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By Stu Kelly • Edited by John Mikeska & Andrew M. • Photos by Mountain Trout Photography

The 2015 Lockn’ Music and Arts Festival faced nothing but adversity right out of the gates. As the weather went from bad to terrible, the festival promoters found themselves with their hands tied being forced to cancel Thursday’s festivities altogether. While this was unquestionably the responsible thing to do, especially since nobody was injured on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the news couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. Many festival attendees, especially those who drove from hundreds of miles away, were directed to Charlottesville, VA, where they were directed to park in a mall parking lot. Personally, I wasn’t one of those unlucky fans but I’m sure it was a complete shit show. Promoters scrambled to rearrange the lineup and jam (no pun intended) as many artists as they could into the remaining three days.

Despite the mishaps and inclement weather, the 2015 installment was still a roaring success. One of the best things about Lockn’ is that it inspires unique collaborations. This year boasted String Cheese with the Doobie Brothers, Jimmy Cliff with Widespread Panic, another stacked rendition of Phil & Friends (including two sets and one with Carlos Santana), Mickey Heart with EOTO and a tribute set to Joe Cocker that featured so many musicians on stage it looked more like a family reunion than anything else. With as many amazing collaborations as there were, there were also plenty of missed opportunities. For example, most notably Robert Plant didn’t sit in with anyone and Plant didn’t invite anyone out to sit in on his two sets. There was so much opportunity to stand along side Haynes, Trucks or Herring on the same stage. A duet with John Bell or Susan Tedeschi almost seems like a dream that could have come true. None-the-less there were so many amazing moments throughout the weekend and the memories will last a lifetime.

Waking up on Thursday morning, with the full crew assembled (including two road warriors who drove from New York through the night to D.C.), we caught wind Billy and The Kids were expected to announce an impromptu show in Charlottesville at the Jefferson Theater. Without hesitating we booked a refundable hotel room and waited for the rumor to come to fruition. We snagged tickets and found the silver lining on Thursday evening.

Friday September 11th, 2015

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String Cheese Incident + The Doobie Brothers

We woke up on Friday morning high on Grateful Dead music and well rested. Eager to get to the festival grounds which were just under an hour away we hit the road. Nobody predicted the traffic nightmare we that was about to ensue. Sure, we had an idea, but that “idea” should have been multiplied exponentially. Initially, we were optimistic that we’d still be able to catch the String Cheese Incident with the Doobie Brothers. The “Doobie Incident” was one of the headliners scheduled for Thursday that was pushed back to Friday and eventually slated to open the musical festivities. That well of optimism ran bone dry as horror stories of five plus hour wait times circulated. After waiting in line, getting redirected, hitting will call, picking up media credentials and waiting in another line to our campground, we were finally able to set up camp well behind schedule. It actually hurt not being in attendance to hear John Popper sing our National Anthem, especially on the 11th of September.

Fervent to get our musical fix, we rushed down to the main concert area and caught a stand alone String Cheese Incident set which was a nice welcome to the utopian festival world. Cheese are no stranger to the main stage at Lockn’ as this was their third year in a row being in the mix of the festival line up. Capitalizing on their set time, SCI pushed through many of their classic numbers including “Come As You Are,” “Rosie,” “Close Your Eyes” and their most recent addition to the live rotation; “Sweet Spot.” The newly penned tune is lead by Keith Mosley on vocals, which features a feel good and upbeat vibe.

Phil Lesh & Friends with Carlos Santana

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Transitioning into Phil Lesh & Friends was smooth yet also stirring. The band wasted no time and dove right into the beloved Chuck Berry cover “The Promised Land.” This rendition soared to new heights especially since Chris Robinson was handling the lead vocal responsibilities. The crowd was feeling it and the band hit a solid stride with a beautiful version of “Althea” which found its way to “Bird Song,” before the band called an audible and jammed their way into a phenomenal take on the classic Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter.” At 75 years, Phil still has so much incredible energy and it’s not uncommon to catch him with a glowing smile on stage. Lesh creates so much room for exploration and his rotating cast of musicians never ceases to uphold the Grateful Dead’s legacy with nobility.

