By Michael Lester
ARRINGTON, Va. — Vehicular gridlock welcomed travelers from all over the country entering last weekend’s inaugural four-day Lockn’ music festival and funneled them into a grass parking lot off Route 29 in Arrington, Va., that quickly morphed into a free-for-all of beer-swilling, publicly urinating tailgaters.
Some waited in the chaotic so-called line of cars as long as 11 hours to reach campsites inside the sprawling 200-year-old, 5,000-acre Oak Ridge Estate surrounded by rustic wooden horse fences and beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The disorder prompted some frustrated festival goers to sarcastically dub the festival “Gridlockn’” or “InterLockdown.”
Then, the music started, and that big mess seemed long forgotten. Music tends to be a calming elixir. Especially when there are three nights of Furthur, four sets of String Cheese Incident and two nights of Widespread Panic wrapped into four days. Especially when the sound pumping from the stage is as phenomenally crisp and clear as you’ll hear at any outdoor venue.
The concept of this festival of two adjacent stages, which drew an estimated 25,000-30,000, was to pair acts of differing genres and generations, most notably String Cheese, a bluegrass-based band from Colorado that may deliver everything from a Van Halen cover to a trance-inducing electronica jam during the same show, and the Zac Brown Band, a much more mainstream ensemble that’s more country than rock and roll yet also known for some eclectic covers of its own.
Having seen around a dozen String Cheese shows and having never heard a single Zac Brown tune, I wasn’t sure what to expect when SCI’s sextet and Brown and a few of his band’s members took the stage Friday, Sept. 6.
The knit skull cap-wearing Brown certainly could claim a relatively strong following among the jam band crowd before Lockn’ was conceived. He’s probably welcoming a few more into the fold after this festival.
With Brown, some of his band and members of String Cheese sharing vocals throughout their performance, the “Zac Brown Incident” covered Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and encored with Bob Marley’s “Could You be Loved?” But the hands-down highlight of the set was a version of Bill Withers’ funky 1972 hit “Use Me.”
Bookending Gov’t Mule on Night One with two sets and returning with two sets Friday, String Cheese clocked in with the tightest, highest-energy performances of the weekend, most notably on Friday with frequent collaborator Keller Williams. Williams, who opened the festival performing with Keller & the Keels Friday afternoon, joined SCI on stage later that evening for Williams’ “Best Feeling,” a song String Cheese frequently borrows on the road.
Yes, SCI even outdid the weekend’s other much-anticipated pairing of Widespread Panic and Creedence Clearwater Revival legend John Fogerty, who seemed to be more interested in promoting his new album than improvising with a new group of collaborators.
Panic’s Saturday night performance was unsteady, less-than-free-flowing and flat. You could sense anxiety as they prepared for Fogerty’s delayed and eventual emergence at the end of the set for a few CCR classics that included “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Susie Q” and “Fortunate Son.”
Fogerty, though, was clearly smitten with Panic lead guitarist Jimmy Herring’s guitar playing. The pair clearly shared on-stage chemistry. At one point during the show, Fogerty gushed about Herring’s guitar talents.
There were many other notable onstage collaborations throughout the weekend: Phish’s Trey Anastasio sitting in with Furthur. Derek Trucks sharing the stage with Panic. Grace Potter harmonizing with Warren Haynes on Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” and “Southern Man,” an apparent tribute to Neil Young, who backed out of the festival.
Perhaps the best singular collaboration of the weekend was Susan Tedeschi, guitarist husband Trucks and their band joining Furthur’s Bob Weir and the Black Crowes Sunday afternoon for “Turn on Your Lovelight,” popularized in the 1960s by the Grateful Dead’s Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.