Sometimes you are part of something that cracks you wide open. This is what the third year of Lockn’ 2015 was for me… and perhaps for 30,000 of my new friends as well.
The scheduled gate opening on the 10th was pushed to the 11th after a micro-burst tore through the main stage area and campground, with winds clocked over 65 mph. Mercifully, Lockn’ kept its incoming guests updated on social media and large parking lots in surrounding towns were made available. The musicians that had been slated to play on Thursday night set up gigs elsewhere: Strangefolk offered a free show at the Whiskey Jar in Charlottesville, while Bill Kreutzmann’s band, Billy & The Kids, sold out a $30 ticketed show in one hour at another venue in the same town. Bands like Galactic and Little Feat had to move on to booked engagements, but others worked with festival promoters Peter Shapiro and David Frey to massage the schedule and get performances in. And when the festival finally began, in remembrance on this meaningful date of 9/11, two dozen first responders were welcomed to the stage beneath a giant flag.
The Doobie Incident, a combination of the Doobie Brothers and the String Cheese Incident, salvaged what many feared was a lost opportunity. “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Takin’ It to the Street,” “Jesus is Just Alright” and “China Grove” were among the well-known songs that came from one of the side-by-side main stages. Directly across the field, a large group of tents offered an array of locally-grown and humanely-sourced fresh food choices. With the exception Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Lockn’ provided the best food options I’ve ever seen at a festival.
Two of the most touted sets took place on Friday the 11th. Shortly after Phil Lesh & Friends (Chris Robinson, Neal Casal, Adam Macdougall, Eric Kransno and Tony Leone) performed “Shake Down Street,” “Bertha,” “Playing in the Band” and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to a growing crowd, “Jorma and Jack Celebrate 50 Years of The Jefferson Airplane,” with a large cast of musicians, hit the stage. The Jorma Kaukonen/Jack Casady set prompted questions about lead singer Rachel Price (Lake Street Dive), who was channeling her best ’60s chick, and doing a fine job of it. Also featured in this monumental set were Teresa Williams, Larry Campbell, GE Smith, Jeffer Pehrson and Justin Guip. Bill Kreutzmann became a special guest when he sat in for “Come Back Baby,” and we all got into the act as “White Rabbit” became a singalong thousands strong. Jack and Jorma were a huge presence, and gave life to this stellar happening.
Lockn’ promises interlocking music sets, which means seamless transitions from one mind-blowing performance to the next on enormous side-by-side stages. With barely time to catch a deep breath, the performance that drew so many to this Virginia farm began with the lovely Susan Tedeschi coming out in a long flowing, black, halter neck gown to take the stage. Tedeschi belted out “The Letter,” inducing goosebumps that persisted well after the last note was sung.
“Magical” is a huge understatement. The Mad Dogs & Englishmen, A Tribute to Joe Cocker, may be the finest performance I have ever witnessed. Jaded photogs in the pit were either giddy as school girls or crying. Tedeschi Trucks had gotten this ball rolling prior to Joe Cocker’s passing in 2014, and this labor of love included those that were there for the legendary 1970 tour. Claudia Lennear took the mic for lead vocals on “Cry me a River” while the usually stoic Derek Trucks smiled from ear to ear. Rita Coolidge, looking 20 years younger than her age, sang “Superstar” right before one of Joe’s T-shirts was brought out and draped on the center microphone. Others contributing to the once-in-a-lifetime performance included Chris Robinson, Anders Osborne, Doyle Bramhall II, Alecia Chakour singing lead on “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” and a special appearance by Warren Haynes singing “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” The crowd agreed with the sentiment sung by Dave Mason’s take on “Feeling Alright,” singing along and going wild with applause. Linda Wolf, the photographer who documented the original tour, sang backup. John Bell sang lead on “Delta Lady,” and the set wrapped with “The Ballad of Mad Dogs & Englishmen” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” If ever there was an argument to be made for going to see live music, this was it.
At the smaller stages, we caught Umphrey’s McGee and Mickey Hart’s Deep Rhythm Experience, with Steve Kimock and EOTO. A set of wheels can be a real plus with so much ground to cover. If you didn’t have your own bike, alternatives like the golf cart “Taxi Service,” pedi-cabs and for the Super VIPs or personal carts complete with Sherpa’s to carry your things! You don’t have to have sold a single album to feel like a rock star at Lockn’.
Saturday, the re-tooling of the lineup meant most sets were condensed to 60 or 90 minutes to allow the musicians who could reschedule to take part. Melvin Seals, John Kadlecik and the Jerry Garcia Band gave a spirited performance on the Blue Ridge Stage. They closed up with a song that was played many times by several groups over the course of the weekend, “Sisters & Brothers.”
Saturday continued to best itself with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Chuck Leavell followed in quick succession by Hot Tuna—more Jack and Jorma delighting the crowd with a wonderful version of “I Know You Rider.” Tedeschi Trucks and were joined by Bob Weir. Rock God Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters did a one hour set that kicked off with “Trampled Under Foot.” Seems Mr. Plant likes it loud as he kept calling to turn it UP! Other Zeppelin classics included “Black Dog,” “Dazed and Confused” and a very sexy “Whole Lotta Love,” and one lovely new song from his latest album, “Rainbow,” performed as the setting sun broke through the clouds.
Widespread Panic was billed with special guest Jimmy Cliff for a two-hour set. Widespread played to their fans for most of that time, including a cover of Van Morrison’s “And it Stoned Me.” The wait for Jimmy Cliff was worth it, he gave us his hits, “The Harder They Come,” “Sitting In Limbo” and “I Can See Clearly Now.”
I heard buzz around the grounds about how much everyone was digging Bill Kreutzmann’s project, Billy and the Kids. Saturday night’s set included Bob Weir, continuing to fuel high hopes for all four of the Dead’s core to appear together. This did not happen but a fan can hope, right? The last act to take the one of the main stages that evening was Phil Lesh and friends, with Carlos Santana, Warren Haynes and others. As they were performing “Scarlett Begonias” I was transported back to a time before mortgages and kids, once again a young girl at a Dead show. Carlos Santana, however, was channeling Jimi Hendrix with a blistering rendition of “All Along the Watch Tower” The music that night continued on the smaller stages, where Mickey Hart put out a bass-infused sound with vibrations that literally shook me to my core about a football field away. Where they left off, Gov’t Mule took over until close to 4 AM Sunday.
Sunday morning brought Grateful Gospel with Keller Williams on the Blue Ridge Stage for an unconventional service which began with the good Reverend Williams asking for forgiveness for the songs he would be repeating from other sets. He launched into a feel-good set loaded with sweetness and plenty of sass to an enormous crowd that stretched out as far as I could see. Keller thanked co-founder Peter Shapiro, who was taking this all in just a few feet away from stage.
The music Sunday continued with sets running up to Robert Plant’s second appearance at 10 PM, and more Widespread and Slightly Stoopid. One of the biggest crowds was for New Orleans native Trombone Shorty, who left jaws agape with his brass talent and showmanship.
In addition to the music, on Participation Row, 22 tents offered information and chances to get involved in a greater good. I did the mouth swab and registered as a Bone Marrow Donor, learned about causes and met passionate people who want to be part of a solution. A charitable donation provided festivalgoers a chance to splash around in the nearby river.
During the Southern Belles set, I caught a line that spoke volumes: “In all of the days that we live from today forward, we will never forget this one.” What more can one hope for than unforgettable experiences that take our breath away and connect us to our fellow human beings?
– Ali Kaufman
All Photos By Ali Kaufman