Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time again: Live in the Vineyard. For those unfamiliar, this is a biannual celebration of food, wine, and music, featuring a mix of hit artists and those that are up-and-coming. Events take place in locations all over the Napa Valley, typically culminating each (weekend) day in a concert at Napa’s Uptown Theatre. The event is exclusive in the sense that essentially the only way to attend is to win tickets via one of many contests available via the internet or the radio. This year’s fall event took place last weekend, with Friday night’s show a representative mix of the new and the tried-and-true: Britain’s Got Talent star Calum Scott, bluesy soul married duo JOHNNYSWIM, up-and-coming singer/songwriter Wrabel, American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, and celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band, o.a.r.. Apparently there was also a musician by the name of Taylor Dukes who had a five-minute slot before Calum Scott, but I didn’t arrive in time to catch her. I’ll have to check her out next time!
The evening began right around 7pm last Friday night, starting with Calum Scott, of whom I’d not previously heard. Unfortunately, I was running late on my way in, so I missed my opportunity to get shots of my own of the artist, but it didn’t keep me from listening. While most of the performances for an evening like this are shorter than we’d like, Scott’s was especially so: I think he performed 3-4 songs (5, tops), but what I most noticed was that his vocals reminded me of other musicians, all of whom I enjoy. First, I thought he sounded a bit like Adam Levine (unsurprising, given that I later found out Scott was a member of a Maroon 5 tribute band called Maroon 4). During the next song, he reminded me of the legendary Steve Perry. Finally, I noted a twinge of Gavin DeGraw during his final song. Bottom line: I didn’t hate it. (I don’t mean that in a bitchy, it-was-ok sort of way: I mean I quite enjoyed it, but need to do a little more homework before I could call myself a fan. But I’m open to it.)
Introduced by LITV founders Bobbii Hach-Jacobs and Claire Parr, next up was LA-based JOHNNYSWIM, a blend of folksy, bluesy pop & soul. In order to be present at this event, the two took a break from their current tour in support of new album Georgica Pond. Before bringing them out, the powers-that-be mentioned that in addition to being a wonderful musician in her own right, wife Amanda Sudano was also the daughter of disco legend Donna Summer. (Cool!) As they took the stage, Sudano mentioned that the last time they were in town she had been pregnant and unable to imbibe upon the nectar for which we’re famous; this comment was made with drink in hand, as a way to explain that she was trying to “make up for lost time.” Overall, I quite liked the vibe of JOHNNYSWIM – their harmonies were lovely, and the most prominent note I took during their set was what a shame it was that they couldn’t play longer, given the evening’s time constraints.
The night continued with the man behind the hit song “11 Blocks,” Wrabel (pronounced “RAY-bull,” for those unsure). Introducing him, one of the founders joked, “who wants a hot dude to come out on stage?” before admitting that Wrabel’s parents were in the audience from Houston. Wrabel stepped out in a denim jacket with Frank Sinatra’s mug shot screened onto the back, his eyes censored as though a magazine had labeled him a fashion don’t. “How are you?” Wrabel asked the crowd. “You drunk?… I felt like I was supposed to say that… I’m gonna play you guys some songs…” Before doing so, though, Wrabel marveled at having recently had “almost a whole day off,” which was a rarity. “It’s like we never left the tour… I think there’s a broken-down tour bus still somewhere in Colorado…”
His set began with a song about “the first time I fell in love,” called “Ten Feet Tall.” At its conclusion, Wrabel noted that he felt like Coldplay. (This was due to the flashing bracelets throughout the audience provided by Sutter Home that were motion-activated; when the crowd clapped, lights flickered throughout the auditorium, much like the wristbands Coldplay has synced to light up throughout their own shows since Mylo Xyloto.) Wrabel, however, didn’t have a bracelet of his own. That didn’t last long, however, as a kind fan threw one onto the stage for him. “Thanks! Hey, you guys can throw up cash, too…” Next came “Ritual,” after which Wrabel joked, “all these people and no one can throw a twenty…” He then introduced “another happy song… I’m happy! We’re happy!” as a $20 bill landed on the stage to much applause. “What I meant to say was, ‘all these people and no one can throw a hundred…'” The happy song that followed was “Poetry,” which Wrabel explained afterward was written when he “tried to go back in time and write about a happy time.” He then seemed surprised to realize, “I feel happy! This is weird…”
When someone shouted out a request for “Freebird,” Wrabel answered, “what? Reefer?” and then went on to tell that his ex had moved just eleven blocks away from Wrabel’s home, which obviously lead into a lovely performance of his hit song, “11 Blocks.” Finally, Wrabel had “one more song for you guys,” which had to be the one he had alluded to earlier when he’d promised to make the audience cry. The song, “That’s What I Do,” was a beautiful, stripped-down moment of a musician alone onstage in a room where the proverbial pin could otherwise be heard dropping. Wrabel’s voice is really rich and gorgeous, and his final song really showcased his lower register, which is as easy on the ears as the higher parts we hear in his current single. In conclusion, I have to deem Wrabel adorable, and very “aw, shucks” in demeanor, which I found quite refreshing. This guy is super talented, and I’m really looking forward to hearing more from him soon.
