singer and guitarist Trevor Terndrup kept the entire audience mesmerized and singing along. Interacting with the crowd constantly and leaping onto a speaker monitor during a particular anthemic chorus really showed they were having as much fun playing as we were listening.

Twiddle was the next band on the Main Stage. Seeming to be an up and coming jam favorite, they played their brand of reggae-flavored tracks to a wide assortment of fans. At the end of Twiddle's set, Galactic with Lee Oskar flew in with their otherworldly blend of funk fusion and kept us all entertained for the next two hours. Coming right after, Hard Working Americans were up. The Rock supergroup once again reminded me of the fact Neal Casal is probably one of the hardest working Americans at Lockn'. Playing first in Circles Around The Sun, Hard Working Americans, and later in Chris Robinson Brotherhood and alongside Phil Lesh & Friends, Casal is one hell of a musician.

Every band so far has been spectacular, varying in tastes and flavors, but the next band is the one reason most people, me included, came to Lockn'. And that is the legendary Phil Lesh & Friends. Lesh's set on Saturday began with “Scarlet Begonias” as he went on to share his stage with The Infamous Stringdusters, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks on multiple songs. Jamming on classics like “Uncle John's Band,” “Mr. Charlie,” “Sugaree” and more, Lesh had the entire crowd singing along. Lesh being the hero he is, needs little explanation.

Next up was Tedeschi Trucks Band from 8:30 to 10:30 PM, and at this point the entire pit was packed to the brim. If you hadn't been lucky enough to get a good lawn spot about five hours prior, good luck getting up close. Thankfully though, Lockn' provided more than enough space and the two projector screens made sure everyone could see. Playing a lot of tributes including a Derek and the Dominos and a Miles Davis cover, the Tedeschi Trucks Band was an experience all unto itself.

My Morning Jacket came up next to everyone's pleasure. Never dull and always entertaining, they plowed forward with their unique rock sound. By the time they played a tribute to Prince in the form of “Purple Rain,” there wasn't a single person in the entire festival not feeling it. After the sonic adventure of My Morning Jacket, the cool etheric sound of the three piece Khruangbin floated out of The Woods Stage. Unfortunately, I was so tired I was unable to go see them, but I heard them comfortably from my campsite. There was still more music though, as the energetic and talented Lettuce was about to take the stage at the Blue Ridge Bowl at 1:00 AM. I was more than bummed I had cashed out so early, but after the day I had, I could barely walk. They sounded like they were a blast, but I had to get some rest for Sunday.

I woke up, chugged a gatorade and proceeded to walk to Infinity Downs to get some breakfast. Feeling rejuvenated, I turned around to head to the Blue Ridge Bowl to go to church with Keller. Keller Williams' Grateful Gospel started off with a prayer and appeal for the 'cardinal sins' of 'taking liberties from Grateful Dead music and playing songs you've already heard this festival'. It was forgiven I'm pretty sure because they slayed. Good vibes, good sounds and a warm sun above–it was a perfect start to the last day of Lockn' 2016.

At the end of Keller, we were going to see The Dharma Initiative on the Main Stage, but I realized a little too late that I forgot my water bottle back at the campsite, so I regretfully missed seeing them. I was able though to see The Wailers, who took over the show at about 2:00 PM in the afternoon. Having not listened to Marley in years, it was really refreshing and a cool change of pace to hear some proper Reggae. All the hits were there–“Exodus,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “Could You Be Loved” just to name a few.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood was next in line, another Neal Casal group. Playing alongside the infamous Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, they played originals and also a Bob Dylan cover of “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Immediately following was the second and final set of Phil Lesh & Friends. Featuring the talented Gary Clark Jr. sitting in on a couple songs, Phil also shared the stage with Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Always smiling, Lesh waved goodbye with the rest of the performers and we were greeted with the second to last show; Gary Clark Jr. Known for his guitar work and soulful Blues-powered vocals, he was yet another must see act at Lockn'. Right on Clark's heels was the final set by Phish.

Kicking off with Hoist track “Sample in a Jar,” Trey and Co. continued on to play two sets jam-packed with everything from “Tweezer” to a “No Quarter” Zeppelin cover, and even their awesome rendition of Richard Strauss' “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Stanley Kubrick would be proud, and would probably be dancing along. After an awesome “Tweezer Reprise,” Phish put the ribbon on our Lockn' experience with a encore cover of The Rolling Stones' “Loving Cup.” After stumbling down from the mountain to the campsite, I reluctantly packed up everything and made peace with myself knowing I'd be seeing Phish again in a couple weeks. Even though I was sad to leave, I was content in getting back on the road. Lockn' was incredible this year and was definitely the best festival experience I've ever had. If you ever get a chance to swing through Oak Ridge Farm and join the fam, don't hesitate–you won't regret it. See you next year!

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