News Ticker

Music: BottleRock Napa Valley 2018 Hits Nothing But High Notes

The large crowd enjoying an afternoon of great live music on the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon

The sixth annual BottleRock Napa Valley music festival, presented by JaM Cellars and held during Memorial Day weekend, May 25-27, 2018, was a huge success. The sold-out, three-day extravaganza took place in the heart of downtown Napa and featured world-class music, celebrity chefs cooking up a storm, premium spirits, wineries, craft breweries being poured everywhere you looked and top-notch area restaurants offering lots of delectable dishes. It was a heady three days, filled with great music, good eats and tons of fun from noon to well after dark each day.

The festival organizers have upped their game every year, as BottleRock Napa Valley grows up. This year they added more seating and shaded areas, expanded the stages and video screens and significantly improved traffic flow. With five stages – four devoted to live music and one dedicated to celebrity chef culinary demos (with chefs usually joined by musicians, pro athletes and famous actors), the 40,000 attendees had 10 hours of entertainment choices each day.

One of the shaded seating areas at BottleRock Napa Valley. Photo courtesy of BottleRock and Nisha Gulati with the Latitude 38 Team.

General admission tickets allow festgoers to enjoy the wide range of music, as well as the gourmet food and beverage booths, a silent disco area and even a dedicated spa space. The festival grounds are filled with sculptures and art installations, too, as well as sponsor-themed outdoor lawn games.

For those looking to go even more upscale at this fundamentally luxurious festival in the heart of wine country, there are VIP ticket levels that offer premium perks. Those perks include excellent, exclusive viewing areas in front of each stage and special viewing suites with comfortable seating near the two biggest stages. There is also a large VIP Village with premium bars, select culinary offerings and daily live acoustic performances on an intimate stage.

The excellent view of the JaM Cellars stage from the SPG/AMEX Vip Suite at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival. Photo courtesy of SPG/AMEX.

We spent time in one of those exclusive areas, the bi-level SPG/AMEX VIP viewing suite. American Express credit card holders who carry that brand’s Starwood Preferred Guest version were able to purchase access to the suite, for up to four guests. Perks at this oasis included culinary treats from Chef Ken Frank, owner of the Michelin-starred Napa restaurant La Toque, as well as chef and sommelier meet-and-greets, wine pairings, all-inclusive specialty cocktails, beer and wines. There was even hair braiding and styling by salon experts available all weekend!

On Thursday night before the festival officially began, we took in the Vines and Vibes fundraiser for Do It for the Love, founded by Michael and Sara Agah Franti. Michael Franti is always a featured performer at BottleRock and did multiple sets in 2018. His wife, Sara Agah, is a registered nurse. In 2013 they formed Do It for the Love as a wish-granting nonprofit organization that brings people living with life-threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges and wounded veterans to live concerts.

Michael Franti performing an intimate acoustic set at the Vines and Vibes fundraiser party on the roof of the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa, CA on May 24, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

The intimate event was on the roof of the recently opened Archer Hotel in downtown Napa. Charlie Palmer Steak, the fine restaurant in the hotel led by the famous chef, catered the event. Plenty of amazing food highlighted the party including beef tenderloin, prime rib with all the fixings, jumbo shrimp, crab legs, oysters and other goodies. We sipped Patron tequila margaritas and enjoyed Cabernet Sauvignons from Ca’ Momi and Chappellet. There were also wines from Salus, Blackbird Vineyards and Luna Vineyards being liberally poured. Silent and live auctions raised funds for the charity and the night was topped off with performances by Matt Nathanson and Sam Getz of Welshly Arms, followed by Michael Franti closing out the evening with a set that got everyone singing and dancing.