The 50th anniversary celebration of Jefferson Airplane was lead by Jorma Kaukonen on bass and Jack Casady on guitar (also of Hot Tuna), who commanded a full band through classic Airplane hits. The band played recognizable tracks such as “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” One of the most surprising elements was when founding Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann crashed the stage for “Come Back Baby,” “Volunteers” and “Feel So Good.”

Mad Dogs & Englishmen A Tribute To Joe Cocker

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Music on the main stage wrapped up with what was arguably one of the best sets of music from the entire weekend as the Tedeschi Trucks Band lead an army of musicians through a tribute to Joe Cocker and his legacy. The idea for this set actually originated when before Cocker passed away in 2014 and was intended to feature the man himself. After the tragic news of his death broke, TTB felt it was still necessary to pay tribute and show their respects to the late icon. The list of backing musicians included Leon Russell, Doyle Bramhall II, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, Chris Robinson, John Bell, Claudia Lennear, Warren Haynes, Anders Osbourne, Sonny Ortiz, the Eleven 1970 Alumni and more. This sort of colossal collaboration is something truly unique to Lockn’. There were many highlights throughout the set, especially a cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” a take on Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country,” which Susan dominated on vocals and John Bell stepping up to take the lead vocals on the Leon Russell number “Delta Lady.” An unpredicted cover of The Beatles’ “Something” surfaced late in the set, which segued into another Beatles song “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” which was lead by Warren Haynes. When the band came back for their encore Leon Russell laid down his own “The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen” before the band capped off this monumental performance with a cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” When Cocker covered this beloved Beatles song, it quickly jumped to number one in the U.K. in 1968 and Cocker went on to deliver a legendary performance of this song at Woodstock in 1969. There was no better way to lay the set to rest.

Late night performances were the first times fans had to chose between different sets of music. Umphrey’s McGee commanded the Blue Ridge Bowl stage, which was a quick walk from the main grounds and EOTO took over the Woods stage. EOTO’s set was billed as a deep rhythm experience featuring Steve Kimock, Android Jones and Mickey Hart. Umphrey’s McGee laid down a vigorous set full of energy that kept the crowd enthralled. Unlike last year at Lockn’, this was UM’s only scheduled performance at Lockn’ but the sextet more than delivered. The most consistent block of music was composed of “Wappy Sprayberry” > “40’s Theme” > “Bad Friday” > “Bridgeless” > “Glory,” which inspired a full-fledged dance party. By judging the crowd’s energy you would never know that most of them have been up since 5 a.m. and waiting in traffic for roughly five hours before they even got inside. The encore was a rare treat as the band busted “JaJunk” > “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” The rare Police cover also included a “JaJunk” reprise. As the band laid their last note to rest the skies opened up and the rain started. As we made our way back to campsite we reflected over the incredible night of music and scoffed at the struggle getting inside. We made it. The next day was slated to have some more incredible music including a unique collaboration of Widespread Panic and Jimmy Cliff as well as a highly anticipated set from Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters.

Saturday September 12th, 2015

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Tedeschi Trucks Band

I woke up on Saturday incredibly peaceful, wrapped up in a series of blankets on a fully inflated air mattress (seriously losing air in the night is a real struggle). When I woke up I couldn’t help but to smile with excitement as the rain was still trickling down on my tent. I remembered the music that was on deck for the day and got to it with Melvin Seals and the Jerry Garcia Band featuring John Kadlecik over at the Blue Ridge Bowl. The grounds had noticeably taken a beating with the influx of rain but overall spirits couldn’t be higher for this 11 a.m. set. The highlight came when the band played a beautiful version of “Sugaree.” Over on the main stage there was a variety of different genres spread throughout the lineup including the funk of Karl Denson, the smooth acoustic Hot Tuna set featuring Jack and Jorma and many more.

