RECAP: BottleRock 2021 featuring exclusive interviews with Walk Off the Earth, Turkuaz, Spafford, and OTTO
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Napa had become the primary business and economic center for the Napa Valley by the dawn of the 20th century. As agricultural and wine interests developed north of the city limits much of the light industry, banking, commercial and retail activity in the county evolved within the city of Napa and in earlier times along the Napa River through the historic downtown.

Napa, probably named after the southern Nappan (meaning “Fairy Valley”) Indian Village, remains known for its unmatched wine-growing climate. Vivid, green hills spatter the countryside, rolling acres of meticulously laid out grapes, grow plentifully just minutes from downtown Napa. The river meanders calmly through the city, where you might find a paddle boarder or two. BottleRock has really etched it’s own path in the festival market – blending hot new acts ranging from Electronic to Dream pop, while offering top-tier headlining acts like Tom Petty and Maroon 5 in past years. Aside from the abundance of space, fine wines, and great music, BottleRock always has a to-die-for culinary garden, and a killer VIP area (with extra VIP-only concerts).

This year, what is usually a Memorial Day getaway, BottleRock pushed its 2020 COVID cancellation lineup back on for September of 2021. I’ve mentioned in previous years, that the weather, food, and drink are reason enough to enjoy this festival. But this year, once again, we had to venture back to see how our debut return to festival life would be as we slowly try to return to gatherings, concerts, and frankly, just being around other people.

As per past years, the booking committee did another wonderful job of providing a variety of acts. Bands people love from all generations, this year combining Jimmy Eat World, Cage the Elephant, Young the Giant, and Miley Cyrus (to name only a few). The other major plus I’ve found at BottleRock is the seemingly lack of over crowdedness in the scheduling. Without so many acts to see, the festival feels a whole lot less overwhelming. Instead of the typical need to see 15 minutes of one band, run to 30 minutes of the next band, find a beer in between and skip to 20 minutes of the last band… etc., etc. The schedule is more laid back, spread out, and not so hectic. Which is akin to allowing you to take your time, finding a spot to lay the blanket down in the grass, kick back to a few bands in a row at the same stage, and just seeing where the day takes you.

With all do respect to the new and necessary measures in place, BottleRock still maintained a high level of professionalism and organization in running the festival. The crowds all appeared happy to be back as well as respectful of others space, feelings, and concerns. Even this “sold-out” festival never felt too crowded or worrisome to be in one area. Despite our pre-emptive worries, all in all, our first post-COVID festival back was a success. Not stressful, but rather, seemingly just what we needed to ease back into such social surroundings. Below are some of my favorite moments, as well as some fun questions from some of the acts that were graciously willing to answer.

Blast From The Past: Jimmy Eat World

Formed back in 1993, Jimmy Eat World littered my youth with sing-along hits – a few of which I didn’t even remember. Many have thought back on this act as a one-hit wonder, but that couldn’t be more inaccurate. The band has released 10 studio albums, and amongst those are a handful of radio hits. “Pain,” “Bleed American,” “Sweetness,” and “A Praise Chorus” are amongst all of their big hits, even before you arrive at the unparalleled “The Middle.” The band took the stage with stride and presence. Although most members are likely pushing 50, they played hard, they bounced around, and they sweated it out in the afternoon sun and brought us all back to some of our best memories of the 90’s and early 2000’s.

A Show to Remember: Guns n’ Roses
Coming in as another legendary act, Guns n’ Roses cruised through endless throwback greats like “November Rain,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Slash, Axl and Duff clearly were having a blast being back on stage in front of thousands. Leaving the crowd with a few memorable moments – bringing out P!nk for a rendition of “Patience,” and then Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, during which they all stayed on stage well past the 10 pm curfew to sing along acapella style. 

 

Best Crowd: Run The Jewels

The Run The Jewels gang of Killer Mike and El-P had not been on stage in nearly three years, and their sheer passion and energy was felt by any crowd members lucky enough to catch their set. The entire show was fun, fast and full of positive energy, encouragement and camaraderie amongst the crowd. After a long stretch of most of us being anti-social and forgetting how to be kind to strangers, Run The Jewels did a great job of bringing people together and spreading a kind of eccentric and contagious optimism.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers
If you know much about the history of Hobo Johnson, you’ll know he got close to falling off of his career path. After a performance on NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concert,’ Johnson was immediately in the limelight as a new and very different blend of rap and punk rock. This quick rise to stardom and his unique flavor of hip-hop brought with it, a whole mess of criticism and hatred. At some point I had heard through the grapevine that Johnson was going to retire the Hobo Johnson name due to all the commotion. But it’s with a sigh of relief and pleasure that he did not. His performance was unique, energetic, and full of passion and love for what he does. Him and his band seem to have caught the right stride, forgetting all the negative words and just moving past it. Taking the stance that all they can do is be their best selves and continue to deliver for all the loving fans that they have. Hobo (fitting and ironic to his name) even took off his shoes and threw them into the crowd during his set. 