The official start of BottleRock Napa Valley was on Friday, May 25, which turned out to be cool and rainy. That didn’t deter the crowd from piling into the grounds to enjoy a day of excellent performances. The Struts, an English glam-rock band, played a set on the giant, main JaM Cellars stage in the early afternoon. New Orleans’ brightest star, Trombone Shorty, along with his band Orleans Avenue followed. R&B legends Earth, Wind & Fire got the crowd going in the late afternoon. Later that evening multi-platinum-selling rock band Incubus played a set of their hits.

Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey and B. David Whitworth with Earth Wind & Fire on the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 25, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

While the music was blasting at the other stages, the Williams Sonoma Culinary stage featured Food Network regular Duff Goldman, who was joined by Olympic Gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White. Aaron Sanchez, another Food Network star, was joined by Laila Ali and musicians Tank and the Bangas, Paul Janeway and Shakey Graves. Their raucous demonstration included how to put together a giant crawfish boil and ended with Sanchez and his guests throwing crawfish into the hungry audience.

Aaron Sanchez showing the audience a crawfish on the Williams Sonoma Culinary stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 25, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

Tank and the Bangas also performed on the Lagunitas stage, while Paul Janeway led southern soul revivalists St. Paul & the Broken Bones during the closing set at the Miner Family Winery stage. Bay Area jam band Moonalice was joined by Jason Crosby and legendary Meters bass player George Porter Jr. for some Grateful Dead, Meters and Bob Dylan covers on the Lagunitas stage. EDM-pop duo The Chainsmokers had a large crowd of mostly twentysomethings swaying to the beats for their closing set at the Midway stage.

Muse headlined the JaM Cellars stage and rattled out a set of their hard-rocking songs to end the day of live music. Guitarist and vocalist Matt Bellamy played aggressive, distorted solos when he wasn’t singing the hypnotic lyrics to hits like “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Knights of Cydonia,” “Black Holes and Revelations” and “Time Is Running Out.”

Matt Bellamy playing a scorching guitar solo with Muse on the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 25, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

Saturday (May 26) was still cool and cloudy, but again the crowds converged at the BottleRock festival. We spent some of the early afternoon at the Samsung Experience, an elevated space overlooking the Midway stage that was stocked with high-tech appliances and set up for cooking demos. We watched Richard Blais, winner of “Top Chef: All-Stars,” banter with fans while he created a lobster “cal fredo” and a frosé quaff using champagne and liquid nitrogen.

Music highlights that afternoon included Dhani Harrison on the Miner Family Winery stage and Michael Franti & Spearhead at the JaM Cellars stage. The Record Company played their version of retro blues rock at the Midway stage while Billy Idol brought back fuzzy memories of the 80s with his “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding” on the JaM Cellars stage.

Steve Stevens and Billy Idol bringing their hits from the 80s to the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 26, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

A Guinness World Record was set in the early evening on the Williams Sonoma Culinary stage by “Top Chef” champ Michael Voltaggio along with Snoop Dogg and Warren G, as they concocted a huge vat of gin and juice, the biggest ever. That cocktail was made famous by Snoop on the single “Gin & Juice” from his 1993 debut album, “Doggystyle.” After preparing the massive cocktail made of 180 bottles of Hendrick’s Gin, 154 bottles of apricot brandy and 38 jugs of orange juice, Snoop went off to do a headlining set, joined by Warren G on the Midway stage.

Snoop Dogg stirring the Guinness World Record setting biggest gin & juice cocktail on the Williams Sonoma Culinary stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 26, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real performed an excellent set of guitar-driven rock on the Miner Family Winery stage while back at the culinary stage “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto broke down a giant blue-fin tuna. He was joined by baseball legends Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds as well as Gary Dell’Abate from the Howard Stern show. While Morimoto worked on the tuna, Bonds and Griffey hit baseball-sized rice balls into the raucous crowd.

Lukas Nelson playing an intense guitar solo with his band Promise of the Real on the Miner Family Wines stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 26, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

The closing set on the JaM Cellars stage was reserved for chart-topping rock band The Killers. They ran through a set of their hits while lead singer Brandon Flowers floated across the vast stage. The big crowd seemed to know all the words to songs like “Somebody Told Me,” “Mr. Brightside,” “Read My Mind” and “Human.”

