Ahhh, BottleRock. Last year, it was surreal that my tiny hometown had put together such a terrific festival. And then the bottom fell out. While I won’t go into the specifics of why most of the year was a matter of “will they or won’t they?”, I will say that there were more than a few skeptics about the likelihood of a BottleRock 2014. I never lost hope, and was thrilled when it was finally announced that our festival hadn’t died after its first year. This year’s lineup boasted headliners Eric Church, Outkast, and The Cure! Other acts included Heart, Weezer, The Fray, Smashmouth, Third Eye Blind, Matisyahu, Sublime with Rome, and many, many more. On top of that, what (I think) makes this festival cooler than any other is that it’s situated right smack in the middle of Napa’s lovely climate, and offers an overwhelming array of options from our local food and wine lover’s paradise.
Day one got off to a bit of a slow start because it was a weekday, but I wasted no time heading straight for the craft beer area. First up: 20oz of Lagunitas‘ “censored.” Oh, I should admit right at the start that while Napa’s best known for its wine, which I thoroughly enjoy, I’ve become an even bigger beer lover in the past few years, so I didn’t have a single glass of wine all festival. (Partly because, while beer is pricy at $9 or $12 for 12oz or 20oz, respectively, wine was, for the most part, even higher priced. Add that it was fairly hot in the sun, and all I wanted all weekend was beer, beer, beer!) But I digress… The festival has four stages in varying sizes, each one named for the sponsor of the year; I began my Friday at the Miner Family stage to check out Sielle, of whom I’d not heard. All I can say is, I didn’t stay long. When I see live music, I want it to be just that: live. Sielle was singing, but so were pre-recorded back-up tracks, and so I chose to wander elsewhere.
On the nearby City Winery stage was a band called Breakaway Patriot. They, too, were new to me, and were not bad. After their set, I crossed the expo to the Toshiba stage, where the headliners would later end each night, for Ben Sollee, whose music is a mix of bluegrass, R&B, and folk. It’s a fusion I’ve never quite heard before, and his set kept me absolutely riveted from start to finish.
After making my way to the front festival gate to meet my brother, who’d left work early, it was time for another craft beer. This time we each chose a Crusher golden ale from Napa Point Brewing, a local favorite that spent the weekend keeping the town both refreshed and covered in NPB stickers. Back at the Toshiba stage, Matisyahu was about to begin, and neither of us had much idea of what we were in for. I knew that the artist was Jewish and had made a name for himself as a reggae musician/rapper with biblical lyrics about a decade ago, but I’d never taken the time to give his music much of a listen. What I didn’t know was that over the years, he’d become much more reggae than rap. I heard someone say, “I hope he beatboxes,” and when he did, I knew why: I’ve never heard anyone sound so fantastic with just a mouth and a microphone. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed that sound was coming from him! Overall, Matisyahu’s sound is quite eclectic, as was his set. I utterly enjoyed every minute of it, even though I’m the first to admit I’m not a big fan of reggae in general. It didn’t matter – talent is talent, and I could have watched him for hours!
I was excited to check out the Gin Blossoms on the Miner Family stage next, and when they opened with “Anywhere You Go,” it was just like listening to the song on the radio, but with several hundred (or more?) of my closest friends and a wicked breeze. Lead singer Robin Wilson greeted the crowd by saying that they were “here to kick ass and chew bubble gum,” but that, of course, they were “all out of bubble gum!” Sadly, after a few songs in, I wanted to run out and find them some. I tried hard to keep my attention on them, but rather quickly found myself quite bored. I was happy to make it to “Follow You Down,” but realizing that I would be just as happy playing it on my iPod at home, I decided to move on even before they played the hit I most wanted to hear, “Hey Jealousy.” I admit, I felt terrible, but it was pretty sad and I couldn’t find it in me to stay till the end.
After another stop for beer (Lagunitas’ BottleRock Fusion special and Heretic‘s excellent Evil Twin), it was time to find a good spot among the masses that had trickled in throughout the day. I had no plans to be anywhere but front(ish) and center at the Toshiba stage for a two-and-a-half-hour set by The Cure, but my brother was more interested in hitting the Sprint stage after the first hour to catch Sublime with Rome. I told him he was crazy to miss a moment of The Cure, but to each his own.
When The Cure began, it was unreal to see Robert Smith in the flesh, on stage in my little hometown. Even after all these years, he still wears the crazy hair and makeup. The years haven’t exactly been kind, but I wasn’t there to nurture a crush, so I didn’t much care. His voice, on the other hand, still sounded exactly as it did in the 80s, and was wonderful. “Lovesong” was an early highlight of their set, as was “In Between Days” and then “Just Like Heaven.”
Before the sun went down, we spotted a familiar face in the platinum VIP section: skateboarder Tony Hawk, who graciously stopped to take selfies with a few fans before moving on. After my brother left to see the other set, he missed Robert Smith’s wonderfully strange dancing here and there throughout the show, as well as “Pictures of You,” the I’ll-never-forget-this live moment “Friday I’m in Love” (one of my all-time favorite songs), and many, many more. I admit, I didn’t stay to watch The Cure till the bitter end: realizing that they’d played all the songs I really wanted to hear, and that I wanted to see if I could still catch a few minutes of Sublime, I left the main stage.
It turned out that I’d stayed at The Cure too long and there wasn’t much Sublime set to see, but I did take note of another huge crowd in front of that stage, too. I found out just after leaving that Napa had meant business when they’d told headlining bands about a strict 10:00pm curfew, and that they had had to pull the plug on the end of The Cure’s set mid-song. I’m shocked, and honestly would have liked to have seen that go down, but I was also happy to get home and wash my “festival feet” and rest up to do it all again the next day!