It’s clear that the happenings over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia have left many Americans shaken. As most are aware at this point, a white supremacy protest dubbed “Unite The Right” left one woman—Heather Heyer—dead and over a dozen more injured after an alt-right protester rammed his car into a group of peaceful counter-protesters.
Lockn’ Music Festival happens to be the next major event in the Charlottesville area, taking place in less than 10 days. With the political climate where it is right now, music seems to be one of the few common causes uniting people in these scary times.
I had a chance to chat with Pete Shapiro, the founder of Lockn’, about the events that transpired in Charlottesville – only a short distance away from the festival grounds. We discussed the seemingly impossible task of putting on an event in a city so soon after such a divisive tragedy, and the importance of finding common ground and sharing musical experiences with people regardless of your ideology. Check out our conversation below.
Live for Live Music: Lockn’ Festival is going to be the next big event happening in or near Charlottesville, Virginia since the terrible hate crimes of this past weekend, killing one woman and injuring 19 people. How did you come to hear about the news?
Pete Shapiro: I was at home over the weekend and saw a bunch of it happening on TV while it was going down. In this world in 2017, one thing is you can experience good and bad things in real time. So I was watching it happen, and found myself torn over whether to watch or shut the TV off. And then when that car plowed through the people, I knew things were going to a whole new level. I think everybody was pretty shocked. Just to see our country torn like this, and hitting so close to home, was pretty scary for a lot of people.
L4LM: As a producer for an event that promotes ideals like peace, unity, togetherness, and community, what do you hope the residents of Charlottesville can take away from an event like Lockn’ this year? What do you think Lockn’ does for the community at a time like this?
PS: I’ve been thinking about that all day, and speaking with Dave Frey, my partner who lives down in the Charlottesville area, about the best way to do this right. It’s not easy. But one thing I know is that people need to heal right now, and music helps do that more than just about anything else. As does 20,000 people coming together to share in a one-of-a-kind experience. The reason that I think we all love going to shows — especially big shows with a lot of people, and improvisational bands — is that there’s an energy in the air, something you can feel and the musicians also are feeding off it. Its a self-perpetuating cycle, as Carlos Santana famously said back in the day, the fans are like flowers and the musicians are like a hose. And hopefully this time, the audience will feed off it even more. There will be a lot of people in the audience who need healing, especially because a lot of them are Charlottesville and Virginia locals, and this is the next large-scale gathering in the area. If there was ever a time for a forest to be named after Jerry Garcia and to have his music playing in the trees all day and night, it’s now. Hopefully Jerry’s voice will help soothe things a bit too.
L4LM: Do you foresee some artists and yourself being vocal about their political views, or about spreading a message of love and unity?
PS: We’ll do some things that we’ll coordinate, and other things will just happen. There’s always a careful push-and-pull between wanting to do something, but not doing too much. And how do you do it right, with the right touch and the right feel? I’ve never been in quite this situation, but we’ve had events at the Bowl after Levon Helm passed, and even Fare Thee Well was kind of a tribute to Jerry. Obviously it’s not on the scale of the seriousness of what’s going on here, but figuring out how to navigate that is tricky. The country is at an inflection point. We’re going to try to use Lockn’ to push the momentum in the good direction. So that’s our job. Lockn’ should just be about good time fun, the music, and the gathering of people. What we need to show is that most people are good.
L4LM: Participation Row, the nonprofit village that Headcount/Andy Bernstein and yourself have put together, is a huge part of Lockn’ Festival. Have you discussed ways to educate people attending the festival on becoming more involved and socially responsible?
We started Participation Row at Lockn’. We will have 17 organizations there, all local from Virginia, and we’re actually inviting an extra organization or two that deal more with social justice and discrimination. No matter what is happening in the world, we will always have Participation Row happening at Lockn. It is an important part of the soul of the event. We just believe that we should always be pushing to make the world, locally and globally, a better place. I think we can all agree that need will never go away. Bringing an element of consciousness into the musical experience is part of who we are, as people, as fans of this music, and as a festival.
