When rumors about the first ever BottleRock Napa festival began to circulate, they were impressive: early flyers listed Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam as headliners (neither was ever confirmed). Still, the festival had the attention of the Napa Valley and surrounding music lovers long ago.
Once the final lineup had been released and tickets purchased, however, it was time to finally see what all the hype had been about. Because my home is in such a central location within “Napa proper,” as we all call the city of Napa (so as not to confuse it with the rest of “the Valley”), I didn’t actually experience the crazy traffic so many locals worried about. And while I did hear on one of the first few days (Weds or Thurs, though I’m not 100% certain which) that it took someone approximately 90 minutes to reach the Napa Expo from Fairfield (normally a 25-30 minute drive), I know for sure that the traffic relaxed and was relatively comparable to any other holiday weekend. (Which is to say, not insane as predicted.) The parking situation was the same as it usually is, I know for sure. The first three days, I arrived well before noon. As such, I beat the crowds and was able to find nearby parking with such ease that I chalked that up to my knowledge of the neighborhood, vs. all those who were coming in from out of area who didn’t know where to look (and as a result, were paying $25-40 to park much farther away).
During the first day or two, I didn’t get much of a first impression of BottleRock, except that it had the potential to be a lot of fun. Truth be told, I left before Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ set even began on Wednesday night so I could watch the Warriors playoff game…priorities. I did see the crowd come pouring in that first night, though, and it was definitely a young crowd. The rest of the fest, however, averaged I’d say somewhere between 25-45, give or take. I’ll be honest: I’ve not been to many festivals before, so I didn’t know what the vibe would be. I can say now, though, that if this is what festivals are like, I want to quit my life and just go to them forever. The beauty of a music festival of this caliber right here in Napa is that we already are a mecca for fantastic food and wine. Add a staggeringly fun lineup of musicians and comedians, and I joked all weekend that I’d show up Monday afternoon crying that no one was there (except for break-down crew, and that really isn’t the same)!
So, let me bottom-line it for you, as dates and presale codes for next year have already materialized (May 9-11, 2014, and go here for tix). I though the sound was fantastic overall. I didn’t manage to catch a single performance on the smallest (Miner Family) stage or the Comedy Closet, because the overwhelming majority of bands I wanted to see were on the medium (Citi) stage and the headliner (Willpower) stage. I heard from several friends that the crowds were jam-packed close to the stage, but that’s to be expected. Because I’ll personally only subject myself to that sort of thing for bands I truly love with all my heart, I stayed between the middle of the crowd (where there was breathing room) or farther back, preferring to enjoy the absolutely picture-perfect sunshine and breezy weather while taking in the music without being able to see as much. Yes, I missed some great moments. But at least I still heard almost everything I really wanted to.
Security was fair, and I happen to know for a fact that while the place was crawling with both hired security and Napa PD (as well as a group of guys wearing jackets labeled “parole unit” that passed me one night), the only time I saw any problems was when I personally experienced one: the Napa Valley Wine Train comes through after its dinner service just as the festival lets out, so the crowd intersects the tracks. Naturally, NPD officers were there to keep everyone safe, and two of them seemed to think I was trying to tempt fate. Aside from them shouting “do you want to go to jail?!” repeatedly in my face, I didn’t see any problems. I’m still wondering what it was they thought I was guilty of. Oh well.
When asked if anyone stood around for hours waiting on buses, my answer is no. In fact, I saw so few people hanging around as the shows wrapped up, I was sort of blown away by it. Because performances on the Citi stage wrapped up before the headliners at the Willpower stage, by the time I got across the grounds to where my bestie was finishing up her bartending shift next to the Citi stage, there wasn’t a soul around: just a big empty lawn littered with compostable plastic cups. Outside the grounds, not much difference: swarms of people making their way toward downtown Napa, whether to catch the BottleBus back to their cars or to some hotel, I don’t know. But if there was once a crowd waiting on anyone’s bus, I didn’t see it happen.
All in all, I loved BottleRock, and I’m so excited to see what happens next year. I know most of our readers are in the Bay Area and Napa seems far, but…don’t miss this next year. Trust me. It’s not that fair. And already this year you missed The Avett Brothers, the Black Crowes, Primus, ALO, the Violent Femmes, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, (their cover of “Crimson and Clover” is still one of my faves!) the Black Keys, the Flaming Lips (their cover of David Bowie’s “‘Heroes'” is one I won’t soon forget), Alabama Shakes, Blues Traveler, Matt Nathanson, Tristan Prettyman, Kings of Leon, Jane’s Addiction, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Jackson Browne, Bad Religion, Iron & Wine, Allen Stone, Train, Cake, the Zac Brown Band (whose cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blew my mind on so many levels), the Wallflowers…and that’s not even including all the food & wine tents, or the comedy. You get the idea. See you next year!