It was a great weekend for the music world as damn near every jam band, other than Phish, descended upon the beautiful farm country of Arrington, VA. If you don’t know where that is, just go to the middle of nowhere and make a left. It’s a few miles from there. We all know by now that adverse conditions postponed the event and caused a bunch of problems that were impossible to resolve given the time frame involved. Apparently, power issues plagued some of the RV campers and I’m sorry to hear that. For those that yelled about poor planning, If you never thought about what you might do if there were problems like that, you might be just as guilty. With a NASCAR race in Richmond coinciding with Lockn’, Virginia was pretty maxed out on labor and equipment demands. Those that were inconvenienced by that, I feel for ya. I personally found the staff incredibly helpful, friendly and jubilant even though they didn’t have answers to many of my questions. My theory about not having answers to questions is this, don’t make that face like you have no idea what I’m talking about. Act and speak with complete authority as you direct people to someone else. Here’s an example, “We’re so glad you’re here and I definitely want you to get an answer to that question so I’m gonna direct you to my supervisor Charles over there who will be happy to help you!” That’s how you duck a question and pass the buck to somebody making more money than you with kindness and authority! I’d be happy to help with training for any of y’all reading this that have businesses!
I know many are under the impression that I had Red Carpet treatment for the event but I can tell you, It took me 6 hours to get into the place, just like you. When I got to Will Call, there was no record of my RV Pass. I had a couple of numbers to call that made the process of getting it resolved a little bit easier than most I imagine but it still took a while. When we finally arrived at our RV Spot, we found out that we were on a bit of an incline…
Anybody familiar with RVs knows that if you’re not level, you often have big problems with refrigeration. We certainly did and most our food was trash before long. The one benefit to the incline was an exciting dream I had while sleeping the first night. I dreamed that I was an Olympic ski jumper. Unfortunately, I took the Silver after some jumper named Pietro Chapero took the Gold.
When the 3 of us woke up in the morning, we had all rolled into a pile at the rear of the RV along with all of our belongings. You never realize how wonderful it is to be on level ground until you spend a weekend in an RV that’s pitched like a Fun House. You get to experience things you never experienced before, like water that can’t make it to where the drain is located. Our food may have spoiled and we lived on an incline but at least we had power and a nice place to call home.
I want to be very clear about this, I’m NOT saying this to complain at all, I’m simply saying this so folks realize that we all had some challenges. A lot of people are under the impression that I got flown in by helicopter and fed grapes while on a hammock backstage. That wasn’t the case. I was there, a lot like you, with the inevitable challenges faced when traveling and seeing shows. Shit happens… I was there for the music, not the sleeping accommodations or Culinary experience. After all, it wasn’t a Sleeping Festival or a Food and Wine Expo. That became evident when I was woken up by what sounded like robots getting sawed in half by bass strings around 2:30 – 3 AM. I looked out of the door of my RV and it looked like E.T.’s spaceship landed a couple hundred yards away. Apparently there was another stage in close proximity. There are stages set up all over the place at Lockn. You can walk a couple miles from the main stages and BAM! There’s another stage, complete with full sound and lights, right in the middle of the woods. It was great to be able to hear that stage loud and clear while lying down 10 degrees shy of a standing position from the bed in my RV. Somebody told me it was Umphree’s, but I think it might’ve been Mickey doing weird Mickey shit, I don’t know… Compared to that, JB’s voice is like a tender and sweet baby chicken. I will say this, I enjoyed hearing Widespread Panic. I liked JB singing JB’s songs for sure. Jimmy Herring is one of my favorite guitarists out there and has been since the ARU days when I first saw him at Wetlands. I like the way Dave Schools has that fan constantly blowing his hair back while he plays too like a big, bad ass Beyonce! Panic and Jimmy Cliff were outstanding.
