For the third September in a row, the colorful masses will head to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, seeking the magic that can only be found at Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Virginia. Lockn’s jam-centric lineup is loaded with world class artists from multiple generations of rock and roll, funk and folk music, with plenty of local variety thrown in for every fan that loves surprises. This year’s edition features the “Core Four” members of the Grateful Dead playing in several different capacities, in addition to legends such as Carlos Santana, Robert Plant and Jefferson Airplane. From the new school of jam bands you will find the current heralds of the scene, with multiple sets from Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, and Umphrey’s Mcgee. There is so much more exceptional music this year that it may seem overwhelming, but The Poke Around has your back with this extensive review of every band that is going to make for one incredible weekend.
Lockn’ employs a unique set up of two adjacent stages with no overlapping sets, creating a seamless musical journey that cultivates exciting transitions between bands. At certain points you can even expect a band that is wrapping up on the “Oak Stage” to be joined by the band waiting to play on the “Ridge Stage,” morphing the energy between sets into one perpetual jam. This “interlocking” phenomenon is the founding concept of the festival, setting it apart from all others in the realm of spontaneous improvisation. In addition to organic moments like these, Lockn’ is sure to be stocked full of planned collaborations and surprise sit-ins throughout the weekend. There is also the Blue Ridge Bowl, a smaller stage hosting shows before and after the main events, and The Woods, a stage dedicated to musical exploration into the wee hours of the night. As with years past, there has been a lot of thought put into the well-rounded festival experience. Whether you are into disc golf, biking, yoga, or swimming, there is sure to be something for anyone in need of a fun way to break the routine. This year will also feature over one hundred different vendors, including breweries, food-trucks, craft and merchandise, and non profit organizations. Be sure to check out The Poke Around’s comprehensive guide on food and beverage choices offered at this year’s Lockn’ Festival.
In accordance with the previous two years, Thursday is shaping up to be a dance party of epic proportions. The day warms up with the funky, progressive rock of Moogatu, going into the fabled Strangefolk, who have been in the highest demand during their current reunion tour. The afternoon continues with Soulive, the jazz trio headlined by Lockn’ veteran Eric Krasno. Deertick then brings their wacky, alternative rock to set the stage for for a very special performance by none other than Little Feat. The one-of-a-kind band has been at it since 1969, fusing together west coast rock with a southern boogie twist to create a sound that has been iconicized with memorable songs written across 16 studio albums. Next up, we have our first set from the String Cheese Incident, an eclectic jam band from Colorado whose roots lie in bluegrass, but have gained international fame for their ability to incorporate elements of rock, calypso, funk, electronica, country, and much more into an improvisational show that knows no boundaries, making them a perfect fit for Lockn’ Festival each and every year. Bill Kreutzmann then brings together our first Grateful Dead supergroup, inviting his stellar band of young musicians to put an exciting spin on the Dead’s music. Known as Billy & The Kids, they have been lighting up every stage they’ve touched since being born from the core of last year’s Lockn’step All-Stars, an act created in true Lockn’ spirit out of a last minute cancellation.
The first big collaboration of the weekend comes in the form of The Doobie Incident, a melding of the String Cheese Incident and The Doobie Brothers to celebrate the latter’s classic catalogue of southern rock music. As with SCI’s previous pairings at Lockn’, this is sure to be a well thought out show that will amaze all in attendance. Eoto, the percussion driven, electronic based side project of SCI’s Jason Hann and Michael Travis brings us into the late night with special guest Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Based on Hart’s other-worldly “drums” breaks during Dead shows, this will be a highly explorative set showcasing three percussive geniuses working towards a sound unlike anything ever heard at Lockn’ before. The party wraps up at the Blue Ridge Bowl with Galactic, a multi-dimensional funk powerhouse that will have everyone grooving in their tents in anticipation for the adventure to come.
