Lockn’ Festival 2017 was held in Arrington, Virginia at Infinity Downs Farm. The festival took place Thursday-Sunday, August 23rd-27th.
This was the fifth year that Lockn’ has graced the rolling hills of central Virginia; but it was different this time. Previously, the festival took place in partnership with Oak Ridge Estates, with the main show field on the Oaks Ridge horserace track and a large amount of camping on the Oak Ridge Estate’s grounds. This year, Lockn’ introduced the festival solely on the Infinity Downs property. Infinity Downs is 500 acres of land that was purchased by Lockn’ Festival in years past; it had hosted the Blue Ridge Bowl, the smaller of the two stages that was used for late night music and camping. One fan comment was, “The festival fit into its ‘glass slipper’ by moving into the new location. Crowd fit perfect, it enhanced the vibe and didn’t feel like every other festival that crams into race track, amphitheater or flat generic field.”
Infinity Downs now is the central location for all things Lockn’, with the exception of some camping and day parking, which still is on the Oaks Ridge Estate land. Infinity Downs was also the host for Rockn’ to Lockn’ in June, the final competition for six Virginia-based bands to compete for a spot at the festival in August.
Infinity Downs is beautiful rolling land that hosts Lockn’s three performance stages, vending, camping, and all operations. The Main Stage was used for late afternoon and night performances, Relix Stage (previously called Blue Ridge Bowl) was host for morning through late afternoon performances, and Garcia’s Forest hosted late night performances, Shake Down Street, and 24-hour food vending. Infinity Downs also served as the location for tent camping, car camping, RV camping, and The Forest Tent camping. VIP and Super VIP camping were hosted just on the edge of Infinity Downs, on the Oak Ridge horserace track.
The festivalgoers began to arrive on Wednesday, getting camp set up, meeting up with friends, and getting a view of the new festival grounds that Dave Frey and team had tirelessly worked on for the past year. The grounds were pristine, vendors were feverishly preparing their wares, and food vendors were cooking.
Day One at Lockn’ was a day thousands had been waiting a very long time for – one band in particular, a Rockn’ to Lockn’ winner, Kendall Street Company, from the Charlottesville area. After the opening ceremony with Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey, recognition of the local first responders, and the National Anthem, Kendall Street Company took the stage to kick off the music at Lockn’ Festival.
The vibe was in the air, the crowd was ready and Kendall Street Company was welcomed with massive cheers from the crowd. As a very young band, Kendall Street Company was up for the task as the opener at Lockn’ and brought it. With a very energetic set, they set the tone for the rest of the day.
Kendall Street Company was coming to a close and the famous tabletop spinning stage sprung into action, Lockn’ fans now knew it was about to be on in a big way with the next four hours of music on the Main stage at Infinity Downs, an ‘Umphrey’s Cheese Sandwich.’
The rest of the night Lockn’ Festival brought four one-hour sets at the main stage; Umphrey’s McGee -> String Cheese Incident –> Umphrey’s String Cheese. These sets were on fire. Hard pounding Umphrey’s was quick to up the sound and volume and vibe. Their energy sparked the crowd and the festival was hopping.
Lockn’ is known for its late night sets. The music continued at Infinity Downs Farm into the early A.M. every night. On the first night at Lockn’ ‘17, the late night performance was hosted at the Relix Stage, just a hundred yard walk from the main show field. This night brought the Disco Biscuits – such a perfect transition from the Umphrey’s Cheese Sandwich. The Biscuits brought their A game to Lockn’. The psychedelic lights and music was a fantastic nightcap for the fans.
Day Two opened on the Relix Stage with another Rockn’ to Lockn’ winner, Sun Dried Opossum. SDO is a southern rock/blues-inspired Virginia group that has been together with current line-up since 1997. Hard-driving guitar, strong southern vocals, and bass that digs deep, SDO was extremely excited to be playing at Lockn’ and the fans woke early to see this band.
Relix Stage was the place to be for the first part of Friday at Lockn’, as Marcus King Band was next on the line up for the day. Marcus King Band has been taking the world by storm the past two years. Marcus King is a Warren Haynes-produced act and has the talent to prove their place in this music scene. Coming from Greenville, South Carolina, Marcus King is clearly an up-and-comer in the southern rock/blues music field. Wailing guitars, strong vocals, with an Allman-like sound is truly a crowd pleaser.