Robert Plant & the Sensational Spaceshifters

The momentum took a turn when the Tedeschi Trucks Band took the main stage. Susan stepped up and dominated the Betty Harris cover “Break In The Road.” Bob Weir was the artist-at-large on Saturday and it was nice to see Weir sit in with TTB for the Charles Segar cover “Key to the Highway,” which they jammed into “Walkin’ Blues” by Robert Johnson. Derek let it all hang out for “Midnight in Harlem,” one of the band’s most recognizable numbers that always serves to be a crowd favorite. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters shook the main stage as Plant was one of the most highly anticipated headliners – making his debut at Lockn’. Plant was full of energy and still has a roaring voice for the ages. No matter how many fans plea for a Led Zeppelin reunion, it’s clear that Plant is happy with this band.

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As the lights went down Plant stepped up to the skirt of the stage and in a perfect silhouette raised the microphone up and began to sing “Trampled Under Foot,” not wasting any time to dip into his vast Zeppelin catalog. This particular version was slowed down and really harped on the emotion of the lyrics. After the song came to a pause Plant thanked the crowd and spoke into the microphone explaining that he “hasn’t done that one for over 40 years,” to which the crowd erupted. Subsequently the band slammed back into the jam of the song and they really stretched it out. Plant and company went on to play many more Zeppelin songs such as “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “The Lemon Song,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Dazed and Confused.” Robert Plant is still one of the best front men in the business and he more than proved that with this incredible set.

Widespread Panic with Special Guest Jimmy Cliff

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Widespread Panic took the stage for their first time of Lockn’ ’15 on Saturday and put together a nice set of classic favorites, new material and beloved covers before they brought out Jimmy cliff and Chuck Leavell to close out the set, which is where the true magic happened. Jimmy cliff still has a voice that rings like a bell and his vocal range is absolutely astounding. Jimmy Cliff kicked things off with “Sitting In Limbo,” which flowed into “The Harder They Come.” The upbeat motivation tune “You Can Get It If you Really Want” featured Cliff parading around the stage, demonstration some serious dance moves. As Jimmy Herring would solo, Cliff would kick his legs out and sort of strut around the stage. Cliff was all smiles as he went into “Many Rivers to Cross.” A rare cover of The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton” showcased WSP’s ability to master songs of various genres. Most notably it was Schools and Trucks who were locked in on the rhythmic end of the track. The ensemble wrapped up this set as Cliff walked up to the mic and announced; “this is the one I did for the movie Cool Runnings,” before going into the notable sing-a-long “I Can See Clearly Now.” This unique collaboration is one that I never would have imagined ever working together in the first place. However, the end result of this set is one of my favorite memories of the weekend.

Billy & the Kids

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It was nice to see Billy & The Kids still penciled-in the lineup. Especially since their original set was cancelled on Thursday and not everyone could make it to Charlottesville. Bob Weir sat in for the majority of their set and played a heartfelt “Cassidy” that was absolutely beautiful. Billy & The Kids rolled out stellar versions of “Let It Grow,” “Wharf Rat” and “Throwing Stones” before Mickey Hart crashed the stage for “One More Saturday Night,” (Saturday night, check) which showed three of the four “core four” on the same stage. This was the closest we would get all weekend of seeing the core four share the stage for the first time since the Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago earlier this year. Hart stayed on stage for “Not Fade Away” which featured the typical crowd chants and clapping of the chorus. It was during this time that Phil & Friends were gearing up on the adjacent stage and with careful timing and precision, they opened with “Not Fade Away,” picking up the jam right where it left off from Billy & The Kids. This was without a doubt the most flawless and creative transition of the weekend. Seeing Warren Haynes and Carlos Santana together on stage was a treat but it seemed like Haynes’ sound was overpowering and Santana was drowned out. Haynes hit his stride with a nice version of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Santana did find room to open it up with a take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Gov’t Mule (Late Night)

