From the Thursday ‘LOCKN’ Times’: Enter LOCKN’

Matt Inman on August 22, 2019
From the Thursday ‘LOCKN’ Times’: Enter LOCKN’

photo by Jay Blakesberg

“For me, it started back in the days of the Jammy Awards, where we would do a lot of collaborations, and of course Wetlands,” says LOCKN’ Festival co-founder Peter Shapiro as he looks over the lineup for this year’s gathering, which is packed with the kind of musical collaborations that made his erstwhile awards ceremony and NYC nightclub such attractions for live-music fans.   

“Plus there’s Dave’s history with H.O.R.D.E.,” Shapiro continues, referring to his LOCKN’ founding partner, Dave Frey, who also helped create the traveling H.O.R.D.E. festival in the ‘90s. “And it’s also kind of how LOCKN’ got started—with the Zac Brown Incident and Trey with Further the first year.”

Shapiro and Frey first put on LOCKN’ back in 2013, and two of that first festival’s biggest lineup draws were three nights of the post-Grateful Dead outfit Further and the heavyweight mashup of The String Cheese Incident and Zac Brown Band. The latter set, along with Trey Anastasio’s unexpected sit-in with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s Further—a rare onstage union of the Dead and Phish worlds—and the team-up of Widespread Panic with Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, began the now-storied tradition of big-name collaborations at LOCKN’, which has subsequently been cemented with sets from Lesh with Santana and Warren Haynes (2015), Weir with The Avett Brothers (2017), last year’s fusion of Foundation of Funk with members of Dead & Company, and so many more memorable moments over the years. 

This weekend, Shapiro, Frey and their team have quite literally outdone themselves, putting together the most collaborative LOCKN’ lineup so far. And at the top of the billing are the Friday- and Saturday-night offerings, which will see Anastasio (who is returning for his third LOCKN’ after playing with his solo band in 2013 and Phish in 2016) and Tedeschi Trucks Band (who have missed just one LOCKN’ in 2017) trade sit-ins, with Trey’s solo band welcoming Derek Trucks on Friday and Anastasio returning the favor with TTB the following evening. 

“From what I understand, Derek and Trey have been communicating throughout the summer, and I’m pretty sure they got together at some point and jammed,” says LOCKN’ Talent Buyer Kirk Peterson. “I think a lot of it is just sharing snippets and sound bites and riffing on ideas. A lot of the LOCKN’ collaborations do happen with some advance communication, but we also provide some rehearsal space onsite, so there have been some special backstage moments over the years when people come together to solidify some ideas. A lot of it is preparation, and a lot of it is improvisation. They set a framework then go out onstage and try to make some magic happen.”

Earlier this summer, in an interview on SiriusXM’s newly minted Phish Radio channel, Anastasio heaped some serious praise onto Trucks, saying, “Derek is without question my favorite guitar player and, I think, the best guitar player on Earth right now. When Derek came along—I saw him first when he was young—I loved his playing so much that…I almost wanted to write him a thank-you note. He made me believe in the guitar as a serious instrument again, and he affected the way I play. I’m playing better because of Derek Trucks.”

Anastasio and Trucks shared the stage during Tedeschi Trucks Band’s annual run at New York’s Beacon Theatre in October 2017, but this weekend will allow the world-class guitarists to stretch out a bit more and really show each other—and the LOCKN’ audience—their considerable improvisational chops.

Bobby and Trey, 2013 photo by John Patrick Gatta

“These guys admire each other a lot, and a big part of that is a mutual respect of their professionalism and their craftsmanship,” Peterson notes, adding that he gives a lot of credit to Shapiro for “matchmaking” with the bands and their management early on in the process of booking this year’s lineup. “I would expect nothing short of amazing sets from both of those collaborations.”

However, the Anastasio/Trucks onstage meetings are certainly not the only anticipated onstage meetings on the schedule this weekend, starting with the festival’s Sunday-night closing set, which will see Bob Weir and his Wolf Bros trio teaming up with TTB vocalist/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, along with harpist and upcoming singer-songwriter Mikaela Davis. And that’s just the beginning.

Shapiro points to the growing reputation of LOCKN’ as a collaboration-friendly gathering as one of the reasons that he and the festival’s organizers are able to curate such compelling musical moments, with increasing reliability and star power—a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: “We usually initiate the discussions—myself, Kirk, Dave Frey—but also I think there’s a trust that has been built up, which is cool. We get to collaborate with [bands and their teams] a lot, with LOCKN’ and doing things at The Capitol Theatre or Brooklyn Bowl throughout the year. And since LOCKN’ has developed this history and tradition of collaboration as a defining part of the festival, there’s a lot of trust that we’ll do it right.”

Peterson has a few collaborations that he’s especially excited to bring to Infinity Downs, including reggae stalwarts Steel Pulse with Bob Weir and The Soul Rebels on Sunday and Oteil Burbridge & Friends’ Saturday set featuring Weir, Duane Betts and more, which will touch on Burbridge’s ties to both the Dead and Allman Brothers Band worlds, plus Marcus King’s Sunday plans, which will see the guitarist sitting in with multiple main-stage acts throughout the day (Peterson doesn’t promise anything but notes that King recently revealed his dream of playing “Looks Like Rain” with Weir.)

“There are the collaborations you know about that we plan and announce, but it’s cool that stuff always evolves—things you don’t plan,” Shapiro says. “Well, maybe we know certain things…but it’s a really cool mix of both. It’s a balance.”

“Honestly, for all the collaborations we have announced and on the books, I still think the thing that’s most exciting going into the LOCKN’ weekend is seeing what happens that none of us really know about,” Peterson adds. “In many cases, it just happens onsite. We have an intimate backstage area, and I’ve personally seen some of these interactions happen where it’s just a matter of, ‘Hey, you should come out and rip a solo on this song” or ‘Hey, come join our horn section.’ A lot of these musicians have seen each other at LOCKN’, at other festivals or while touring together, and they just can’t help themselves.” (Peterson adds that a “perfect example” is Lettuce’s late-night JGB tribute set last year, when Weir and his Dead & Company bandmate John Mayer “came out and were supposed to play a song and ended up staying on for like five.”)

LOVE at sunset ©Jay Blakesberg

Though the highlights in store this weekend are too numerous to name here, Peterson and Shapiro highlight the late-night offerings in Garcia’s Forest, which expand this year to include intimate sets from Galactic, Soulive and Circles Around the Sun, along with the continuing morning bluegrass vibes from Fruition, Lil Smokies and Town Mountain.

“After six years of hosting LOCKN’ festival-goers and Jerry Dance Parties [on Sunday night], Garcia’s Forest now has some magic baked into it,” Shapiro says. “So we thought it would be cool to try the second stage performances after the headliners there.

“Every year there’s a new tweak or twist,” he continues. “This year, there’s the late-night music in the woods, which will be cool. I like the fact that the festival evolves each year. It reflects the music and the spirit of the event. Hopefully, every year we learn more and more how to do things right, while being open to how we can evolve. It’s a fun part of LOCKN’—each year it’s a little bit different, but the general vibes stay the same.”