Coverage

Four Days of Rockn at Lockn: A Look Back At The Nation’s Premier Jam Festival

Photo: Dave Vann

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For one weekend a year, Lockn Festival transforms a tiny town in Virginia into the nation’s leader in tie-dye. Opening up acres of lush farmland to Phish phans and Deadheads will do that.

The concept behind Lockn is simple: the music never stops. But this year’s Lockn saw the first major changes since the inaugural fest four years ago. Lockn’s trademark set-up, with adjacent stages and interlocking acts, was replaced with one massive stage set atop a gigantic turntable. As one band’s set concludes, the stage rotates, and there stands the next band, ready to rock.

This year also saw the festival moved up from mid-September to late August. While the turntable stage was super cool, in rural Virginia, changing the dates to earlier in the summer made for a very hot weekend. Despite temperatures soaring over 100-degrees on Friday, Lockn was one of the most unanimously positive festival experiences of the year. That doesn’t happen by accident, and certain players need recognition for making Lockn such a monumental success.

Ween at Lockn 2016 -- Photo by Rob Schmidt

Ween at Lockn 2016 — Photo by Josh Timmermans

1st Star – My Morning Jacket

If you’ve been paying attention, you’d know My Morning Jacket has been dominating festivals for the last 15 years. But their headlining set on Saturday night at Lockn was the moment the band made everyone pay attention.

MMJ grabbed the crowd by the collar from the second they stepped on the stage. When the bouncy space grooves of their third song, the anthemic “Off The Record”, had concluded, dudes decked out in head-to-toe Phish gear were turning to each other, high-fiving.

Surprises like an epic 16-minute version of “Steam Engine” segueing into a new cover of “What The World Needs Now” made for a set equally enthralling to both Jacket newbies and frenzied fanatics. Leave it to a band as versatile as the Jacket to spread Bacharach’s message of love, before turning a saccharine pop song into a psychedelic jam with dueling guitar solos.

My Morning Jacket at Lockn 2016 -- Photo by Josh Timmermans

My Morning Jacket at Lockn 2016 — Photo by Josh Timmermans

Taking Lockn’s jam-friendly ethos to heart, MMJ extended several of their classics and also brilliantly blended others. An ethereal “Phone Went West” transitioned into a crowd-pleasing of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved”. But the real showstopper was a thundering “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2” which morphed into the band’s first ever cover of “Rebel, Rebel”. The timing was so perfect, it felt as if the entire Lockn farm was going to explode. Or maybe it just seemed that way because of the band’s new and supremely juiced-up lighting rig.

It’s worth nothing that My Morning Jacket came into this show completely cold. Their one-off set was not part of a bigger tour, and they had not played a show together since May. Showing zero signs of rust, the Jacket stepped up to the plate and swung for the fences. The result was the musical equivalent of a home run derby — dinger, after dinger, after dinger. Like the confident professionals they are, My Morning Jacket was not going through the motions. MMJ treated their Lockn set like the game was on the line, and they delivered.

Watch My Morning Jacket’s entire Lockn performance here:

2nd Star – Neal Casal

Guitarist Neal Casal was everywhere at Lockn. On Friday, Casal debuted his kinda-but-not-really-Grateful Dead cover band, Circles Around The Sun. Taking to the stage just after midnight, Casal, along with Adam MacDougall, Dan Horne and Mark Levy, jammed in the psychedelic confines of the Woods stage, playing their circuital grooves way tighter than any unit at their first show should ever be.

By Saturday, Casal had plied his six-string acrobatics with Phil Lesh, Mike Gordon and even slayed the main stage with his own band, Hard Working Americans. Casal then joined his other band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, for their afternoon set on Sunday, before sitting in again with Phil Lesh & Friends. By my count, Casal played five sets with four bands in three days — each of them equally fantastic. A hard working American, indeed.

Neal Casal with Hard Working Americans at Lockn 2016 -- Photo by Carson Illidge

Neal Casal with Hard Working Americans at Lockn 2016 — Photo by Carson Illidge

3rd Star – Lockn Organizers

Lockn was so hot, it almost defied description — but I’ll try. Friday was “step-out-of-the-shade-and-die” hot.

At festivals, where people are not only exposed to the sun all day, but also consuming large amounts of alcohol (and god-knows-what-else), beating the heat can literally be the difference between life and death. Thankfully, organizers did everything in their power to ensure the heat did not ruin anyone’s time.

Port-a-potties were placed under shade tents, so the all-too-common experience of the shit-sauna was eliminated. Water stations were plentiful, and the pressure so powerful, that many patrons found themselves with water in their bottle, and also soaked head to toe. In addition to several shaded beer gardens in the show field, there were beautiful shade structures placed throughout.

But the real star of the show was Garcia’s Forest. The massive treed area not only provided a place to chill, but also blasted sweet Jerry Garcia deep cuts all day and all night. Come 7 o’clock every morning, it was a common sight to see festival-goers heading to the forest with their hammock or blanket. After jamming ’till the early hours of the morning, why roast in your tent when you could sleep in the shade until a more reasonable hour? That’s how you guarantee the music never stops.

For Lockn — mission accomplished.

Garcia's Forest at Lockn 2016 -- Photo by Dave Vann

Garcia’s Forest at Lockn 2016 — Photo by Dave Vann

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