Lockn’s Poppin’: Q’s With Dave Frey & Peter Shapiro

Dave Frey and Pete Shapiro
Jay Blakesberg
– Dave Frey and Pete Shapiro
Dave Frey and Pete Shapiro are the brain trusts behind Lockn’ Festival, in it’s sixth year this weekend at Infinity Farm in Virginaia.

Lockn’ Festival celebrates its sixth year in the wilds of central Virginia Aug. 23-26 and, while the Eastern U.S. has seen its share of lousy weather this summer, founders Dave Frey and Peter Shapiro were rejoicing with the prediction of sunshine and blue skies when Pollstar caught up with them days before kickoff.

There’s a lot familiar about Lockn’ – camping, plenty of jammy improvision onstage, and more tie-dyed denizens than you can shake a patchouli stick at – but it differs from most large-scale festivals in fundamental ways, too.

It’s not in or even adjacent to an urban center. Its lineup this year has bands playing multiple days including two-night headliners Dead & Company. And throughout the four-day schedule music fans can see unique collaborations that are built into the festivities. In addition to the aforementioned Dead & Company – direct descendants of the Grateful Dead that inspired a musical and fan community that flocks to it from around the country – Lockn’ attendees will be treated to sets from regulars and artists not so obviously associated with the jam scene like George Clinton & P-Funk, Sheryl Crow, and Matisyahu.

For instance, on the fest’s final night, Dead & Company will be joined by jazz saxophonist Brandon Marsalis for two sets.

Friday night is especially rich with such mashups, with sets by Widespread Panic and Margo Price; Umphrey’s McGee with Jason Bonham; and Toots & The Maytals with Taj Mahal. 

Speaking of Taj, the bluesman is pulling double duty during Lockn’ by overseeing pulled pork offerings – curating, providing recipes for, and giving a workshop on the Southern specialty.

Frey and Shapiro are the brain trust behind Lockn’ Festival, and who better? 

Frey’s long history in the concert business includes stints working alongside such legendary promoters as Ron Delsener and Bill Graham, and forming his own Silent Partner Management, which has represented artists including the Ramones, Cheap Trick, and Blues Traveler. 

He teamed up with the latter in the 1990s to stage a seven-year run of the traveling H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) Festival – a jamband-oriented caravan that is a precursor to Lockn’.

Frey met up with Shapiro in Virginia in 2008 and the seed of an idea for Lockn’ began to take root.
A filmmaker (several Grateful Dead-related documentaries, “U2 3D” and a short film, “A Conversation With Ken Kesey”), as well as a club owner (Brooklyn Bowl, Capitol Theatre, and NYC’s late, lamented Wetlands Preserve) and publisher of Relix magazine, Shapiro was the force behind the Grateful Dead stadium “farewell” tour, “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead.” He’s also helped create events like the Jammy Awards, Jazz & Colors, and the Green Apple Music Festival.

Pollstar: Lockn’ seems to be a continuation of a community that the Grateful Dead was well-known for; not just the genre of music but the community of its fans.
Peter Shapiro: The Deadheads were really the first community online, with The Well bulletin boards and groups, and in this age everyone is in front of the screen. 
One thing about this scene – the artists are open, and the audience is open. That’s how the magic happens.
It’s a continuation of the magic that was the Grateful Dead, with the younger generation. The family includes the Capitol Theatre, Relix, artists like Sheryl Crow and Taj Mahal and Toots & The Maytals.

They’re different genres but they are still in the very big family. Pop, hip-hop – it’s roots music and it’s grassroots; two different connotations. They’re all organic, authentic, in the moment and improvisational. 
Dave Frey: It always starts with the bands. We feel it’s a great thing to have bands that can really play and tour a lot. But it’s not the usual thing. The artists don’t just come in and play and then leave for the next tour stop. 

They are sticking around and watching each other play and hanging out with each other and it’s organic and unplanned and I’m glad we could make it happen.

What other features differentiate Lockn’ from the rest of the summer festival scene?
Frey: We have a turntable stage and the music is continuous. You can have one band playing off as the turntable moves, and the next band is playing its way on. We don’t have multiple bands playing at once. It serves us well to have a unique booking process and Pete and I like it. We’re not board-rooming it, not bouncing it off a committee.

