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  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Debra McCormick of Wilmington, North Carolina enjoys the musical performance of ALO during the Bottle Rock festival at the Napa Valley Expo on May 9, 2013 in Napa, Calif.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Fans applaud the Black Crowes at the Willpower Stage during the Bottle Rock festival at the Napa Valley Expo on May 9, 2013 in Napa, Calif.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    The Black Crowes perform during the Bottle Rock festival at the Napa Valley Expo on May 9, 2013 in Napa, Calif.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Michael Hedgepeth and Bridgitte Cinelli of Monterey dance to music during the Bottle Rock festival at the Napa Valley Expo on May 9, 2013 in Napa, Calif.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Fans listen to Primus perform on the Citi Bank Stage during the Bottle Rock festival at the Napa Valley Expo on May 9, 2013 in Napa, Calif.

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Napa's BottleRock festival draws 120,000 in north state's answer to Coachella

Published: Monday, May. 13, 2013 - 2:32 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 14, 2013 - 1:11 pm

NAPA - Like a glass of fine cabernet sauvignon, the first vintage of the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival went down smoothly, with minimal complaints about dusty conditions and traffic snarls.

According to event organizers, the combined attendance at this multiday music festival - which featured marquee acts such as the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes and Kings of Leon - was around 120,000 people.

"For the most part it's been fantastic," Sacramento resident and festival attendee Anna Grauer said Saturday. "For the first time out, (the organizers) did a really good job.

In its debut year BottleRock has come to define itself as an event similar to Southern California's Coachella music festival, but with Michelin-starred eats and choice Napa Valley wines.

Music lovers could sip on cabernet sauvignon from Silver Oak and nosh on foods from Morimoto and La Toque while rocking out to bands such as the Shins and Jane's Addiction at the Napa Valley Expo fairgrounds.

Featuring more than 80 acts, BottleRock kicked off Wednesday with a smaller show geared for locals and headlined by the chart-topping rapper Macklemore, and continued through Sunday with sets by the Black Crowes, the Avett Brothers, Cake, Violent Femmes and more.

While the Napa Valley has remained a tourist destination for decades for food and wine lovers, this otherwise sleepy area had never hosted a musical festival of this magnitude.

The crush of visitors led to concerns by locals about apocalyptic traffic scenarios and noise issues in the otherwise bucolic town.

Jeff Conklin, a Napa resident who lives just a few blocks from BottleRock's VIP entrance, didn't have any major problems to report Saturday afternoon. His fourth-grade daughter, Aiya, set up an organic lemonade stand in their front yard and attracted brisk business.

"It's loud at night and there's a lot of people," Conklin said. "But we haven't really had any issues. The people who put on the festival have this really well handled."

'We did the impossible'

Part of the local anxiety stemmed from the fact that BottleRock's co-founders, Gabe Meyers and Bob Vogt, had never put together a festival of this size. Vogt is a co-owner of Napa's Uptown Theatre, which has hosted such acts as Snoop Dogg and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, while Meyers ran an event-production company.

The learning curve was certainly steep, but the festival was successful enough that BottleRock 2014 has already been planned for May 9-11 next year, with pre-sale tickets already available (

"We did the impossible in less than six months, and the people responded," Meyers said in a statement. "To sit here Mother's Day weekend and celebrate the birth of a new Northern California festival feels incredible."

BottleRock weekend wasn't without some hiccups. Many travelers from Sacramento encountered heavy traffic along the way. Highway 12, a main thoroughfare from Sacramento to Napa, was backed up Friday afternoon through the length of Jameson Canyon and through Interstate 80 to Cordelia.

For Grauer, the journey from midtown Sacramento to BottleRock took about two hours on Saturday - about 45 minutes longer than a typical trip. Once in Napa, her trek to BottleRock was fairly easy, she said. While some concertgoers complained on Twitter about shuttle services from parking lots to the festival grounds not running as scheduled, Grauer had no such problems.

"I've been to festivals that are about the same size, and this one is good," said Grauer, grabbing a bite to eat before Jane's Addiction's set.

Stages, labels and dust

Once inside the 26-acre fairgrounds, concertgoers had the choice of four stages and more than 50 wine vendors. Unlike the well-manicured lawn of the Empire Polo Club that plays hosts to Coachella, attendees had to contend with a lot of dry grass and dirt.

The CitiBank Stage could have been renamed the Sudafed Stage given all the flying dust and "achoos!" heard throughout the crowd.

A small dust cloud hovered near the front of the Willpower Stage on Saturday from a slam dance pit during Bad Religion's set. Singer Greg Graffin complained that all the dust was starting to affect his vocals, though the group's 75-minute set of melodic punk rock remained solid.

Meanwhile, lines remained long for the indoor Comedy Closet stage. Not only was this a choice spot to catch a few laughs with comedians such as Demetri Martin and "Saturday Night Live" alum Jim Breuer, but the shade and chairs were good for catching a reprieve from the elements.

The chairs were also handy to support food-coma victims. Along with a small fleet of food trucks, BottleRock boasted Napa-area food vendors with Michelin stars on their resumes, including La Toque, Fish Story and Oenotri. Menu options included barbecued oysters, grilled cheese on brioche, and cheese and salami picnic plates.

These eats didn't come cheap. Cash had to be converted into $5 poker chips to be used at the food vendors, and those chips went quickly. A chicken banh mi sandwich from Kitchen Door was three chips, and

a spicy Korean hot dog from Morimoto cost two chips and could be eaten in just about as many bites.

The quality and variety of foods were nevertheless outstanding, and lines moved fairly quickly. The longest lines of the day were seen for the ID check stations, Mexican food and beer.

Meanwhile, in town ...

Nearby downtown Napa eateries hoped to benefit from the constant foot traffic coming to and from the festival, but reports of BottleRock's impact were mixed. The parking lot of the Oxbow Public Market, just a few blocks from BottleRock's entrance and featuring several food options, wasn't even half full on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Some merchants said they suspected that locals were staying away from downtown due to crowd concerns. Nevertheless, Ariel Ceja, owner of Bistro Sabor on First Street near Main Street, kept his restaurant fully staffed and extended hours to accommodate any BottleRock attendees.

"It's been a little slow, but we're hoping it does get busier as people start trickling out (of BottleRock)," Ceja said. "I'm still happy with it. We want to be known as a world-class city, and we'll be ready."

Back at the festival, several acts reveled in performing at this wine mecca. Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell chugged from a bottle of Rombauer during the band's rocking, 90-minute set and announced, "Napa Valley, I love drinking wine!"

The event remained a mostly laid-back affair, despite the large crowds and abundance of alcohol. Medical personnel reported an easy BottleRock weekend, with most cases related to ankle twists or individual inebriation.

"It's been a very mellow and great three days," said Gordon Oldham, director of Rock Medicine, which provided free medical care. "This crowd has been very well behaved."

The artist lineup, which included Train, Jackson Browne and the Wallflowers, was geared toward an older demographic than Coachella. BottleRock's ticket prices also targeted a more monied crowd, with single-day tickets costing $139 and four-day passes going for $399.

For folks such as Greg Forbyn, the music made it all worth while. A Napa native and guitarist who also performed at BottleRock, Forbyn said this festival was a long time coming.

"People have always said there's nothing to do in Napa," Forbyn said. "And now I'm watching the Black Crowes. This is the place to be."

Call The Bee's Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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