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Published: 2017/08/24
by Dean Budnick

From the Thursday Lockn’ Times : LOCKN’ Is for Lovers

Photos by Jay Blakesberg

From the very start LOCKN’ has celebrated inclusiveness and interconnection.

This has been true on the musical side where in its debut year, the festival witnessed collaborations from such artists as Zac Brown and the String Cheese Incident, John Fogerty and Widespread Panic, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Soul Rebels, and a notable guest-laden set by Col. Bruce Hampton & Friends. This tradition has continued over the LOCKN’s to follow, with many memorable combinations.

The nature of this collegiality has both reflected and informed the essence and heart of LOCKN’. Steadfast supporters regularly travel great distances year after year to this wondrous area of Virginia and have come to feel a kinship with the region and its people.

As a result, the events that took place in Charlottesville nearly two weeks ago proved particularly jarring for LOCKN’ stalwarts.

However for all of these same reasons, this year’s LOCKN’ offers an opportunity to readdress that balance and affirm community, to echo the words of our 16th President who invoked “the mystic chords of memory” which he predicted “will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

These are heavy, heady words made for heavy, heady times. Yet Lincoln’s call for those mystic chords to swell this country’s chorus still resonates. Thankfully, we have music for inspiration, guidance and release.

LOCKN’ co-founder Dave Frey, himself a Charlottesville resident, expresses his indignation and chagrin at the events of two weeks ago “when we were attacked by outside forces” but is quick to suggest that this weekend will represent something altogether different.

LOCKN’ co-founder Peter Shapiro affirms, “It’s hard to know what to do or what to say after what happened in Charlottesville but the music and these moments where you experience music with a lot of people is probably the best way to lift the spirit back up. So we’re hoping that LOCKN’ can be something that will help bring a lot of people to a better place and hopefully get things back on the right road so that we can keep cruising. It’s all we can do. We booked this lineup six months ago but it’s fitting because the Grateful Dead always had this weird way of showing up at important, confusing times in American history. And that’s the magic of the Grateful Dead jujitsu, it’s got a powerful spirit to it and hopefully that spirit can have power over this whole area. Hopefully that sound can travel.”

That sound will travel from a new point of origin in 2017. The site has been redesigned this year, and as Shapiro notes, “We’re really excited by the new layout and we can’t wait for people to experience it. This really is a culmination of five years’ work, with how we’ve developed the roads and the trails and where the camping is. Dave Frey put in a lot of effort on the ground for years, thinking about this in his sleep.”

Frey explains that a variety of considerations led to the relocation of the stage. Some of it is aesthetics and vibe, as now “the whole view of what’s behind the performers will be scenic—it’ll be hills and nature and not just cars driving past on the road.” Speaking of which, the new layout also will ease traffic flow into the festival, with vehicles parked more efficiently on the flat track, which had been home to the main stage in years past. In addition, moving the stage out to the meadow will limit the dust being kicked up into air and it will also serve to reduce most folks’ distance from their camps to the concert field by at least a quarter mile. So quite a bit has gone into this, along with less visible improvements to the infrastructure that has enabled LOCKN’ to refine the way it brings water onto the site and handles waste.

There are some other striking physical transformations as well. Most notably, LOCKN’ has taken some cues from the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Indeed, “Let my inspiration flow” have been the bywords as Garcia’s Forest has been revamped and will now include a gathering space and presentation area, where artists have created a life-size Terrapin Station. The Porch will be the site of Yoga on Friday through Sunday mornings, starting at 9 AM. This will be followed at 10 AM by solo piano performances by Danny Louis (Friday), Holly Bowling (Saturday) and Melvin Seals (Sunday). Then at noon Jay Starling will curate “guitar pulls” featuring a variety of musicians, including festivalgoers, who are encouraged to participate.

Of course, LOCKN’ attendees are encouraged to take a hand in many other aspects of this year’s festival. For instance, they can visit Participation Row, once again organized by HeadCount and steady sponsor Qello Concerts, where folks will receive a stamp card and after visiting four non-profit organizations and receiving a stamp for participating in an action, they can exchange that card for a free scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a complimentary trial subscription to Qello and be entered into a drawing for an artist-signed D’Angelico guitar. Participation Row also will be hosting its annual charity auction, which will feature another signed guitar along with numerous other items, with the proceeds divided equally among all the non-profits.

HeadCount Executive Director Andy Bernstein notes that this year’s Participation Row has a “local” theme, which has been in place for a couple months but is all the more poignant this weekend. He explains, “LOCKN’ and Participation Row have always had a deep connection to the surrounding area but this year we really wanted to emphasize that. Then, with the events of Charlottesville, it became all the more relevant because Charlottesville is a wonderful community and Nelson County is a very beautiful place, so when we see something on TV that strikes us as the very antithesis of our experience and the opposite of the welcoming and inclusive nature of what we know that community is, then acting locally and supporting these organizations just really means all the more to us. I hope that Participation Row is a place where people can go and feel that they are connecting with the local community, giving back to the local community and really learning more about what makes this community tick. And that’s both planned and unplanned. Planned in that it was a natural evolution of Participation Row. Unplanned, in that we had no idea the significance it would have.”

This will be a noteworthy year for HeadCount in another way, as co-chair Marc Brownstein will be on site with his band The Disco Biscuits, who are making their debut appearance at the LOCKN’. The Biscuits join other artists who will perform for the first time at the event over the coming days, including: Blackberry Smoke, Margo Price, JJ Grey and Mofro, Greensky Bluegrass and John Butler Trio.

Meanwhile, founding HeadCount board member Bob Weir will make a return appearance at LOCKN’. Indeed, just as Terrapin Station will be represented on site over at Garcia’s Forest, it also will celebrated in song on the main stage, via one of the weekend’s highlights. On Friday night, Weir and Phil Lesh will return to the stage together for the first time in a festival setting since 2015’s Fare Thee Well event to revisit the album, along with Nicki Bluhm and the aptly-titled Terrapin Family Band (the group that originated at Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads restaurant and venue in San Rafael, CA). Lesh and Weir are joined on the bill by other core LOCKN’ artists from years past, such as: Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Gov’t Mule and Umphrey’s McGee.

All in all, this year’s festival should be profound and impactful on a number of levels and for a variety of reasons, making for what Shapiro suggests will be “a LOCKN’ classic.”

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