Friday, May 30: Day One
The weather was the first surprise of the weekend. Friday offered a cool, even breezy afternoon at the Napa Valley Expo that turned to a chilly evening. Five stages, including one for VIP ticket holders only, played to 24 bands throughout the day. It was a relatively calm affair that would see less attendees than following day, but for the most part, the logistical aspects of food and drink lines and bathroom cleanliness was kept in good order. Some festivalgoers themselves, even, helped throw away garbage and just be generally decent—maybe Headliners like the Cure and Sublime with Rome (the guy, not the city) simply brought out equal parts of older and more sedated fans who were content to throw down blankets and relax.
Jewish reggae-rapper Matisyahu delivered an effortless and nicely rocking set of smooth jams and authentic beats, many from his upcoming album, “Akeda,” released this week. TV on the Radio wowed me with a continuously intensifying set of eclectic indie rock and soulful electro pop. Gin Blossoms brought the “county fairgrounds” vibe to, well, the county fairgrounds. Overall, crowds seemed to care about the fact that ‘90s radio rock leftovers filled out the lineup. They sang along with “Follow You Down,” and clapped, mostly in time, with the band through their back catalogue of, ahem, lesser-known hits.
The Cure really was the gem of this show. They are one of my longtime favorites, yet I’ve only been able to see them live twice before, and it’s been 7 or 8 years since the last time. They were amazing. No way around it. They sounded perfect, and their set list was a mash of surprises and staples from 30 plus years of new wave, postpunk, emo-goth melodic pop angst. Robert Smith’s hair was a glorious tangled web of Aqua Net, and Napa winds and Simon Gallup’s tight denim and slicked back hair still make him look like he stepped out of a 1982 Clash video.
The Cure opened with “Shake Dog Shake,” a surprise choice off their 1985 album, The Top. They played for two-and-a-half hours with hits old and new, making me realize how much I do, in fact, like their more recent material—pitch-perfect pops songs and raw, soaring rock riffs alike. It was only when the festival had to cut the power at 10pm (the price one pays for hosting an outdoor fest in a Napa neighborhood) that the Cure finally left the stage, and only after the crowd of about 10,000 helped Smith finish singing the band’s encore of “Why Can’t I Be You?”
Saturday, May 31: Day Two
Smash Mouth rocked the house like I could never have expected. I was having fun, dammit—at a Smash Mouth show! And lead singer Steve Harwell was cursing Third Eye Blind—who was playing at the same time on the main stage—in a fit of ‘90s Civil War. It felt too weird, and I had to get out of there. But I could barely move, suddenly finding myself in the middle of a horde of festival goers packing tighter and tighter with every song. And then it hit me: there are far more people here today than yesterday.
Estimates on Saturday were that 30,00 people came out to the Napa Expo, about 10,000 more than the most optimistic estimates of the previous day. That wasn’t the only difference, though—the whole vibe of Saturday different. This was a younger crowd—beefier, more seasoned for alcohol. Beer and wines lines were a dozen deep by 2pm, twice that by 4pm. Food trucks felt the pinch as wait times for orders hit a half hour. Bathrooms got gritty. The whole thing got gritty. Suddenly, people were competing for space, competing for views. There was a tension in the air.
The day started out well enough; Petaluma band Trebuchet played a fun set of indie folk rock with great harmonies and a cute little ukulele. Brooklyn indie duo Matt & Kim were the highlight of the early afternoon, running out to meet the crowd from the main stage and practically beaming throughout their energetic and hip set of synth rock. Drummer Kim Schifino’s smile infected the whole crowd; I’ve rarely witnessed a duo with the ability to get a party going more effectively than these two. Los Angeles noise punks No Age blew out some eardrums, but sounded awesome on the smaller stage, right before Smash Mouth started taking jabs and downing drinks that weren’t just Coca-Cola.
After that, the mood seemed to change. Couples were bickering more around me; people were stumbling—either from not eating right or not hydrating enough in the sun after drinking heavy craft beers and Napa wine. I started to watch my step, if you know what I mean.
But, I’ve totally buried the lead here. The recently reunited hip-hop dream team of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, aka Outkast, was introduced to the crowd in a giant cube, like Magneto at the end of that first X-Men movie. Soon enough, they escaped their confines to perform a blistering, dizzying and all-out electrifying set of hits. Happily, the masses that bottlenecked the fields unified under the banner of songs like “Hey Ya!” and “B.O.B.” The duo has been headlining many festivals lately, including Coachella, and the general consensus is that they were the big “get” of Bottlerock (they choose the Napa festival over the larger Outside Lands festival in San Francisco).
