Lockn’ Lowdown: Grateful Dead Core Four Stars Separately & Together

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Images by: Ian Rawn

Lockn’ Festival Day Two :: 9.12.15 :: Oak Ridge Farm :: Arrington, VA

JamBase Editorial Director Scott Bernstein is on the scene at the third annual Lockn’ Festival at Oak Ridge Park in Arrington, Virginia. ScottyB will be documenting his experience for a series of “Lockn’ Lowdowns.”

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The third annual Lockn’ Festival continued on Saturday at Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Virginia where the massive site was feeling the effects of Friday night’s rain storms. While organizers had whipped the farm into tip-top shape after Wednesday’s microburst, the grounds turned back to mud as a busy Saturday began. Musically, Lockn’ organizers presented a nice mix of genres leading up to a double dose of Grateful Dead music featuring the “core four” of Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. But those of you who went to Chicago under the premise of “last time ever” and skipped Lockn’ – don’t fret, as at no time did all four share the same stage together.

Spirits were high as Saturday’s music began in the way each day of music at Lockn’ begins on the main stages, with a set from a Virginia band. Lord Nelson presented Southern Rock with a twist thanks to the bounce added by trombonist Henry Jones. The group’s 30-minute set was followed by Love Canon’s mix of ’80s hits performed bluegrass style. From the “Sledgehammer” opener through a take on “Legs” that seemed far from what ZZ Top had in mind, Love Canon’s hour-long set kept the growing crowd dancing throughout. Kudos to the group for interpreting Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man” in a creative way and for delivering the weekend’s most inventive Dead cover thus far, deconstructing “Touch Of Grey.”

Speaking of the Dead, before the main stage performances started Melvin Seals & JGB teamed up with former Furthur/DSO guitarist John Kadlecik at the Blue Ridge Bowl – a natural amphitheater about a three-quarters of a mile walk from the main stages. Early risers were welcomed to the day with Kadlecik showing off his best Jerry Garcia licks and vocals on “Cats Under The Stars,” “Mission In The Rain,” “Midnight Moonlight” and others from the JGB catalog.

Coming into the weekend one of the sets I was most excited for was the pairing of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and legendary keyboardist Chuck Leavell. Leavell is The Rolling Stones’ musical director and has become close with Denson since he joined the band. The collaboration was only given an hour, which made Karl D. focus on new material, some of which was played without Leavell, a bit of a disappointment. KDTU & Leavell’s takes on “Tumbling Dice” and “Compared To What?” were the stars of the set. Chuck may not be known for his singing, but he did a fine job with the Stones cover.

One day after leading a triumphant celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady were back for a Hot Tuna Acoustic set. It was an unbelievable contrast between the emotion and energy of the previous night’s tribute to the super mellow Hot Tuna performance. Hot Tuna gave fans a number of the most-beloved songs from their repertoire including “Hesitation Blues,” “I See The Light” and “I Am The Light Of The World.” There was a taste of Airplane thrown in vis-a-vie “Good Shepherd” and the set came to a close with the pair’s interpretation of “I Know You Rider” followed by “Water Song.”

The Jayhawks were the musical curveball of the day as the alt-country pioneers’ sound didn’t quite fit in with the day’s other performances. Unlike many of their recent shows, The Jayhawks made the decision not to focus on songs from a new album that is in the works. Instead, they delivered a career-spanning set that included such gems as “Nothing Left To Borrow,” “Take Me With You,” “Save It For A Rainy Day” and “Blue.” The band was joined by old friend Stephen McCarthy on guitar which was a nice treat.

If Tedeschi Trucks Band were running on fumes after Friday night’s epic (yes, epic) Mad Dogs & Englishmen set, you couldn’t tell from the audience. Susan Tedeschi in particular was in fine voice and absolutely shredded a few solos. Not to be outdone, Derek Trucks showed why he’s one of the best guitarists in the game, especially on a gorgeous “Midnight In Harlem” solo. The TTB fit seven songs into their hour-long slot which left many wanting for more when it came to a close with “The Storm.” Bob Weir was announced as a special guest for Saturday at Lockn’ and he made his first appearance of the day with Derek, Susan and the gang, reprising a 2013 sit-in with TTB at Lockn’. This time around Weir added guitar to “Key To The Highway” before leading the ensemble on “Walkin’ Blues.” With so much Grateful Dead music to come, I was thankful for Bobby and TTB’s song choices.

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters came out of the gates hot with “Trampled Underfoot” and never took their foot off the gas. Plant showed why he’s considered one of the top frontmen in rock history as he dug into such Led Zeppelin classics as “Black Dog,” “Rock & Roll” and “Dazed & Confused.” He snuck in a few songs from his new album with “Rainbow” standing out from the pack. Robert promises a completely different set on Sunday, so I’ll be interested to see how that comes together. I was impressed with how tight his backing band was and the power of the group’s performance.

