“They’re looking for magic. There’s a moment when you see something like that, there’s a crack in your mind, and you know it’s a trick but you can’t figure it out. And that crack lets in all the light, it opens up all the possibilities. When that little split second thing happens when the Dead are playing, everybody in the audience goes, ‘Wow! Did you see that?’ That’s the moment, and kids will watch five hours of mediocre music to have that one click happen because, that puts them in touch with the invisible.”
The first time I went to a festival on its birth into the world, I worked for the Solar Café at The Magnetic Gathering, a party in the hills and mountains of northern New Hampshire. It was expected to have close to three thousand attendees (if I remember correctly), but after two days of sitting around emptying blenders full of melted smoothies, it seemed that they would be lucky to get more than five hundred. This is to be expected on the first year of a festival: setups are disorganized, budgets are low and headliners are scarce. These gatherings take time to build and grow into something large and known, where people will spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket, despite how financially irresponsible it may be. I don’t know how, perhaps by the help of Jimi, Jerry or the big man, but this year the crew of the interlocking music festival, Interlocken- a.k.a, “Lockn’”- made their presence known to the world with one of the most incredible lineups that 2013 has seen, bringing upwards of 25,000 people together on the vast, red-clay earth of Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Virginia.
The process of entering the festival was an issue for many. I spoke to folks who complained about sitting in line for hours on end, a massive cluster fuck of eager heads, flustered volunteers and, of course, Mr. Johnny Law, all counting down the minutes of missed music and misspent time. My experience consisted of shouting obscenities at my GPS after a nine-hour or so car ride while lapping the Arrington area for another grueling couple of hours, trying to figure out where to go as well as what to use to get the three-inch long horse fly off of our dashboard. Tensions were high and the music had begun when we finally entered the campground, but after one glance over the tent sea that flowed downward toward the heart of it all, with the sun falling gently behind the shadowy peaks of the Appalachian trail, there was no doubt that each second of frustration and anxiousness would prove entirely worth-while.
Our neighbors in our little tent city were named Steph and Heath, two friendly Virginians who were quite familiar with the Arrington area. We asked him about the town and the mountains, and he pointed out the names of each surrounding peak, and also told us a little about how this festival got going. He said that back in the ‘70s, a bunch of hippies moved to the area, and since then Arrington has maintained “a really cool dynamic.” It made sense that such a town would host a gathering such as this. My brother told me that when he was bringing the car over to the camp site, he asked one of the volunteers if it was cool to do that. He responded, “You can do whatever you want, man.” A cool dynamic, indeed.
Keller and the Keels kicked off the weekend to a thin audience due to that heinous line that stretched far down route 29. We set up camp as quickly and frantically as possible, but regrettably so, I missed their set as well as Warren Haynes Band’s. Along with their original tunes, WHB played several covers including Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” as well as Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” with a little “All Along the Watchtower” somewhere in the mix. While the sun illuminated the sky with a deep, orange glow, testaments to classic rock were already being summoned. It seemed clear that these musicians would aim to recreate the old ways of getting down, while simultaneously creating a new, creative experience that reminds people of all ages why this music is so timeless. I’m righteously bummed having missed these sets, but luckily, our “patience” and persistence was graced with another appearance of Warren Haynes with Gov’t Mule, as well as a surprise appearance from Keller during String Cheese’s first set.
That was my first experience with Cheese, and Keller too. I was ecstatic to hear them collaborate on a 21.5 minute-long “Best Feeling,” a favorite of many Keller fans. Just before this tune they played “Song in My Head,” and at the peak of this bluegrass, rock tune, they turned to a jam that was like a high-energy “I Know You Rider”, which for this writer has been a frequent occupier of the space train of thought. The organ bellowed and ripped, guiding the jam faster and faster, higher and higher above, forcing each spectator to reach for the sky and sore off with the sounds of joy, smiles scattering and beads of sweat already plummeting to the solid earth. I couldn’t believe that this would be the first of four SCI shows, and it almost didn’t register that there was much else to come.