Over on the Blue Ridge Bowl stage Warren Haynes was set to take the music deep into the morning with a late night set with Gov’t Mule while EOTO did their deep rhythmic experience at the Woods Stage. Mule wasted no time and covered Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” > “Fearless” right out of the gate. The original mule number “Beautifully Broken” flowed into Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself.” A take on Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” surfaced late in the set which eventually went into The Allman Brothers’ “Dreams” > “Rocking Horse.” For the encore Haynes thanked the crowd for staying up so late and hinted at the fact it took a “strange” type of person to be here. Subsequently the band went into The Doors’ “People Are Strange” which they jammed into “When the Music’s Over.” This tribute to Jim Morrison and The Doors was absolutely beautiful and really flexed Haynes’ vocal range. After the set was over there was no way we were going to sleep any time soon so we popped over to the Garcia’s tent and relegated the late night party well into the morning.

Sunday September 13th, 2015

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Keller Williams Grateful Gospel

Sunday morning opened up with Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel on the Blue Ridge Stage. This ensemble featured his backing band, More Than A Little, with their traditional funk chops and John Kadlecik. Jerry Sunday was in full swing and the band laid down notable covers of “Feel Like A Stranger,” “My Brothers & Sisters,” “The Wheel” and “Eyes Of the World.” Over on the main stage The Southern Belles kicked things off and the Richmond locals provided a healthy dose of their unique southern rock. The Belles were one of the Rockin to Lockn’ winners as they dominated their regional competition to earn a spot on the main stage. The VA locals made the most of their 30-minute set and left a lasting impression.

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Ocean beach reggae stars Slightly Stoopid came out guns a blazing, taking their day slot by storm. The west coast rockers even featured special guests such as Trombone Shorty and Karl Denson throughout their set. Slightly Stoopid may be well known for their commercial success, but trust me the magic is live. Kyle and Miles led us through a mix of old songs as well as choice selections off their new album, Meanwhile… Back at the Lab. Stoopid have been actively touring for decades and it certainly shows. From small clubs and bars to tours with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill the band has proven that they not only stand the test of time, but also that their best years lie ahead.

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By the time Gov’t Mule took the main stage for their last scheduled performance of the weekend, the band stuck to mostly originals and some deep cuts such as “Unring the Bell.” Jimmy Herring stepped out for the Billy Cobham cover of “Stratus.” As Haynes played “Soulshine” it was safe to assume the set was coming to an end but the band threw out a variable and covered Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” Widespread Panic closed out their last appearance at Lockn’ with a mixture of classic songs such as “Hatfield,” “All Time Low,” “Pigeons” and “Disco,” which was also complemented by some of the band’s new album material such as “Steven’s Cat.” Warren Haynes graced the stage for a take on “Ribs and Whiskey” > “Tail Dragger.” Closing out their set with a hat tip to their late friend and founding member Michael Houser, WSP played a crisp version of “Protein Drink” > “Sewing Machine.”

Robert Plant was slated to close out the festival and his set was billed to be completely different from not only his set from yesterday, but also anything he’s ever done in his career. Unfortunately, this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Plant repeated “Black Dog” > “Rainbow” in the exact same placement as his previous set. Nobody was visibly upset in the audience but for those who paid close attention to how this set was billed couldn’t help but to feel a little let down. Plant did deliver a smoking version of “Custard Pie” and a chilling version of “Going to California” that was almost as beautiful as life itself.

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Overall, the 2015 installment of the Lockn’ Music and Arts Festival was a roaring success, despite numerous weather related setbacks. Organizers worked tirelessly to repair the grounds for Friday morning and while their efforts weren’t unnoticed there were other setbacks that could have been addressed (no ice vendors driving around, lack of bathroom facilities, etc.). The Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Virginia is the perfect place for Lockn’ and I hope this festival returns to this site for many years and continues to grow as one of the premiere summer festival experiences.

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