Written by Andrew Howie
LOCKN’ finally happened, and truth be told, I’m having a hard time even knowing where to start as I write this review. I had heard so many good things going in that my expectations were sky high, and I have to say I was not disappointed. It was an insane weekend from the minute I left my doorstep to the minute I returned home, sweaty and in desperate need of air conditioning.
By now, anyone who has read about LOCKN’ has heard about the brutal, oppressive heat. I didn’t want to use those two words, since that’s what everyone has been saying, but they really get the point across better than any other adjective. Hellish might do it, I suppose, but that implies negativity, and there was nothing but positivity nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Once you got used to the way everything was just sweaty all the time, you noticed all the smiles and began to feel the buzz in your ears, the excitement for the music to start. Once I met with my friends we set out exploring the sprawling Oak Ridge Estates, making our way past food, clothing, and art vendors, sampling the local craft beer and ciders, and marveling at the landscape on which LOCKN’ takes place. From there it was time to get to the stage.
I mentioned in my last preview about the fest that LOCKN’ switched from two main stages to a single turntable stage, meaning the crowd wouldn’t have to relocate from show to show. It was kind of bizarre at first to see everyone in the same place for multiple bands, but it got to be really pleasant as Vulfpeck and Umphrey’s McGee tore up the stage on Thursday night as a killer opening one-two punch of funky, jazzy, metaly jam goodness. The real treat, however, came just after nightfall….
As the stage swiveled away and Umphrey’s McGee faded into darkness, my personal favorite band, the almighty Ween, took their place as the show closer of Thursday and unleashed a ferocious torrent of their deep cuts, causing many a hardcore Ween fan to drop jaw and bask in their glory. Featuring songs from their early days such as “Up On th’ Hill,” “Push th’ Little Daisies,” “I’m in the Mood to Move,” a supremely dark, stretched-out “I Play It Off Legit,” the country-rock masterpiece “Fluffy,” the raucous “Fat Lenny,” a menacing “How High Can You Fly?” and a 12-minute jam on the infamous “Poopship Destroyer”, Ween proved to be everything I had ever hoped they would be. Intense yet silly, psychedelic yet grungy, melodic yet uncomplicated. Ween can do it all, and I could not have been happier with my first Ween show. Afterwards, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead lit up the Blue Ridge Bowl late stage with killer versions of Grateful Dead classics including a stellar “St. Stephen>The Eleven” and “Brown-eyed Women.”
Friday rolled around with a whole new slew of excellent tunes, including blistering sets from Vulfpeck, White Denim, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and the much-discussed live debut of Neal Casal’s Circles Around the Sun project, which provided the interlude music for the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows last summer. It was heavenly. I brought my blanket to the late night Woods stage (which may have been my favorite part of the entire venue), and lied down under the trees. The mellow lights were the perfect visual accompaniment to Circles Around the Sun (they sound like if Pink Floyd was the Grateful Dead), and before long I found myself wishing it would never end. This would come to be a common theme for the weekend.
Friday night’s main event, however, was Ween playing before Phish. Ween played a much more hit-packed set, which was just as spot-on and enjoyable as their first night, and included well-known tunes like “Bananas and Blow,” “Buckingham Green,” “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese,” “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down),” “Ice Castles,” “Mutilated Lips,” and a careeningly psychedelic take on “The Golden Eel.” Following a short break, Phish stormed the scene and opened up their splashy, groovy, jazz-inflected superjam funk all over the place, and brought the energy to a mountainous peak. Smiles galore filled the concert field as Trey, Mike, Fish, and Page took us on the best of trips, finishing out their set with a burly “You Enjoy Myself.”
Saturday brought the most intense heat of the weekend, and in terms of the music was almost an entirely different festival; Moon Taxi, Twiddle, Galactic, Hard Working Americans, and Phil Lesh and Friends (featuring Page McConnell and Jon Fishman of Phish, Anders Osborne, Joe Russo, and the Infamous Stringdusters). Phil and Friends was a super peaceful set of Dead tunes; the Infamous Stringdusters were a perfect accompaniment to the Jerry songs they played, and Page McConnell fit right in on keys. The next two shows on Saturday night, however, were easily the most intense of the entire weekend.
Starting things off, we have the Tedeschi Trucks Band. As a 12-piece, genre-defying unit led by bombastic frontwoman/guitarist Susan Tedeschi (who may or may not be a vessel for Janis Joplin), and Derek Trucks on lead guitar, they delivered one of the most mind-blowing and face-melting sets of the entire weekend. It seemed as though Derek was going to rip his guitar into pieces the way he was shredding (I think he actually did break a string at one point), and Susan’s howl combined with her Chicago-esque blues leads on top of the horn section and keyboards…there’s no describing it. They moved effortlessly from soul to avant-jazz to classic rock, Chicago blues, country, and ‘60s psychedelia, never once missing a beat, and keeping up the energy to the point where I was exhausted by the end. Definitely check their set out on YouTube when you get a chance.
And now, we come to My Morning Jacket. I have to admit, I was unprepared. I didn’t know it would be like that….I simply underestimated the fury that Jim James and company would bring to the stage. Easily the most rock star figure of the weekend, James commanded the entire crowd from the moment he stepped on stage. His trademark howl echoed over a thunderous background of roiling drums, screeching guitar, driving bass and ethereal keys. They played favorites such as “Steam Engine” (a 16-minute version no less), “Compound Fracture,” “Wordless Chorus,” “I’m Amazed,” “Off the Record,” and “Spring (Among the Living), and I thought we were going to blast off into space. Their light show was mesmerizing, and their cover selection was the icing on the cake: “Could You Be Loved,” “Purple Rain,” “Rebel Rebel,” and for the first time, “What the World Needs Now.” If you’ve read anything about LOCKN’ already, you heard about those, but if not, I urge you to watch those videos. It was my first time seeing MMJ, and I was just floored. Not for the faint of heart.
I recovered from MMJ in the woods with Khruangbin, almost drifting to sleep to their tropical, late ‘60s Tarantino vibe. My heart was still racing, and they were the perfect band to be around after such an aggressive showing. After they sadly left the stage (they played an extra 15 minutes and the crowd still couldn’t get enough, nor the band), I wandered back to my campsite, listening to Lettuce’ surprisingly jammy set from across the grounds. I briefly contemplated making it over, but realizing I could hear it from camp put the kibosh on that pretty quick. I drifted to sleep to the dulcet horns and thudding bass of Lettuce.
Sunday morning brought with it the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Gary Clark Jr., and Phil and Friends featuring the aforementioned two artists. Phish also returned to close out the weekend, getting everyone out of their seat one last time with a fiery “Axilla”, a sweet rarity in “F*ck Your Face,” and excellent versions of “Possum,” “First Tube,” “Chalk Dust Torture,” and “Light.” Phish was fitting to end the fest, and they blew the lid off the place and left everyone grinning from ear to ear.
After the last notes of the Rollin Stones’ “Loving Cup” (Phish’s encore), my friend and I hurried back to camp, hopped in the car, drove five hours into West Virginia. From there, we slept in a Cracker Barrel parking lot until they opened, got some breakfast and coffee, refueled, and trucked it on back to Illinois. It was a pretty banana-sandwich kind of weekend, and I will definitely be returning to LOCKN’ in the future. I wish I could go back. Guess I’ll just to watch these Ween shows some more…
Check out photos from the weekend here.