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!
“There’s nothing wrong with PlayStation and jacking off. . . . but it was really messing with my creativity.”
See that dude in the photo up there? Yeah, that’s not Macklemore. Sorry. You’re cruising BottleRock, you see a guy in a fur vest and waxed-down blonde hair, and chances are that with the amount of Macklemore impersonators out there, it’s not really gonna be Ben Haggerty, b. 1983, hit song, “Thrift Shop.”
And what do you care? You’ve come in hopes that your gut feeling on Macklemore is off-base. You want Macklemore, live and on stage, to somehow take those eyes you so irritatedly rolled at first hearing (or, realistically: seeing) “Thrift Shop” and knock them right out of your head, and say: “Hey man, don’t be so fuckin’ jaded, I grew up on Paid in Full too. Just have fun, okay?”
On this night here in Napa, kicking off BottleRock, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” has just hit Billboard’s #1 spot, and while you’re watching his dutiful set you realize why he enjoys such wide mainstream appeal: there is simply no reason to really hate the guy. He bounces and traipses around the stage as if following an exercise regimen, he delivers his repeated patter as if it were fresh every night, and he shows up on time (big points in the rap world for that last one).
It’s hard to imagine how such a minimalist band can incite such riotous reaction from crowds around the world. A plain-sounding guitar, melodic bass riffs and a simple snare drum with one cymbal makes up the Violent Femmes, who formed in sunny Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1980. One might argue that his band, with hits like “Blister in the Sun,” “Add it Up,” “Gone Daddy Gone” and “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance” is truly what made Milwaukee famous.
These are the original folk-punkers. It’s music that simply does not give a shit about what anyone thinks, and these days, that’s a refreshing sentiment. This stripped-down mindset and musical style makes for a memorable concert, creating those fleeting moments where we forget where we are, what we’re doing and all the bullshit in our daily lives.
The only shame is Violent Femmes are playing at the same time as Primus (8pm, Thursday). These bands have many fans in common, and it would be easy to make the completely not hyperbolic comparison to Sophie’s Choice. Which band will you see perform, and which band will die?
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.
If you need a reason to show up early to BottleRock on Saturday, Best Coast should help. If you’re still sleeping off a hangover or whatever, though, at least get there to see Sharon Van Etten. Her great 2012 album Tramp keeps blowing new listeners away,and she’s tremendous live.
Music is a funny thing, and you never know when it’s going to fuck you up. I wandered over to a side stage at Outside Lands last year and ran into Van Etten singing “I’m Wrong,” and just started crying, and I don’t know why.
Here’s footage of the same song, from New York City. Hang with it. It’s a slow build.
I have a tattoo of this band, so that settles the personal affirmation of their greatness, right?
But, if you care, you can read my story of listening to and loving X that appeared in the Bohemian in 2005. Heavily influencing that love of X is the documentary ‘The Unheard Music,’ which is more than a band documentary—it’s just as much a perfect snapshot of Los Angeles history as those great “Driving Down Whittier Boulevard” videos.
And behold, someone’s posted the whole thing on YouTube. It’s great. Crack open a six-pack and watch:
Because rock and roll is what this festival is really all about, and because we haven’t seen this video since circa 1996, our second countdown pick is “She Talks To Angels” by The Black Crowes. Aside from the video’s awesomely grainy 1990s shadow play, the song defines a generation of melancholy rock star culture: it is supposedly about a heroin-goth dilettante that lead singer Chris Robinson once met in Atlanta. We really hope they play mostly the classics.
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.