Recap by Max Stewart
Photos by George Trent Grogan
LOCKN’ 2017 began with a new look, new location, but the same welcoming and good-times vibe. The main show field is now on the grounds of Infinity Downs Farm, located right next to the Relix Stage (formerly the Blue Ridge Bowl). Not a major change, but it certainly requires some adjusting for veteran LOCKN’ attendees. If anything, the updated location has centralized everything so that the stages, food, bars and other vendors are all very close.
Umphrey’s McGee and String Cheese Incident kicked the weekend off by playing two sets each, both intertwined. This actually worked masterfully: it kept things fresh and fans on their toes during each band’s one hour set. Umphrey’s McGee’s first set stayed true to their Prog-Rock influences, with Lead Guitarist Jake Cinninger taking a central role on tunes “40s Theme” and “Mantis.” The sonic dichotomy of “The Floor” showcased the band’s repertoire of musical ingenuity and was a ferocious cap to their first set.
Fans were excited to see String Cheese Incident’s Guitarist/Singer Bill Nershi healthy and performing after missing a show earlier this week due to vertigo. Nershi seemed to be in great spirits and has seemingly made a full recovery while commenting on how excited he was to be “spinning on this stage with our friends Umphrey’s.” In fact, the two bands did rotate throughout the evening on the revolving LOCKN’ stage, so there was no downtime in between sets (part of the festival’s uniqueness amongst other similar events). String Cheese Incident’s first set highlights included opener “Restless Wind” and “Colliding,” where Singer/Guitarist Michael Kang and Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth both shined brightly.
The musical carousel spun again for Umphrey’s McGee’s second set, which maintained their high-flying momentum with “Plunger” and “Conduit,” proving why this band reigns as the Rock ‘N’ Roll gods of the Jam community (i.e. Bassist Ryan Stasik repping a Misfits shirt, Cinninger teasing Van Halen’s “Eruption”, Drummer Kris Meyers thrashing on the double bass drum pedals like Rush’s Neil Peart).
“There is something special about LOCKN’, I can’t put my finger on it,” Bayliss said in full recognition of the intangible ‘something’ that makes this festival so unique.
On that same note, String Cheese Incident stood in unison before their second set with Nershi making a heartfelt statement about the recent events in nearby Charlottesville, VA: “We need to unite, we need to stay together now more than ever. And the more we can stay together united, the more the people that are preaching the ugliness and the hatred and the violence will feel like they’re on an island.” Despite the tragic and disgusting actions of a few terrible individuals a few weeks ago, LOCKN’ represents a musically-united, world of peace that is away from those evils. The community, the love, the oneness; these are the building blocks of this festival.
There is a common thread to the performers at LOCKN’, all inspired and authentic musicians that seem to be cut from the same cloth. Like-minded musicianship tends to lead to collaboration, which is the bread and butter of this festival. Soon after a poignant performance of “Shine,” the highlight of Day 1 occurred during String Cheese Incident’s second set when Brendan Bayliss, Andy Farag, and Joel Cummins sat in to perform an expansive cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica”, where Bayliss made it clear he has the guitar chops to play lead in any scenario.
Keep your eyes peeled this weekend for more coverage of LOCKN’, where collaboration and musical unity will continue on the farm in Virginia!