The Festival Atmosphere and Grateful Dead vibe at LOCKN’

After a busy summer break, the last hurrah of the summer was a trip to LOCKN, a four day music festival in Arrington, Virginia, located roughly in between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. The headliners of the festival were Dead and Company, a band comprised of most of the surviving original members of the Grateful Dead, supplemented by younger members, including John Mayer.

We would be going for three of the four days of the festival, starting Friday, August 24. Leaving Richmond around 1pm, we made it to our Lynchburg hotel by 3, met up with our friend Jim and his daughter Miranda, and made it to the festival around 4.

Most of the people had come to see Dead and Company; really, then, the main objective for most people attending the festival was to experience a modern-day Grateful Dead show.

Finally, a use for the trippy canvas that’s been sitting in the attic.

Consequently, there was a permissive climate at the festival, a climate reflected by many of the clothing choices people made. Some of the choices made perfect sense in the context of a Dead show; others were the kinds of choices that made sense in no context at all.

Dead and Company would be playing on Saturday and Sunday nights. On Friday, the evening and night shows included Umphrey McGee covering Led Zeppelin, George Clinton and P-Funk, and Widespread Panic. The Zeppelin covers were definitely the highlight of the first night.

While the music on Friday was up and down, the weather was unbelievably good, particularly by “Virginia in August” standards. On Friday, the temperature actually dipped into the 50’s after the sun set.

Normally in August, wearing this blanket would have generated enough heat to set off a fusion reaction, sending the chair hurtling to the earth’s core.

The show grounds were as fragrant with a certain scent as one would imagine, and alcohol was widely available. Pretty soon many people wore these kinds of expressions.
Around 2am, we made it back to the hotel, prepared to sleep late into the morning, both to recover from the previous night and to get ready for Saturday, which we knew would be a late night with Dead and Company playing the last set. Unfortunately, for some of us, our sleeping in plans were dashed by Obnoxious Motorcycle Guy, the guy who apparently views the presence of a muffler as an indication that his manhood is being suppressed by evil feminists.Awakened by the roaring symbol of one man’s lack of virility, McKenna and I did some shopping for the “necessities” of a Dead show: glow sticks, hula hoops, balloons, and hair extensions.

The shopping excursion gave us a chance to see some of Lynchburg, the home of the late televangelist Jerry Falwell and the school he founded, Liberty University. The town seemed determined to live up to stereotypes of being associated with the Religious Right, with numerous billboards advertising concealed carry classes for women and the highest concentration of Tea Party license plates in the Commonwealth. Unsurprisingly, then, this was a list of the top breakfast restaurants in the town.

Making this the highest-rated Waffle House IN THE UNIVERSE.

In spite of motorcycle guy’s attempts to wake all of us early, we got a late start on Saturday and left the hotel after 1 to go to the “downtown” area of Lynchburg for lunch. We found just the right combination of bar food and ice cream that we needed to recover from LOCKN’ at the Water Dog and its convenient next-door neighbor, Maylynn’s Creamery. As we would later find through LOCKN’ experience, purchasing ice cream outside of the festival was the best idea that any human ever had, ever. By the time we finished our desserts and made it to the LOCKN’ show field, it was prime time at the festival.

We needed all of the colors.

My Dad’s brother, Bill, and his wife Heidi were also at the festival, so we took a picture of us all enjoying the festival.

Or 80% of us.

LOCKN’ technically does not allow most of the items McKenna and I had purchased, like glow sticks and balloons, into the festival, but we found on our first day that this rule was kind of like a high school dress code: infrequently and halfheartedly applied. Bypassing LOCKN’s semi-interested security was a matter of simply hiding the contraband in a rolled-up blanket, in the kind of smuggling operation that would probably fail to sneak Walmart candy by the half asleep teenaged attendant at a movie theater. At any rate, we were successful in sneaking the glow sticks and balloons in, and the balloons proved to be especially popular. We knew that the kids would love them, and we were correct.

However, the balloons were even popular with the adults, which we did not anticipate.


In what was possibly the most appropriate “Dead Show moment” of the festival, some of our fellow celebrants, drawn in by the balloons as if against their will, sat in the little seating area that we had carved out to get a closer look at the technicolor dream balloons.

I would say they were “drawn like a moth to flame,” but I’m not sure if this guy could open his eyes wide enough to see a flame.

Evidently having enhanced their senses with a substance that they somehow managed to get past the close scrutiny of LOCKN’ gate security, these three individuals approached the balloons cautiously at first, unsure of what kind of material could have the combination of shape, size, and awesome colors of our balloons. One of the guys tentatively reached out his hand, touched one of the balloons, and then jerked it back. When nothing bad happened, he called his friends over, and the three had a great time caressing the balloons, holding them in their palms to get an idea of the balloons’ weight (some had glowsticks inside, which seemed particularly fascinating), and arranging the balloons according to size.