And in those four days, the music, the life, the cheer, it all came and went like a wave rolling up the damp shore, only to break back until whenever that next crash would come. That next wave after Cheese’s first show was Gov’t Mule, and Grace Potter graced us with her presence for multiple tunes, starting with a cover of “Dear Prudence” by The Beatles. After that, they shifted to a cover of “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac, and after that, “Whisper in Your Soul,” which was the first time they ever played it. Grace Potter’s beautiful voice accompanied by Warren’s ripping lead and slide created an energetic and soulful collaboration that soon led to an interesting couple of covers, one into the next. As Grace continued to belt her pipes, they moved to a cover of “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills and Nash. With the disappointment of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s cancellation still swelling, the set came to an incredible rendition of “Southern Man,” giving the crowd a taste of Neil’s lyrical genius. To finish off the set, with four totems of the sixties and seventies echoing in the cool, early September breeze, the members of Warren Haynes Band joined Gov’t Mule in playing “Soulshine” by Larry McCray.
These sorts of classic covers (rock, blues, reggae and all the like) were scattered throughout the weekend. Jimmy Cliff played “Wild World” by his friend Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, and The London Souls, who remain one of the best performances of the weekend in my mind, ripped “Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC as well as “Magic Bus” by The Who. Just a drummer and guitarists, fully in the style of the historic Hendrix/Mitch Mitchell combo, they carried as much, if not more, energy and skill as damn near every performance. While their set was an early-day show that drew a relatively small crowd, they successfully drew spectators in to groove and romp with every bit of energy, despite the burning heat of the Virginia sun. They are touring with the infamous Umphrey’s Mcgee this fall, and I highly recommend spending the cash and showing up early to see these cats jam; it is well worth it.
Virginia in early September is a prime setting for a music festival. The sun was hot, no doubt, but there was a consistent cool breeze that would fight the rays and keep you grooving. With a thick coating of SPF 30 or higher, getting down at 2pm wasn’t a problem. Then, 7:30 would roll around, the sun would be low and warm, with the breeze picking up and with that would come an eruption of dancing bodies and melodious music. Stars slowly began to gleam into the vast, colorful sky, and there was not a more perfect setting for a music festival. Embrace the mud, embrace the rain, embrace your pains, because they make perfect that much better.
And so the list goes on. String Cheese played “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, “Use Me” by Bill Withers, as well as “Could You Be loved” by Bob Marley as the encore of their Zac Brown Incident show. Suddenly, in the middle of the ZBI set, the bass crept in and heads turned and tuned, beginning a funky, ripping and rocking cover of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” one of the most passionate, groovy and fun experiences of the entire weekend. In their day set on Friday, they conducted the crowd with their blissful “Joyful Sound” which eventually led to their well known cover of “This Must be the Place” by The Talking Heads that jammed into their original tune “Restless Wind.” It was a series of absolutely cheerful tones and grooves that brought the crowd to a joyous moment of celebration, and as the vibrations coursed through from toes to fingertips, the world seemed to be righteous and maddeningly fun, despite what fleeting troubles could be taking their grim place.
There were several other classic covers including Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” performed by Trey Anastasio as well as Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” performed by Keller and the Keels. Widespread Panic’s incredible Saturday set with John Fogerty of CCR included a groovy cover of good old “Suzy Q” as well as a rendition of CCR’s “Fortunate Son” to finish their set. So much revisiting of these classic styles and tunes, but it was all built around the shows that drove the majority of people to ramble on down to Virginia. I am of course speaking of Furthur, our closest connection to the minds and sounds of the sixties, the guys that are keeping the Haight Ashbury dream alive and well.