The Lockn’ family will wake up Friday morning to the expressive sounds of Melvin Seals & Jerry Garcia Band, featuring special guest John Kadlecik, of Dark Star Orchestra and Furthur. Rockn’ to Lockn’ is a unique contest held for up and coming area bands to compete for four slots on the main stage. The first of these bands is Seth Stainback and Roosterfoot, an unconventional country blues group that has gained high critical acclaim in recent years. The fan-favorite Moonalice takes the stage next, formed in 2007 out of many familiar faces to the post-Garcia Grateful Dead scene. We then take a trip to the deep south, with the North Mississippi Allstars followed up by Anders Osborne, bringing his revolutionary blues guitar licks that have earned him heroic status in the New Orleans music scene. Steve Earle and the Dukes continue the trend of the day with their outlaw take on country blues. Next up we will see the String Cheese Incident set in for yet another high energy show that definitely has the potential for cameo appearances. In the previous two years, Keller Williams and Sam Bush have respectively joined SCI unannounced for some wild jams that really got the crowd moving. After that we have Phil Lesh bringing out the first of his two Phil and Friends lineups for the weekend. This edition consists of Chris Robinson, Neal Casal, Adam Macdougall, Tony Leone and Eric Krasno. Expect some of your favorite whiskey-soaked Dead tunes, as previous shows with this line up have brought out many classic blues numbers out of the band’s immense catalogue.
The night then takes a historical turn with two headlining acts straight out of the golden age. Lockn’ offers an exclusive celebration of 50 years of Jefferson Airplane, a giant in rock history that has played legendary festivals such as Woodstock and Monterey Pop. Founding members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady will be joined by an all star cast including Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Finally we get to the highlight of the night–and possibly the weekend–with Mad Dogs and Englishmen, celebrating Joe Cocker and his storied tour and album of the same name. This once-in-a-lifetime event will be hosted by Lockn’ veterans Tedeschi Trucks Band, and joined by original members of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, including Leon Russel and Rita Coolidge, as well as special guests Dave Mason, Chris Robinson, Anders Osborne, and many more. This is shaping up to be the biggest scale performance in the history of Lockn’ Festival, and one that is sure to be nothing less than unforgettable. With such a great main stage selection on Friday, make sure to save plenty of energy for none other than Umphrey’s Mcgee at the Blue Ridge Bowl. Umphrey’s have taken the jam band scene by storm over their 16-year career, flawlessly delivering a thunderous blend of many different musical influences that creates a truly unique experience for all kinds of fans. Mickey Hart and Steve Kimock will then be catering to the late night warriors among us, bringing the woods to life with a “deep rhythm experiment,” that will surpass the realm of audible sound and unlock a multi-sensory trip of cosmic magnitude.
Before going any further, there is a recent development that needs to be addressed: Introducing Bob Weir, ladies and gentleman. Get ready to see Ace all over the place on Saturday as he is the featured “artist at large,” meaning he has the potential to pop up at any set he wants throughout the day. This exciting late announcement completes the attendance of all four living members of The Grateful Dead, bringing this Dead-centric festival full circle in its third installment. After a last minute cancellation last year due to personal reasons, the Lockn’ family is certainly hungry for Bobby’s iconic presence to grace Oak Ridge once again. Saturday will start off yet again on the sweet melodic keys of Melvin Seals and JGB, with Kadlecik’s familiar tone getting even the sleepiest of campers up out of their tents and ready for the main event. Our next contest winner, Lord Nelson, begins the main stage shows with upbeat southern rock before we transition over to The Jayhawks, a favorite from the alternative country rock scene of the 80’s. We get another taste of Kaukonen and Casady with their long running side project Hot Tuna, warming up the crowd for the energized grooves of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe featuring Chuck Leavell. Both Denson and Leavell have shared the stage with the Rolling Stones in recent years, and have developed a chemistry that is just waiting to be unleashed on this funk-loving crowd. Tedeschi Trucks Band will be ready to make a triumphant return to the stage after the previous night’s headlining tribute. This should be a victory lap of sorts, with a set showcasing their ever-growing catalogue, many songs which have quickly become classics in the minds of many. From across the pond, and a few decades, we have the treat of hearing Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin with his new band The Sensational Space Shifters. While you can expect a few Zeppelin classics, this is much more than just a tribute act. Consisting of worldly musicians from across many different genre’s, the crowd is bound to fall in love with their exotic flavor of rock and roll. This will bring us into the ultimate road warriors, Widespread Panic. They have made a habit out of playing the final two days of Lockn’, and have been more than worth the wait every year. This special set features the return of Jimmy Cliff to Oak Ridge, a prospect that has to have everyone smiling wide. Both acts have really gone above and beyond in past performances here, making it perfect that they share a stage in year three. This should be one show that embodies the Lockn’ spirit to the fullest extent.
