Every year they play an NBA All-Star game and every year basketball fans look at the line-ups -- the amassed talent almost incomprehensible in its limitless possibilities -- and think “what if this was a real team?!”
Scanning the Lockn' 2016 festival lineup evokes similar thoughts: an utterly inconceivable collection of musical talent. I would look at the listing of bands playing, a veritable who’s-who of my personal favorites list and think, “what if this was really the lineup?!” Well, friends, it was real and, as the lady says, it was spectacular.
Nearly every band put on a set (or multiple sets) that pushed the limits of what I thought they could do. And one after another! Almost too many to recall. Each day produced head-scratching moments of musical genius and rage-in-the-heat ecstasies that I had nearly forgotten about, lost in the memory hole when the next greatness occurred.
It was in the back of my mind before the festival even started, and carried with me throughout the weekend, but on top of so many of my favorite bands playing (and crushing), so many of my favorite individuals would have an opportunity to show me again why I loved them. And each one of them delivered.
My list of favorite guitarists, bassists, drummers were represented at Lockn' to an almost ridiculous degree. So, instead of the normal set-by-set rundown, I thought it would be fun to relive the festival through the lens of the individual talents that drove the music all weekend long.
First up on the list aren’t even musicians.
I had the chance to go to an NBA All-Star game once a few years ago and the whole affair was a giddy production with lights and explosions and beyond. Lockn' was no different, each night featuring paint-the-night-sky visual brilliance with easily my two favorite lighting directors.
The festival was christened Thursday night with Umphreys’ McGee taking the stage right around sundown, a perfect opportunity for Jefferson Waful to do what he does best. As the band broke the day’s heat with scintillating, thunder-and-lightning jams, Waful brilliantly filled the air with color.
His lights were liquid crystals, shimmering and bubbling, synchronizing and ultimately enhancing the music for everyone in the field, front to back.
If Waful’s lights were liquid, Phish’s LD Chris Kuroda often felt like solid beams, struts of primary hues projecting from the stage. With his getting-more-and-more-comfortable banks of LED’s adding psychedelic geometries to classic jams, Kuroda was master of the visuals. His best work seemed to always center on beams of pure yellow, shining straight up into the sky as if paying tribute to the sun which had beaten down in impossible heat all weekend long.
Perhaps more subtly than Waful and Kuroda, the lights for My Morning Jacket felt like an indispensable piece of their set. I haven’t met anyone who wasn’t blown away by the marathon of riches put on by MMJ in the Saturday night slot, an almost unanimous MVP in a weekend full of peak performances.
It was a set planned, realized and executed in a way few other bands could dream of doing, starting in the Earth’s stratosphere and ultimately going intergalactic, as “jammy” as I’ve ever seen the band. The lights charted the path, ranging from ecstatic arena rock to intimate theater disco ball and all points in between.
If the set was a WOW, the beams of light added an emphatic exclamation mark or two to make it a WOW!!
What about the bass guitar? I’d be comfortable saying that 5 of my favorite 10 bassists were at the festival, including Phil Lesh, Mike Gordon, Dave Schools, Tim Lefebvre and Dave Dreiwitz. Maybe it's just home team pride, but they all fucking killed it.
Dave Dreiwitz was the spirit guide of the first two nights pulling double double-duty with a set of Ween and a set with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead both Thursday and Friday. It felt almost superhuman, like he was in two places at once, but if he was digging deep to make it happen, he did a good job of hiding it.
Helping anchor the heavy-duty rhythm section for Ween, he was especially triumphant during the deep-and-nasty Thursday headlining set, joining elbows with Claude Coleman and letting the oozing darkness percolate and ferment nicely.
I was shaking my head as I made my way that night over to the Blue Ridge Bowl and worked my way up front only to see Dreiwitz already on stage, plugging in and checking his sound. Later that night, in a sort of heat dream I came to the conclusion that one of my favorite sounds in the world is when Dave plays the bass lines during the opening of JRAD’s version of “Terrapin Station.” I’d take his interpretation over even Phil’s, it gives me literal chills both for what it is in the moment and the anticipation of what’s to come.
But speaking of Phil Lesh, the Granddaddy of the Jam had his own double-your-pleasure weekend playing two decidedly different sets on Saturday and Sunday. It was interesting to watch his zen style in the contrasting sets, the first an almost humorously large ensemble with two drummers, a full bluegrass band and a full rock band.
At times he seemed to be herding some seriously talented cats, but most of the time his guidance was subliminal and the music found its way to some inspired moments, particularly in “Uncle John’s Band.”
