Rockn’ Lockn’: Festival’s second year smooths out kinks

Lockn’ organizers say the festival drew around 30,000 people and went off without a hitch. Photo: Tom Daly Lockn’ organizers say the festival drew around 30,000 people and went off without a hitch. Photo: Tom Daly

Despite a crowd-clearing thunderstorm Saturday night and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control’s threat to the Lockn’ Music Festival’s license, the local craft beers flowed, around 30,000 music lovers grooved to Tom Petty and Willie Nelson, and the mood was decidedly mellow at the September 4-7 music festival.

“I had four fabulous days at Lockn’,” said Nelson County Supervisor Connie Brennan. “I didn’t see one unhappy person.”

Well, maybe the two men whose car was being searched by Nelson sheriff’s deputies with a dog Saturday afternoon weren’t the happiest campers at Lockn’.

“We decided to use police dogs at the gate,” said festival organizer Dave Frey. “A few dealers were caught coming in. We didn’t want them there.”

According to Nelson County Sheriff David Brooks, who described the event as “superb,” there were approximately 10 arrests made over the four-day event for offenses ranging from drug possession and distribution to drunk in public. (There were seven arrests for similar offenses last year.) Said Brooks, whose personal favorite at Lockn’ was Willie Nelson, “There was not a problem. Everyone had a wonderful time.”

Last year, undercover ABC agents videoed more than 100 instances of drug use—mostly marijuana smoking. They didn’t like the lighting during the performances, claiming it was too dark to discern illegal behavior, and especially didn’t like a woman sunbathing topless, whom agents observed for 10 minutes. Citing a public safety hazard, disciplinary charges were filed against the festival, and an ABC hearing officer revoked Lockn’s license on the dope and lighting charges earlier this summer. Because it’s under appeal, the festival was able to sell alcohol this year.

The ABC agents who attended this year were in uniform and hung out in the bar areas, said Frey. “We have a citation-free license,” he said. While ABC agents declined to comment on the 2014 festival, spokesperson Becky Gettings said, “As a general rule if violations do occur at an event, the licensee is notified before we release any information.”

Frey puts the number of attendees at close to 30,000, with 65 percent of pre-sales coming from out of state. Local vendors such as Brookville Restaurant, Trager Brothers Coffee, and Starr Hill Brewery provided sustenance for the masses. About 800 people a day are employed by the festival, said Frey.

The festivities were briefly interrupted Saturday night during Phil Lesh’s performance when lightning was spotted within five miles of festival site Oak Ridge, a 5,000-acre estate in Arrington. Attendees were told to clear the concert field and go back to their vehicles.

Frey says he wasn’t worried that the weather would prevent headliner Tom Petty from playing. “We had intel that it was a passing system,” he said. “You’ve got to do what’s safe first.” And indeed, the show did go on when Steve Winwood and Widespread Panic took the stage.

A major headache last year was stalled traffic on U.S. 29 trying to get into Lockn’. The festival purchased 385 acres beside Oak Ridge, and Frey says that was a game changer for getting vehicles into the festival.

The Virginia State Police also reported no complaints about traffic and just three minor crashes, according to spokesperson Corinne Geller.

One of Frey’s highlight moments came the first day of the festival when he rode his bike out to U.S. 29 as the sun came up. “I realized in that first hour we’d completely solved the traffic issue,” he said. “All of the traffic issues are now in the rearview mirror.”

For Lockn’ attendees, most issues seemed to disappear once inside the festival. Festivalgoer Aaron Kenner lost his wallet through a hole in his back pocket and, upon realizing it some time later, asked security if anyone had found it. Indeed someone had turned it in, and Lockn’ staff handed it back to him with the more than $100 cash and credit cards he’d had still inside.

“There are some good people here,” security told Kenner, who was still smiling a day after the good deed.

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