As close as Plant’s voice may be to how it sounded during Led Zeppelin’s heyday, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s voice sounded as good as it ever has. Cliff was Widespread Panic’s special guest for the Georgia rockers’ first of two Lockn ’15 performances. Panic raged through a mix of heavy-duty rockers like “Chainsaw City,” “Henry Parsons Died” and “Surprise Valley” with a hefty batch of tunes from their soon-to-be-released new album including the hard-hitting “Cease Fire,” the Tom Waits-inspired “Street Dogs For Breakfast” and an inspired cover of “Honky Red.” With 30 minutes left in their time slot Panic brought out Leavell for a take on Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me.” Cliff finally emerged to lead the group through the final six songs of the set. Jimmy not only displayed an incredible voice, he’s also quite the performer as he bounced around stage with the energy of a man half his age. I’ll admit I became a bit misty-eyed as “Sitting In Limbo” hit, but was jumping up and down for “The Harder They Come” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” John Bell does a fine job with “Many Rivers To Cross,” but even he looked in awe at the emotion Cliff conveyed while belting out the song. A cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” which Jimmy has been known to perform, was a bit of a surprise before the joyous “I Can See Clearly Now” closer.

Saturday was my first time catching Widespread Panic with Duane Trucks behind the kit. Duane brings such a potency to the role that hasn’t been heard in years. It was exciting watching what he brought to the Panic classics I’ve heard so many times over the past two decades. He also has an adaptability to certain situations that paid dividends, perfectly handling the reggae beats behind the Jimmy Cliff songs.

After the 130-minute Panic set it was time for the aforementioned double dose of Grateful Dead. Billy & The Kids were up first. The Bill Kreutzmann led quartet was supposed to perform with Dominic Lalli and John Popper at Lockn’ on Thursday, but the set was cancelled due to the storm that knocked out the entire day. Instead, Lockn’ witnessed a Billy & The Kids set featuring Bob Weir and I didn’t find anyone who was complaining. Guitarist Tom Hamilton was the perfect foil for Weir and continues to win himself plenty of new fans at each major festival appearance. Bob first played with Billy & The Kids last month at the Peach Music Festival, so the group would’ve been excused for following a similar script for the last- minute set. But this is the Grateful Dead we’re talking about and there were few repeats between the two performances.

Weir’s voice failed him at points, though for the most part he had a good night leading Billy & The Kids through some of his best songs including “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Cassidy” and “Let It Grow.” During “Peggy O” Weir donned one of the Legendary Lockn’ D’Angelico Guitars signed by many of the festival’s performers and being auctioned as part of HeadCount’s Participation Row. Keyboardist Aron Magner didn’t employ the synths that are so crucial to his sound with the Disco Biscuits except during the impressive “Cassidy” jam. The quintet reached outer space before Weir reeled them back in to finish the song. Bassist Reed Mathis brings such a different approach than other bassists do to the music of the Grateful Dead. He’ll throw in notes and runs where you least expect them and then double down by throwing in a high-pitched, wah’d-out solo.

Hamilton shined instrumentally but ceded vocals on Jerry songs to Bobby which was a shame considering how well Tommy has been doing with Garcia’s tunes. The two main stages at Lockn’ are right next to each other so it was a bit weird as Phil Lesh was warming up with his band on one stage right next to the stage where two of his Grateful Dead band mates were performing. Two became three when Mickey Hart emerged to help Bobby, Billy & The Kids end the set with “One More Saturday Night” and “Not Fade Away.” For his part, Lesh watched the action while holding grandson Levon Lesh.

In a cool maneuver Phil Lesh & Friends started their set where Billy & The Kids left off, with the “Not Fade Away” reprise. Phil’s band for this night featured the same lineup as his beloved “Q” outfit with Barry Sless and Carlos Santana subbing in for Jimmy Herring. Not a bad trade if you ask me. It took Carlos a little while to pick his spots but by the end of the set his guitar work was blowing minds. He actually fit in a whole lot better than I expected coming into the performance. Santana’s work on “Scarlet Begonias” was the stuff Deadhead dreams are made of and Warren Haynes wasn’t about to be outdone, dropping a few scorching solos of his own. “Dark Star” was the improvisation highlight of the entire day and by the time P&F transitioned into yet another “Not Fade Away” thoughts turned to how we get this band to hit the road for a substantial tour.

Late Night options were the “Mickey Hart Deep Rhythm Experience with Steve Kimock” in The Woods and Gov’t Mule at the Blue Ridge Bowl. Surprisingly, Mule’s lengthy set didn’t feature any guest spots. Perhaps the distance between the Blue Ridge Bowl and the main stages didn’t make it easy for collaborations as Umphrey’s didn’t bring out any guests either the previous night. Warren Haynes & Co. gave fans a double dose of Pink Floyd by starting off with “One Of These Days” > “Fearless” and ended the night with a double dose of The Doors by encoring with “People Are Strange” and “When The Music’s Over.” Along the way they fit in a huge “Mule” sandwich with “Superstition” in the middle, a cover of Temple Of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” that went into and out of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and eventually wound up in “Dreams” for a taste of The Allman Brothers Band.

Now that we’ve discussed all the good that took place on Saturday at Lockn’, I must note there are way too few port-a-potties around the site and especially on the concert field. Waits of 30 minutes were considered lucky and even then they were overflowing due to not being cleaned. Logistically, if organizers were able to rally a plane for The Doobie Brothers to make it to their gig Friday night, certainly more could be done to provide more – and cleaner – facilities. And good luck finding ice anywhere. Many RVs were parked in an impromptu location after Wednesday’s storm which made the original plan untenable. Some of those folks are still waiting for the power hookup they were promised. There’s so much that isn’t within the control of festival organizers, but better communication with the masses is certainly within their control.

Lockn’ concludes Sunday with performances from Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel, Fishbone, Slightly Stoopid, Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic, Robert Plant and many more.