Written by Andrew Howie
Lockn’ is poised to be the festival of the summer this year, with an incredibly stacked lineup and some surprises still left in the bag that are sure to delight fans everywhere. I’m making the trip out to Oak Ridge Farm for my first time this year (after kicking myself repeatedly the past three years for missing it), and I thought I would share some of the things I’m most excited about. If you’re considering trekking to Lockn’ yourself and are still on the fence, maybe some of these will convince you!
1. Phil Lesh: The Grateful Dead bassist is getting up there in years (I believe he’s 76 this year), and his touring schedule has slowed somewhat of late. This being the case, plus the current unfortunate pattern of rock stars shuffling off their mortal coils, one never knows when they might have their last chance to see one of the greats. All that aside, Phil Lesh is a masterful bass player who turns the low end into another lead instrument. His melodic, omnipresent dancing lead lines helped the Dead spawn a new generation of jam bands based on collective improv. In addition, his Phil and Friends ensemble features some of the most thrilling collaborations in recent music history (including just last year’s Lockn’, when he was joined by Carlos Santana!). I am very much looking forward to two days of Phil and Friends.
2. Phish and Ween on the same bill: Make no mistake, this is a huge deal. First of all, Phish very rarely plays festivals with other bands. They exist on a unique level; tens of thousands of fans will flock from all over the country to a three-day festival where the legendary jam kings are the only band playing. I went to Magnaball last year, and I can attest to the utopian atmosphere of a Phish camping weekend. Their presence at Lockn’ is the talk of the town, and it’s their only festival appearance this year, so expect rarities, possibly some new tunes, and top-notch, jaw-dropping performances as their summer tour heats up.
And now, Ween. One of the most revered cult bands of the last few decades, Ween has been propelled back into the spotlight with a series of sold-out shows following their reunion after a five-year hiatus. There is no describing Ween’s music to someone who hasn’t heard at least a song or two; throughout their catalog, they move through grunge, punk, New Wave, jam, psychedelia, funk, country, reggae, noise-rock, ambient, and everything in between. The brains behind the operation, Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo (Gene and Dean Ween, respectively), have known each other since the eighth grade, and their shared sense of dark humor mixed with incredibly diverse and prodigious musical ability has produced one of the most enthralling bodies of work in rock history. Phish actually helped with the band’s exposure, as they began covering Ween’s “Roses Are Free” back in 1997. Seeing these two bands at the same festival, each closing out two nights (and on Friday, Ween plays directly before Phish!) is my own personal festival dream come true.
3. Garcia’s Forest: The previous iterations of Lockn’ have had a little oasis-type area referred to as Garcia’s Tent. From what I can gather, it was just a place where you could cool down, get a drink, some food, and basically just chill out for a minute, all while listening to the music of Jerry Garcia. They played Dead tunes, music from the Jerry Garcia Band, and selections from the countless recordings he contributed to. Basically, all Jerry, all the time. Well this year, it has transitioned into an entire forest clearing. I look forward to getting out of the heat of the day and lying in the grass listening to Jerry. Nothing quite as peaceful as that. It will be so nice to have a place to relax and recharge before you head back out to get your groove on.
4. Oak Ridge Farm: Set in the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains in Arrington, VA, the venue upon which Lockn’ is held is a sprawling farm that provides an exemplary setting for the styles of music that frequent the stages at the festival. Removed from the outside world, it provides the most important function of a festival for me: Clear my head, turn off my phone, and get all the stress of life out of my system for a few days. Being surrounded by mountains makes things feel that much more secluded and adds to the joyful atmosphere.
5. Longer sets, high-quality artists: While other large festivals do their best to have something for everyone to enjoy (and there is certainly nothing wrong with that), Lockn’ creators Dave Frey and Pete Shapiro have crafted a festival full of shows that they personally would like to see (according to the event’s description on their Facebook page). This vision calls for a lesser number of artists, but they play longer sets and the groups themselves are the cream of their respective crops. In addition to the bands I’ve already mentioned, this year features sets from Vulfpeck (two nights!), White Denim, Turkuaz, Galactic, Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, Khruangbin, two nights of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Charles Bradley, Hard Working Americans, Gary Clark, Jr., Chris Robinson Brotherhood, The Wailers, and more. In addition, there are only two main stages at Lockn’, meaning that when one set ends, the next one begins (a tradition that goes back to Frey and Shapiro’s days with Wetlands in New York). Being able to see the vast majority of the shows over the weekend is a huge draw for those who feel smothered by the amount of bands at bigger festivals.
6. Monster collaborations: This is actually the subject of some debate this year, as the collaborations that Lockn’ is famous for have not yet been set in stone. Previous years have featured Widespread Panic with Steve Winwood, last year had the aforementioned Phil and Friends with Santana (that also included Warren Haynes). Other fantastic collaborations include The Doobie Incident (The Doobie Brothers with the String Cheese Incident), members of Jefferson Airplane, an all-star tribute to Joe Cocker headed by the Tedeschi Trucks Band (who are incidentally the only group to play at every Lockn’ festival so far), etc. This year, there is heavy buzz about who will be included in Phil’s Friends. Heavy favorites include Phish’s Trey Anastasio (or any member of Phish), My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (I get chills thinking about James singing Dead tunes with Phil), Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, and Derek Trucks. For me, the end-all be-all would be Gene Ween singing “Roses Are Free” with Phish. Highly unlikely, but a man can dream. In any case, I’m sure there will be some hypertension-inducing collaborations announced any day now.
7. My Morning Jacket: I deliberately left My Morning Jacket for last, because I have only just become a huge fan of the band. I got their most recent album, The Waterfall, and just could not stop listening. Within a week I had listened to their entire discography, and man, can those guys play. Uplifting and soulful, psychedelic yet straightforward, powerful yet incredibly vulnerable. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about their live performances, and with the group closing out the festival on Saturday night, it’ll be the perfect segue to the final day of the festival. They also have another new album coming very soon (they produced enough material from the Waterfall sessions for two albums and decided to release them separately rather than as a double album). My Morning Jacket is a perfect example of modern classic rock. Containing influences from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Prince, and so many more, they are extremely deserving of a headlining spot at an already star-studded Lockn’.
I hope I have presented some compelling evidence to help with your decision whether or not to road trip to Lockn’ this year. Without having been myself, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve heard nothing but positive things from my friends who have been, and I look forward to adding it to my yearly destinations. Combine all the great music with the serene, remote location, the craft beer and food, and the sustainability initiatives, and you get yourself a recipe for an unforgettable weekend and memories for the rest of your days.
I truly hope to see some of you out at the farm this year. Happy listening!