Live Review

Living the Lockn' Life

Bob Weir on August 24, 2017

(Front, L to R) Grahame Lesh, Bob Weir, Nicki Bluhm, Phil Lesh, and members of Moe raise the Dead. (Photo by Ron Wray)

They carried peace flags with doves skimming pale blue skies and huge American flags. There was a sea of tie-dye reaching across a sunny horizon and the smoky dust of lit reefers spreading an aroma I’d not smelled so prevalently since the late 1960s or my two trips to Negril, on the Jamaican coast.

Lockn’ 2017, the festival. I’ll admit to some exaggeration. In its fifth year in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, founders Peter Shapiro and David Frey have created a hip, wide-ranging musical experience.

Onstage moments

The Revivalists’ David Shaw was everywhere, climbing twice into the crowd over barricades. Long, lean, and angular with long hair flowing out all around his head when he dramatically undid his bob, he was sweet singer. Jim James’ acoustic set was quietly beautiful after Blackberry Smoke’s electric punch, but ended explosively with “Give Peace a Chance,” with Brandi Carlile and a marching Mark Russo pounding a bass drum. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh performed numerous times, including an historic performance of “Terrapin Station.”

At a festival also featuring The Avett Brothers, The String Cheese Incident, Ann Wilson of Heart, Widespread Panic, Moe, and The Dirty Dozen Blues Band, John Fogerty was a standout. From “Fortunate Son” to “Center Field,” you realize how many songs in our culture and personal histories are Fogerty’s. This artist in his 70s, with his talented son, Sean, on guitar and vocals, was at his hard-rocking best on every song. "I witnessed a wonderful energy and love from the audience while performing just a few miles from Charlottesville,” Fogerty said, “I will never forget that special show and how everyone came together singing, dancing and just having fun. I am smiling with pure joy in my heart.”

Interviews and influences

My interviews – on tour buses, in the bustling media tent, and in The Hang outdoor lounge by  the Main Stage – bore colorful fruit, such as Warren Haynes, of Gov’t Mule, telling me: “I got a call from Phil (Lesh) saying that he’d made a list of guitar players he’d like to play with, and would I like to come to California and do some experimenting. And, we’ve forged a relationship that has lasted ever since.”

And artists told me of unexpected mentors, such as Americana/rock artists for whom jazz great Miles Davis was a major influence: “I think the person who most influenced my career and, I think, my open-mindedness, or at least I like to think my open-mindedness,” Haynes said, "is Miles Davis.” Alex Jordan, of Midnight North and Terrapin Family Band, said, “I don’t listen to jazz guitarists as much as horn players. You have to listen to Coltrane, you have to listen to Miles.”

Young guys that established players were listening to on their buses included Lockn’ performer Marcus King, who is a favorite of both Gov’t Mule and Blackberry Smoke, and Colter Wall. He’s “a young guy out of Canada, 21 or 22 years old," Blackberry lead singer Charlie Starr told me, “He’s got a great record.”

Anders Beck, Greensky Bluegrass’ virtuoso dobro player, told me, “I think there is a kind of dark edge in our writing. Bluegrass is something with subject matter that is often death and murder and shit like that, right?  But, it’s happy chords. So, you’re going, 'Hey, wait a minute, what’s going on here?' That dark subject matter, that’s something interesting. I don’t need to hear a song about rainbows. I’ll take the real feelings.”

Antibalas’s (Spanish for “no bullets”) founder Martin Perna, said about their new album, When the Gods are at Peace, “It’s the idea of much of the conflict going on now. It’s a religious conflict. Humans aren’t in peace. But, the gods we believe in are at war with each other, and we’re just fighting these wars for them. The question is, what do we need to do to make these gods – Allah, Jesus – how do we make peace between them?”

Diversity and the music

Mount Zion First African Baptist Church Choir led off the festival. The church has special significance in light of recent events in Charlottesville. “Though never regarded as equals in faith, the African-American contingent of the Baptists worshipped with their white counterparts,” the choir's website notes. “Then, in 1832, Virginia passed a law that prohibited blacks to worship without a white minister present … and (they) were not allowed to worship with the rest of the white community. … (Finally, in 1863, the 800 African-American worshippers) were (allowed) to form their own congregations.”

Artists and staff exhibited racial and ethnic diversity throughout the festival. There was kindness, drunkenness, sobriety, friendship, exhaustion, exuberance, all ages, children and infants, and those with disabilities. It was a dream-like gathering of the iconic and up-and-coming makers of American music. And, there was the music itself, ever and always: the music.