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Virginia’s Lockn’ Music Festival: Soulful Sound and Camaraderie (Part I)

By September 15, 2016November 24th, 20184 Comments

Day 1: Landing on Solid Ground

For four days in August, the normally quiet hills of Nelson county, Virginia, were transformed into a city of raucous humanity.  Tents, RV’s, campers, yurts, stages and cars turned the green landscape into a world of its own. The Blue Ridge Mountains climbed towards the sunny skies as a picturesque backdrop painted by the most talented artists’ brush.

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Joined together by a love for music, people traveled from the far reaches of the country and some from foreign shores. Everyone got in on what turned out to be a musical adventure and a few days of community, love, food, art – one hell of a party. After a week on the road exploring many of the wonders the state of Virginia has to offer, we had come to a halt and placed two firm feet upon the grounds of Lockn’ Music Festival.  

Into the Great Unknown

The ground rumbled beneath my shoes and I dove head first into the excitement. The summer’s sun shined bright above as I made my way into the festival, drops of sweat soaking through my t-shirt plastering it to my back. But the heat was soon forgotten as the awe of the immensity and breadth of the festival set in. I made a beeline straight for the main concert field, visual and cerebral stimulation enticing me forward.

The sounds of music poured out of the sound system were soundtrack to drift and explore with.  Live music had yet to start but everything else the festival offered was in full swing and a giddiness overtook me.  Vendors lined the sides of the main concert area and the massive revolving stage appears as a man made altar to the gods of music looming high and prominent at the end of the field.  The aroma of almost every type of food imaginable floats on the air as I made my way into the heart of the city upon these hills.  A gastronomical marvel of diversity, I passed BBQ meat, pizza, arancini balls, savory pies, Jerry rolls, gyros and a whole slew of other cuisine.  I strolled by vendors without stopping to fill my stomach, the excitement of being a part of such a momentous undertaking quelling any hunger, my insides filled to the brim with anticipation for the long weekend ahead.

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The sirens had sung me onto the rocks of a musical paradise and I had high hopes for the weekend-long collision of the most colorful members of mankind.

Full throttle is the only way to take on something like the Lockn’ Music Festival. Absorb every flash of color that crosses your vision, listening to strangers conversations while openly joining in and basking in the smells of hundreds of meals being cooked and the unwashed peoples of the tribe.  Humans with very little worry and a whole lot of good energy, a homo sapien zoo of untameables.  Give us some live music, the necessary nutrients, some water, a place to run wild and you’ll bring out the best and most creative of us.  

I climbed to the top of the Camel tower and lounge, a two story air conditioned structure where you can design your own t-shirt complete or get cheap smokes. I wanted the height to stare out, breathe in and harness all that I could see. Out onto the second story deck I got  a view of the entire main field and the tents reaching to the horizon in distance, the Lockn’ tribe had dug in.

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Virginia’s Musical Goldmine

As the sun began to set behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, the first notes of live music began to dance in the still August evening’s air. Vulfpeck had taken the stage and the funk flowed through the ever growing audience like a tug on a puppeteer’s strings, the opening salvo warmed the crowd into a steady dance party as those who knew the songs helped the performers by singing right along. As their set ended we saw the mechanical genius design come to fruit as the stage rotated revealing Umphrey’s McGee who quickly broke into their heavier style of rock and roll as darkness completely settled upon the green hills.  The music continued into the night as a much anticipated performance by Ween filled the next few hours and taking up the last time slot of the day on the main stage.

Night Falls on Viola Lee Blues

By midnight and the end of Ween’s set, the festival goers, myself included (loaded up on cold brew to energize me through the night) were in full carnival mode. I spotted numerous costumes, hula hoopers honing their craft and smiles brighter than the crescent moon that floated in the sky. I made it over to The Blue Ridge Bowl Stage to hear the energetic renditions of Grateful Dead songs played by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. These guys get their audience moving like a double shot of espresso first thing in the morning. I have rarely witnessed such supreme energy flowing out of musician’s instruments before. Playing classic Dead tunes such as “Truckin’”,“St. Stephen”, “The Wheel” and a version of “Viola Lee Blues” to shake the crowd like a locomotive flying by at speeds in excess of 150 mph.  If anyone can keep their listeners on their feet past 3 in the morning, Almost Dead has that down to an artform.

As they wound down the the opening night of Lockn’, I headed back to my hotel to rest my tired but content eyes so that I may carry on the party come tomorrow.   

