By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The fifth annual BottleRock Napa music festival held in the heart of Napa, California, over Memorial Day weekend (May 26-28, 2017) was a rousing success. World-class musicians, celebrity chefs, top-shelf area restaurants, wineries and craft breweries kept attendees at the sold-out event entertained for three glorious, nonstop fun-filled days.
The festival’s four stages of live music, as well as the one culinary stage dedicated to celebrity chef demos (often accompanied by star music and professional athlete guests), provided attendees with a diverse variety of choices. For ten hours each day, booming live music, top-notch gourmet fare and plenty of premium wines, beers and spirits made BottleRock a unique entertainment experience for the 40,000 people in attendance.
The festival is positioned as an upscale, luxury destination for music lovers who expect a myriad of creature comforts to go along with their live music experience. The Napa, California, setting is gorgeous and the usually mild weather in late May there makes it an ideal spot for an outdoor festival. General admission tickets allowed access to all the music stages as well as the food and beverage booths. A dedicated spa area offered a variety of relaxing treatments. Sculptures and art installations spread throughout the grounds offered visual stimulation everywhere one looked.
For those willing to splurge, several levels of VIP access upped the ante. Each offered premium viewing locations with a few providing comfortable seating from suites located near the main stage. Additionally, several exclusive food-and-beverage booths were only available in the VIP area. A small VIP stage, accessible only to those with the appropriate wristbands, offered intimate acoustic performances throughout the weekend.
One of the premium ticket packages was offered to holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. The SPG Amex VIP Viewing Suite offered an excellent location to see the acts on the Jam Cellars Stage, comfortable seating, an open bar, premium wine tastings with master sommeliers and gourmet food prepared by Napa chef/restaurateur Ken Frank.
Each stage had a corporate sponsor. The massive main stage was hosted by Jam Cellars. The immense stage with multiple HD screens was easily viewable from anywhere on the enormous rectangular field facing the stage. The vast space was covered with freshly planted green sod. This was a noticeable improvement over previous years’ dusty, dirt surface and reportedly cost $600,000 to install.
Jam Cellars also had an intimate viewing lounge with couches and chairs overlooking the main stage that was open to all attendees. Each day, artists performed acoustic mini-sets at the “Jampad” when the main stage was not in use.
The second largest stage was hosted by Samsung and had another large, flat viewing field surrounded by tented winery booths. Miner Family Wines hosted the third stage which had a translucent canopy over the grassy area to provide fans with a place to escape the sun. Lagunitas Brewery hosted the smallest music stage and many of their beers were available near that stage. Williams Sonoma hosted the culinary stage. Every stage, as well as all the food and beverage vendors within the festival grounds, was a reasonable walking distance away.
The heart of the festival is the amazingly diverse music talent who descend on America’s most famous wine valley for the BottleRock extravaganza. Friday’s highlights included a trippy set from Doobie Decibel System, soul-infused reggae from Hirie and funky, blues rock from The California Honeydrops – all on the Miner Family Stage.
The Williams Sonoma culinary stage featured a demo by Martha Stewart who was joined by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The musical duo confessed that they don’t cook and took pointers from the legendary domestic goddess before leaving for their musical set on the Jam Cellars stage scheduled for later that evening.
Roy Choi led the next demo at the culinary stage, making Korean BBQ short ribs with “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson. They were unexpectedly joined by Brian Aubert and Nikki Monninger from Silversun Pickups. The musicians helped for a few minutes but left quickly to perform on the Samsung Stage with their band; they did stick around long enough to sample the ribs, some dumplings and a salsa verde.
That same afternoon, Fitz and the Tantrums put on a high-energy, modern-soul show on the Jam Cellars Stage. The growing crowd at the biggest stage was anxious for the day’s headliners, Maroon 5. The boys, led by Adam Levine, delved into their pop-rock playlist to the delight of the thousands in the audience. While fans got their fill of 1990s-2000s pop rock hits, other big names were playing at the other stages.
