Music News & Reviews

Napa’s BottleRock inspires music-festival envy

Andy Grammer performs on stage at the BottleRock music festival in Napa on May 27.
Andy Grammer performs on stage at the BottleRock music festival in Napa on May 27. Chris Macias

From a Sacramento perspective, it was easy to feel a bit of envy while strolling around Napa’s BottleRock music festival.

As a Rolling Stones cover band played at the Sacramento Music Festival on Friday night, music icon Stevie Wonder serenaded the BottleRock Napa Valley crowd with “Overjoyed.”

The Napa Valley Expo grounds were packed with a sold-out audience of 40,000 Friday – drawing more in a single day than the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento is expected to draw over four days this weekend.

BottleRock is the kind of festival where blues legend Buddy Guy rips through a cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” while alt-rock favorites Grouplove perform a version of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” on a nearby stage. It’s the kind of festival where restaurants with Michelin stars sell snack food and Gordon Ramsay and Cheech and Chong participate in raucous cooking demos.

It’s the kind of festival that Sacramento deserves.

For a city that loves music, we still don’t have a true signature outdoor festival. The two-day Aftershock festival is the current star, which drew a combined crowd of 45,000 to Gibson Ranch in 2015, but it’s geared strictly for the headbanger-and-mosh-pit crowd. City of Trees has shown promise, but it’s only a one-day event. The future of West Sacramento’s cutting-edge TBD Fest is in limbo, and the Sacramento Music Festival struggles to remain relevant to younger concertgoers.

At least BottleRock is just a few gallons of gas away from Sacramento. But that usual 61 mile drive took much longer Friday as concertgoers bottlenecked the roads leading to Napa. That combined with Memorial Day weekend traffic on I-80 led to many gripes on Twitter.

That congestion is expected to last through Sunday, as BottleRock takes its 2016 bow with a headlining sets by Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Lumineers. BottleRock is completely sold-out for the first time in its four year run, with 2016 boasting a combined three-day attendance of 120,000.

Like most large scale music festivals, the lines for amenities could get lengthy, especially for food vendors during peak dinners hours. But that was good for Andrew Blaskovich of Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen. His Sacramento-based food truck set an all-time sales record on Friday by serving 1,382 orders. Blaskovich said he expected to break that record again before BottleRock weekend was over.

Overall BottleRock vibes were upbeat Friday, with lots of selfies being taken in the sun and dancing with wine cups in hand. By 5 p.m., a cooling Napa breeze picked up just as the jam band Particle launched into a cover of “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.

The rest of the BottleRock grounds were like an in-the-flesh version of Spotify surfing. It’s a cheery kind of cacophony where Black Pistol Fire cranks through garage rock on one stage, while Michael Franti & Spearhead inspire a sing-a-long of the Jamaican flavored “Say Hey (I Love You)” on another. And there’s much more to look forward to as BottleRock weekend unfolds: Florence + The Machine, Ozomatli, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ziggy Marley, The Lumineers.

So again, why not Sacramento?

Music festivals are difficult to make successful. BottleRock nearly sunk after its first year, leaving its original producer to file for bankruptcy. A second team, Latitude 38, took over ownership and have since rebuilt BottleRock into the sold-out destination event it is now. The wine and food tourism inherent to Napa was considered a key draw for BottleRock, which includes culinary demos that pair celebrity chefs with celebrities in music, comedy and sports.

Sacramento has plenty of civic and business firepower behind its culinary endeavors, and an appetite for music festivals that already draws many locals to the likes of Outside Lands in San Francisco. But it’ll take money, and lots of it, to stage something similar in Sacramento.

Good luck to the Sacramento Music Festival in growing its programming and building a mightier event. But it’s going to take a lot to compete with Stevie Wonder playing only an hour away.

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias