Lockn’s Dave Frey Talks Changes, Venue, And What To Expect This Year
Published July 20, 2016
Words by Sarah Bourque
Now going into it’s fourth year on the festival circuit, the Lockn’ Festival, held in Arrington, Virginia, has come a long way. We recently joined up with Dave Frey, one of the promoters/founders of Lockn’, at the Oak Ridge Farm to get an intimate view on just how far they’ve come in the short amount of time they’ve been on the scene.
Frey gave us some history on the site that the festival now sits. “The festival grounds, along with the surrounding area, is amazing. The land where Oak Ridge Farm sits was established in the 1600’s by the British as a King’s Trust, because of the views, the robust water table and the fertile soil; all things needed to start a community. The fact that a community was never started there is pretty amazing, and quite rare. There’s a lot of good and bad history in the region, but the focus is on the good. The tree was the oak on the ridge in the 1600’s, so it has to be 5-600 hundred years old. There’s a huge aquifer, which feeds wells, under the property, so the tree is never dried up. It’s a bit of a staple on the property. It’s a special piece of land.”
Frey indicated that they are working on a 20-year plan. One building on the property, known as the Hayloft, was built in 1813 by slaves. The original doors and walls remain, with large pieces of the original working pieces remaining within the interior as a remembrance of the past. It took a lot of money to restore but it was decided to maintain the original integrity of the building instead of tearing it down and building something new. They’ve kept as much of the original structure as possible. All of the buildings on the property have undergone, or are planning to undergo, renovation to keep them as close to the original architecture as possible.
Future plans also include a year round sandwich shop, that would also sell beer. During festival season, operations could be done out of the back of the building, where food and drink could be sold, which would result in a quick turn around in getting food to the masses. Roughly a dozen tiny house buildings are also being considered for permanent placement on the grounds. It would result in about a hundred beds, enabling use of the property for weddings and smaller events.
Dave King, known as the mountain biking “guru,” will be curating the trails on the grounds in July. Frey said that, “He’s going to have farm hands, a bulldozer, dirt, rocks, and wood; all the things needed to create inventive features on the bike trails for use year round. The concierge element will be built in, with the market on site, as well as the tiny houses for lodging. The land will be available for use year round. During the festival, professional mountain bikers will be on hand to lead trail rides.”
Switching gears, one major issue every event faces is having to deal with the human element of waste. It’s not a pleasant topic, however, last year’s unexpected microburst tore through the grounds and knocked down several porta-potties, making them unavailable for use. This created a serious situation, calling for round the clock service to every area on the grounds by outside vendors. To understand just what goes into taking care of the unpleasantries of porta-potties, let’s break it down.
Frey detailed this less than pleasant topic by stating, “You can’t make trucks too big to carry liquid because of the weight limit. It’s hard to transport, there’s a lot of regulations surrounding the transport of waste, and the local facilities don’t like it when you show up with 100,00 gallons of waste in 3 or 4 days. It puts a huge strain on the local facility and extra fees are charged. They charge to be open on Saturday, they charge to be open on Sunday. In other words, it’s super expensive. It takes one truck about an hour to fill up. The bigger the truck, the harder it is to maneuver. Smaller trucks are better, but takes about an hour to fill up a thousand gallon tank. Then, that truck needs to make a 40 minute drive to Charlottesville, only to sit there to go through processing and paperwork, then empty it, which takes about an hour. Then that driver turns around for another 40 minute drive to start the process all over again. In an eight hour shift, you’re lucky if that truck is on-site for two hours. By installing a septic tank on site, that same truck, that would have driven to Charlottesville, will instead be able to make the rounds 10 times a day versus two or three. It makes a difference, but porta-potties are still porta-potties.”
The “troughs,” available for use by men last year, eliminated a lot of traffic at the porta-potties. Expect to see a lot more of these on-site at this year’s festival. Last year, at one of the troughs, site ops discovered a man who unplugged the pump in order to plug in his iPhone, which created a backup. Gentleman, be aware, and please don’t be that guy that backs up the troughs this year. Lockn’ will also be taking measures to eliminate the temptation to use the electricity in these areas. Charging stations will be available, so please plug in at those stations instead. In addition, two to three thousand outlet strips will be available for use by attendees around the grounds, including at the bar areas.
