You’re reading this year’s Day 2. Don’t forget to check out Day 1 too!
Day 2 got a bit of a late start, but once inside, I wasted no time at all stopping by Lagunitas for a cold Aunt Sally, which is easily my favorite beer they make, since it’s the least hop-driven! I went directly to the JaM Cellars stage to catch Walk the Moon who were due to begin momentarily. I admit, I only know the band from a friend who loves them and their gigantic smash “Shut Up and Dance” that’s so popular even my two-year-old niece asks for it by name. As I expected, they put on a fun, energetic set, particularly with “Different Colors” (which frontman Nicholas Petricca said was about the “beauty of being different), “Tiger Teeth,” “I Can Lift a Car,” and past single “Anna Sun.” As many had taken to doing over the festival, Petricca reminded the crowd to take time to vote: “Figure it out, and then go vote. Go fucking vote! It’s up to us to figure out the future!” He went on to say that the performance marked the very last one of the band’s tour in support of their Talking is Hard record. As expected, “Shut Up and Dance” was a fun, wild ride with the entire crowd dancing and singing along.
After WtM, I had a little time before deciding between Ziggy Marley and Death Cab for Cutie (or, more realistically, splitting my time between both), so I wandered the grounds and stumbled into a sweaty sauna known as the Coors Light Sports Bar, where Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals was airing on screens all around the room. I filed in, wishing I had another cold beer in hand like many of the smarter people around me, watching the game as I received an email from the media group stating that X Ambassadors would be holding a press conference in the media lounge in fifteen minutes, which would “cut into” the time I had to split between the two bands, but of course I tore myself away from a good game to attend anyway, like a good journalist.
I’m relatively new to X Ambassadors; though I saw them live for the first time back in 2014 when they opened for Imagine Dragons, I only recently got their album VHS and started learning the tunes not played on radio. Also, I must not have been paying attention closely when I saw them a few years ago, because at the press conference the first thing I noticed was that keys player Casey Harris is blind. I don’t know that this should impress me, but it always does: I can see ok and I can’t play an instrument to save my life, and here Harris and Stevie Wonder are making it look like child’s play!
The first question asked was a great one: a woman doing a documentary on deaf culture asked if the band had ever had their performances signed by an interpreter and if not, what did they think of having such a thing put in their rider? The band thought it was an excellent idea, admitted that they hadn’t done it, but liked very much the idea of adding it to their rider. They believed there were “few situations where an interpreter is available,” but they would love to have that.
The next question came from a journalist who knew that X Ambassadors work hard to credit fans. “How has life evolved with learning that everyone meet could be a stepping stone to where you need to be?” In response, members of the band described taking every opportunity they’re given and making the most of it, because you never know what might come of it. They explained that they were brought to their record label by Imagine Dragons in 2011 after members of that band saw an acoustic X Ambassadors performance. “We woke up early for the acoustic set, to take the opportunity with no expectations or hopes;” it was a wild series of events that led Imagine Dragons to see it, leading the band to be signed with their record label. Not only that, but Imagine Dragons invited them on tour and mentored them as well. “You never know what’s gonna happen. We thought ‘Renegades’ was just another song, we didn’t expect it to be a hit. You never know, you can’t take it to heart. We do as much as we can, and say yes to as much as we can.”
“Where were you when you first heard your song on the radio?” In response, the band described the experience of hearing a song off an older EP from before they’d signed with their current label, which they happened to catch on the radio while in Norfolk, Virginia, They were driving across a bridge (the Chesapeake Bay bridge, someone volunteered from the audience) with a bunch of tunnels; they heard the song come on only to lose the radio signal, coming out the other side of the tunnel they caught a few more seconds of it before entering another tunnel and so on. “The first time we heard ourselves on the radio we didn’t actually hear the whole song, we only heard about twenty seconds of it, but it was cool nonetheless!”
“Sold out shows. Can you tell me in three words or less what that feels like?” “I can do it in one word: amazing!” They’ve been a band for so long, they explained, and playing for so long to “ten people, three people… it’s always a good feeling to be able to play to a sold out crowd.” When asked what the highlight of their career has been so far, members of the band recollected a show in their hometown of Ithaca, New York playing for a crowd of 2000 people. “We hadn’t played there since we were kids!” The crowd made them feel ecstatic, given that they had been expecting it might just be friends and family, but what they found was actual fans and kids. “It brought me back to when we were kids going to shows!”
