Four — Make That Three — Days of Rockin’ at Lockn’ (FESTIVAL RECAP)

Ah the joy of the festival experience. The wealth of great music. The kinship that comes with being in the midst of your fellow participants. The sunny vibes enjoyed by all. The twirlers. The tie dye. And all that goes with it. The endless traffic. The mud. The crush of humanity.

This year’s Lockn’ festival had it all — plus more jam sessions than Carlos Santana has notes squeezed out in a millisecond. In the end, one comes to realize that for all the hassles and setbacks mentioned above, it’s truly what the essential, archival, elemental rock ‘n’ roll experience is all about. If you were never part of Woodstock Nation, then it’s proof that it’s never too late to attain membership. And that, friends, is a valuable commodity, especially in this cynical, superficial modern era where dreams and idealism are all too frequently trampled under foot and the demands of making a living, being a responsible soul and turning your back on the frivolous ways of a too far distant youth have become society’s weary, wanton priorities.

Still, it was somewhat ironic that it was Mother Nature, an act of God — not man — that nearly shut the festival down before it even started. When, the night before the festivities were due to commence on Thursday, a freak storm blew through the site — the otherwise idyllic Oakridge Farm in Arrington Virginia — it caused havoc, forcing the cancellation of day one of the four day affair. And when things did begin a day late, the line of cars that entered led to three and four hour delays, complete with frustrated drivers, harried staffers and a decided lack of those aforementioned sunny vibes. Fortunately, once inside, campers and day trippers, sixties wannabes and wannabes in their 60s, hippies and stoners, young and old, and eager participants of every shape, size and description put the inconveniences behind them and got into the flow. Which, between the flow of the mud and the flow of the music proved ample indeed.

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Given the fact that Lockn’ caters to the jamband crowd, and displaced deadheads in particular, it’s clearly worth its weight in ganja as far as the music is concerned. There was special significance in terms of timing. The timing of the storm almost wrecked everything, but built into the festivities were events of a timeless nature. Among them, appearances by the four original surviving members of the Grateful Dead — not all on the same stage at the same time — although on Saturday, three of them — Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart and Bob Weir — did manage to perform together in the guise of Billy (Kreutzmann) and the Kids. Of course, it was evident no one wanted to usurp or overshadow the event that drew the faithful to Chicago only weeks before when the entire band bid fond farewell and simultaneously celebrated 50 years of truckin’. Consequently, the only time Phil Lesh was in visible proximity of his colleagues was when the Kids’ set ended on the Oak stage and Lesh and friends ignited their opening salvo moments later on the adjacent Ridge stage.

If it wasn’t quite the occasion for a gathering of the tribes, it made for a pretty good powwow regardless.

It ought to be noted that it’s a unique set-up that Lockn’ can claim — side by side stages that allow one band to play while the crew sets up for the next act next door. Which means there’s not a moment lost in making a musical segue way. It’s like a having a deejay that’s got the music down to a tee, even though in this case, the music’s live and dynamic and inspiring right before your eyes… or almost, depending on your vantage point. It’s hard to get up close, but if you’re able to get there early and lay out your blanket and chairs… or willing to pay to be on a VIP viewing platform, it comes into focus a lot clearer. As clear as the haze from the medicinal herb will allow, that is.

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So too, credit Lockn’ with an amazing line-up that belies the fact that it’s only in their third year of existence. Here again, the tribute to time gone by was especially impressive, thanks to a pair of special celebrations — one, a remarkable salute to 50 years of the Jefferson Airplane anchored by two of its original founding members, Jorma and Jack of Hot Tuna. along with Kreutzmann, GE Smith, Rachel Prince, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Jeff Pehrson, and a special spotlight on the music of the late great Joe Cocker. That came courtesy of several of his original touring mates, including a somewhat stone faced looking Leon Russell, a keyboardist Chris Stainton, singers Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear, with Dave Mason, — whose sole spotlight appearance was, naturally enough, a read of “Feelin’ Alright” — Chris Robinson, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band all in tow. For many, it was the highlight of the entire evening, although personally, I had to wonder – did they pay a big name like Dave Mason to fly in just to sing a single song?

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While most of the other entertainment was aimed towards those who love extended jams and lots and lots of noodling — there were enough featured headliners to appeal to a wide array of festival faithful. Robert Plant’s two sets with his current combo, the Sensational Space Shifters, were especially memorable of course, not only due to his ample inclusion of old Zep favorites (“Here’s an old English folk song,” he said by way of introducing “Rock and Roll”) but also some superb selections from his latest offering lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, an album he described as one “your parents are probably sitting on their coaches and enjoying.” The Jayhawks were outstanding as well, and while they recapped many of their most memorable songs, they seemed somewhat out of place amongst the tie dye legions, a fact that seemed sadly obvious given a sense of disinterest from the milling crowd.

Naturally enough, Widespread Panic, Umphreys McGee, Slightly Stoopid, Gov’t Mule, Tedeschi Trucks and Fishbone were the real crowd pleasers, aside from the aforementioned Dead alumni of course. Carlos Santana’s appearance during the second of the two Phil Lesh and Friends appearances also sparked interest, although those expecting a recap of Santana’s greatest hits must have left disappointed. Happily, campers and late night attendees always had the option of feasting on more jams at the Woods stage after the main stage festivities ended.

Still, the artist that really stole the show — or in this case, the entire festival, was, in this reporter’s humble opinion, Jimmy Cliff who recapped the bulk of the greatest soundtrack album of all time, The Harder They Come. Resplendent in a red jacket and white cap, with arms stretched to his side and sometimes running in place, Cliff sounded absolutely remarkable while soaking up the good vibes emanating fast and furious from the crowd. While Widespread Panic’s own performance soared despite their somewhat stodgy stage presence, they provided evenbetter accompaniment for Cliff, whose final number — a cover of “Guns of Brixton” — proved both timeless and tenacious.

Time, then, worked in a variety of ways at Lockin’. Always the great leveller, the festival paid tribute to lengthy legacies and youthful exuberance all at the same time. Who could tell — much less, even care — that many of the headliners were old enough to be many of the revellers’ grandparents. What did it matter that Phil Lesh, who scarcely looks any older than he did half a century ago, is marking 75 years on the planet or that a good percentage of the other artists were in their late sixties and veterans of the late sixties as well? That’s the beauty of Lockn’ — it found everyone locked together in a groove and in a place where the respect for time and age rules, and yet ultimately stands still.

 

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One Response

  1. The 3 or 4 hour wait was actually 6 to 8 for those of us who actually sat in line. It’s a testament to the fans’ patience and devotion that any person in his right mind would go twice to Lockn’. Hundreds of festivals in the U.S. every year and this is the only one I know of that makes you lose most of the first day and all of your temper by pretending to search every car. Two lanes funneling in 20,000 people and “searching” each one is nothing less than insane. Call me insane if I every go back.

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