Lockn' Festival

Interview by Sarah Lawson
Issue 31 • September 2015 • Arrington

When your music festival is the size of a small city, it’s not always simple to keep that local feeling alive, but these two lifelong promoters know it’s worth the effort.

Driving towards Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, it’s difficult to imagine 25,000 people filling the surrounding fields for the annual Lockn’ Music Festival. In August, dust still traced a lone car driving down the farm’s gravel roads, but this month brings the festival and, with it, a level of activity that’s rare in this area.

Now in its third year, Lockn’ co-founder Dave Frey says, “Basically, we have a jam rock-based festival that’s very focused on music. A lot of the major music festivals that are national have several bands that play all at the same time. We’re not that.” With two stages, side-by-side, focus is always on a single band, that is, until their set concludes and another band seamlessly draws the crowd’s attention to the opposite stage. There are no breaks in the flow of music, no audience anxiety about having to choose between bands playing concurrently. Every band performs for all in attendance.

Frey and his partner, Peter Shapiro, both longtime event promoters and band managers, dig deep through their networks to curate Lockn’ each year. Frey says, “We get unique artist interactions because we’re friends with everybody and we talk to them.” The duo picks bands that they like and the schedule speaks for itself, boasting jam bands and rock royalty like Widespread Panic and Robert Plant, as well as unique onstage collaborations such as this year’s Joe Cocker tribute with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Leon Russell, Chris Robinson, and others.

The co-founders have also been in the business long enough to know how hard it is for local bands to catch a break. To this end, they started the Rockn’ to Lockn’ series as a lead-up to the festival itself. In short, it’s a statewide battle of the bands that guarantees winners a place onstage at Lockn’. Frey says, “There are so many great local groups and so few avenues for opportunity that we thought it’d be a good thing to do.” The series kicked off in 2014 but grew significantly this year thanks to Jess Martin. As WNRN Local Music Director, Martin is heavily involved in the Commonwealth’s music scene, which made her the perfect person to take the reins for Rockn’ to Lockn’ in 2015. She says, “I've discovered so much music through this and it's my favorite part of the whole process.”

Martin continues, “The battles last year were hosted out of Richmond and Charlottesville, but with our music scene being so big across the state, adding more cities grew the diversity of entries and talent. This year, events were held in Virginia Beach, Falls Church, Charlottesville, and Richmond.” Selected bands competed at one of the four battles and the winners from each region get to play Lockn’.

Lord Nelson performing at Rockn’ to Lockn’ | Photo by Ashley Travis

The winning band from the Charlottesville event was Lord Nelson, a five-member group led by Bram and Kai Crowe-Getty, brothers who grew up ten minutes away from Oak Ridge Farm. Together with bandmates Henry Jones, Trevor Pietsch, and Robert Word, the siblings conjure a raucous version of southern rock n’ roll. With an infectious stage presence, the band combines driving guitar licks, blues funk trombone, and a rhythm section that’ll get any toe tapping. And for Lockn’, they’re adding something new to the mix. Bram recalls, “Before Rockn’ to Lockn’, we were trying to think of things we could do to make the performance special.” They reached out to The Jackson Sisters, a pair of singers who are friends of the band, who agreed to join in on vocals for the live performance. “For us, it was the icing on the cake for the night and it was a really fun surprise for folks. They’re both such talented singers, so we were blown away that they made the time,” says Bram.

Like each of the Rockn’ to Lockn’ bands, Lord Nelson will perform as one day’s opening act for Lockn’, taking the stage at an eye-popping 11 AM on Saturday. The Jackson Sisters will again join them for the show, making it another a unique opportunity for the young band. Kai says, “It’ll be cool from a professional perspective to see the backstage at a festival like this. To see how it’s run, how people interact, how the whole thing is put together. We’ve played festivals, but nothing at this scale.” Bram adds, “The exciting part is that we’re part of this musical event where there are all these idols that we grew up on.”

While the music is certainly the main draw, Lockn’ also continues to grow in the other amenities offered for festival-goers. There are extensive mountain biking trails as well as yoga, swimming, drum circles, and disc golf to be enjoyed on the farm. And let’s not forget the food, which is curated by Ben Thompson of The Rock Barn butchery in Nelson County. When he isn’t curing or cooking his own field-to-fork pork delicacies, Thompson selects the food and beverage vendors featured at the four-day event. He says, “A festival of this size is a really unique opportunity to showcase these things, but it has to be done in the right way. We’re lucky that Dave has chosen food as an important aspect and texture that we want to create here.” Many vendors are local to the central Virginia region and source their materials from nearby. Food options cover a myriad of tastes and eating habits, while drink selections range from locally brewed beers, cider, or kombucha to fresh juices, teas, and coffee. Thompson reflects, “Obviously, the music is the focus of the show, but the food quickly becomes a substantial part of the experience.”

Lockn’ Music Festival takes place at Oak Ridge Farm on September 10-13. For full schedule and tickets, visit locknfestival.com.

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