Lockn Festival 8.25 - 8.28.16
Words By Eric Lewis
Photos By Bain Stewart Media
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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