I don’t know why, but Day 3 always seems to be the day all my friends attend BottleRock. This year was no exception. Two friends came up from the South Bay, not wanting to miss a moment. While I waited for my bestie and her boyfriend to arrive, I heard the festival begin through my bedroom window. Before we left the house, I realized that the band on the main stage (the one I can hear) was killing a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” so I texted one of my friends to find out who they were. She didn’t know, except to say that they were kids, and they were crushing it. I made a mental note to find out who they were and check them out. It turned out they were The Helmets, a band that includes Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo’s son Tye and three other kids, all currently aged 12 or under. I’m disappointed to have missed them, because from what I heard (literally from afar, as well as from those who were already present), they are an excellent band, kids or not!
We began our day with a run to nearby Heritage Eats a fairly-new spot in town featuring affordable, customizable global fare I’d been wanting to try. (They had a booth at BottleRock as well, but it’s hard to customize in the same way when there are usually only 3 or 4 menu options onsite, max, so we opted to go to their actual location ahead of time.) Let me tell you: two of us had the Jamaican Jerk Bao, and I love Jamaican Jerk anything, but I’ve never actually had a bao before, and I already can’t wait to go back. It was also surprisingly filling, so I had a snack left over for the post-festival munchies. We also sampled the chicken tikka masala in a rice bowl and honestly, everything looked delicious! I’ll definitely be back for more, as well as seeing what they brought to the festival next time!
Once inside, we opted to swing past the Bai beverage booth for a free can of goodness (Tanzania Lemonade Tea on that particular day) and then over to the KIND Snacks booth for a savory roasted jalapeno granola bar, which was a perfect snack later in the day, and far more delicious than I even anticipated. We made our way to the Midway stage and found a nice little spot on the grass for our blankets, ready to get started when X Ambassadors soon took the stage.
We didn’t have too long to wait, and while I have to admit, there are a few songs in these guys’ catalog that don’t really “work” for me (there’s some kind of “clash” or something that my ears don’t enjoy on several of their songs…I think I counted three), they still know how to put on a great set. You could tell they were happy to be there, and excited to perform with a big crowd on a gorgeous day. They began with “Loveless,” followed by “Hang On” and “Love Songs Drug Songs,” which features some lyrics that I could really relate to. Next came “Fear,” which features mentors Imagine Dragons on their record VHS. Lead singer Sam Harris plays the sax on this one, and while it’s one of the cluttered-sounding songs I mentioned, it does still have a quite a hook.
Next came my personal favorite, current hit “Unsteady,” and if you think Sam Harris’ vocals are impressive on record, you should see him do it live. His falsetto is wonderful. Next came “Naked” followed by “Gorgeous,” and then the band invited Jamie N Commons up to join them for their new single, which Sam Harris said was “about those days when you feel like a piece of shit, when you’re so low down, you’ve fallen down and gotten up and fallen down so many times it’s like you can’t get yourself back up again, ever. We’ve all felt like that. This one’s for all you low lifes!” The song, “Low Life,” isn’t a favorite, but I certainly didn’t hate it either. Next was “Jungle,” a song I’m not sure how I know, but that I thoroughly enjoyed, and for which Jamie N Commons remained.
The final song of the X Ambassadors was their giant hit “Renegades,” during which Sam Harris led the crowd in a singalong before jumping into them, crowdsurfing his way around. I need to be clear, here: I really enjoy this band. I don’t want it to sound like I was disappointed by any stretch of the imagination. There are a few songs that sound acoustically “off” to me, but the rest are energetic, rocking, and fun. Especially live, where they sound great, especially Harris’ phenomenal vocal talents. I’d go see them again, to be sure!
Next we made our way over to the Miner Family stage for Jamestown Revival while seeking a little refreshment (sauvignon blanc for them, “black lemonade” for me). I don’t know any of this band’s songs except for the one I previewed, which was “California,” and my favorite part of their set, too.