Late in the show, Flowers recalled the great set by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at last year’s BottleRock and mourned Petty’s death before the band launched into a cover of “American Girl” with a “Free Fallin'” outro. As the Las Vegas-based band kept playing at the end of the set, Flowers left the stage. He returned in an Elvis-like shiny gold lamé jumpsuit, a clear nod to that legend’s time in Vegas. They closed with their recent hit “The Calling” and one of their most popular top tunes, “When You Were Young.”

Brandon Flowers striking an Elvis-like pose while performing with The Killers on the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 26, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

Sunday, May 27, was the last day of BottleRock and the glorious Napa Valley sunny springtime weather finally showed up, with temperatures hitting the 80s. Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis and singer Halsey wiped sweat from their faces on the culinary stage as the two cooked spicy rigatoni and mixed up Aperol spritz cocktails, an homage to both ladies’ Italian heritage. Halsey performed on the JaM Cellars stage later that evening.

More women held court earlier on the JaM Cellars stage as Lake Street Dive played a set of their songs influenced by classic pop and swing-era jazz. Lead vocalist Rachael Price belted out the tunes while upright bassist Bridget Kearney provided backup vocals. New Orleans’ breakout rock band The Revivalists followed with lead singer David Shaw doing his usual walkabout into the crowd. Their biggest applause came with the genre-crossing hit “Wish I Knew You.” Allen Stone also did an evening set of infectious soul-and-blues-influenced rock on the Miner Family Winery stage.

Rachael Price singing with Lake Street Dive on the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 27, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

The final shows on each BottleRock stage exemplified the diversity of music booked at the festival. Warren G & The White Panda did a DJ set of rap and mash ups on the Lagunitas stage. The Motet performed their dynamic, retro funk on the Miner Family Winery stage. Thievery Corporation played both old and new songs that spanned their mix of dub, acid jazz, reggae, Middle Eastern, hip hop, electronica and Brazilian music at the Midway stage.

The biggest crowd of the weekend, estimated at 25,000 people, camped out at the JaM Cellars stage for the much-anticipated performance by platinum-selling, 11-time Grammy winner Bruno Mars. That mass of people had to wait an extra 30 minutes as Mars and his band were late starting. However, once they hit the stage to thunderous applause, the band and Mars launched into a hit-laden, high-energy, choreographed set of music that had everyone on their feet.

Bruno Mars singing one of his Grammy winning hits on the JaM Cellars stage at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on May 27, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©.

They put on a Vegas-style, pyrotechnic-heavy 80-minute set. From the opener “Finesse” to recent chart toppers from the Grammy-sweeping album “24K Magic” like “Treasure” and “That’s What I Like,” Mars delivered what the crowd wanted. He also sang older hits like “Locked Out of Heaven” and “Just the Way You Are.” He even performed “Marry You,” from his 2010 debut album.

As the show came to an end, the crowd stirred with anticipation, knowing just what song Mars would sing to send them home. It was that closing number, “Uptown Funk,” that created a frenzy of singing and dancing among the masses. When it ended, the crowd streamed out of the festival grounds on a high note, exhausted, sunburned and happy.

The 2019 dates for BottleRock Napa Valley are already set for May 24-26, but it will be tough for the festival brain trust to top the 2018 edition. Based on the improvements seen this year and the smart, creative talent bookings, we are still positive that 2019’s fest will be epic yet again. Plan to buy your tickets early as the event usually sells out in January, so mark your calendars now. It’s one of America’s best music festivals; don’t miss out!

Additional photos here:

About Andy J. Gordon (229 Articles)
Andy J. Gordon, a Los Angeles-based marketing and strategy consultant, made his writing debut in “Brentwood” magazine in 2007. His interests include music, sports, consumer electronics, premium libations, fine dining, travel, fast cars, and enjoying life.