L4LM: Charlottesville was an example of how dangerous it can be when two people who have opposing viewpoints get together, but Lockn’, while consisting of many likeminded people who like music, is also a very diverse group. Why do you think it’s important that people are able to gather together on such a mass scale at events like Lockn’ and other festivals, and how do you think that could change someone’s outlook?
PS: I bet we’ll have both red state people and blue state ideology, there’s no question. But for everyone to be on the same land, watching and enjoying the same band, it’s a good first step. There will be people from every state in the country, all types of people — all ages, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and all that. It’s a simple thing – we like the same band – but right now, maybe we gotta go back to the beginning, start with step one. And what we do, and you do, is we live through music. Certain people do, the people at Lockn’ do. I think it’s cool that when you go see the music we love — whether in Chicago, Virginia, Tennessee, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania — the music travels, there’s likeminded people everywhere, but you’re also going into places where people see the world differently, though they may like the same music.
Shit may be crazy right now, but you know what? That’s when music is important! It’s important that we get the momentum going in the right direction. Many more people are on the good side, I believe that, but you don’t know that unless you see them. Because the smaller group is a lot louder. Angry people, violent people. But the far majority of them, I deeply believe, are good people.
L4LM: On a more positive note, who are you excited for on this year’s lineup?
PS: Obviously Terrapin Station is going to be really cool. Phil [Lesh] and Bobby [Weir] are going to play the full album with the Terrapin Family Band and Nicki Bluhm. Then Bobby’s playing with the Avett Brothers on Sunday. We’re doing some other cool stuff, like Ann Wilson of Heart with Gov’t Mule. We’ve got Phil playing with moe. We’ve got Joe Russo’s Almost Dead a couple of times. John Forgerty’s playing, that will be a powerful set.
I mean, what about Thursday? You’ve got Umphrey’s McGee into the String Cheese Incident into Umphrey’s into Cheese into the Disco Biscuits! We feel really good about the lineup.
L4LM: Last year, I think a surprise to many was the My Morning Jacket set. Many said it was the best set of the festival. Did that influence the decision on your end to bring him back for a solo set?
PS: I love the Jacket, and I think what’s cool is he must have had a good time at Lockn’ to come back for the solo set. He doesn’t do a lot of solo sets for festivals. So we’re psyched.
You can watch My Morning Jacket’s rendition of Burt Bacharach‘s “What The World Needs Now,” an all-too-appropriate appeal for peace, from their set at Lockn’ 2016 below (via YouTube user EasyMorningRebel 665):
L4LM: Will moe. still be performing?
PS: Yeah, Phil will be performing bass for Rob. They’re going to play a full show, moe. with Phil on bass.
L4LM: Anything new in store for this year? It looks like Garcia’s Forest is going to be on the official schedule now?
PS: We always change things up a little. We’re moving the stage, we’re doing everything on our land to be closer to the camping. We’re doing performers in the forest: Dirty Dozen, Midnight North, some Melvin [Seals] stuff. We’re excited. We’re always trying to tweak things, it’s never perfect, but we’re always making it better. We’re excited to see what happens. We built this venue that can become a year-round fixture, and we’re hoping to do more shows there next summer. Lockn’ always, but maybe other things around it as well. We’ve done a lot of work to make it a cool place to experience a show, especially in a camping environment.
L4LM: Anything else that you want to touch on regarding why you feel it’s important to get together at these type of events?
PS: It feels right for the Grateful Dead to come to town right now. The whole history of the Dead’s words and music is filled with them showing up at that kizmit moment. 52 years later they are still showing up at that moment. And that magic only works if they were booked six months ago to come to Charlottesville next weekend. The road keeps going. Thank God, because we almost just hit a stop sign. But we are gonna keep on Truckin’.
Lockn’s LOVE sign, which has been a fixture onsite since the initial festival in 2013