Before introducing Phillip Phillips, the founders joked, “so, the guys just keep getting better looking,” and went on to gush about Phillips’ amazing performance the year before. One of the purposes of Live in the Vineyard, they explained, was to be “quite unique, very special, and cool,” a “one-night-only, great treat.” Phillips’ band for the night was fully acoustic, featuring his own guitar as well as an additional guitar and a cello; the set began with Phillips’ most recent single, the lyrically-touching “Unpack Your Heart.” This is my favorite of Phillips’ songs to date, so I was excited for him to start with it, again, because the limitations of the evening’s timing meant a shorter set than I might otherwise hope for. “If you know any of these songs, I hear some of you singing along, but you could always be singing louder,” Phillips encouraged. “If you don’t know any of these songs… well, that’s your loss. I still love ya!”
Next came hit single “Raging Heart,” after which Phillips praised the crowd: “I don’t care what your mama told you: ya’ll can sing!” Before beginning another tune, Phillips explained that he’s been working on new music lately and that he’s really enjoying it. He then admitted, “when I get nervous, my throat gets dry, and then I start talkin’…” Someone from the audience offered the suggestion, “drink some wine!” but Phillips deflected it easily, explaining that it would have him talking even more. As he prepared to begin the next song, a new one called “Magnetic,” Phillips paused to teach the crowd a singalong part by first singing it in demonstration, then singing it with the crowd. When the time came for fans to join in during the actual song, Phillips promised he’d “yell for you” to sing. Not only did it work exactly as planned, but I have to admit that this is one of the things I most enjoy about Phillips’ songs: they’re incredibly catchy, and bits like the “na na na” that he taught the crowd are earworms that get stuck in your head. (But not those that drive you nuts once they’re there!)
“Here’s another new song,” Phillips joked as he begin his smash hit “Gone, Gone, Gone.” I love this song, and honestly, Phillip Phillips. While he was singing this one, I noted: this kid is magic. The kind that’s so good, you forget where he came from and just watch his ascent. What I meant by “where he came from” is American Idol, and I meant this as a compliment. For example, think of successful powerhouses like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood: they both won their seasons as well, but at some point, their talent and success has eclipsed the fact that they came from a reality TV talent show. I expect the same to be true for Phillips at some point as well. Anyway, the humble musician explained between songs that he had never before been to Napa, and that he thought it was a “really cool place,” before adding that he had had Indian food for “the last four suppers,” and that his “tummy will be tellin’ me about it, probably tomorrow… I just decided to tell ya’ll that.”
Phillips had a couple more tunes left, he promised. Next up was his first big single, “Home,” and however cheesy it may be (my sentiment, not the song), the lyric “I’m gonna make this place your home” made me note that this place already is my home, but it’s really nice to have him in it. When someone yelled “rock and roll!” out from the crowd, Phillips said he thought it sounded like he’d heard “rocket balls.” His final song, another new one, was what Phillips called both “rockin'” and “dance-y,” even though his set was acoustic for the night. He finished the evening with “Don’t Tell Me,” after which he received a huge standing ovation of praise he’d certainly earned.
The evening neared its end with headliners o.a.r. celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band. o.a.r. and the Live in the Vineyard founders (and organization in general) are “great friends,” o.a.r. having performed at various LITV events over the years. Their band for the evening consisted of three members: lead singer and guitarist Marc Roberge, lead guitarist and vocalist Richard On, and rhythm guitarist/saxophonist and vocalist Jerry DePizzo. They promptly began their set with their big 2008 hit “Shattered,” followed by “Love and Memories.” Roberge explained before the next song that they “write about our experience, our experience is our family,” which he said made them stronger. “This song is about that.” The song was a new one called “I Go Through.” The rest of the set included one about “brave people,” which was 2011’s “Heaven” featuring a sexy sax break by DePizzo, my personal favorite, “Peace,” and the “first single we ever had, the first song we ever wrote as a group,” which was “Hey Girl.” This was the first time I’ve been treated to the live music of o.a.r., and it made me realize I don’t own any of their music. Believe me, I won’t be saying that for long.
This was my first opportunity to cover Live in the Vineyard, and I certainly hope it will be just the first of many. It’s exciting to be a part of a bash that combines two of my most favorite things: wine/my beloved Napa Valley, and music! I look forward to the next one!