Music and fellowship with our Tribes is what we were there for and we ABSOLUTELY got all of that and then some. When I look to the highlights of the weekend, for me personally, seeing Robert Plant was at the top of the list. He sounded great and was a perfect selection for the event. A huge part of most of our musical youth and a fine addition to the collection of Legends that took the stage all weekend long. Hearing some Zeppelin and watching Robert was truly a gift. His command of the moment and the stage hasn’t diminished at all.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band brought THE HEAT both nights. The first night with Mad Dogs & Englishmen with Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, Chris Robinson, John Bell and Claudia Lennear and the second night just doing their own thing. I remember the first time I saw Derek Trucks, he was touring with the Allman Brothers as a fetus. That brother seems like he’s been around forever and is still just getting started. His guitar has been screaming for decades and he continues to get better every year. There’s so many people up there when they’re playing, it looks like the roadies are loading out. They all can make some magic happen and they were among the best of the event for me.
Warren blazed through the weekend in amazing form. First with Phil and Friends and then with Gov’t Mule. I think Gov’t Mule might still be playing in the woods as we speak. They shook the foundation of the farm from one of those stages in the woods until almost sunrise. Warren’s sound reverberated through the property with old School Mule and could be heard regardless of where you were located until nearly 4:30 Sunday morning. Then they got up a few hours later and did it all over again.
The Jefferson Airplane Celebration was among the best of the weekend as well. Old sounds renewed by the spirit of the gathering and accompanied by performers that were once just fans with Bill Kreutzmann joining in. Billy has the Midas Touch nowadays. Everything he’s involved with gets infinitely better. What a blessing to be part of that special experience. Jorma and Jack, hair slicked back. Between that celebration and Hot Tuna, it was fabulous to have those guys laying it down. I wonder if Jack can find a bass that’s a little bigger. At one point he just strapped an upright on himself sideways. I understand that bass carries a piece of his deceased wife’s hair so a piece of her is always with him. That’s some beautiful stuff right there…
Is it just me or does anyone else wish Chris Robinson would put the guitar down and bust out his old dance moves? I’ve loved his stuff since the days of the Black Crowes and would love to see him bust some of that swagger out during Gimme Shelter. Drop it old school for a tune or 2 with some of this shit here! C’mon bro! Open up your eyes for a minute and shake it loose! Chris used to be right up there with Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler, I’d like to see him bring a little back. He was an inspired addition to everything he participated in.
I saw Billy at the Jefferson Theater on Thursday night and him and The Kids knocked it out of the park. They’re fresh and new and provide something that just seems to have a lot more bite to it. Coming out of the gates Saturday night at Lockn, it seemed like Bob might slow The Kids down a little bit. Until Dancing In The Streets started. Everything about Weir is getting better again by the moment. Even his haircut and his beard are better. That entire field caught fire and we all began to experience the magic of having the music dancing through us. Everywhere you looked you caught the eyes of strangers and smiled in Soul to Soul connection as we all rode the magic carpet together. I met about 2,000 people during that tune and felt as if they were all dear friends. It was the moment of moments that we all came hours and hours to experience. THAT was the spark of that special extra something that constantly brings all things DEAD to the forefront of every musical experience I’ve had since 1985. THOSE moments completely erase 6 hour entries, walking through the mud, crapping in Porta Potties for a whole weekend and sleeping on 45 degree angles. THOSE times are the times that cause me again and again to embark on long journeys, at the sacrifice of much of the rest of my life, to experience.
Following Let It Grow, I thought we were getting ready to be treated to something very special as Phil came out on the other stage. Was Phil gonna join everybody for Wharf Rat? Nope… He just came out to fiddle with his bass a little… Audibly… Right in the middle of Billy and The Kids set… Really? Yup… Am I saying that Phil came out and tuned his bass, ran a few scales, with amplification, during Billy and The Kids’ set? Yup… That’s all I’m gonna say about that…
Shortly after that they started pushing Mickey’s drum riser into place as he came aboard for a smokin Saturday Night-> Not Fade Away finale! The Core 3/4ths! That’s as close as we were getting. It was great to see the main players in Dead and Company on stage together. Happy B Day Mickey!!! It probably took more time to put his kit together than he spent playing it. I was definitely hoping he would play the whole set with them. There must be an equation that explains the energy created as the number of Grateful Dead members assembled together increases. GD 3 + 1 > GD 3 > GD 1 + 1 >(Solo). I’m no Einstein but that shit is definitely true. The energy created exponentially grows as more of those guys get together on the same stage.
