by Matt Inman on August 28, 2016
Photo by Stuart Levine
“We need as much love as we can get.”
Jim James issued this credo while leading My Morning Jacket through a cover of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” and the sentiment couldn’t be any more appropriate. With all the news of hate and violence in the world—recent events have proven that not even music gatherings are safe from hate—we need the sort of positive energy that James and company exude now more than ever.
This year has been a trying one, especially in the music world. Some of our greatest artists have seemingly left us in our time of need, and, at times, the future looks blurry—if not bleak. It’s in these moments that we turn to the art that inspires us and the music that puts things into focus, at least for the span of a song. The musicians at Lockn’ know this as well as anyone, and My Morning Jacket proved they belonged within this festival’s atmosphere with their epic debut performance that included, along with the aforementioned “Love” tune, both touching and stirring covers of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”
They weren’t the only ones in yesterday’s lineup to point to their antecedents and inspirations. The day kicked off with a morning set from musical jack-of-all-trades Keller Williams and his Grateful Grass project, continuing the Grateful Dead homage that Joe Russo’s Almost Dead had begun with their two fantastic late-night shows.
The Saturday main stage activity opened up with DJ Williams Projekt, led by its namesake D.J. Williams, the guitarist for Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Williams and his Richmond-based, funk-infused outfit kept the covers coming with a soulful interpretation of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” with Samantha Reed and a smooth “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Nashville’s Moon Taxi, welcomed the heat of the day in earnest with a lively showing that displayed a similar ethos to their fellow Southern headliners, while Twiddle followed up in matching fashion as the foursome echoed the roots and spirit of another certain Vermont quartet who headlined the previous night (and welcomed Keller Williams to the stage for “Best Feeling”.)
The day took a funky turn when Galactic took the main stage, welcoming both frequent collaborator Erica Falls and a special guest in legendary harmonica player from War, Lee Oskar. The New Orleans veterans appropriately started off their run of songs with Oskar by covering War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and later delivered a bouncy, horn-fueled rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” that featured climactic vocals from Falls.
Photo by Dean Budnick
After performing the live debut of his project Circles Around the Sun on Friday, guitarist Neal Casal joined Hard Working Americans, the Todd Snider-led supergroup that features Widespread Panic members Dave Schools and Duane Trucks offered a dynamic set that certainly lived up to the group’s name and then some.
The interlocking aspect of the festival was interrupted a bit in the late afternoon, leaving the crowd waiting with for Phil Lesh and Friends while listening to the on-the-nose loudspeaker broadcast of Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless” and its “Still waiting” chant. Lesh, overcome some who had encountered some travel difficulties, eventually took the stage—albeit with apparent residual technical difficulties—to deliver one of this year’s classic once-in-a-lifetime Lockn’ collaborations, as the announced 10-man Friends lineup of Phish’s Jon Fishman and Page McConnell, drummer Joe Russo, bluegrass outfit Infamous Stringdusters and guitarist Anders Osborne was supplemented by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi for the Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie” and “Sugaree.”
Photo by Stuart Levine
After another break, Tedeschi and Trucks returned to the stage with their eponymous 12-piece band, serving up yet another stellar performance of originals and covers that showed off the group’s capacity to jump from hard blues to crooning soul to gospel revival. While Tedeschi’s thundering vocals and Trucks’ soaring guitar took center stage, singer Mike Mattison showed his power on a couple of lead vocals, Kofi Burbridge was impressive as always on keys and flute, and the horn section accentuated the affair with ripping solos. Near the end of their set, Tedeschi prefaced Jim James’ teachings by announcing, “The whole world needs a little more love. So go out and hug somebody. Love somebody.”
My Morning Jacket took their headlining spot and ran with it, playing a bombastic set that started with a short and energetic “Victory Dance,” with frontman James, looking as much like a lion in sunglasses as ever, led his bandmates to a quick crescendo. “Off the Record” gave an official start to the set, as the group laid into the tune and allowed guitarist Carl Broemel a little solo spotlight midway through.
The festival favorite “Steam Engine” once again got the crowd riled up with its unassuming beginning and explosive bridge that led into an extended outro that saw James and Broemel jamming face to face, guitar to tenor saxophone, at center stage while a disco ball cast a hundred spotlights on the band and crowd. The next song, “What the World Needs Now,” brought on not just James’ public service announcement, but also a raging second half of the tune that turned the soft ballad into a head-banging anthem.
James would later bring out a tune from his solo repertoire, the brooding yet ecstatic “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” before the reggae-infused and pleading “Phone Went West.” The love theme returned with Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” before James announced his band’s love for the crowd.
If there’s one word to describe the music of My Morning Jacket, it’s triumphant. The closing run of “Purple Rain,” “Wordless Chorus,” “Rebel Rebel” and “One Big Holiday,” was big and bold and inviting, a fitting description for the festival as well.