“We’ve lost quite a few musical greats lately. Have any of them influenced your music or affected you in any way?” Prince and David Bowie, they said, were those they felt most influenced by. Lead singer Sam Harris elaborated, saying that Prince was one of his “pillars,” along with Bruce Springsteen, and they they were the two he most tried to “kind of maybe stand up to,” musically speaking. “I really admired Prince as a performer, and as a humanitarian. David Bowie, too, was a legend, such an innovator and a weirdo. That’s what made him so great!”
The final press conference question came from a girl from Ithaca as well, who said that she felt “really proud” of the band before asking if they’d had a “big a-ha moment” where they thought, “I think we’re going somewhere!” Sam explained that it was during his senior year of high school that he made his first demo with his band and used to frequent a music store where he played with the guitars. He played his demo for the store owner, who encouraged him to go to New York City, which he found really supportive. (And then they posed for photos with the journalists in attendance. I contented myself with the anticipation of catching their set the following day and quickly made my way back to the even sweatier Sports Bar for more of the game!)
By this time, I’d made up my mind to skip both Death Cab and Ziggy in favor of the game, which was touch-and-go like much of the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder (those that know me know I “bleed blue and gold,” having been a Warriors fan since the mid-’80s and being a Cal alum as well). After about ten minutes sweating in a crowded room, I realized I was silly to stay there and waited for half time, where I high-tailed it back to the air-conditioned comfort of the media lounge where I could watch on my phone’s tiny screen while on wifi and charging at the same time. Naturally, this didn’t take long to attract a few other Warriors fans, and when an arts content editor offered to let me log in to the site on her computer (giving me at least a 5x bigger screen), I didn’t hesitate. Normally, the media lounge resembles a library at times, with everyone quiet like church mice, just working on their pieces or enjoying some downtime. I won’t lie, though, when I say that by the end of the game, there was a small crowd around the computer, whooping it up like we were courtside.
I had time to scurry out the media lounge to where the Mark’s the Spot truck was waiting to serve me up a couple of sliders (their famous Oooh Girl buttermilk chicken and a burger sans grilled onions) with a ginger mint lemonade before I rushed toward the main stage.
I admit, I’m sad I missed Atlas Genius, who I don’t know much more of than their smash “Trojans,” but who I’d been wanting to catch. Here’s hoping they will be a band that comes back soon (to the Bay or to BottleRock, I’m not picky!) I’d also missed Iron Chef Morimoto with Green Day‘s Tre Cool on the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage just before JaM Cellars stage headliner Florence + the Machine got their set started. This is life at a festival, though: we have lots of choices to make, and we have to live with them. Or at least that’s what I tell myself…
Anyway, I was happy to discover that I had not missed Florence + the Machine, who I’ve heard fantastic things about! I mean, sure, I know the hit songs that have been played on radio and other media, but I haven’t really sunk my teeth into this band. Those that have had been telling me for a while how much I would enjoying witnessing them live, so I’d been looking forward to it. To my delight, they were absolutely right. Ms. Welch and her Machine began with “What the Water Gave Me” and then “Ship to Wreck,” followed by a song I didn’t know and then “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)”.
Next came the fantastic “Shake it Out,” “Delilah,” and “Sweet Nothing,” which isn’t technically a Florence + the Machine song as it’s one Welch sang with Calvin Harris, but is a favorite of mine nonetheless, with lyrics I wish I’d written myself. “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” came next, followed by “Cosmic Love” and then a cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” which was a lovely little treat, to say the least.
“Mother,” “Queen of Peace,” and “Spectrum” were next, followed by another cover (this time, The Source was the original artist) of “You’ve Got the Love.” Finally, the regular set concluded with the band’s massive breakthrough hit “Dog Days are Over,” and then the crowd had to wait in anticipation of an encore that was sure to come.
And come it did. Welch and the Machine were back with “What Kind of Man” and finally “Drumming Song,” leaving a crowd thoroughly sated and having gotten all they wanted and more. This included me as I waded through the people toward the exit, already looking forward to the festival’s third and final day.
Don’t miss <a href="http://spinningplatters.com/2016/06/03/bottlerock-napa-valley-2016-festival-journal-day-3/"Day 3‘s Journal!