Phil and Friends never disappoint and Philipe y Amigos con Carlos y Warren didn’t either. Phil appears to be as happy as he’s ever been and you’d be hard pressed to find a picture of him from the weekend that he wasn’t smiling. It’s clear that he prefers his own thing and he’s certainly entitled to that. After all, his Bass always has and always will go lower than anyone else’s. When he hits the fattest string he’s got, it’s just clearly lower than anything else out there. Maybe that’s what makes him smile all the time. Just knowing that his notes go lower than yours… I’ll continue to show up wherever he plays just to hear him prove it time and time again. Phil picked up were Billy and The Kids left off opening with a Not Fade Away inspired jam that fused into a vibrant Scarlet with Warren and Carlos in tremendous form. The energy took many forms as the band made it’s way through vintage Dead Material and ended their set with a Not Fade Away reprise as well. An interesting way to weave a continuous thread between him and his old band mate’s sets. It was a stellar night for everyone in attendance!
With the magnitude of the production at Lockn’, anybody that claims that “Cash Grab” bullshit is out of their minds. If I was a consultant on that Festival, I’d scale back a ton of stuff. The costs associated with putting on a production of that size are enormous. The lineup was probably one of the best since Woodstock and many of the Legends as well as the those that are in line to be the next class of Legends played multiple nights. Even though the first night was rained out and I was forced to leave Sunday afternoon, there was still MORE than enough music and mayhem to experience. It would be very simple to make Lockn’ a profitable Festival. The event could move from 4 to 2 1/2 or 3 days permanently, get rid of 2 of the 4 stages eliminating tons of equipment rentals and staff to set up, run it and break it down, get rid of the late night shows and be finished by midnight or 1 every night, and cut some of the talent back a little bit. It could then become extremely profitable. You can always add all those other things as the event grows, why not just do that? Clearly the vision for the present as well as the future for Lockn is much bigger than that. Regardless of your opinions about Shapiro, his goal is always to put on the biggest and best event you’ve ever seen. He’s great at it and this Summer, he definitely reached a few of those goals.
While I got in the RV to head home I had a few dominant thoughts. The first was, I can’t wait to take a poop without having to build a fuckin nest with toilet paper on the seat beforehand. Porta Potties give me a case of the dry heaves… As I drove home, it triggered all of those files in my brain once again. Rolling though the Blue Ridge Mountains like so many times in the past. The miles we traveled over and over again chasing the feeling of our favorite band letting loose in the Hampton Coliseum or driving to Greensboro, Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando… So Many Roads… By the time I was 19, I saw more of the country than my entire family combined and became acquainted with the landscapes I read about in books and studied in school. The personalities and accents that changed dramatically with each new tank of gas. We got to experience so much of what makes up our country that the majority of the population will never experience in their lifetimes. The education we received through all those years of travel went far beyond our mastery of the metric system of weights and measures. Our text books came alive as we coursed through The Rocky Mountains or drove the coast of California from Los Angeles to Humboldt County. We took in our Nation’s Parkland and were blessed with trips through Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Grand Tetons, Mammoth Caves, Oregon’s Hot Springs, The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and the list goes on… The gifts we received through our deep passion for the music went far beyond the thorough cleansing and analysis of our souls through our nomadic lifestyles, psychedelics and song. We got a chance to put pieces of every part of the map into the ingredients of our character and we got to experience how the demeanor and make up of the people that inhabited those places were influenced by the qualities of the earth that surrounded them. We continue to be blessed by all those experiences and we’re making new memories once again out of all those old places. Next stop Central Park, See ya down the road…
Dead To The Core,
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)