Indie rockers Modest Mouse were on the Samsung Stage, while Galactic and their dynamic vocalist Erica Falls brought their modern New Orleans funk to the Miner Family Stage. Warren G delivered some old-school rap at the Lagunitas Stage to close out the first day.
The Jam Cellars Stage was the place to be most of Saturday, May 27. In the early afternoon Michael Franti did an acoustic mini-set at the Jampad. He did a full set with his band on the big stage later in the day. Just prior to Franti, golden-voiced Andra Day mesmerized the afternoon crowd.
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals played some wicked blues on the big stage in the late afternoon. Elsewhere on the grounds, soul legend Mavis Staples sang her heart out at the Miner Family Stage and proved that she still has the chops to captivate an audience.
The day’s culinary highlight involved Iron Chef Morimoto, Pittsburgh Steelers football Hall of Famer Franco Harris, retired Oakland Raider and winemaker Charles Woodson and a 130-pound tuna. After the giant fish was hauled through the crowd and brought onstage by a team of sous chefs, Morimoto amazed the guests on stage and in the audience as he quickly chopped and hacked and broke down the tuna.
While Morimoto worked on the fish, retired pro baseball player and Loma Brewing Company owner Kevin Youkilis playfully threw sticky rice from the crowd at Morimoto. The chef moved to the front of the stage and crouched down like a catcher for Youkilis’ throws. Youkilis then joined the team on stage who were making sushi, sashimi and rolls that they served to a few lucky audience members.
The last band of the day on the Jam Cellars Stage was clearly the most anticipated and drew the largest crowd. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers put on a superb retrospective of their illustrious 40-year career. Petty and lead guitarist Mike Campbell traded licks and thousands of singing fans joined in for many of their hit songs.
The only other activity on the grounds during the Petty set was a record setting “Silent Disco” held at the Miner Stage plaza. About 4500 people, the most ever for such an event, grooved to music piped into their headphones by Outkast’s Big Boi and “mashup kings” The White Panda.
Sunday, May 28, was the last day of the festival and things kicked off with some young headbangers. The Helmets got the coveted opening set on the Jam Cellars Stage. The four youngsters (three are 12, one is 13 years old) are led by Tye Trujillo on bass, who is the spitting image of his dad, Metallica’s Robert Trujillo. The boys played metal music for a stunned, early arriving crowd.
Live, the hard-rocking hit makers from the 90s also played on the big stage for an ever-growing crowd. They were followed by indie rockers Band of Horses. Over at the Miner Family Stage, modern soul sensations Con Brio put on an energetic set of foot-stomping tunes. They were strategically trailed by old-school soul guru Charles Bradley and his excellent band.
The culinary stage highlight had to be when Top Chef alums the Voltaggio brothers were joined by members of the hip-hop group House of Pain. The crowd oohed and aahed as they made gelato by using liquid nitrogen.
Two big music headliners closed the festival. Fans at the Samsung Stage were treated to the hard-charging, hip-hop-meets-hard-rock group The Roots. The house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” played a variety of their songs and covers for an adoring crowd.
The Foo Fighters got the closing set on the Jam Cellars Stage. Dave Grohl displayed his usual kinetic energy and unbelievable ability to scream for two hours. The band clicked on all cylinders despite not having performed for about two years. Their set of radio-friendly hits came to an abrupt halt during the show closer, “Everlong,” as security pulled the plug on both the lights and sound system at precisely 10 p.m., the prearranged curfew.
After a momentary, confusing delay, Grohl and the band finished the song unamplified and in darkness to the delight of the fans close to the stage and to the loud moans of the thousands further away. It was the only negative aspect of the event that had three days of amazing positives.
BottleRock 2017 was a highly successful music and culinary entertainment event in a beautiful Napa, California, setting. The organizers brought new features that upped the level of luxury while keeping the size at a manageable level. Each year brings new innovations and carefully curated music, food and beverage selections. Luxury travelers who love live music need to put May 25-27 on their calendars for BottleRock 2018.