Day 2: Heaven Sent

Waking in The Sleep Inn of Charlottesville Friday morning, my first thought was I’ve got to get back! Actually, it was probably give me coffee or give me death, as I threw open the curtain to see the 10am dawn of my own making. Coffee! I fought off the sleep demons with a few cups and threw my dusty body into a cool shower to wash off the previous days sweat.  Staying in a hotel during a festival has its pros and cons; on one side is you are not as immersed in the community, waking up to trade comments with your neighbor and then there’s the drive to and from the festival grounds. But on the other, there is blissful air conditioning and blackout curtains, so sleeping in after a late night is not an issue unless your excitement makes your mind race right out of your slumber. There was a great spread too at The Sleep Inn of free breakfast and coffee to get me going. My hotel also had an enormous and comfortable bed that normally I wouldn’t want to vacate. Luckily I had also stocked my room’s mini fridge that was graciously provided with cold water and cold brew to sip on the route south.

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A Perfectly Strange Harmony

Back among the beautifully strange creatures of the festival, I convened with my new friends of High Brew Cold Brew Coffee under their shelter from the sun backstage. High Brew had made a caffeinated oasis and were supplying the artists and staff with delicious canned pick me ups.  These guys were lifesavers throughout the weekend, not only feeding my cold brew addiction but providing me with a home base to relax and charge my phone while fans twirled the air upon my face.  I made a whole new family at Lockn’, the easy caress of friendship abounds in this seemingly gravity free atmosphere. Some of these people were mad, not in the angry sense just crazy in the way I crave, hungry for life, for love, for music and freedom.  This festival seemed to make the brightest lights flare into something brilliant, so much that you almost had to squint to look.  Part of my unending urge to travel is to seek out the natives or fellow nomads and travel in groups. Lockn’ is some of the most fertile ground for finding others who share the same lust to discover the new and unknown.

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Friday’s musical mayhem helped conjure that utopian setting with a constant blast of unfiltered sound waves flowing seamlessly.  Turkuaz, Vulfpeck, Charles Bradley and another set of Ween all led up to the headliner for the night, Phish. Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band played classics and ended with a lively “Must of Got Lost” and as much as I love that song, I knew he erred because we were all exactly where we were supposed to be.

Phish took the stage for the first time that weekend and played one rollercoaster of a set. Ups and downs, lefts and rights, Willy Wonka’s elevator has nothing on these guys.

The night was truly alive, I love the feel of the sunshine on my face on a summer’s day but the darkness seems to bring out the weirdness and joy at a moment like this. It’s easy to get caught up and lost in a wonderful maze of music when the boys from Vermont are in their groove. From their opening “Wilson” to their a capella rendition of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” the crowd seem to glow brighter with every song until it seemed a thousand fireflies had taken flight in the warm evening air. Closing the second set with their an audience loving “You Enjoy Myself” left me with an ambition to enjoy myself the rest of the night. I followed a content mass of people out of the main stage area to the Blue Ridge Bowl to soak in the rest of the night sounds.

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Into the Blazing Night

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead once again performed a musical miracle.  I was starting to slog on my feet, drained from dancing, and walking and the heat. I thought nothing would carry me through the rest of the night and I would have to raise the white flag of surrender. Then around 1:30am a cold shower in the form of musical mana almost involuntarily got my body moving.  If I could capture their energy in a bottle we wouldn’t need nuclear reactors anymore. If “Good Lovin’” got me on my feet then “Franklin’s Tower” reached up and jigged the entire audience into some sort of frenzy, a rabid marionette unconscious that our strings were being pulled by music alone.

As that jam began to wind down, I thought this is it.  I’ll make my break with that fantastic echo ringing in my ears, yet as I turned to go “Throwing Stones” pulled me back to sing along. Finally I headed off into the night, a cheshire smile pasted upon my face.

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Give Jake’s Part II of the Lockn’ Festival a look next! If you’re thinking of heading to Lockn’ next year, it will be held August 24th-27th, 2017. Pure Wander was a guest of Virginia Tourism and Lockn’, and all opinions are of the author. Professional photos by Dave Vann.

Jake Wright

Author Jake Wright

Jake Wright is a writer and resident of Plymouth, Massachusetts. While born in England, Jake has enjoyed traveling to several countries and throughout the U.S. via road trips from East to West Coast.

More posts by Jake Wright

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