Best Daytime Energy: Chromeo
Although I wasn’t able to catch their first set, I had the pleasure of making my way to the electronic-funk duo Chromeo’s VIP only set. Their unique blend of funky and feel-good sunny beats made us all get up on our feet and dance. From the moment the 2 DJs took the stage, their uplifting brand of electronic music put an accent on the Friday sunshine. A blend of hard hitting drums and tasty 80’s style synths gave us all that joyous feeling of hitting the roller rink for your 16th birthday party.   


Best Performance: Black Pumas

From busking on the streets only a couple of years ago to a prime time set at BottleRock, Black Pumas have come a long way – and we are glad they have. Pumas’ range, confidence and unmistakable vocals are just what the afternoon needed. Drifting all over the place, their set included vibes of East Coast hip-hop, old soul music, funk and even folk music – probably why, KCRW describes their sound as “Wu-Tang Clan meets James Brown.” The dusty funk sound blends with Burton’s soulful voice to create something retro but not too imitative. It feels genuine, intimate, and evokes certain nostalgia, something you might expect if you discovered them at a 50-person bar before anyone knew who they were, but they’ve found a way to replicate that to the main stage at an outdoor festival.

Food
This year (as per usual), the culinary garden was filled with too many awesome food stands to choose from. No matter what “food mood” you were in there was always an option. Throughout the festival we tried as much food as we possibly could, and we were very pleased with the results. On Friday, things started off with dessert, because well, that’s how it should be. We tried the secret breakfast sundae from Humphry Slocombe; a sweet boozy treat drizzled with bourbon caramel, fresh whipped cream, and crunchy corn flakes. It was a little over the top, but in the best possible way. Ice cream lovers and those with a sweet tooth should make sure to take a mental note, since Slocombe has various locations all over the Bay Area. Later on, it was hard to decide what sounded good in 100 degree heat, but we went with the hot, steamy dumplings from Bling Bling. Again, we were glad we went for it because they turned out to be some of the tastiest snacks of the weekend. The burger and fries combo from The Brixton satisfied every juicy, savory craving you could hope for – classic, but made with the highest quality ingredients that truly made our taste buds smile. El Porteño came through with their delicious empanadas, particularly the champiñones which boasted a delectable medley of mushrooms and a creamy, cheese filling – a warm little pocket of cozy bliss. Despite all the wonderful options, the top highlight of the weekend for us was the fried chicken sandwich from Blanchard’s. Perfectly crispy and that ideal balance between spicy and sweet all held together between the softest brioche bun.

 

Interviews: I could go on and on with great shows we were able to catch this year. But instead of rewarding everyone with different tokens of appreciation, I selected some of the bands to answer a short questionnaire for me. A way to get a glimpse into their minds, touring life, and what they’ve taken away from BottleRock.

Walk Off the Earth Drummer, Joel Cassady
AS: If you could have 1 super hero power what would it be?

JC: The childhood version of myself would totally say something like “the ability to fly”, but the present-day version of myself would say “the ability to know for sure if something is true or false”. Simpler times back then to say the least!

AS: What’s the best part of BottleRock festival to you? Did you see anything particularly memorable / crazy / interesting?
JC: Getting the chance to go right from our full-production performance slot on the Verizon stage to the JaMPad acoustic stage was so great. We had no idea what to expect going into the latter, and despite the stripped-back setup the crowd was just as hyped-up and receptive. We were feeling the love all day long! It was also great to see some acts that we’re big fans of like Foo Fighters, MAX, Jack Harlow, Black Pumas, Jon Batiste and fellow Canadians Jessie Reyez and Valley.

AS: How does it compare to other festivals you’ve played?
JC: BottleRock has definitely been a bucket list festival for us for quite some time. Napa is obviously the food and drink capital of North America, so it was great to see the organizers take that seriously with all the elevated victuals that were available on site. We’ve been fortunate enough to play the likes of Lollapalooza, FireFly and Summerfest in the past and there’s really no comparison in that sense.  

AS: If you HAD to choose anything besides being a musician, what would it be?
JC: I would have gone into journalism for sure. I was actually in talks with a rep from the New York Times before WOTE took off after they’d come across some product review articles that I was doing while attending music school in Toronto. I’m not mad at all about the way things panned out though!

AS: Growing up, what was one band or artist that steered you the most towards being a musician?
JC: I’m from the era where pretty much every single kid who wanted to do music was in that position thanks to Blink 182, Green Day or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Blink was my #1 as a teen, and that love led me to bands like the Strokes and eventually on to bands like the Mars Volta before getting more into the world of producer-artists like James Blake, SBTRKT, Flume, ODESZA, Jai Wolf, Big Wild and Louis the Child to name a few faves.

