Deadheads and jam band enthusiasts will have to wait a little longer to celebrate Phil Lesh's birthday in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In an interview with Pollstar, Lockn' promoter Peter Shapiro confirmed that the Virginia event, one of the final holdouts on the 2020 festival calendar, will not take place this year on its rescheduled October dates.
Instead, Lockn' will hold its eighth iteration – still a celebration of the Grateful Dead co-founder's birthday, albeit his 81st and not his 80th – at Infinity Downs and Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Va., on Oct. 1-3, 2021. Lockn' 2021 will kickoff with a "Steal Your Thursday" event on Sept. 30.
"We felt that the best place for '21 was to kick off the fall," Shapiro says. "That season feels right."
Typically held in late August, Lockn' had originally planned its 2020 event for June, with headlining sets every night by Lesh and a lineup including Brandi Carlile, David Crosby, Leon Bridges and many more. When the coronavirus pandemic threw the live industry into disarray, Lockn' rescheduled for the first weekend in October, and unveiled a slew of restrictions strictly in line with public health best practices.
"Too often, you just see these examples on social media of people not doing it right," says Shapiro, alluding to concerts in recent weeks that have grabbed headlines after failing to adhere to COVID-era safety guidelines. "We were going to try and do it right, which would've been good and helpful, and I'm bummed that we can't."
An ultimate purveyor of positive concert vibes, Shapiro knows that meticulous plans don't mean much without a good atmosphere – and "it never really broke right," he says. "The climate overall, it just wasn't there."
After all, Lockn' initially postponed in April, when America's fall coronavirus prognosis seemed rosier, and before the U.S. endured a surge in cases in June and July. As festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo canceled early fall events that had already been moved from earlier in 2020, Lockn' held out hope for a positive turn.
"We waited," Shapiro says. "Why not? People have been able to get refunds for several months; if anyone needed them, we did that. At that point, you might as well wait and just cross your fingers."
Ticket holders for the 2020 event can request refunds or opt to donate their tickets, with proceeds being split between Lockn' and nonpartisan voter registration group HeadCount, through Sept. 27. Otherwise, 2020 tickets will roll over to 2021 automatically.
Shapiro is optimistic about Lockn' 2021. He says booking conversations are already underway, and that Lockn's location – on rural land owned by the festival – has helped it adapt.
"We have the land, so we have that flexibility," he says. "We're not in a big city, a downtown park, where you have to secure the permits."
The promoter also has good news for downtrodden Lockn' fans: While audiences won't be in Arrington, Va., come October, Joe Russo's Almost Dead will be, and the festival will broadcast three nights of shows by the high-octane Dead cover band from Infinity Downs across the globe.
"I just realized one night, 'What if we brought Lockn' to people?'" Shapiro says. "Usually you have to come to Lockn', and it's not easy. It was like, 'Maybe it'll be cool, in a weird way.' I hope to not do it again, a show with no audience, but I'm excited to do it."
Shapiro, who has regularly incorporated visuals and film at his venues and shows ever since he cut a documentary about the Grateful Dead's summer '93 tour as a Northwestern film student, is particularly amped about using drones to capture aerial footage of the gigs.
"The potential, just thinking about what the drone shot can look like, was a big appeal for me," he says. "A drone shot on the Blue Ridge Mountains, shooting into seeing a band playing 'Shakedown Street' or whatever, from the sky like a bird... You can't do that in a venue. It can only be done there. We'll be able to do things with drones that we could not do if there was an audience."
JRAD was originally booked to headline the final night of Lockn' 2020, in an ensemble rounded out by Lesh and Dead & Company's John Mayer.
Lockn' 2020 ticket holders transferring their tickets to 2021 will be granted free access to the JRAD shows, and information for others who want to purchase tickets to the streams will be available soon. (Rogue diehards, be warned: "No one will be allowed," Shapiro sternly notes. "If people come, they won't play.")
The gigs will air on Shapiro's Fans platform, which has hosted several archival streamed events, as well as livestreamed and audience-less shows by artists such as Jason Isbell and Billy Strings from Shapiro's new club, Brooklyn Bowl Nashville, during the pandemic.
Of course, staging Lockn' properly is still Shapiro's lodestar – and he has every intention of doing so in just over a year.
"I feel very good that we'll be doing the event on the new dates," Shapiro says. "Whatever the world's got for us, we'll be ready."
Watch Shapiro's video announcement regarding Lockn' 2020 and 2021 above. Find more info about Lockn' ticketing and Joe Russo's Almost Dead's streams via the festival's website. For more on Lockn', revisit Pollstar's 2019 cover story about the event and April One-on-One session with Shapiro.