The other big evening draw was classic rock sister act Heart. Anne and Nancy Wilson proved that they’ve still got it. They sounded amazing and looked spectacular—it was a rock and roll show every step of the way. Like the Cure, they were cut off at 10pm, and Outkast has just wrapped minutes prior on the main stage. That’s when 30,000 sweaty, tired, dirty, possibly drunk festival goers converged into mass chaos.
Everyone was trying to form one line to get to the shuttles that would take them the three miles to their cars at Napa Pipe. There was no supervision for this. I got the bright idea to leave an hour early, and it still took 45 minutes to go from festival gate to car door. I heard reports of people waiting three hours, and fights breaking out over line cutting.
Sunday, June 1: Day Three
Eric Church, Barenaked Ladies, Spin Doctors: meh. Nothing on this day really caught my attention other than, maybe, Thee Oh Sees or Deerhunter. It would have been awesome to see LL Cool J, if for no other reason than to say I did it, but after two long days of escalating madness it was best I stayed out of Wonderland on Sunday. I must say, though, the festival was much more fun than I had anticipated. Would I try it again next year? Maybe, we’ll have to see the lineup—if the Crash Test Dummies are going to be there, I’ll buy a ticket right now.
BottleRock is here. And we can only hope it returns.
Arriving late on Friday, I caught the last half of Andrew Bird’s set. I’ve always thought he would be better in a concert hall than a festival, and I still think that. He was good, but there’s something about the violin and looper pedal that runs counter to the spirit of a big rock show. On the next stage, the Shins, who were rumored to have played a warm-up show the night before at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma to about 15 people, were tight and professional. They’re about as surgically precise as a band can be, sounding just like the record. Almost too perfect, but very good. At the same time, Blues Traveler started tearing into their set. I caught “Run Around” and stayed for a couple songs because, damn, that John Popper can blow! I haven’t heard if he and Charlie Musslewhite, who is also playing the festival, are doing or have done a harmonica duet. I don’t know if the world could handle it.
The set up was similar to Outside Lands, but without the one-mile trek between stages. This meant that no matter where you stood, there was music playing. Not that lines were a big problem (the longest I waited for anything was about 10 minutes), but it would suck to know you’re missing the main reason for the $130 ticket because there is not an adequate number of beer stations. The addition of comedy to the festival was tough, making yet another thing to choose from to watch in addition to the great bands. But the comedy headliner each night (last night was Jim Bruer) started at 10:15, just after the last band. Not sure if that meant more or people would stick around because the rock show was over. But there were lines for each of the other comedians throughout the day.
Before the Flaming Lips took the stage (they were the last act of the second stage), it was time to refuel. There was festival food, but this being Napa, there was so much more. Cochon Volant BBQ actually ran out of buns for its pork sandwich, but the line did not diminish upon this announcement. They served instead a plate of just meat and coleslaw, which was incredible. The deep smoke flavor went nicely with a Sierra Nevada fresh-hop Harvest brew, another culinary upgrade from usual festival fare. Tons of restaurants, including Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame), were dishing up fancy foods. And with what seemed like hundreds of wineries on hand with popup tents and tasting lounges, it felt like a good representation of the California culinary scene. Imagine coming from Philadelphia or New Mexico to a festival that not only cares about food but almost worships it like a groupie does a rock band. It made for a good vibe.
Scarfing down my pork and ‘slaw, I got pretty much front-and-center to see the Flaming Lips. I’d seen them at Treasure Island a few years ago as the headlining act, and they raised the bar for me for festival acts. Frontman Wayne Coyne and company did not disappoint. In fact, they raised the bar yet again. Wayne, in a blue polyester suit, stood atop his lumpy, space-age, shiny bubble pulpit with a baby doll in the crook of his arm, cooing an playing with it while the band rocked around him. I’m glad he didn’t do anything crazy like throw it into the audience or rip its arm off or something. It gave that baby a symbolism it would have otherwise not held. The stage faced the setting sun, meaning the band got to watch a beautiful Napa sunset while the crowd didn’t have to squint at sun spots (good planning, BottleRock!). Coyne remarked how beautiful it was, and said how cool it would be if the sun set and then rose again immediately after (this ain’t Alaska, Wayne). He also praised the festival and thanked “whoever got us to play here” because it was a good thing to be a part of. As it got darker, the light show became more pronounced. Lasers, smoke, a truss of lights that moved down from the sky to just above Coyne’s head and shot strobe lights and huge flood lights across the crowd. Being directly in the center, I was blown away. You’ve seen people put hands on their head in that oh-my-god-what-am-I-even-seeing-right-now move of disbelief? That was me several times during this performance. Luckily, there are photos to help explain, because words are hard sometimes. The Flaming Lips received a well-deserved ovation, prompting a real encore (the lights had even come back on already). All this while the headliners, the Black Keys were about half an hour into their set already. People stayed for the Flaming Lips encore, and almost demanded a second encore.