Furthur’s sets portrayed a wide spectrum of the Dead sound. They jammed, they spaced, they did all that I had imagined the Dead being, and then some. After their last Saturday set, my brother and I retired to the media tent to grab cold water and a sturdy chair to regroup before making the long trek through the tent labyrinth to our campsite. Two middle-aged fellows with GA bands on stumbled in looking for a place to sit saying, “we saw a light and thought we’d check it out.” We told them to pull up a chair and for a good half-hour we ranted and spat about the Dead, the scene, the music, the changes, the memories, and the experiences. When I asked them how and why they got into following the Dead, one of them who asked me to refer to him as “Awesome” (his notorious nickname on the high score lists of gambling machines) told me, “I did it to get laid!” The other, who I will refer to as “X” followed that by looking us sternly in the eyes, saying something along the lines of “it was the music, for me.” Awesome responded, and I’m paraphrasing from memory, “it was the music for me, too, but not at first. There was this girl who I was into that dragged me to my first show sometime in the eighties, and she was the wild type that bounced around, on the go at all times.” He continued to tell me that she gave him a copy of “Workingman’s Dead,” the album that Furthur had revisited just prior to our introduction (with Trey on stage from “Casey Jones” all the way to an incredible “Fire on the Mountain”), and she wanted to know what he thought of it. He didn’t see her for some two odd years before running into her at a show and picking up the conversation where he left off. “I liked it, a lot” he said, “and we spent the next eleven years together going to shows.”
It is interesting to see how such circumstances of life happen at these gatherings and experiences. The people you meet and the people you continue to see; there’s a connection that rests within every one of us. It is the experience, it is the search for that opening that Kesey talked about that keeps us coming back and running wild. Shooting the shit with these two kind, lively fellows was like a window into that life, the life that has remained true and much as it ever was. While this is no Grateful Dead as it was in its most true form, there was a nostalgic satisfaction in these two guys, and it seemed that talking to us on that cool September evening instilled a sense that such memories and life would continue and would always be there, even if the feelings remained a distant memory.
The last day ended with several collaborations including Bob Weir with Tedeschi Trucks Band, Derek Trucks with Widespread Panic, and Susan Tedeschi with Furthur. I try to forgive myself for missing Furthur play “Dear Mr. Fantasy” but I take solace in knowing that it all went down, spreading the light to so many friendly faces, so many out-there souls, if one would choose to grasp it. The music that weekend was some of the best that I have ever seen: everyone was so tight, so on point, and not an act that performed on those two interlocking stages failed to take music, both old and new, to the next step of the experience. These musicians and the people who follow them created such an environment, such a scene at Oak Ridge Farm, one of great vibes, easy living, and very few, if any, emergency trips to the hospital. I am happy to say that I didn’t see one convoy of flashing blue and red carting someone off who overdosed on something like that bunk molly that I hear keeps circling around. The music was enough here, that much is for certain.
Lockn’ could have been improved in certain ways, but nothing more than complaints of difficulty entering the festival, and perhaps organization- if you’re the type who likes to be organized. If not, fuck it, we’re good then. I was, however, disappointed to see a gorgeous venue covered with a heap of trash at the end of the night, but these things are to be expected, and the Lockn’ crew came prepared to leave us with a spotless venue, just as soon as the sun was high and the music was starting. Cheers to the cleanup crew as well as the High Five Program team for keeping Lockn’ a clean festival while encouraging festival-goers to do much the same.
There is something in these shows and these festivals, and I think it is much more lasting than that one moment, that one crack. Simply knowing that it happened, knowing that our fellow wild ones were there to see it and feel it, leaves me with pride that I live among such out-there people. We are all searching for that opening of light, and with the music guiding you and your friends, this moment will be found, and it will last until we lay down for our final rest. Be happy everyone, and for those of you who couldn’t make the experience happen, just know that it all happened well and good, and that it is well worth the ride. I am eager to see what Lockn’ and festivals all the like will have in store for us in the near future, and I highly recommend giving these shows a listen. Maybe next year or the year after, you’ll find yourself in Arrington amidst the experience. As always, spread that sparkle, get down to some classic music every once in a while, and rejoice with those around you, for we are living some wild, weird and whacked out lives, and I’m digging the shit out of it. I hope you all are as well.
Photos taken by Sean Kratzert
Special thanks to the Lockn’ crew, Sparkleberry Lane, and all you music loving cats out there who made such a place happen.