AS: Was this your first show / festival back since COVID? How was your experience?
JC: Yes it was! We hadn’t left our native Canada in more than 18 months before this trip, so we were all simultaneously nervous and excited for what this trip would have in store. We put together a brand new live show for this run to incorporate a bunch of our newer music (originals from our latest album “Meet You There” along with some of our most popular covers from the past few years) and had the ability to test drive it over the course of two club shows before BottleRock which was super handy. The energy that we felt from the BottleRock audience was incredible; if there’s one thing the pandemic has taught music lovers across the board, it’s that absolutely nothing can replace the feeling of a live performance whether you’re on stage or in the audience.

AS: Any other comments / thoughts / quotes / idioms / jokes / riddles / (whatever)?
JC: We are total workaholics and have many different projects on the go at all times. We just released our latest original album “Meet You There”, have a new children’s album coming out on September 24th (pre-save – https://orcd.co/woteandromeoeatsvol1), and a companion web series called “Romeo Eats” that revolves around Gianni and Sarah’s youngest son and his love for the world’s most exotic foods. We’re also well into production on our animated show “WOTE In Space” that will be coming to a streaming platform near you as soon as 2022! Fans can also expect more new music and videos on a regular basis throughout the rest of this year and beyond.

Dave Brandwein’s of Turkuaz
AS: If you could have 1 super hero power what would it be?
DB: I would definitely have the power to travel in time (including backwards). To me that supersedes all other powers! You can always be one step ahead… or behind…

AS: What’s the best part of BottleRock festival to you? Did you see anything particularly memorable / crazy / interesting?
DB: THE COFFEE!!! Sounds silly but most fests do not pack the caffeine like that. Big fan here. 

AS: How does it compare to other festivals you’ve played?
DB: It’s a lot swankier. And did I mention there’s good coffee?

AS: If you HAD to choose anything besides being a musician, what would it be?
DB: Helping people in any way I could find. I like people.

AS: Growing up, what was one band or artist that steered you the most towards being a musician?
DB: There are these 4 guys from Liverpool that are cool. You should check them out. I forget the name. I’ll get back to you.

AS: Was this your first show / festival back since COVID? How was your experience?
DB: Far from it. We’ve been on the frontlines since as far back as April. And this was the last stop on a month-long tour. Scary times but jam we must. If we don’t do it, there are only 59 million other bands who will!

AS: Any other comments / thoughts / quotes / idioms / jokes / riddles / (whatever)?
DB: Why did the chicken get to the other side?
(Children:) “WHY?”
Because he crossed the road.

Brian Moss from Spafford
AS: If you could have 1 super hero power what would it be? BM: I would fly. Just seems to be easier to get myself from gig to gig

AS: What’s the best part of BottleRock festival to you? Did you see anything particularly memorable / crazy / interesting?
BM: The Artist hospitality was over the top. They made us feel comfortable and welcome from the very start. All staff were happy and helpful!

AS: How does it compare to other festivals you’ve played?
BM: BottleRock was the cleanest festival I’ve ever been to. It was like an adult amusement park for music. The vending, merch, and grounds were just so clean I had to remind myself I was at a music festival with 10’s of thousands of people. Well-done BottleRock!

AS: If you HAD to choose anything besides being a musician, what would it be?
BM: If I HAD to choose, because ya know, I wouldn’t choose anything else. I’d be a chef
 
AS: Growing up, what was one band or artist that steered you the most towards being a musician?
BM: One band that really inspired me to become a musician was Phish. This was very early on in my life. They just made it look like so much fun.
 
AS: Was this your first show / festival back since COVID? How was your experience?
BM: This was not my first time back since COVID, I have been to many festivals since and BottleRock was up there as one of my favorites of all time. I hope we can make an appearance again next year!
 
AS: Any other comments / thoughts / quotes / idioms / jokes / riddles / (whatever)?
BM: Why don’t Seagulls live by the bay? Because then they’d be Bagels (Bay gulls).


OTTTO
AS: What’s the best part of BottleRock festival to you? Did you see anything particularly memorable / crazy / interesting?
O: Securing the first circle pit at BottleRock

 

AS: How does it compare to other festivals you’ve played?
O: All crowds at all each festival responded really well to our musical presence and we appreciate them.

AS: If you HAD to choose anything besides being a musician, what would it be?
O: Big Wave Surfers – Tye and Bryan. CEO of Liquid death – Ryan

AS: Growing up, what was one band or artist that steered you the most towards being a musician?
O: Chief Keef – Tye and Bryan. Slipknot – Ryan

AS: Was this your first show / festival back since COVID? How was your experience?
O: This wasn’t our first show since COVID, our first show was at the Subterranean Club in Chicago, and it was a wild night!

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