The sixth annual Lockn' Festival got underway, Thursday, August 24th, with astonishingly perfect weather conditions. After weeks of torrential rains that caused evacuations in nearby Lynchburg because of flooding fears, the skies cleared with pleasantly warm temperatures and a chilly night creating a perfect backdrop for the festivals first day. The weather was all the more of a surprise following the cancellation of a three-day Phish music festival, held often in upstate New York, scheduled the weekend before Lockn'. That festival was scuttled by dirty water from torrential rains the previous Thursday, with health officials denying a permit just as the jam band was about to take the stage.
A flurry of last-minute activity was taking place in the Lockn' festival grounds with forklifts and roadies racing about just before the opening. The campground had filled the night before, and hordes of music fans waited to rush through the gates just after 3.30pm. Festival goers were greeted to a Lockn' set up like last year, that moved the main stage to the Infinity Downs field next to the smaller Relix stage. The musical format was revised this year as well with all the bands scheduled playing the main stage except the midnight jam on the Relix stage. The late-night sets in the forest were also scrapped in favor of moving the action into the main festival grounds. Perhaps the most significant change this year was the expansion of the festival to a nearby hill overlooking the concert site. The hill featured the central food court full of gourmet food stands, its own extended bar, picnic tables and a delayed sound system offering up perfect audio from the main stage far away. The first day crowds were light on the hill, but as festival fans discovered the strategic spot, many began using it as their main base setting up blankets and chairs to enjoy the excellent view. The hill also featured the Hamageddon mechanical pig that breathes fire. The pig roaster is well known to festival goers at Bonnaroo, belching out spectacular flames periodically into the night air.
The music on the main stage began with a set by DJ Jerrbrother, playing some jam band music. Fans packed the front of the stage early for the first band to play Lockn this year, Firecracker Jam. The group from nearby Lynchburg played a well-received 30-minute set of southern-tinged jam band music. The band is fronted by lead singer Billy Berger who sings and plays an electric mandolin like a rock guitarist. The band merges elements of jazz, funk, and R&B which made it a perfect opening to this year's funk-laden line up at Lockn'. The group ended with a Phish tune, Sparkle, much to the delight of the crowd.
Lockn' festival gets its name from the swiveling stage that rotates out a band and rotates in the next with no downtime. On this first day of the festival, the system worked flawlessly with each next act ready to play as they appeared to the crowd. As the crowd said goodbye to the openers, they said hello to Erin and The Wildflower from nearby Charlottesville, Virginia (Yes that Charlottesville). The six-piece soul/funk band also played a surprisingly funky jam band set for 30 minutes. They were followed by, yet another Virginia based band, Butcher Brown. The keyboardist of Lettuce, Nigel Hall joined the group for a 30-minute set of jazz drenched funk. The band danced their way off as the stage rotated to reveal jam band stalwarts for the first of two sets, Lettuce. The New York-based band began an hour set playing into the late summer sunset, offering up psychedelic jams ending with one of their signature songs, Madison Square.
Consummate jam band and Thursday headliners, Umphrey’s McGee rolled into view for the first of their two sets just as the sun began to fade on the festival grounds and crisp, fresh air filled the evening sky. The band began with There’s No Crying in Mexico and a guitar-drenched Higgins. The surging crowd seemed enraptured by the set. Lead singer Brendan Bayliss took a moment to dedicate the song Seasons “to the weather gods,” as a beautiful twilight engulfed the surrounding farmlands. The band completed their 75-minute set with a version of Hurt Bird Bath. The group gave the stage back to Lettuce for their second set as night fell on Lockn festival. The second set was a more funk-laden hour of dance-inspiring music that had the audience dancing from the front of the stage to the far corners of the festival. The set included band staples like Lettsanity. Umph was joined near the end of the set by members of Butcher Brown adding to the horn section. Collaborations are a vital part of what makes the Lockn' festival so unique and exciting. The band along with its extended horn section ended the set with a funky Do It Like You Do and finally a cover of Herbie Hancock’s Hang Up Your Hang Ups.
Lockn' is famous for its many collaborations over the years and what happened next on this year’s first night of Lockn' was a perfect example. As the stage began to rotate Lettuce out, while they were still playing their final song, it stopped halfway, and the crowd could see Umphrey’s McGee begin to play the same song on the other side. Then as the stage finished its full rotation members of Lettuce crossed over and played with Umphrey’s for the remainder of the song completing a perfect handoff. “Gotta love it when a plan work’s out” Bayliss quipped as the band launched into their final set.
Just as the band finished their set, the smaller Relix stage came alive with the late-night jam by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. A late-night staple at the festival, it was evident by the vast crowd gathered bundled in blankets in the cold early morning air that this band is a highlight for many festival goers. The band opened with Grateful Dead classics such as Row Jimmy and Estimated Prophet. The traditional collaborations continued with a surprise appearance by Chris Harford for a cover of Neil Young’s Hippie Dream. Judging by the smiles on everyone's faces it was a nearly perfect opening to Lockn' festival 2018.