The Black Keys were good. Even had a full band for the second half of their set. But if someone could explain why this is the end-all-be-all of bands right now, I’d love to listen. They rock, yeah, I dig that. But Blues Traveler rocks, too, though I suppose they had their time in the sun as well. Leaving the festival was relatively uncomplicated. There were plenty of volunteers directing the masses to the shuttle locations, and five shuttles filled and left at one time, so there wasn’t much of a wait. Upon arriving at the, ahem, parking lot, it was a different story. I hope everyone loaded their car’s location into Google Maps as a “favorite location,” because with no lights whatsoever and no volunteers directing the crowd, finding your car out of 10,000 in five separate lots would be tough. I parked at the back of a lot, and was really hoping I remembered correctly which one because it’s a 15-minute walk back to the dropoff point, and who knows how long from there to the other lots. I was right, and left with little delay.
One more point is the sound. It was excellent, but could have been a little louder on the main stage, especially for the Black Keys. Maybe this was a city ordinance thing, but it’s a rock show. Give it some gas!
Gabe Meyers, co-founder of BottleRock, stood in front of the crowd at the Uptown Theatre last night and asked “Did you ever think this would happen in… Napa?”
He was referencing the four-day music festival, the largest thing to hit the sleepy city since, well, ever. He received thunderous applause from the crowd awaiting an on-stage appearance by Dave Grohl, lead singer and guitarist of the Foo Fighters and drummer of Nirvana, in town last night for a screening of his documentary, Sound City. Meyers then reminded the everyone in the one-third–full venue that tickets were still available for most days of the festival. “Sometimes it feels like a bit of a surf break secret, like you don’t want to tell anybody,” he said. “But we really need people to know about it.”
The attendance for Grohl’s film was affected by the last-minute booking—it was finalized less than a week prior—and because it was a benefit for autism causes, tickets were $100. But the movie is fantastic, especially for audio nerds like myself (I even wore an Onkyo shirt to the screening). Sound City is about the recording console at a fucked up, nasty studio in Los Angeles that recorded some of the best rock albums of all time. It’s captivating for even the non-audio engineer thanks in large part to the vast swath of famous producers, musicians and engineers interviewed for the movie.
“Originally the idea was just to make a short film and it kind of just exploded into this idea,” said Grohl before the screening. “We wanted to inspire the next generation of musicians to fall in love with music as much as we did.” After much applause, he continued, “We decided early on we wanted to make this completely independent of any major studio or any Hollywood shit, we just wanted to make our own movie. It cost a fuckin’ fortune, just so you know.” Cue more applause.
Grohl’s interest in making Sound City was piqued when he learned the studio was closing and selling all of its gear. The band that made him famous, Nirvana, had recorded the album that made them famous, Nevermind, at the studio. Nothing sounds like a recording made at this studio on this board, one of only four like it ever produced by engineer Rupert Neve (it cost twice as much as a house in the area at the time). “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this board,” says Grohl in the movie. So he bought it and installed it in his own studio. The documentary chronicles the history of the board, and of Sound City Studios, and highlights the beauty of analog recording using consoles like this and two-inch tape instead of computers to capture sound.
“I have to honestly say that this is probably the thing that I am most proud of that I have ever done creatively in my life,” said Grohl, “because it’s not for me, its for you.”
There were may cheers from the audience during both the movie and the 45-minute Q&A session between Meyers and Grohl afterward. Music in the movie, all of which was recorded on the console, was blared loud and often, which made the atmosphere less like a movie theater and more like a rock concert. Beer and wine helped, too. Some had too much, like the girl who tried valiantly to remain upright during the autograph session following the Q&A session, trying to get something signed.
All in all, it was a rock concert of a movie, and a smart and fun way to kick off BottleRock.
Consider this your final heads up: BottleRock Napa Valley is coming to kick out the jams in wine country like never before.
Kicking off with Macklemore on Wednesday, May 8, the festival continues through Sunday, May 12 with a lineup rivaling that of any other major festival: The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Flaming Lips, Jackson Browne, the Avett Brothers, Bad Religion, Jane’s Addiction, Zac Brown Band, Furthur, Dirty Projectors, Primus, Kings of Leon and many, many others. A comedy lineup with Kristen Schaal, Tig Notaro, Jim Gaffigan, Rob Delaney and more is on tap, as well as tons of food, wine and other summertime kickoff fun.
