The 2019 Lockn Music Festival was a music lovers dream, filled with original jams by people who have never played publicly together. The music was seamless, tight and bursting with standout moments that are almost certain to never be repeated. Truly, if you were there, you were part of music history. I heard from many naysayers, who did not attend, that felt as if a music festival the caliber of Lockn needed “bigger names” “headliners” if you will. To them, I would say, “let the music do the talking it will help you out.” Music festivals are an experience, not just a lineup. Trust the process, believe in the art, and no matter what “we’re all here together in a spirit family.”
Lockn is notorious for treating festival-goers to unexpected musical mashups and continuous music due to the unique rotating stage, there is no “down time” between bands. The days are filled with music at the main stage and nights packed with funk in Garcia’s Forest. The weather forced the closure of the stage areas twice over the weekend causing scheduling changes and leaving some bands unable to perform at all. Although the changes caused some difficulty in feeling settled once everyone seemed certain the weather had passed it was a clear path to fun and good times.
An area not so inconspicuously named after the late Jerry Garcia is a tree-filled oasis, complete with a small stage that feels like an enchanted wonderland. It serves as a natural refuge from the Virginia summer heat and provides a completely different landscape than the wide-open rolling fields. During the morning it is very mellow, yoga is offered at the stage while hammocks are strung by those just beginning their day with breakfast and coffee. Children quietly play with hula hoops, bubbles, Frisbees, and dance while making new friends. At night, after the main stage wraps up the Forest transforms into a party all by itself. Colorful lights cast throughout the trees and bands full of funk are gracing the stage. The uniqueness of this area is not lost on festival attendees or promoters, it even has its own merchandise.
It is my son Ryder’s favorite place to spend the morning hours, running freely while I devise our plan for the day This year on Saturday he met a group of 8 twenty-somethings that had traveled from Maryland for their 1st Lockn. As they laid in their hammocks playing Frisbee, Ryder served as the perfect answer for the overthrown and poorly thrown attempts by the group that was still recovering from the night before. As I watched I thought, what a perfect example of what a music festival should be. No matter the age, there was a common bond, music. My newly 8 year old was excited when he heard it was their 1st Lockn, they were shocked when they heard it was his 3rd. He told them his favorite merchandise vendors, where to eat near the Forest and inside the show field, what bands he was excited for and was bursting with excitement to explain Keller Williams Gospel. Those twenty-somethings made Ryders morning and I think the feeling was mutual.
Since Lockn is laced with traces of the Grateful Dead at every turn it is no surprise but always incredible to watch Bob Weir take the stage and join multiple different acts. This year he literally “sat in” on a couch during JRAD (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead) Thursday night show. Throughout the weekend he went on to join Edie Brickell, Old Crow Medicine Show, Twiddle, Steel Pulse, Soul Rebels as well Oteil & Friends during their sets and sang Happy Birthday to Oteil. Twiddle was scheduled to include John Popper from The Blue Travelers, Popper’s talent on the harmonica gave the band a whole new feel. Bob Weir stepped out to joined them for “Eyes of the World” it was such a unique twist on a Grateful Dead classic, personally, that was the best Twiddle performance I have seen. Whispers of Marcus King playing were circling over the weekend, he did not disappoint when he stepped on stage to join Steel Pulse and moe. on Sunday. Watching one musician play with two very different types of bands in one day is always a welcome surprise.
As a native of Jacksonville, Florida I am very familiar with Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) as well as their unique sound and history that has brought them to where they are today. A husband and wife duo that on their own are fantastic musicians who had enjoyed their musical successes separately for many years. Since joining forces in 2010, Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks’ depth and creativity seems to have exploded and is capturing the hearts of music lovers everywhere. Many attendees seemed unfamiliar with TTB and unsure of the timeslot they had been allocated at Lockn. Expanding the unknown for those unfamiliar was the schedule, Trey Anastasio Band on Friday one set as (TAB) and a 2nd set with Derek Trucks sitting in. The following evening (Saturday) would be the reverse (TTB) for 1 set and then TTB with Trey sitting in. As an avid Phish and TAB fan, I had high hopes for what I felt was destined to occur. Trey Band delivered an outstanding performance packed with jams from the 1st note and reminded us, “the time has come for you to be alive again” I have always believed many view Trey Anastasio in limited musical context-based solely around their knowledge of his band Phish. I feel certain his musical capabilities and depth are no longer in question for the thousands who were in attendance and those that watched the live stream.
The collaboration that unfolded on Friday night with Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) and Derek Trucks was jaw-dropping, to say the least. Two of the strongest guitarists in current musical times (in my non-professional opinion) thoroughly enjoying jamming with each other, navigating each other’s styles while delivering the performance of a lifetime. It seemed only appropriate for their 1st song together which was also the start of the 2nd set to begin with “Set Your Soul Free.” A song filled with guitar-heavy rifts and Lockn appropriate lyrics. As they both smiled ear to ear the crowd was in awe as they watched and cheered. The strength of the performance never wavered even as they covered “Ghost” that is known for its slow funky instrumentals or the encore that included “More” which is held in high regard by many Phish fans as almost a call to action for unity and peace. Derek Trucks stayed true to his guitar roots yet added another dimension to songs so vastly different from one another all while maintaining the integrity of the music.