Somehow, while trying to figure out what to do next (Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness back at the Midway stage, or The Suffers over at the Lagunitas stage), we soaked up too much sun and libations and managed to miss most of both. (Note to self: manage time better when friends are present!)
Ultimately, rather than scramble over to the latter third of either set, we opted to head to the JaM Cellars stage to get a good spot for the final two acts of the evening. We found not only a good spot halfway through the grass where we could see without feeling claustrophobic, but managed to find several friends and take turns running off to get food between acts.
Like many, I mostly know The Lumineers from their mega-hit “Ho Hey.” I discovered that they’re a blend of indie pop rock and folksy country. They’re the kind of band you should put on when you’re sitting on your front porch with a margarita catching up with old friends (or making new ones). The only songs I knew were those I’ve heard out in the world, including the aforementioned “Ho Hey,” which was easily the highlight of their set, at least for me, and the new release “Ophelia.” I also enjoyed one called “Big Parade,” and overall the Lumineers’ lovely voices were a great way to spend the afternoon as the sun began to die in anticipation of the headliner for which so many of my friends had come.
Suddenly, the moment was upon us. I must say something before I tell you about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Like everyone else my age, I’ve grown up with much of this band’s hits as the soundtrack to my life. Having said that, and while admitting I’ve almost always enjoyed their music, I’ve never really been a fan. I’ve never dislike them, but sort of could take them or leave them. Because of this, I knew that there was the possibility that seeing a live set would finally, firmly cement my status as a fan, or… not. I was prepared for the former, especially given how many friends just rave about them. (In the words of one friend: “where the Peppers go, I go.”)
I’ve sort of always admired Flea because he’s so strange and unique and adorable, so I was happy to be able to witness that live, but right away they began with “Can’t Stop” and I forgot about watching him because I was too busy dancing and enjoying myself to focus on any one particular person or thing. Next came “Dani California,” which I never really loved on the radio but thoroughly enjoyed last weekend, followed by a little piece of a Funkadelic cover of “What is Soul?” and a shout-out to the excellent day opener The Helmets.
“Snow ((Hey Oh))” came next, followed by Flea’s admission that it was a “perfect fucking night” and indulging Anthony Kiedis’ request to sing a little of Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies Night.” Next was “Dark Necessities,” “with the help of our friend Nate on piano!” and Flea’s explanation that we’d get “a little somethin’ new, a little somethin’ old.” Old was 1989’s “Nobody Weird Like Me,” after which Kiedis proclaimed it was “just a little dip into the late ’80s!” Next was “The Adventures of Raindance Maggie,” after which Kiedis addressed the crowd: “thanks for sticking around! As always, it’s a complete fucking honor!”
“Otherside” was up next, followed by “Right on Time,” “The Getaway,” and an introduction to “Chris Warren, a funky, soulful Sagitarrius on Tuesdays. He’s a man of many talents… rockin’ keys, rockin’ synth and rockin’ our world!” Next was my personal favorite flashback to high school, “Under the Bridge,” and I had to make a mental note to add this song to my “Hall of Fame” playlist. It was everything I wanted it to be live and I look forward to experiencing it again someday. They followed it up with their absolutely brilliant cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” which I hadn’t known existed and have since downloaded. As much as I’ve always loved Stevie’s original version, this one crushed it for me. A new (old) favorite.
Up next was “Californication,” during which I noticed an American Sign Language interpreter, which I always appreciate seeing, and finally “By the Way” closed their regular set. Their encore didn’t require much waiting, thankfully, and featured beautiful “Around the World” and of course, concluded with the explosive, excellent “Give it Away.” As we stood there basking in the afterglow of an absolutely perfect performance, Kiedis left us with these parting words: “with all of our love, and all of our gratitude, please be kind and gentle with each other!” Well said, and the sort of sentiment I really appreciate from a band I admire. Definitely what I needed to take me over the top to fandom once and for all.
And that’s it for this year’s BottleRock, kids! See you next year: May 26-28, 2017! Be sure to keep an eye on the official BottleRock Napa Valley site for ticket/wristband info!