Fans from near and far descended upon Arrington, Virginia in droves to attend the 5th Annual LOCKN’ Festival this week. Newly held on the Infinity Downs Farm property, big changes were in store for this year. Event organizers changed the layout of the venue to just the Downs area, helping to create a more centralized environment for attendees to get around. The Blue Ridge Bowl now holds both the Main Stage and Relix Stage, allowing for easier foot traffic between the two. Food and merchandise vendors also line the sides of the modified concert fields. The new LOCKN’ layout has the ability to hold 20,000 people with drastically improved sight lines.

With the recent horrific events that took place in Charlottesville, only a short 45 minutes away, positive vibes and celebration of music could not have happened at a better, and more needed, time. Many attendees wore purple, as well as purple ribbons, in remembrance of Heather Heyer, who lost her life during the Charlottesville attack. LOCKN’ is not only a coming together of musical artists in collaborations on stage, but a coming together of the musical community as whole, with fans and artists alike. The vibe around the venue feels like a giant hug of love and acceptance, no matter what your background. LOCKN’ truly is an interlocking musical event for the entire music community.

For fans who can not attend the festival, a free LOCKN’ stream is available, courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s, Airstream, and YouTube, in conjunction with Relix and Headcount. Viewers are encouraged to make a donation, with proceeds going to the Heal Charlottesville Fund. Funds raised will go towards assisting local residents seeking trauma counseling, supporting victims involved in the car attack who need help with their medical expenses, and towards helping law enforcement to prevent future attacks. Click here for more information regarding donations, as well as how to link up to the live stream.

Wednesday night allowed early entry ticket holders to set up, helping to alleviate congestion when gates opened to everyone at 6 AM on Thursday morning. With much cooler temperatures expected over the duration, attendees will be a lot more comfortable this year, without having to drip in sweat as they did through last year’s oppressive heat. In addition, dust levels will be at a minimum, due to moving the event from within the horse track to among grassy fields.

This year, a new Terrapin Porch stage in Garcia’s Forest will feature early morning and late night performances. Besides music, bike trails, early morning yoga, and trips to the Tye River are just some of the activities available for attendees to enjoy over the four days. While fans continued to stream into the venue on Thursday, the Grateful Dead’s documentary “Long Strange Trip” was shown on the Main Stage. It kept the crowd entertained before the music began in the early evening.

The welcoming ceremony featured local emergency personnel lining the stage as a giant American flag hung from the rafters behind. LOCKN’ promoters Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey both spoke to the crowd before the entire venue stood for moment of silence in remembrance of the recent events that took place in Charlottesville. The Mount Zion First African Baptist Choir gave a heartfelt performance with “The Star Spangled Banner” followed by “Amazing Grace,” bringing tears to the eyes of the crowd. “The Saints Go Marching In” brought up the energy before local band, and Rockn’ to LOCKN’ winner, Kendall Street Company took to the stage, opening the four day event on a high note.

The highlight on Thursday featured a deliciously musical jam sandwich as Umphrey’s McGee and String Cheese Incident flip flopped two sets each, providing a double dose of stacked goodness for the earholes. With both bands playing twice in the evening, festival goers who showed up later in the night were guaranteed to catch either of their sets. The Disco Biscuits gave their debut performance at LOCKN’ with a late night set on the Relix stage, while Nicole Atkins Band had fans dancing late into the night with their set on the Terrapin Porch within the magical trees of Garcia’s Forest.

Stay tuned for Friday’s run down, with sets by Phil Lesh, Gov’t Mule, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, to name a few.

Words by Sarah Bourque

Photos by Sam Shinault Photography