This Monday, BottleRock presents Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) in person at the Uptown Theatre, screening his film Sound City and conducting a Q&A. Tickets are $100, but in keeping with the BottleRock mission at large, it’s a benefit for autism causes. You can grab tickets here. (UPDATE: Last-minute rush tickets will be available at the door for $25; line starts at 6:15pm.)
Dave Grohl in Napa? Announced at the last minute? Is there anything these crazy BottleRock guys can’t do? Be in the presence of Nirvana royalty on Monday, May 6, at the Uptown Theatre. 1350 Third St., Napa. 6pm. $100. 707.259.0123.
BottleRock Releases Comedy Lineup: Rob Delaney, Kristin Schaal, Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, More
BottleRock Napa Valley has finally released their comedy lineup, which includes Rob Delaney, Kristin Schaal, Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Jim Breuer, Wyatt Cenac, Greg Behrendt, Aasif Mandavi, Anthony Jeselnik and J. Chris Newberg.
No word yet on which days each comedian will appear, but expect a schedule soon.
BottleRock runs May 8-12 in Napa, and features a hell of a music lineup including The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Zac Brown Band, Furthur featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Kings of Leon, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Primus, The Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, The Shins, Bad Religion, Iron and Wine, Dirty Projectors, Dwight Yoakam, Edward Sharpe, Mavis Staples, Best Coast, Sharon Van Etten, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Cake, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Wallflowers, Blues Traveler, Brandi Carlile, Donovan Frankenreiter, Grouplove and many, many more.
More info here.
The full lineup for Bottle Rock Napa Valley has been announced. It includes The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Zac Brown Band, Furthur featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Kings of Leon, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Primus, The Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, The Shins, Bad Religion, Iron and Wine, Dirty Projectors, Dwight Yoakam, Edward Sharpe, Mavis Staples, Best Coast, Sharon Van Etten, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Cake, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Wallflowers, Blues Traveler, Brandi Carlile, Donovan Frankenreiter, Grouplove and many, many more.
The festival runs May 9-12 at the Napa Expo, with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis kicking off the festivities on Wednesday, May 8. The Macklemore show is free to 3- and 4-day pass holders, and individual tickets for the show, at $29, will go on sale “at a later date.”
Confirmed acts for Thursday, May 9 include Furthur, the Black Crowes, Primus, ALO, Violent Femmes and Cafe Tacuba.
Confirmed acts for Friday, May 10 include the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Flaming Lips, Dirty Projectors, Andrew Bird, the Shins, Blues Traveler, Tristan Prettyman, Vintage Trouble, Flagship, Justin Townes Earle. and Allah-Las.
Confirmed acts for Saturday, May 11 include Kings of Leon, Jane’s Addiction, Bad Religion, Ben Harper, Edward Sharpe, Dwight Yoakam, Iron & Wine, Best Coast, Sharon Van Etten, Tift Merritt, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Allen Stone, Donovan Frankenreiter, and RNDM.
Confirmed acts for Sunday, May 12 include the Zac Brown Band, Train, Michael Franti, the Wallflowers, Rodrigo y Gabriela,Cake, Grouplove, Brandi Carlile, Rogue Wave, Mavis Staples, Charlie Musselwhite, and Erin O’Hara.
Ticket pre-sales start Sunday, Feb. 3, at 10am, on the festival’s own site. Prices are as follows:
Three-Day Pass (Fri.-Sun.): $299.
Four-Day Pass (Thurs.–Sun.): $399.
VIP Reserve Passes (includes VIP parking, viewing area, VIP afterparties): $599.
The first 700 Napa County locals to join the “Highway 29″ club will get $70 off, with
details to be announced Feb. 2 full details just announced: if you are a Napa County resident and pledge to walk, bike, skateboard, carpool or take public transportation to the festival, you will get a presale code for the $70 discount. The pledge also involves letting people from out of town crash at your house, and to “display kindness in the face of frustration and patience in dealing with the inevitable hiccups of a first-year festival.” (UPDATE: After just an hour of signups, all of those 700 locals-only presale codes are completely spoken for.)
In honor of the Superbowl, 49er fans can use the code “GOLDRUSH” to get $49 off.
As of yet,
no individual day tickets are announced, but based on what I know about festival ticket sales in general, I can predict that there will likely come a time when individual day tickets become available. UPDATE: Single-day tickets go on sale on Wednesday, Feb. 20. Individual day tickets are $129.
A full comedy lineup is expected to be announced in mid-February, and food, beer and wine will naturally be part of the festival as well.
The excellent lineup is a massive coup: Bottle Rock is being put on not by Live Nation, Another Planet or Goldenvoice but by two Napa locals, Gabe Meyers and Bob Vogt, who had a hand in the resurrection and reopening of the Uptown Theatre. Needless to say, it’s a huge deal for Napa.
More details here as they come in.