Next on Relix Stage was Tauk, and NYC-based funk/jam band. Their energy and improvisation style of music has been quickly recognized all over the country in the past years. This is Tauk’s second visit to Lockn’. This four-man band, all-instrumental blend of funk, hip-hop, progressive rock, and jazz a very big sound that is led by Matt Jalbert’s jazzy rock based guitar.
Day Two was a highlight day for the new Infinity Downs area at Main Stage. The music on Main began with Blackberry Smoke, followed by Jim James and Brandi Carlile. There was a great deal of excitement for these bands and the crowd was shakin’. Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band opened the evening sets at Infinity Downs. This was a much anticipated show by all Lockn’ fans. Lesh, flanked by Grahame Lesh and Midnight North, brought Lockn’ to it’s feet with Terrapin. But the night was not done with Terrapin… more to come later in the night.
An icon of Lockn’ was Gov’t Mule on stage the evening of Day Two. This was going to be a special set for Lockn’ and for Mule, as Ann Wilson of Heart was joining the band. This collaboration was talked about all Muleday among the Lockn’ fans. You could hear it and feel it in the air. The time had come and Mule brought on Wilson and immediately got into a Led Zeppelin set. It bought Lockn’ back to it’s roots, a so many times we have heard the classics played at Lockn’: DEAD, Zeppelin, Cocker, Creedence, Floyd…
Terrapin wasn’t done, though… Next Bob Weir and Phil Lesh hit the stage for another set with Terrapin Family Band, joined by Nicki Bluhm. The crowd had settled in for yet more amazing Grateful Dead. The magic was sparking on stage with Weir and Lesh. This was so good to see, it was so needed, and this was so wanted by all. The midnight hour had rung and the show was over… but wait… it wasn’t done yet…
At midnight, the last bass drop by Lesh had quieted and the show field began to empty… but no one was leaving, as all headed to the Relix Stage for the high anticipated JRAD – Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. JRAD was ready too, as the familiar sounds of “Shakedown Street” started to fill Infinity Downs Farm again, JRAD-style. Jim James from My Morning Jacket joined JRAD for this late night set, and the fans went nuts. One commented, “I think JRAD with Jim James was the best thing ever, anywhere, ever.” JRAD has become a regular at Lockn’ Festival and they really came prepared this night, so on point. Their funk Dead was energizing the midnight crowd.
Best comment heard about JRAD, “The best played Grateful Dead music being played live today. They are not constrained by the expectations of Dead Heads or the legacy of the way this incredible catalog of songs have been played in the past.”
Saturday was one of the most highly anticipated days at Lockn’, as the day’s line-up was something to be reckoned with. Another Rockn’ to Lockn’ winning band started the day off before noon. Mighty Joshua out of Richmond brought their reggae love to Lockn’, starting the day with some jah love.
Relix Stage also hosted Los Colognes, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on Saturday. The crowd was very engaged with every band throughout the early part of Saturday. We all knew what was in store for us this day.
The day is never too early or too late for Keller Williams. Williams brought an energy and smile to his performance that is not to be missed. Williams is the quintessential example of a one-man band. He brought it all to the stage and left nothing out. He was happy, he was smiling, and the vibe extends.
The evening had just begun – it was time for Greensky Bluegrass. This was the first Lockn’ appearance for this band. Being a nationally touring act, it was exciting to see them come to Lockn’ and change things up bit from the typical jam band performances seen at many festivals. This is the greatest part of Lockn’, the variety of music and style in the performances. Greensky certainly were able to show Lockn’ who they were and why they were there, this was on many top five lists of fans for the weekend.
John Butler Trio kept the vibe going and raised the bar on Saturday – “Wow that was just flat out off the hook,” “John Butler Trio just straight brought it,” and “JBT is ALWAYS awesome.” There is not much more that can be said about this performance by JBT.
Another thought was, “Fogerty is following JBT… What do we have in store?” What was in store from John Fogerty was loud, very high energy, classics, perfectly done, Creedence, excellence, longevity, and just a great performance. Fogerty raised the bar even higher than it had been before and made it a family affair when his son joined him on stage. The entire festival was singing, grooving, and dancing.