Sunday was more ferocious, Phil almost a special guest at his own show, an honorary member of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and at times even vice versa. The blues-and-rock-centric show created plenty of space for Phil to find his overdrive.
Of course, with two full Phish shows, Mike Gordon had plenty of opportunities to make his presence felt. Indeed, even in a crowd of 20,000+, Gordo was able to make the hairs on your neck tremble with many well-timed drops. After a day that was filled with all sorts of funky, I thought Mike was Friday’s groovemaster, populating the first set with sweet boogie like in the excellent “Tube” jam, amongst many many other songs.
Dave Schools is a Lockn regular like no other and appearing with his “other” band, he was a rock-bassist extraordinaire, pushing and pulling Hard Working Americans’ headbangers like it was his day job.
Go To: Stream or Download HWA Set
The Tedeschi Trucks Band has plenty of not-so-secret weapons, but when things really started to cook in their wow-I-didn’t-know-they-could-do-that!!! Saturday night set, it felt like Tim Lefebvre was the behind-the-scenes engine. The band has always been good, but the addition of Lefebvre seemed to tap a previously unrealized potential and their Lockn set was a mindblowing example of how high the ceiling really is.
Crazy thing is all them big-name bassists in big-name bands and perhaps the most eye-opening was Laura Lee from Khruangbin. Playing Saturday night at the Woods stage after Schools, Lesh and Lefebvre were probably fast asleep in an air-conditioned bedroom, Lee was laying down what I would describe intricately simple bass riffs -- lullabyes of groove that her bandmates swayed and swerved through, irresistible funk that could not have been more what-the-doctor-ordered after a crazy good day of music.
Sick drummers? Sure, Lockn had ‘em.
First off, there were funk parties both day and night and two of the funkiest around, Stanton Moore from Galactic and Adam Deitch from Lettuce led the charge. When the jam scene turned groovy about 20 years ago, these guys were there delivering the beats that made everyone shake their bones and as they proved over the weekend, they are still getting it done.
But for me, the weekend was anchored by two of my absolute favorites: Joe Russo and Jon Fishman. Crazily enough, they even played a show together in one of the greatest examples of “maybe that’s two much firepower” of the weekend, especially for a pair of guys who rarely play in a two-drummer format… don’t need to, really.
It actually worked quite well, I thought, as they backed the larger-than-life lineup for the Phil set on Saturday. Maybe they didn’t need two drummers, but they had them and it was one of the pleasures of the weekend to watch these two favorites work together, smile at each other and feed off each other.
A testament to their skill and graciousness, there was never a moment where the rhythm got hairy or messy or too loud. They were perfect.
I thought Sunday’s night’s Phish show was incredibly tight and found Fish’s playing to be particularly energized and, in my own fanciful mind, attribute at least some of it to the rare pairing from the Phil set.
And what more can I say about Joe Russo? Flat out one of my favorite musicians in the world, he and his band absolutely destroyed the late night sets Thursday and Friday. Two straight nights taking control after 1am and going for over two hours, almost non-stop, Joe pounding away, guiding jams to places you didn’t think were possible, taking familiar songs through unfamiliar gateways to other familiar songs, twisting your head in a late-night what-the-fuck? with a big, fat this-is-fun smile on his face.
JRAD was as good as I’ve seen them at Lockn, to describe the highlights of their shows is to detail every note of the set. Yeah, that good. Give the drummer some.
There were no shortage of guitar players down in Arrington, VA. Anastasio! Trucks! Metzger! Put all three of them on my personal Mt Guitarmore. But let’s start with Neal Casal who won the Jambiquitous Award for the weekend, destroying in four sets with four different bands.
Whether it was the in-your-face rocking of Hard Working Americans, the high octane Grateful Dead in the Sunday Phil set or the mellowgroove Dead vibes of Circles Around the Sun, Casal was a freakin’ beast. It was all great, but the Circles set was particularly special.
A first time (only time?) performance from the band that made the fantastical setbreak music from Fare Thee Well, the loosely-themed improvisations found a magical life at the tripped-out Woods Stage.
Scott Metzger was his characteristically nasty self for both JRAD shows… I think he crammed three separate what-the-fucks? into Friday’s show opening "Good Lovin’" alone. Metzger is not one to let an opportunity to blow your mind go to waste, so it was an awesome treat when he sat in with White Denim’s Friday afternoon set.