LOCKN’ – where the worst problem caused by drunk people is that they arrange your balloons without asking.

The other Dollar Tree supplies came in handy as well, as Laura continued to seek out juggling stick apprentices.

Having tested all of our festival supplies, we were ready for Dead and Company.

Quadrupling our rainbow production.

On both Friday and Saturday, McKenna would hit the wall at around 10pm. At that point, she would curl up in her blanket and go to sleep. Soundly. During a festival. With bands playing. Playing very loudly.

Thereby providing all the evidence we need that she received a pure genetic strain from her mother.

The Saturday show was a party, with Dead and Company playing upbeat songs which inspired a number of very interesting dances/aerobic routines. It’s possible that some of it was yoga. The band finished up their second set of the night at almost 1am, but dancing, aerobics, and yoga, and possibly alcohol, had caused time to apparently lose all meaning to most of the people at LOCKN’, who were in no hurry to leave. By the time we extricated ourselves from the festival and returned to the hotel in Lynchburg, it was about 3 in the morning, a time for which I am typically only awake if there is an urgent need to pee. The next morning, some people in our group were in need of the type of constitutional restorative that can only be provided by the really greasy breakfast food found at a particularly highly-rated Waffle House.

I think there’s room for one more waffle.

We made it to LOCKN’ earlier on Sunday, setting up camp in our normal place: the area with the food vendors and craft beer tent. While the weather was still nice Sunday, it was warmer than it had been on Friday and Saturday. Between the heat and the fact that many of the festival attendees had been camping since Thursday, by Sunday the festival smelled a lot like a Paris subway at rush hour. The heat and humidity was bad enough that there was actually a line for the mist fan.

Or, as many of these people know it, a ‘shower.’

We avoided the line and managed the heat with our handy rechargeable fan.

A bonus use of the fan: it kept the smell at bay.

We met up with Heidi again, which was quite the feat since she makes lengthy circuits around the festival running into the apparently infinite number of friends and acquaintances that she had at LOCKN’. By the time we found her, she had apparently participated in a LOCKN’ wedding…

…and gone on stage while Blues Traveler and Sheryl Crow were playing.

Have I mentioned that I visited a highly-rated Waffle House?

After dinner, McKenna and Miranda wanted some ice cream, so we decided to grab some at the ice cream stand. Inexplicably, at a festival where a number of people might, for one reason or another, find that they have a sudden desire for snacks and desserts, there was only one ice cream place at LOCKN’, called Ice Cream for Peace. 

Ice Cream for Peace is undoubtedly the worst ice cream place to ever have come into existence. If I tried to create the most terrible ice cream place imaginable, I would have been hard-pressed to think ways to be terrible that had not already been instituted by Ice Cream for Peace. Their awfulness approaches Plato’s Form of the ideally Terrible Ice Cream store. Here’s just a short list to illustrate this point.

  • They ran out of chocolate ice cream, the universally acknowledged best ice cream flavor, because, it seems, they hate money.
  • The line to buy ice cream moves so slowly that it was hard to tell if we moved forward in line more as a result of people actually being served ice cream or people deciding that a pie or smoothie would be preferable, leading them to jump ship.

The Ice Cream for Peace line – immovable object or irresistible force?

  • Ice Cream for Peace has a board listing available flavors, the same board indicating that they had earlier run out of chocolate (!), misleading customers into thinking that the board represented an up-to-date listing of flavors. This was false. Against all odds, McKenna, Miranda, and I finally made it to the front of the line, which is probably the greatest accomplishment of my life. Immediately, Ice Cream for Peace ruined this achievement by notifying, us only at this point and not earlier, that THEY HAD RUN OUT OF VANILLA.

If Ice Cream for Peace hadn’t been operating at a Dead and Company festival, where people are so happy that they sometimes spontaneously hug strangers, I’m pretty sure they would have driven some poor ice cream-deprived soul to violence.

Instead, McKenna danced away her dashed ice cream dreams.

Tedeschi Truck, one of those sneaky good bands that can be discovered at music festivals, played after Blues Traveler and Sheryl Crow. Then it was time for Dead and Company.

This time, McKenna was ready and fully awake.

The Sunday set of Dead and Company complemented the Saturday set; it was more laid back while the Saturday set was more energetic. Saxaphonist Bradford Marsalis joined them on Sunday, and, by the time the show ended around 12:30, they had made all of their fans very happy.

The next day, it was time to leave. We had one last Lynchburg meal at the local Cracker Barrel. This was a popular choice, as we found the restaurant full at around noon on Monday. The crowds at Cracker Barrel puzzled the elderly “regulars,” who showed up to find their eatery occupied by numerous dreadlocked and tie-die wearing youngsters.

Plus, some young whippersnappers had taken the vision-impaired checkers table.

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