Napa's inaugural big-ticket music festival has come and gone, and with it a whole lotta of pocket money, wine pouches and lobster-smacked sunburns. The five-day festival took place on the trampled grasses of the Napa Valley Expo and featured notable headliners like The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes and Kings of Leon, as well as food and drink options designed to appeal to "educated palates" beyond the usual lite beer options.
For a first-time festival of this magnitude, BottleRock went off with only minor hitches. Parking required riding shuttle buses, waiting in lines, losing your car in the featureless backlots which made up festival parking, then waiting motionless to leave the lot for what felt like (and was) hours. This while friends bragged about finding free street parking mere blocks from the venue.
BottleRock's organizers did a decent job of assembling musical talent that hit a wide range of tastes, from indie to folksy to bands you probably haven't thought about since the '90s (e.g., the Wallflowers, Jane's Addiction). The diversity of the music made for a rather random feel, but cohesiveness was clearly not the aim of this festival. While we had lots of fun with Friday's lineup of The Dirty Projectors, Alabama Shakes, Andrew Bird, The Shins, The Flaming Lips and The Black Keys, we couldn't quite shake the feeling that the music was background to the distractions of food and friends and the novelty of hot weather. Maybe we're getting old, but the stamina required to fully experience a multi-day festival is just too hard to sustain. Yes, the performances were fun (if uneven), but we never hit that level of face-melting excitement for any one act.
Maybe it was the crowd, which was relatively mellow and sampled from a wider age demographic than your Outside Lands or Treasure Island fests. Feather headdresses, tribal face paint and headbands were blissfully absent: the level of rowdiness and number of Merrils we saw corresponded more to an REI gear sale than a Coachella. Even people who got too drunk to stand somehow did so in an amiable way. Clearly, people were here to chill out, then maybe to catch some music at the same time.
Once we figured out the logistics of the Whole Foods food court (wander around, decide what you want, note how many $5 chips you need to buy to get it, wait in line at the chips tent, go back and wait in line for food), we found the food we sampled to be delicious: particularly a memorable grilled cheese with caramelized onions and mustard from The Girl and The Fig. And although the "bottle" is the main festival motif, beer, and lots of it, is what you want at an outdoor festival with weather in the 80s, and aside from some smug older ladies sipping white wine, the majority of the crowd understandably defaulted to cold beer and weed to get their kicks.
Was it worth the high price tag? Maybe not this year (and definitely not for the expensive VIP tickets, which several ticketholders said was no better than regular admission). But we have high hopes for BottleRock to grow up and get its priorities straight, especially as a good excuse to leave the fog belt for a few days.
Festival organizers have already announced next year's dates: May 9-11, 2014.