MONSTER FESTIVALS OF SEPTEMBEREvery summer around the country, dedicated fans of live music journey from coast to coast in search of the next best festival(s) that they just can’t miss. For some this is as easy as gathering with their friends and heading out to enjoy the same time-tested festivals year after year. While others, like myself, wait impatiently for artists to be announced looking for festivals that seem to offer the most out of their lineups. This year while trying to figure out a plan of action, a clear cut winner showed its face rather quickly in the game. Lockn’ Music Festival, a relative newcomer, marking its 2nd year managed to put together a lineup full of my favorite bands leaving little doubt in my mind where I would be spending my first weekend in September.
With the mid-day sun blazing down I arrived in Arrington, Virginia the home of Lockn’ Music Festival. I began winding my way through the festival grounds towards my soon to be home for the next few days; with the start of the festival a mere hour away I wasted little time setting up and began my journey to the main stage area. The walk, at least for myself, was rather short and pleasant offering up a small shake down strip with food and vending available day and night. For those that may not want to walk or prefer a nice bike ride from time to time the festival encourages attendees to bring their own bikes. If bringing your own wasn’t an option there were rentals available throughout the weekend, as well as over 30 miles of trails to explore with varying levels of complexity. Approaching the gates, I was concerned with the potential for long lines as there seemed to be a large group of people with the same destination in mind, but the staff kept everything moving quickly and entering the grounds was a breeze for a festival of this size. Once inside it was clear that the festival went above and beyond catering to its attendees, offering several options of food and drink located on both sides of the grounds. This also included a central vending area located at the rear of the concert grounds that offered everything from poster and concert art from well-known artists such as Nate Duval and John Warner, to clothing vendors such as Grassroots California and several other quality art and clothing vendors. As if all of this wasn’t enough the festival housed a local tent featuring some of the area’s top food and drink options allowing all in attendance the chance to soak in just a little more of the local flavor. For those of us that like to enjoy a cold beer there were several top local and regional breweries such as Strangeways Brewing and Sweetwater Brewing Company offering up some of their top options.
The main concert area was home to 2 massive main stages, side by side and connected by a load-in area allowing the music to transition seamlessly from band to band, which it did for most of the weekend. This area was the heart & soul of the weekend, offering fans the chance to see some of today’s brightest young stars such as: New York based Funk powerhouse Lettuce, Pennsylvanian Blue Grass masters, Cabinet as well as bands such as Tauk and The Revivalists all deliver top notch performances. The best part, this was only the beginning of what this festivals’ musicians had in store for its fans. As day turned to night, acts like Umphrey’s McGee, String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic delivered unforgettable sets that will be remembered as some of my top musical moments of the past year. From Umphrey’s 2nd set that likely would have blown the roof off an indoor venue, to String Cheese and Widespread each teaming up with musical legends to create one-of-a-kind sets that will likely never happen again. Both of these bands have been headlining festivals and selling out shows across the country for years which was clearly evident with their final performances of the festival, each highlighting their respective talents leaving nothing behind but a field full of happy campers.
A festival that can offer all of this talent and still have more to give is hard to find, but this is one of the many areas where Lockn’ truly shined, offering fans the chance to see 3 separate all-star jams lead by Bill Kruetzmann and Phil Lesh respectively. These were both enjoyable with my personal highlights for Billy’s set being a killer “Stagger Lee” that saw the legendary Taj Mahal take center stage and a wicked drum solo that spread out over two stages with three drummers as the boys from String Cheese joined in making this one of the most unique and enjoyable drum solos I have personally witnessed. Phil and Friends were solid as always delivering classics such as the beautifully crafted “Unbroken Chain” during their first of two performances. This was a personal highlight that will remain a go-to version for some time, as well as many other well played Grateful Dead classics.
Keeping in the theme of legendary performers Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers delivered a greatest hits performance that was simply awesome. The band took fans on a journey through time as they tore through some of their most legendary tunes pairing them with a healthy dose of his newest material. This was a great experience with each hit taking me back to a different memory and place in time.
Following an act such as this, even a day removed, is no easy task yet the festival closing Allman Brothers Band seemed more then up for the challenge as they took the stage for what would likely be there final festival performance together. The band broke out a slew of classic tunes as well as delivering a full performance of their “Live at the Fillmore East” album. This was unbelievable in person as the band seemed to be playing in top form closing out the festival with a killer “Mountain Jam”> “Blue Sky” > “Little Martha” > “Mountain Jam” segment that left the festival full of fans glowing in the wake of this legendary performance.
The highlights didn’t stop there and with two other stages offering early morning and late night music there was truly something for everyone at Lockn’ Music Festival. These stages were each unique in their own way offering fans a different perspective from which to enjoy the music. The Triangle stage gave fans a secluded little getaway surrounded by trees keeping everyone cool as they got down to the music. While the Relix stage seemed to act as a natural amphitheater offering fans a choice to either rage up front or sit on the surrounding hills delivering up great sound with a killer view.
Each day began perfectly over on the Triangle stage with Keller Williams taking control, offering up 2 days of Grateful Grass alongside the likes of Jeff Austin and Keith Moseley. This was followed by a tremendous set of Grateful Gospel where he was joined by the members of More Than a Little who he recently released his latest album with. Each of these sets were as good as the next traveling through the never ending catalog of Grateful Dead classics, but if I had to choose I’d highly recommend Sunday’s Grateful Gospel as one of the first sets you seek out from this festival.
The energy and pure heart & soul that poured out from the stage over the crowd was uplifting and set the tone perfectly for the rest of the day. The stage also played home to some magical late night performances such as Acoustic shows by both Hot Tuna as well as Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi that were as good as they get, each filling for their respective sets. For those fans looking for a little something different there was the Relix Stage located close to the general camping area that was home to 3 killer day ending performances. Starting with Dumpstaphunk taking over where Lettuce left off keeping the funk hitting strong into the early hours of Friday morning.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood took over duties on Friday night delivering a passionate and powerful performance the kept the crowd going strong right up to the final notes. The 3rd and final act to grace this awesome little stage was “Bustle in you Hedgerow” part cover band part super group and all kinds of awesome. These guys are a must see if you haven’t yet checked them out taking classic Zeppelin tunes and making them their own to create a one-of-a-kind experience show after show.
Lockn’ Music Festival was a celebration of music both new and old with everything from Blue Grass to Rock and Roll being played over the course of 4 days. The production and flow of this festival were top notch, keeping the music going from the first note straight through to the ending acts each and every night.
Memories were created both on and off stage throughout the weekend some touching the heart and soul such as Grace Potter’s emotionally charged “I Shall Be Released” which was dedicated to Brian Farmer, or Warren Haynes dedicating the Allman Brother’s set in his honor as the stage lights went blank leaving a single spotlight shinning down on an empty chair with his name written on it. Others were just simply the kind that just make it impossible not to smile like seeing Bill Kreutzmann having so much fun during his set the he literally didn’t want it to end or sharing an amazing String Cheese show up front with a young kid experiencing his first festival and just watching him light up in awe of what was taking place right in front of him. This was an experience I won’t soon forget leaving me waiting like so many others for the first hint of names to be dropped marking what I can only hope will be the 3rd Annual Lockn’ Music Festival.
©Grateful Music LLC