For better or worse, sit-ins were a bit of a rarity at the festival (personally, looking at the resulting music, I have no problem with it), but Scott sitting in with WD would have been a highlight even if every set had featured an A+ guest. While we’re on White Denim and guitars, I should mention the fact that the current one-guitar/keyboard, James Petralli-unleashed version of the band was a hidden gem of the festival.
Just when you think the band might be losing their edge and luster, they go out and punch you in the face with their blazing rock and roll and their Lockn' set was a wallop for sure.
As I mentioned, the Tedeschi Trucks Band set was a gamechanger, so it goes without saying that Derek Trucks had himself a show. Like a fully operational Death Star, Trucks in the TTB seemed to always have one weakness to me -- his being a little too generous, not taking charge with that once-in-a-lifetime talent quite enough. Well, Saturday’s set patched up that weakness and Trucks almost went too far in the other direction, taking solo after solo after holyshit! solo.
Almost too far, but not quite.
It was glorious, slide guitar perfection he and Susan Tedeschi played off each other wonderfully. They led their excellent band through what amounted to a glorified cover band set, but it was hitting on a wide variety of styles from Joe Cocker to Blind Faith to freakin’ Miles Davis and so many points in between. We were surprised they abandoned many of their “hits” and just kept digging deeper and going further, jam after ass-kicking jam. At many other festivals, it would have been the set of the weekend.
Of course, we can’t forget old Trey Anastasio. I thought both Phish shows were great and danced my smiling face off from top to bottom. But when you boil down both shows, you arrive at two Anastasio-led highlights.
The keystone to Friday night was a towering pairing of “Ghost” and “Bathtub Gin,” each featuring a time-stands-still mind-boggler jam with Trey doing all those things that make you want to travel long distances to see more and more and more.
I’m willing to argue all of the finer points of both shows -- highlights and perceived lowlights -- but I don’t think you’ll convince me that any music made over the weekend was better than the jam out of “Light” on Sunday night. After a bit of meandering, Trey found that magic sauce and shared it with the beaming crowd. Fishman, Gordon, McConnell locked into his thing and what they produced could probably cure diseases and end wars if only it could be bottled. Good lord, that was something else. There were other great guitar performances as well, Gary Clark Jr., Dean Ween, Carl Broemel… I could go on and on…
A quick note about the great front-men/women who got to strut their stuff at Lockn this year. There are few better than Jim James who skipped the banter for the most part and poured his over-the-top energy into leading his band through that all-timer set. James’ guitar was as effusive as his voice, you could feel his emotions pouring out of it. The four covers of the night were the four corners of the set, each showing off a different side of JJ’s talent.
Go To: Stream / Download MMJ Set
If you want to talk about emotional powerhouses fronting a band, you can’t go long without mentioning Charles Bradley who comes through almost as larger-than-life than Jim James, but in a very different way, almost like something out of a funky fairy tale… like, is this guy real? Hell yeah, Bradley's as real as it gets. There is no way to watch him lead his band and not be utterly dumbstruck with love for the guy and the serious soul he exuded.
His Friday set was the real deal, as groovy as you could dream of, never mind the heat, I just wanted to hug the guy and then get my boogie on.
And that's saying nothing about Chris Robinson, Susan Tedeschi, Todd Snider, Gene Ween… plenty of the good stuff at Lockn.
Typically I go to music festivals with an eye to discover a lot of new music. It’s what brings me to Newport Folk Festival as often as I can go. My trip to Lockn' was quite the opposite: it was a chance to see so many of my already-favorites in one bet-you-can’t-eat-the-whole-thing weekend.
Still, I did get to see some stuff that I’d never seen live before and I was happy that I caught nearly every set of the weekend, because otherwise I might have missed the excellent jam-indie offerings of Moon Taxi -- I really dug their set -- or the addictively groovy Turkuaz, whom I’d always heard so highly of, but never had a chance to check out.
So yeah, Lockn' was the Dream Team of festival line-ups, a non-stop, almost-too-much torrent of jam. Like that My Morning Jacket set, it was conceived as something specia;, then executed almost perfectly. Even the unbearable heat played into the experience.
I can’t imagine it ever being much better, but I’m sure the organizers will try.