Shapiro: The other fests play the same thing each night, or each weekend now.  We have a lot of the same acts – Warren Haynes, Phil Lesh (though he’s not here this year), Bob Weir, Keller Williams, and a lot of others because they will play something different every time. The music doesn’t stop for 12 hours. Late nights, there’s a Relix stage where we’ll do more Grateful Dead, a tribute to Jerry (Garcia). The demographic is really wide – from teens to late 60s. We sell tickets nationwide. You can show up with your camping gear on Wednesday and camp for five nights. There’s not a lot of independent festivals like this 
How do you work together?
Frey: I live in Virginia, so I am near the site and I do a lot of the logistics. We both do the booking, but it’s pretty simple. Anybody can manage successful bands. It’s when a band isn’t so successful that it’s having problems. We look at who’s available with a critical eye but in a positive way. We are both very audience-centered and concerned very much about the audience experience. Putting it together is like a big Rubik’s cube. 
How has Lockn’ evolved over the last six years?
Shapiro: We’ve moved locations. We were at one site the first four years and now we are at another, in the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. Who wouldn’t want to be camping under the stars in the Blue Ridge Mountains?  We’ve changed traffic flow, load-in, put in the turntable stage instead of having two stages so everyone can just chill in front of one stage. We have late night and morning music. There’s new sound, lights, everything. There are so many touch points and things 
to do. 
Frey: I’m the one trying to put together the really crazy stuff; the album collaborations. One year we did a tribute called “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” (based on the infamous tour) and it was just the coolest.

We had Joe Cocker ready to go, and he agreed to go on with Leon Russell again, who had confirmed. Joe was ready to confirm but said we had to wait on some dates. When it was time to call and confirm, Joe had just passed away. We couldn’t let that happen – the idea was too good and we had Leon. We looked at different people and singers and got Dave Mason, Chris Robinson, Rita Coolidge, Doyle Bramhall II, and it was awesome. Leon just came out and did “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” where they used to duet and did with a lone mic stand and a single spotlight on it, on the stage. 
How do those collaborations come together? What inspires them?
Frey: Some are planned in advance, but we try to put people together that we want to see together. Toots & The Maytals and Taj Mahal, for instance. We’ve done Jimmy Cliff with Widespread Panic, and then Steve Winwood with Widespread Panic. Sometimes there are surprise ones that just happen. It’s hard to pull those off but you drop in a new element, something fresh. You can fall down but they can also really work.

It’s worth taking that risk – that’s why we do what we do. That’s why the fans come, especially in this scene. That’s what everyone’s chancing. That’s what they want and are there to see.
FilmMagic/FilmMagic for Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival
– Hamageddon
Craft beer and food offerings are becoming standard at many festivals. What does Lockn’s F&B menu look like?
Shapiro: We’re late in year enough that the kids are mostly back in school and their parents can come out and camp for four or five days, so we have local food and we showcase a huge craft beer area where we only serve Virginia beer. We have a lot of mainline food vendors with hamburgers, pizza and pretzels because you have to feed 25,000 for dinner and that works in a mass way. But the other part is the local vendors that we limit to a menu of something like two entrees and an appetizer. Before we did that, they were only accounting for about 8 percent of the sales. When we limited it and for example one guy is selling just crab cakes and lobster bisque, they crushed it. It’s local culture you can’t get anywhere, kind of like the food at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Frey: And we have other local chefs. One was chef at the White House for [Barack] Obama. We have next-level chefs doing this stuff for us.
And Hamageddon is part of that
Shapiro: Ham is big part of the Virginia culture, going back something like 350 years. So we got this pig art piece that shoots fire out of its mouth and roasts the pork. It’s awesome! (laughs.)

Frey: We have Taj Mahal coming in to cook for us. He’s going to give workshops.  On H.O.R.D.E., Taj did a workshop for us for two years and it was unbelievable. Every show day, he would cook for us. He’s a master chef. So he’s got a recipe for pig on the spit and he’s going to cook us a pig. We’re gonna shoot some fire!