The lovely waterfront, winery city of Napa, CA rests somewhere slightly north and east of San Francisco. It is known for its lush, green scenic views and Mediterranean climate — one that allowed it to become the first California city to become part of the American Viticulture Area. Downtown, the Napa River makes a gorgeous traverse through the city on its way out to the San Pablo Bay. The abundance of fine wines allows the tourist market to thrive and has brought a wide variety of delicious, up-scale restaurants and bars to the town. It’s quiet and quaint, peaceful and relaxing, but for one long weekend each year, the town turns into a sort of adult focused fair grounds. BottleRock has carved its way into an upper echelon of music festivals. Aside from booking fantastic classic acts like Tom Petty and modern day heartthrobs like St. Lucia and Bishop Briggs, BottleRock has a myriad of other offerings and activities. There is an entire stage dedicated to culinary arts where you can find Martha Stewart cooking chicken for Ryan Lewis & Macklemore, there is a VIP area where you can escape the mid-day sun to couches, shade and soothing water misting your burnt shoulders. There are meet and greets with artists and wine-makers, the hottest food trucks around and bars that don’t just serve Bud Light and Vodka Sprites.
In other words, when it comes to picking your Memorial Day getaway, Napa is hard to beat. A surprisingly quick (6 hour) drive from Los Angeles or merely 1 hour from SFO Airport, Napa is easier to get to that you’d expect. I had heard rumors that the festival planners were not well organized for the number of guests attending in previous years, but they seemed to have it all figured out this year. Rarely was it crowded (unless you tried to show up late to Maroon 5 or Tom Petty). The festival is well spread-out and organized in way that doesn’t make you walk four football fields to get from stage to stage. I rarely felt worn out from the sun. I never felt like I couldn’t find shade or sit down on our blanket to relax for a while. Other attendees were calm and relaxed and accommodating even when they had to dance around people napping at their feet.
The food and drink are reason enough to attend this festival. Somewhere int he middle of all the stages there’s a gathering of food trucks and culinary treats from all around. The gentle waft savory and spicy smells draws crowds in from far off. Once you arrive, booths are lined up side by side, making choosing extremely difficult. There was fresh ahi from Eiko’s, Chicken & Waffles from Jax Diner, Panini’s from Drewski’s, and artisan pizza from Homeslice to name a few. The menu is endless and will never let you down. Check out more of what was available from the BottleRock cookbook here.
After you settled in with some food, there was another endless treat — the booze. Breweries such as Saint Archer, Lagunitas, Napa Palisades, Angel City, Drake’s, Fort Point and many many more came out to poor hops for thousands. If beer’s not your forte, then guests could cruise over to wine tastings from folks like Coppola Winery, Blackbird Vineyards, Etude, and the Miner Family Winery. The lists and options were endless and bestows the environment that this is not just a music festival, it’s an experience and opportunity to celebrate the best things in life.
Aside from the added benefits, BottleRock has gone above and beyond to pick crowd favorites. The promoters and bookers did a fabulous job of booking acts we love, both old and new. The early part of the days started with some more easygoing acts like Napa’s own, Silverado Pickups (not to be confused with Silversun Pickups, who were also on the lineup). Some of the highlights of our mid-day fun was the Oakland-based dreamy indie rock from Day Wave, Los Angeles’ rockers Bad Suns, and Colorado folk-rockers Elephant Revival. After the seductive mid-day set from Saint Motel, I sat down with the band to chat about their thoughts on the festival. After comparing me to Travis Fimmel (Ragnar in Vikings) and making some of the best dad jokes around, they commented on their take of the festival. Besides being “most excited to see Martha Stewart” they were clearly gearing up to be front and center for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. I wasn’t able to get too much out of them about some exciting things in their future other than hints at “a Saint Motel app, virtual reality shenanigans, and something called Saint Motelevision.”
BottleRock has a strict curfew at night so music ends early, resulting in Foo Fighters being shut off but refusing to quit, finishing with a unplugged sing-a-long set. But the curfew works out nicely. Any festival is going to tire you out and drinking good beer and wine doesn’t help. The bonus is that, after the festival shuts down you are welcome to catch select bands at late night shows at intimate venues downtown. After Bob Moses captivated the Minery Family Winery stage with their elusive, mysterious electronic music we decided we had to go see it again at their late-night set. The venue turned out to be so much fun that we ventured back on Saturday night for A R I Z O N A and St. Lucia. On Saturday afternoon, Michael Franti did what he does best and got the entire crowd fired-up. Franti has charming charisma that make everyone want to jump around with him and leave wanting to be a better person. At Sunday sunset, Band of Horses, was a definite highlight with their dark sing-a-longs like “No One’s Gonna Love You,” and “The Funeral.”
In addition to all the great music and food, BottleRock offers up some other great activities like the Silent Disco — now one of the biggest anywhere. The SkyDeck and VIP areas are top-notch and they even offer a kid’s play area where the little ones can do arts and crafts while their parents get away for the afternoon. With so many interesting things going on, the festival is hard to miss. Whether you’re a foodie, a music nut or you just love getting away to some beautiful scenery, Napa’s climate and warm vibes offer a great getaway. In just its 5th year as a festival, BottleRock is quickly distinguishing itself as a great festival. It has successfully geared folks who like a little more space and a little more organization. BottleRock offers a way for older and more mature crowds to enjoy it all. The grass field is a major plus — no dust whipping in your eyes or leaving you parched for water. There’s even a wellness retreat where you can get massages and pamper yourself. BottleRock will be back again in 2018 and if you’re not sold yet, just stay tuned for what goodies and lineups they have in store for next year. I’m not sure how they’ll continue to up the game, but I’m excited to find out.