SETLISTS & MEDIA
Thursday, August 25th
Conscious Club, Fugue State, Rango II, My First Car, Funky Duck, 1612, Wait for the Moment, Peg, Back Pocket, Beastly, Christmas in L.A., It Gets Funkier
Joe Russo's Almost Dead
Space -> Jam -> Truckin (SM) -> St Stephen # (All) -> The Eleven (TH & JR) -> Brown Eyed Women (TH) > The Wheel $ (All) -> Estimated Prophet (SM) -> Tennessee Jed (TH) > Viola Lee Blues % (All) > He’s Gone (TH) > Terrapin Suite ^ (TH)
# – With a “We’re Gonna Groove” (Led Zeppelin) Jam (Band) & a Dave Dreiwitz Bass Solo
$ – With a “Duo Jam”, “Fat Mama” (Herbie Hancock) Teases (MB), a Hell in A Bucket Tease (SM) & probably a bunch more from MB
% – With unknown tease (Band) & a “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin) Tease (SM)
^ – With “He’s Gone” lyrics sang over the intro, another “Fat Mama” Tease (MB), & another Duo Jam
Friday, August 26th
Real Deal Momma, Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah), 2HB*, There's a Brain in My Head, Thank You, River to Consider, Had 2 Know (Personal), Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love), Limited by Stature, I Can Tell, Holda You (I'm Psycho), Anvil Everything, I Start to Run
* w/Scott Metzger
Wastin' Time, Long Line, Nothing But the Wheel, Cry One More Time, Start All Over Again, Peace of Mind, The Usual Place, Lights Out, It Was Always So Easy (To Find an Unhappy Woman), It Serves You Right to Suffer, When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again / Love Stinks, Homework, I Don't Wanna Know, Give It to Me, Lookin' for a Love, I Need You Tonight, Must of Got Lost
Set 1: Wilson > Down with Disease, Free, Wolfman's Brother, Tube > 555 > It's Ice > Wingsuit, Simple, Space Oddity
Set 2: Punch You In the Eye > Blaze On > Fuego -> Ghost > Bathtub Gin > Backwards Down the Number Line, You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Character Zero
Trey teased Little Drummer Boy in Fuego. Bathtub Gin was unfinished. The YEM vocal jam included Ass Handed quotes from Fish.
Joe Russo's Almost Dead
“Early Comers” Soundcheck#: Ruben & Cherise (TH), Uncle John’s Band (All)
One Set: Jam -> Good Lovin’ (SM) -> Shakedown Street $ (TH) -> China Cat Sunflower (TH) -> I Know You Rider (All) > Dancin In The Street %, (SM & NA) Music Never Stopped (SM & NA), Turn On Your Lovelight * (NA) -> Slipknot! -> Franklin’s Tower (TH) > Throwing Stones (SM), Not Fade Away & (All)
NA indicates Nicole Atkins on Lead or Background Vocals
# – There was a small crowd assembled at the stage for soundcheck, so Joe decided to play some songs that they weren’t “Going to play later tonight” for them.
$ – With two “Bathtub Gin” (Phish) teases/jams (Band & JR)
% – With a “Fat Mama” (Herbie Hancock) Tease (MB); with a Dave Dreiwitz Bass Solo & a “Shortnin’ Bread” (James Whitcomb Riley) tease from DD during said solo; with a “Good Lovin” Jam (Band) & call & response “Woo”s from the crowd; with a Duo Jam.
* – Not played since 12.27.13 at the Capitol Theatre, 79 shows
& – With an unknown (but very familiar) tease (MB)
Circles Around The Sun
Saturday, August 27th
Galactic with Lee Oskar
Hard Working Americans
Phil Lesh & Friends
Scarlet Begonias, Dire Wolf (without Anders), Rosa Lee McFall (Charlie Monroe cover) (without Anders), Uncle John's Band, Mr. Charlie (with Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, without Anders), Sugaree (with Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, without Anders) Shakedown Street, Terrapin Station
Tedeschi Trucks Band
My Morning Jacket
Sunday, August 28
Keller Williams' Grateful Gospel
Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go, Leave My Guitar Alone, Forever as the Moon, Roan County Banjo, Precious, Precious, New Cannonball Rag, Ain't It Hard But Fair, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Vibration & Light Suite, Narcissus Soaking Wet
Phil Lesh & Friends
Gary Clark Jr.
The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Bright Lights, Travis County, Next Door Neighbor Blues, If Trouble Was Money, Cold Blooded, BYOB, Ain't Messin 'Round, When My Train Pulls In, Don't Owe You a Thang, You Saved Me, Shake
Set 1: Sample in a Jar, Martian Monster, Axilla > The Moma Dance > Halley's Comet > AC/DC Bag, Fuck Your Face > 46 Days, The Line, Limb By Limb > Possum, First Tube
Set 2: Carini > Chalk Dust Torture > Twist > Light > Tweezer > No Quarter > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Harry Hood > Tweezer Reprise
Encore: Loving Cup
Setlist via Phish.net