The headliner for Saturday night is set to be downright earth-shattering. Phil and Friends have had some crazy lineups over the years, but this time it gets real, with the master himself, Carlos Santana. A titan in rock scene for nearly half a century, Santana is widely considered to be one of the most extraordinary guitar players of all-time, and has always been a close friend of the Grateful Dead. We also have the incredible Warren Haynes, with Phil and Friends veterans Barry Sless, John Molo, and Rob Barraco rounding out the bill. Once you throw in the strong possibility of Bob Weir joining his longtime friends, prepare to see history unfold in front of your very eyes. The Blue Ridge Bowl will host Gov’t Mule directly after the main event, with Mickey Hart laying down the vibrations at The Woods stage for another Deep Rhythm Experience.
“It’s close. But yet so far away. It is a grassy walk. It has wisdom and wrinkles of years of experience yet thriving with the energy of a child.”
– Keller Williams on Lockn’ Festival 2015, via The Poke Around.
Sunday at Oak Ridge is a delightful experience, consisting of celebration, nostalgia, and bittersweet closure. What better person to kick it off than Keller Williams, the man that has been in a Lockn’ mindset his entire life. Keller brings his unmatched creativity to a project that has changed the way people hear the songs of the Grateful Dead. Grateful Gospel, this time featuring John Kadlecik, is an angelic interpretation of the music that carries a special type of magic that you will not find anywhere else. Bob Weir recently joined in at Peach Festival, so look for a few special guests during this spiritual set that everyone wants to a part of. If you live in the Richmond area, you’ve definitely heard of The Southern Belles; If you live elsewhere, you will, sooner rather than later. In just four years together, the Belles have come out of nowhere to dominate every stage they play with their groovy southern take on psychedelic rock and roll. We hope no one is looking for a lazy Sunday afternoon, because American Ska pioneers Fishbone bring the highest energy set of the weekend. Their berserk blend of Ska, punk rock, and soul has evolved over the last 25 years to make them one of the most sought after live acts around. The Oh Hellos are up next with folk rock that is literally bursting at the seams, sometimes bringing up to 13 musicians on stage. St. Paul and The Broken Bones are ready to bring their deep Alabama soul to Lockn’ for the first time ever. California reggae rock powerhouse Slightly Stoopid will gather the masses for some favorite anthems underneath the late afternoon sun. We then go back to the funky south with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. This is another set to look for some cameo appearances from the many other jazz legends in attendance. Warren Haynes returns again to the main stage with Gov’t Mule, in their 20th year of nonstop rock and roll. After The Mule, we have Widespread Panic coming back for one more raging set of their fire-breathing southern rock. This marvelous weekend finally comes to a close with Robert Plant and The Sensational Spaceshifters, this is one that will send everyone on their way with enough smiles, tears, and magical memories to last a lifetime.
Whatever expectations you may have for Lockn’ Festival this year, make sure to leave room for the mind-blowing surprises that are in store for us all. This is a place with a special feel to it, an unsurpassed family vibe that cultivates the most enchanted, spell-binding weekend of music imaginable. Remember to be safe and respectful while keeping an open heart to miraculous happenings at every turn. In less than a week we all have the privilege to be a part of history, so boogie down, keep it weird, and most of all, in the words of Mickey Hart–
Written by Richard Oakley