Get ready for a new stage this year. Last year, the festival had a side by side stage, where one band would perform on one side, while the other side was being prepped for the following act. The new stage setup this year will be a turntable that’s 56 feet in diameter. A band could be playing as it turns, if they so choose. Each band gets 180 degrees of the stage to play on. While one band is playing, another is setting up without distracting the audience, creating a singular focus. In addition, the VIP area that was set up in the middle will be eliminated this year. [Editor’s Note: VIP viewing will still be available, however, the setup has been reconfigured and placed in another area from where it was last year. This will allow for better viewing overall from both VIP and GA attendees.]
We wanted to know more about how the festival handled the unexpected storm last year. Frey went on in detail to explain. “Last year’s festival created challenges after the storm. We had 16 hours beforehand to prepare where the RV’s were going to be. Signage was blown away, lighting that matched the colors on the map were destroyed, and whole camping areas were displaced due to the mud. The biggest takeaway from that was if we made the right decision to go on with the festival. We ran a compromised show, and I have to credit our audience for being patient with us, being thoughtful and understanding to what was going on, and giving us the benefit of the doubt on things. The decision to run a compromised festival, especially with not enough porta-potties, was a tough one to make. Last year, porta-potties were actually relocated at night to the camping areas, and then the next day we would relocate those same porta-potties back to the stage areas due to the loss of resources. We were basically following people around with the porta-potties. The amount of mulch and gravel and wood chips that we put down, we couldn’t get a lot of them. Because we needed things last minute, it was really hard. We were trying, in a lot of cases, to make due with what we had.”
As for getting into the venue, that created a completely separate challenge altogether. Frey stated that “the biggest day for labor is Thursday, when people come in, so we have a big traffic deployment. Wednesday night the storm happened. About 7 PM, it was obvious there wasn’t going to be a show on Thursday. We got that word out and our traffic guy called his deployment to tell them they’re not working at 5 AM the next day. Those 200 people are like, “ok.” So the next day, we passed inspections, we looked at everything, and made the decision that we’re going to go for it. We are going to be compromised, there’s going to be a ton of complaints and there’s going to be a lot of people that will be upset with us, but screw it, the show must go on. It was about 2 in the afternoon on Thursday we decided that we would open at 6 AM on Friday. Now the traffic guy called his deployment and told them they are needed at 5 AM the next morning. Two thirds of the deployment couldn’t make it, because they had another gig or this or that. That’s just one department.
The other matter was that everyone came in on Thursday and now didn’t know what to do. We called the tourist department and they said where to send everyone. Basically, what’s not to love about that if you’re the local tourism bureau? We called and said that we had 20,000 tourists with nothing to do that day. Can you give them something to do? We were able to get that part of it going.
Normally, when people come in, they’re in waves. Here comes Charlottesville. Then Culpeper. Then the next wave is Manassas, DC, Baltimore, Wilmington. That’s how we normally bring people in. Last year, everyone was in a 10 to 30 minute radius. Everyone was there at once. Compound that with the fact that we had a third of our staff, and compound that with everything that was completely waterlogged. Instead of a vehicle being able to go 20 miles an hour over dry earth, it’s going 2-5 miles an hour over waterlogged earth. You take those things and put them together, and you have a compromised situation. We’ve had past traffic issues, which we thought we resolved, but that didn’t do it. Even after the festival, I made a few dozen calls. I would spend an hour a week calling people for most of the fall.”
He went on to describe how Lockn’ chooses to run as a festival, as compared to others out there. “You’ve got to start with the customer experience. Our whole thing of even doing this was that we went to other people’s shows and thought, “I wouldn’t do it like that.” There’s a lot of shows where there’s this massive focus of what happens from the lip of the stage backwards. The bands, the air conditioning, real toilets. Then you go forward from the stage out into the crowd and there’s no drinking water, or it’s $10 for a soda. It makes you go, “wow, this isn’t that great. You’ve got to really like the band, or the scene, to be here.” The other thing is that we’re trying to be more about the bands, to a certain degree, and not about the scene. Our criteria is that the bands can really play well.
