The fifth annual Lockn’ Festival on Thursday, August 24th got underway under partly cloudy skies after a cold front moved through the area the night before. The resulting forecast for the four-day nearly non-stop festival is for high temperatures in the low 80’s and lows at night near 60F, a rain free forecast perfect for festival goers. Many festival goers arrived early on Wednesday to set up campsites and were greeted with a much more organized festival than past years. Traffic has been rerouted to back country roads, which resulted in a major improvement in check in efficiency and much shorter wait times to get into the festival grounds. Inside the festival groups there also were significant changes. The main stage was moved to the far side of the field, next to the Blue Ridge Bowl, (Now the Relix stage). The proximity of the two stages will make it much easier to catch the late-night sets on the Relix stage after the main stage close down. The late-night venue out deep in the woods remains but is now called the Terrapin Porch Tent stage in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station album. The stage in Jerry Garcia's Forest has been transformed into a life size Terrapin Station.
Before bands got underway at 7 PM on the main stage, there was a special afternoon showing of the Grateful Dead documentary “The Long Strange Trip." Early festival goers lounged in the empty field while many others enjoyed their campsites in the woods. Some festival goers even took advantage of WaterLOCKN’, which included a bus ride to the Tye River for a good old fashioned southern summer swimming experience.
The festival then opened right at sunset with a heartfelt ceremony led by Lockn’ founders Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey. In what became a theme of the festival, the promoters and musicians throughout the four-day event paid homage to those in nearby Charlottesville who were affected by the terrible events there. Everyone at the festival called for unity and inclusion, denouncing the hate filled message of the far right. The promoters invited an array of police, fire and medical workers onto the stage in front of a giant flag for a stirring rendition of the national anthem. The Mount Zion First African Baptist Choir from Charlottesville led the crowd in an inspiring sing-along. The music then began with a short set by a young local jam band, Kendal Street Company. The band from the nearby University of Virginia got the crowd into a festive mood almost immediately.
The consummate jam band, Umphrey’s McGee, played their first of two sets on the main stage. By the time the band reached a jam on Mantis half way through the set, they had the crowd in a frenzy. The band offers up some of the most diverse sounds of any band from multiple genres of American music. The original Lockn’ concept then kicked in perfectly with a rotating stage revealing The String Cheese Incident playing their first note right as Umphrey’s finished their set. The Colorado band also played the first of two sets. The band was in high spirits as guitarist Bill Nershi returned to the band after recently missing his first show with the band in 24 years after a brief illness.
Umphrey’s then began the second part of the evening with their second set. The band played some of their fans favorite songs including, Wrong Guy, Miss Tinkle’s Overture, and Remind Me. The String Cheese Incident then opened their set with an emotional speech to the audience. With the band standing arms locked in unison, Nershi addressed the crowd. “We want to say to those of us that don’t feel the same hatred toward each other; we need to be united.” The band then inspired the crowd with an explosive second set. The first collaboration of many to come at the festival then took place when Umphrey’s keyboard player Joel Cummins and percussionist Andy Farag joined in on a cover of the Allman Brothers tune Jessica.
The late-night action then shifted to the nearby Relix stage for an after midnight set by The Disco Biscuits. The band known for their lengthy jam infused concerts played well into the early morning hours. A large crowd danced about the stage, transfixed until the band played their last notes. The evening cooled to a pleasant sleeping temperature. It was a nearly perfect opening day.