By William Fallon
On a Saturday morning in August, I drive down windy country roads all the way to the Infinity Downs Farm in Arrington, Virginia. We ride down a windy road and pull onto a large dirt race track filled with cars in the infield. On the surrounding fields, cars line up for as far as the eye can see. Makeshift tents crowd around and between the cars lined up next to each other. Fellow Collegiate School student Jack Lerch (‘19) and I put on our futuristic, plastic, scannable wristbands and walk towards the entrance. We wave our hands in front of the blue LOCKN’ scanner, which confirms us by turning green. As we walk down the gravel path to the main entrance, we both get a better view of surrounding fields with cars lined up with tents for the dedicated jam music fans who sleep on the LOCKN’ grounds for all four days of the festival. We make our way to the second entrance and get to witness the futuristic wristband scan a second time. We then walk into the main area, which consists of two stages, the smaller Relix Stage and the large Main Stage.
We become surrounded by the LOCKN’ fanatics, many of whom are wearing tie-dye and Coachella-inspired, hippie-style clothing and are ready for another day of sunshine and music. “The environment of LOCKN’ is summed up by the lyrics of ‘Scarlet Begonias’ by the Grateful Dead… ‘Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand, everybody is playing in the heart of gold band.’ LOCKN’ always has around 30,000 people attend each year, but no one is a stranger to one another because we are all there for the same reason – good music with good people,” says long-time LOCKN’ fan and Upper School counselor and mindfulness teacher Alex Peavey. “It was so obvious that everyone who was there was so excited for the music and the mutual love really brought the crowd together as one,” said fellow Cougar attendee Catherine Ottley (‘19).
The LOCKN’ festival started in 2013 and featured bands like Widespread Panic, Furthur, and The String Cheese Incident. It focuses on jam bands and Grateful Dead-inspired psychedelic rock. Infinity Downs Farm sits in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, providing a scenic mountain view to accompany the music. It takes place over the course of four days and hosts many bands. This year’s lineup featured Widespread Panic, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh & Friends, The String Cheese Incident, Gov’t Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, John Butler Trio, moe.,The Revivalists, Keller Williams, Greensky Bluegrass, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Avett Brothers, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, John Fogerty and others. In previous years, LOCKN’ has featured many other famous bands, like The Allman Brothers, Phish, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Zac Brown.
After walking around the LOCKN’ grounds and checking out the Grateful Dead-inspired shops, we hear the music on the Relix Stage spreading happiness and peace through the air. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is the final band to play on the Relix Stage before a giant wave of music lovers flow over to the Main Stage. In no more than two minutes, Keller Williams begins playing on the Main Stage.
Williams plays solo with his many guitars, pedals, music pads, and looping software. Utilizing these many instruments and methods of music, he creates a very funky style of jam-based music. I hear “Dude, I need to get air” from Lerch, so we take a break from the front of the stage, the “pit,” and head to get water. Being in the pit allows you to see the band at a close distance. However, there is a cost; it can be extremely cramped, and you have very little space. When walking to get water, I spot Peavey set up with lawn chairs on the field in front of the Main Stage. Peavey has been and will be at the festival for all four days. Peavey is a fan of jam-based music and reminds me of a famous Bob Marley quote: “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”
Following Williams’ performance is Greensky Bluegrass, and then the John Butler Trio, who play their famous song “Ocean” for LOCKN’, followed by John Fogerty. Fogerty was the lead guitarist and lead singer for Creedence Clearwater Revival and played many of their hit songs that night. Following Fogerty is Widespread Panic, whose bassist is Collegiate graduate Dave Schools (‘83). Widespread Panic was an awesome time, playing jams like “Chilly Water” and “Airplane,” which they rarely play live. Widespread Panic finishes up at around 12:30 a.m., and everyone departs for the night.
On Sunday, bands like The Record Company, JJ Grey & Mofro, Margo Price, The Revivalists, moe., and The Avett Brothers (feat. The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir) are all set to play. Sunday was a special day because earlier in the summer, it was announced that moe.’s lead singer and bassist, Rob Derhak, had been diagnosed with cancer, which required treatments that have taken him off of the road. So Phil Lesh, founding member and bassist of The Grateful Dead, came out to help moe. play that night, becoming Phil.moe. One memorable song from the set was the Dead tune “Box of Rain,” which was special because Lesh wrote it about his father, who died of cancer. Next was “Sugar Magnolia -> Scarlet Begonias -> Sunshine Daydream,” three famous Grateful Dead songs merged into one.
“The highlight of the weekend for me was the Sunday night set played by Phil.moe. One of Derhak’s childhood idol’s, Phil Lesh, stepped in to play Derhak’s spot for this special performance. So, while Derhak and all the members of moe. have been struggling with their new reality as it relates to cancer, Phil Lesh and a number of other musicians joined them on stage to help carry them through what will be their last show for quite some time.” said Peavey. Finishing up the festival were The Avett Brothers and Bob Weir, an outstanding end.
Overall, LOCKN’ was incredible. “We were witnessing family and friends rallying together to lift up someone who had been struck with cancer, and this particularly hit home with me because I have been experiencing the exact same thing for the past six months. I assume the members of moe. will never forget that set; I know I never will,” said Peavey.
Watch Keller Williams’ set here.
Listen to Phil.moe. here.
Watch The Avett Brothers and Bob Weir here.
Watch Pigeons Playing Ping Pong here.
Watch Greensky Bluegrass here.
Featured image courtesy of Dave Vann.