I took a lot of heat in 1997 for H.O.R.D.E. We had been a lot more jam band focused. In ’97, we booked Neil Young, Beck, Primus, Wilco, and at the time, a lot of people thought we were jumping the shark. Blues Traveler wasn’t on it because they took that summer to go play Europe. It was not as jam band focused as it had been. That was not what it was about. It was really about bands that could play really great, live. Primus had played Lollapalooza the year before and were known as a punk band. At the end of the day, if you talk to Les Claypool now, which of the fans have stayed with him longer? The ones from Lollapalooza or the ones from H.O.R.D.E.? My guess is, or the ones that I would hope is, the fans from H.O.R.D.E. If you make it about that, it keeps the focus on the music. It’s not about fashion, or skateboarding, or something like that.”
Music is not the only thing that Frey and the Lockn’ family hope to promote. Situated on beautiful grounds in Virginia, it’s a prime opportunity to introduce thousands of people to the richness of the area. As Frey stated, “the other thing, in respect to what we’re trying to do overall, is bring in locality because that gives it personality. If you look at the great festivals, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Glastonbury, they brought in locality really well. You’ve got world class music, local music, and the best of what that locality can offer as far as food, wine, beer, and culture you can’t get somewhere else. You might take other festivals and take the header and switch it for the header of another one and you really wouldn’t know the difference. With our festival, hopefully you couldn’t do that with some of the other festivals. For us, it’s one band playing at a time, which forces it to be music centric. Hopefully we can keep some music centric people engaged and happy and grow that over time.”
He went on to say, “with the locality part of it, you’ve got mainline food, which is hamburgers, hot dogs, that type of stuff, and then you’ve got a local tent at the back which is restaurants and food from around here. With the local food, that tent the first year did 8% of the business. The second year, we got up to around 23%. Last year, they did even better and it was an anomaly with the storm. I’m really proud of that. You go to New Orleans, you know you’re getting the best jambalaya, po boys, and people don’t care who’s playing and they’re just going. That helps add to it but it takes time to get that into people’s DNA to understand. The other thing is, there’s a few places in the country, that after prohibition and the laws came in, they didn’t want to have distilleries too close to each other because of crime, morality and all this stuff, so you have to keep distilleries a certain distance from each other. There’s a few places in the country that relaxed that. Nelson County got that done about 20 years ago. They completely relaxed breweries, so on the 151 highway, we have over a dozen breweries right now. We definitely highlight that and you can’t get it anywhere else. That’s been a growing thing, so that’s something we’re trying to focus on.”
Lockn’ also features a special item that you can’t get at any other festival. The Rockn’ to Lockn’ event has enabled local Virginia bands to compete for a coveted spot on the Lockn’ MainStage every day. Frey discussed the uniqueness of this opportunity for so many local musicians by stating that “we decided to have a Virginia band, looking to get a break, open every day. We start every day with a Virginia band. If you’re a new, young band, what opportunities exist out there? They’re not that common. We have a battle of the bands, people vote, and bands win spots. We’ve had some great bands come through. Lord Nelson, People’s Blues of Richmond, The Southern Belles. I’m not taking credit because they’ve done all the work, but if we can help elevate their profile, I think it’s great. This year with Rockn’ to Lockn’, we had everyone in the nation vote online until the final day of competition.”
Another item of interest for attendees this year has been the issue of early entry. To break it down, Frey said, “it’s VIP and RV’s only because it’s a safety thing. The largest, and hardest thing, to accommodate are RV’s. A lot of people rent them and don’t know how to drive them. A lot of people have really old ones that break and fall apart and everything stops. They’re large and lumbering and it takes a while to get them in and set them up. Cars? You can get them in all day long. Tent only, forest, super quick. The weight of the RV’s too, you want them going slow. Then you get the people who don’t know how to park them. They’re a super pain in the ass, but people love them. We will get flack about it, but it’s just RV’s. If we can get as many of them in as possible, it will make Thursday go so much better. I know people will give me a black eye over it, but we’re doing it for safety purposes.”
Everyone who attends wants to get in, get set up and get to the concert field so a minute of music isn’t missed. This year, Frey said they’re “pushing the show back on Thursday. It doesn’t start until 7:30, which gives us 14 hours to get people in, and will take off the pressure. We’ve got tens of thousands of people to get in, so it should definitely take pressure off.”
Tickets for Lockn’ are still available. For more information on tickets, on-site and off-site lodging, as well as the schedule of artists slated for the festival so far, please visit their official website.