The crowd bopped up and down as Weezer cranked through “Buddy Holly,” a rocking dance party well fueled by cabernet sauvignon and bites from Napa’s marquee restaurants. BottleRock Napa Valley was most definitely back with its myriad menu of music and libations, which drew a combined attendance of 75,000 to the Napa Valley Expo from Friday through Sunday.
BottleRock was at risk of being engulfed by a “mute” button this year. The festival debuted in 2013 and attracted a combined 120,000 concertgoers, but following the festival, the organizers faced millions in debts and anger from unpaid vendors.
But BottleRock did not play its swan song. A new ownership team stepped up to take over the BottleRock brand and shortened the festival by a day and a half, among other belt-tightening measures to keep it going. And in terms of music and overall good vibes, BottleRock 2014 hit most of the right notes.
The crowd chanted along to “Hey Ya!” during a Saturday night headlining slot by hip-hop favorites OutKast, while simultaneously, Heart churned through a set of classic rock hits on a separate stage. Music was hosted over four stages, with a mash-up of established acts (LL Cool J, country star Eric Church) and up-and-comers including the Soft White Sixties, which revved up the crowd on the City Winery Lounge with its shaggy-haired rock ’n’ roll.
The overall musical roster for BottleRock 2014 fit somewhere between Outside Lands and the California State Fair concert series. The lineup was heavy with acts best associated with 1990s nostalgia – Spin Doctors, Smash Mouth, Howie Day, Barenaked Ladies – but peppered with some coups. BottleRock booked alternative-rock figureheads the Cure for that band’s only North American show. Church had the No. 1 album on the charts when he was secured for BottleRock.
Electronica from Keep Shelly In Athens mixed in the Napa breeze with James Otto’s country tunes. LL Cool J, who performed on the Toshiba Stage on Sunday before Church, reveled in these kind of musical mash-ups. LL Cool J rapped over the riff to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” instead of the usual drum track for “I Need Love.”
In between band performances, the grounds in front of the main stage soaked in a lazy afternoon vibe with folks relaxing on blankets or chilling out in lawn chairs. The weather had the hallmarks of a fine Napa wine vintage: warm afternoons that require sunscreen, followed by a significant cooling come sundown. The concertgoers were mostly a well-behaved bunch, even when weaving through the crowd and trying not to spill an $18 cup of chardonnay.
“There’s plenty of food and the views are good,” said Dion Dwyer of Sacramento. “We’re ready to get our beer and make our way over to see Gin Blossoms.”
Lines for food and drink, meanwhile, stretched dozens deep at times. The masses showed up hungry and thirsty, and eager to sample from Morimoto Napa, Rombauer Vineyards and other upper-crust vendors. Food trucks were mobbed with customers around dinner time.
Andrew Blaskovich of Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, the sole Sacramento food vendor at BottleRock, said his food truck whipped up 500 orders on Friday.
“It’s gone really well,” said Blaskovich. “It was pretty mellow on Friday during the day, but once people got off work, it got buck wild. We were completely slammed.”
The new organizers behind BottleRock, Latitude 38 Entertainment, did well in preserving the spirit of the festival and its marriage of music with Napa food and drink. But there’s still some room on the learning curve for improvements.
Concertgoers griped on social media about waiting in line for more than two hours to catch a parking lot shuttle on Saturday night. Music fans were also miffed about the sound being cut off while the Cure and Heart each were in the midst of performing.
BottleRock organizers had promised the city of Napa to uphold a 10 p.m. noise curfew, which meant the plug was pulled on the Cure just as the band started playing “Why Can’t I Be You?” as an encore Friday night. Heart met a similar fate on Saturday as the clock struck 10 p.m.
It’s an awkward way to end a set, but ruffling the city after last year’s financial fiasco wouldn’t bode well for BottleRock’s future.
“We were very clear with the bands that 10 o’clock was a hard stop,” said David Graham, CEO of Latitude 38, in a Saturday afternoon press conference. “We wanted to address concerns related to noise.”
Latitude 38 will be scrutinized to make sure all promises were kept, especially in paying vendors. But if all went to plan, chances are good that BottleRock will attract even bigger headliners next year – instead of scrambling to secure acts within just a couple months, as organizers endured this year.
That would be good news for music-loving Sacramentans. The Napa Valley Expo is a fairly easy trip for a multigenre festival and provides the kind of headliners that the burgeoning Sacramento Music Festival has yet to achieve. And it’s just easy to have a good time when it comes to a weekend of music and wine.