Widespread Panic took the stage and turned it up a bit further. WSP is a mainstay for Lockn’ fans, and it was clear that Lockn’ is a mainstay for Widespread. Since the band has stopped their grueling week-after-week touring schedule, it felt as though they have become a bit more refined and purposeful in their performances. Indeed, it was as if they wanted to move the crowd slowly though the night, leading up to the ultimate crescendo. The vibe kept rising and rising and rising. Every head in the sea of people was bouncing, everyone was dancing, everyone was on. The classic lights of WSP cannot go unmentioned – this is always a highlight to stand back and watch. The midnight hour of Day Three was upon us as Widespread closed their set…
Roll to Relix Stage…
A lot more can be said about Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. They are on their game right now, face melting good. The energy they bring, their groove is constant and also unpredictable, and the level of musicianship is unmatched. Another zenith the festival was Bob Weir arriving at the Relix Stage to play with JRAD. It was certainly a highlight for all that were at this late night show. It was more than could be expected, “The fit was so good, it was a natural.” Weir and JRAD bid us farewell for the day with an encore of “One More Saturday Night”.
Sunday is Church Day at Lockn’, as it was time for Grateful Gospel with Keller Williams, John Kadlecik, and Williams’ backing vocal choir. This is another Lockn’ standard and one event that is rarely missed. This is a seriously serious and fun event. Williams pulling out the word of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia performed in style black gospel music; it refreshed our souls.
Following Williams’ Grateful Gospel was another Rockn’ to Lockn’ winner, Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos. They are a Norfolk-based quartet that is described as a hard rockin’ swampy blues band with a lot of diversity and soul. They brought a soulful sound that told real stories with slide guitar, harmonica, bass, and sax to the mix
The remainder of the day at the Relix Stage brought us more funk, rock, blues and brass from Eric Krasno Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and rounding it out with some more psychedelic, roots-rock sounds from Moonalice with the ever so great Jorma Kaukonen.
Sunday Main Sage gave Lockn’ fans a deep variety of country, southern blues rock, folk rock, and classic Dead via Phil.moe (Phil Lesh + moe.). The afternoon began with an exciting up-tempo set from The Record Company. This as their first appearance at Lockn’, performing their energetic rock sounds and the soulful heartfelt quick classic like Rita Mae Young. They set the vibe for the afternoon in the main field.
Another first timer at Lockn’ was JJ Grey & Mofro. The crowd quickly engaged with Grey’s style and charm. All dressed in suits, Grey and band brought their style of southern soul. Grey sat with the slide guitar and belted out the vocals he is well known and broke out his fun classic “Ho Cakes”. Many were not familiar with JJ Grey prior to Lockn’, but clearly will not forget him, it made many of fans top five lists this weekend.
The Revivalists bounced onto the stage, ready to bring the house down. The energy they brought to the stage was limitless. Frontman David Shaw is a fast-moving, fast-singing ball of sound for this roots-rock New Orleans band. Lockn’ fans ate this set up, and once again the tone was being set for the day and what was to come.
moe. was scheduled to play Lockn’ this year for the first time, but due to unforeseen circumstances the quintet was not able to appear as a whole. However, this was not something that would stop a band that historically has shared the stage with acts as the Blues Traveler, Allman Brothers, The Who, Dave Matthews Band, Gov’t Mule, Robert Plant, and now Phil Lesh… making it Phil.moe. This was a performance that was looked forward to by many, interested to see what would be played out, what moe. would be played, and how it would mesh. Opening with “Box of Rain” with Lesh and progressing through the set with Bob Weir once again making an appearance to close out the set, it was another highlight for Lockn’ Festival.
The closing performance for Lockn’ 2017 was the North Carolina homegrown Avett Brothers. This folk rock band brought a rich sound with solid acoustic electric sound. The Brothers combined bluegrass, country, punk, pop melodies, folk, rock and roll, indie rock, honky-tonk, and ragtime. The performance was quite the experience and one that kept you engaged and wanting for much. It once again brought one of Lockn’s resident greats, Bob Weir. Closing out the set with many great covers like “Mama Tried”, “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, “I Know You Rider”, and a masterful closing encore of “I Shall Be Released”.
Closing remarks by Peter Shapiro thanks the Lockn’ Fans, emphasized what just happened over the past four days; Friendship, Love, Kindness and Caring. Shapiro remarked on the horrific events of Charlottesville, 30 miles up the road two weeks ago and asked all of the Lockn’ family to take this home with us to spread in our communities. #CVILLE
Be Kind! Love one another!
-words & photos: Neil Edward Peek