On Saturday night I watched as the crowd, many still unaware of TTB and not sure what to expect tried to find their “place” to settle into for the show. As Susan took the stage and began to unleash her unique, strong and commanding voice for “Signs, High Time” the crowd began walking closer to the stage to get a better look at this woman dominating the stage with grace. By the third song, “Don’t know what it means” I felt my son who’s 8 years old and my music partner in crime begin to climb my back and scurry up for a better view. We danced while being serenaded by Susan and my son whispers in my ear, “ I love her Mommy!” “She’s so good!” I couldn’t help but wonder, will he remember this? Truthfully, probably not. But, what he will remember is that feeling, of the magic and energy pouring off of the stage. Watching him fall in love with music over and over is one of the purest things I have ever been witness too.
Sunday morning at Lockn is traditionally kicked off with Keller Williams Grateful Grass, it is rich in gospel that rings reminiscent to what you’d expect to hear in a Southern Church. However, it is a far cry from traditional church or any church for that matter. Keller’s website describes Grateful Grass as, “The spiritual side of Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia songs performed in the style of black gospel music meant to be performed on a festival stage on Sunday mornings.” I have seen Keller perform Grateful Grass numerous times and I assure you it is exactly what is needed on the last morning of a festival. He is full of life and jokes as he dances around barefoot in a suit, proclaiming “Amen!” to the “sweet, fat baby Jesus.” Keller himself clearly states, “It’s the gospel of Jerry. Awe man. WARNING: this is not a Christian act.” It certainly is not a Christian act but if I could begin every Sunday with Grateful Grass I am positive my Mondays would have a little less sting.
Lockn 2019 wrapped with Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers his 1st set was filled with Grateful Dead classics such as “Jackstraw”, “Cassidy”, & “Friend of the Devil” that will always soothe any Deadheads soul. For the 2nd set, he welcomed Susan Tedeschi and Mikaela Davis to the stage to join him. I loved hearing Susan carry the vocals on “Sugaree,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” as well as “Turn on Your Love Light” while Bobby backed her up. Grateful Dead fans are purists of sorts, finicky if you will, to hear quintessential Dead songs being sung by Susan offered a huge breath of fresh air. It did not feel or sound as if she was simply “sitting in” or “covering” these songs, she sang them with her heart and it translated exceptionally well. Mikaela Davis accompanied Bobby in “Chinacat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” to wrap up the 2nd set before his encore with the Wolf Brothers of “Not fade Away” and “Ripple.”
As a self-proclaimed live music addict watching my children light up as they experience something I love so deeply is only comparable to witnessing your children be immersed in a magical wonderland. Music Festivals are always new but familiar and exciting. My son lives for Lockn and only wishes it occurred more than once a year, he calls it “our time” together. I have learned that just as I have my festival friends, so does he. They look for each other so that all of the kids can hang out and play while listening to music. The kids bring each other small gifts, toys, or bubbles and share their frisbees, hula-hoops and hammocks. Does it get any better than that? I have come to believe that a music festival is the only place left where kids truly get to be kids anymore. It is much appreciated by all of the parents I have spoken with that Lockn provides free admission for kids 12 and under with an adult. Financially it makes what would be unaffordable as a family trip, doable and enjoyable. Due to the timing of Lockn many families, myself included, allow their children to miss the beginning of school to attend. There is so much to life that cannot be taught in the classroom, for music lovers and old souls alike, Lockn is the embodiment of that.
I was happy to see the small but important steps taken this year to add another level of safety, as a parent the most important was “tag a kid.” A bracelet that when scanned if your child became lost would provide security with your information so they could safely and quickly be returned. They also provided stickers for your phones and tags for your keys to help safeguard against lost items.
After speaking with several families, I know a welcome addition would be family RV camping where Poppa Bear was located this year. When attending festivals alone or as a couple with kids there is a balance that can be difficult to find. I am fortunate that I can put my son inside of our skoolie and sit on the rooftop deck, I can still hear everything in Garcias Forest late night however he misses not waking up in family camping and playing with all of the kids.
For those looking to become more involved or educated on issues that are currently affecting our country, this is a great area of the festival to visit, not to mention free Ben & Jerry’s. I enjoy being a socially involved person, the different organizations provided an opportunity to speak to my son about voter rights, Planned Parenthood, recycling, reducing our use of plastic as well as others. Although some of the content is a bit above his understanding I enjoyed having the ability to expose him to it. He asked the volunteers questions and they were more than happy to speak with him. They gave him stickers, buttons, and he entered to win the signed guitar that has become synonymous with Participation Row. The layout made it easy to keep even a child engaged, mini-golf as you walked up, corn hole next door at Section 119 and did I mention free Ben & Jerrys??
When I was running over things I wanted to make sure I covered while scribbling in my notepad at Lockn, I never imagined suicide would be part of that. Neal Casal sadly ended his life less than 48 hours after giving a powerful performance with Oteil & Friends and Bob Weir. His band Circles Around The Sun (CATS) had also performed an incredible and fun set that weekend in Garcias Forest. The shock has left many fans stunned who realize they were so physically close to someone that needed help as thousands looked on and were clueless I feel summarizes why suicide is so difficult. Neal was a successful musician and photographer, he toured many parts of the world several times over, won multiple awards, released 12 solo albums, 3 with Hazy Malaze, 5 with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, 12 with Chris Robinson Brotherhood, 3 with Hard Working Americans, countless album and song collaborations and was set to release a new album. His photography has been published in Rolling Stone, Spin and served as album covers multiple times over. His place in the music world is cemented in history, his loss will be felt in the hearts of his friends forever.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline CALL 1-800-273-8255