By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The crowd formed for the fourth annual BottleRock Napa Valley music festival held in the city of Napa over Memorial Day weekend (May 27-30, 2016), as world-class musicians paired up with top-shelf area restaurants, wineries and craft breweries for the sold-out event.
The festival features four stages of live music, one culinary stage dedicated to celebrity chef demos (usually accompanied by star music guests) and a multitude of wine, beer and food stations. For ten hours each day, partygoers enjoyed blaring live music, top-notch gourmet fare and plenty of premium wines, including favorites like presenting sponsor Miner Family Wines beautiful Oracle red blend, Rombauer Vineyards classic Chardonnay and Meiomi’s lovely Pinor Noirs. It was quite a scene, but all of this first-class entertainment came at a high price.
Tickets started at $109 for single-day general admission and ran up to several thousand dollars for Platinum VIP 3-day passes. While the ticket prices were in the ballpark of other big festivals, the steep fees for hotel rooms and parking, the high prices for food ($17 for a pulled pork sandwich from Mustard’s Grill, for example), wine and beer made BottleRock an event that stressed the wallet. But it’s Napa, after all – a place where the elite meet to eat, drink and party.
And party they did, as the first day featured an eclectic mix of music and culinary shenanigans. The music highlights on Friday included a cool set by Michael Franti & Spearhead on the Jam Cellars stage, a scorching set by Lenny Kravitz on the same stage and some delta blues from living legend Buddy Guy on the Miner Family stage. The day concluded with a highly anticipated set at Jam Cellars by Stevie Wonder. Wonder delved deep into his catalog for classics like “Higher Ground,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “My Cheri Amour.”
Near the end of the set, Wonder took on the fictional persona “DJ Chick Chick Boom” and proceeded to play recorded tracks by Prince, Earth Wind & Fire, The Eagles and David Bowie. It was his way of paying tribute to the legendary musicians that have passed away recently and the crowd loved it, singing along and cheering loudly as Stevie DJ’d each track. Wonder concluded his spectacular show with the classic “Superstition,” which turned into another sing-along.
On the food demo stage, Cheech & Chong yukked it up with chef Chris Cosentino; later, Michael Franti, Robin Quivers and Billy Bush joined Michelin-starred chef Mourad Lahlou to discuss cooking techniques and health tips.
Day two featured sets by The Struts, Walk the Moon, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Joy Formidable. On the Midway stage, Ziggy Marley played his own material and some classic Wailers tunes for a large crowd. Monophonics played infectious soul beats on the Miner Family stage that had the whole crowd up off their blankets (no chairs allowed at this fest) and dancing. Headlining sets of alternative/reggae by Iration at Midway and jams by Moonalice at Miner Family also drew happy crowds. And when Melissa Etheridge unexpectedly joined Moonalice for a dead-on version of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” the night became truly special.
Culinary stage highlights included some cooking and MC/rapping by Adam Richman and the Pharcyde guys. Later on that stage, Iron chef Morimoto broke down a 132-pound tuna shipped in from Japan with a few quick slices of his always sharp knives. He served spicy rolls to the audience with the help of Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt from Green Day.
The day’s main attraction on the Jam stage was Florence + The Machine. Florence Welch mesmerized a packed house with her entrancing voice and stage presence. The band played several songs from their latest album, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” The crowd sang along on older hits like “Ship to Wreck” and “Dog Days Are Over.” Welch also did a passionate cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” The encore included the haunting “What Kind of Man” and a dramatic version of “Drumming Song.”
Sunday was the last day of BottleRock (giving festers the Monday Memorial Day holiday to recover). The highlight at the culinary stage had to be chef Michael Voltaggio trying to cook while drummers Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters goofed around. In true rock-star fashion, they trashed the drum-kit set up on stage.
The music on the four stages crossed multiple genres. Gogol Bordello played gypsy punk while Jamestown Revival played Americana. The Pimps of Joytime played soul while Ozomatli did their mashup of Latin, hip hop and rock. The Lumineers gave their fans an impressive performance including their fan-favorite “Ho Hey.” Rodrigo y Gabriela displayed their guitar virtuosity on the Midway stage for a spellbound audience.
The big finish happened at the Jam Cellars stage as a huge, loud crowd went wild for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea and Anthony Keidis came out like whirling dervishes, proving that Keidis has clearly recovered nicely from his intestinal issues that hospitalized him only two weeks ago. He had a few thousand backing vocalists throughout the set, but especially during hits like “Under the Bridge,” “Californication,” “Otherside” and “Snow (Hey Oh).”
By the time the band came out for an encore, the crowd was a sweaty mess despite the cool evening temperatures. Chad Smith and Flea did an extended drum and bass solo that eventually led into “Around the World.” They concluded the explosive show with a monstrous version of “Give It Away.” The band left the stage and the giant video screens thanked everyone for attending and flashed the dates for next year’s festival.
Start saving up for next year. BottleRock Napa’s fifth edition will take place May 26-28, 2017. It will likely be bigger, better and more expensive; but worth every penny.
Photos courtesy of BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38 Entertainment and Andy J. Gordon 2016©.