Festivals each have characters all their own, with varying emphasis on food, beer, wine, cocktails, and the acts they present. Likewise the Bay Area's biggest festivals, the first of which happens this weekend, all have varying degrees of bang for your buck when it comes to VIP experiences.
BottleRock (May 24-26)
BottleRock kicks off Friday in downtown Napa, bringing together stars of rock and hip-hop with area chefs and wineries, as well as celebrity chefs and food TV personalities. There are multiple VIP options at BottleRock, with Platinum VIP running rich concert-goers around $4K — but the perks are pretty unique to this festival.
Single-day VIP tickets are still up for grabs for Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® card members, and those will run you $599. These tickets get you access to the regular VIP Village (sponsored by Salesforce this year), as well as a special Mariott Bonvoy/Amex viewing suite, with its own open bar.
Regular VIP tickets, which typically sell out quickly, get you access to up-front viewing areas, upgraded VIP-only restrooms, as well as the other stuff in the VIP Village including premium bars, additional culinary offerings, live acoustic performances, and shady tents with comfortable lounge space.
Meanwhile, this year BottleRock is offering both 3-day Skydeck and Premium VIP tickets. The former get you access to a special elevated Skydeck which this year offers views of both the main stage and a second stage. The latter get you access to extra-special gourmet bites from the likes of Meadowood, and an extra-special elevated viewing area adjacent to the main stage's sound board with its own dedicated bar — at last year's fest, fire marshals forced organizers to limit access to this area to 20 guests at a time. All BottleRock VIP passes get you in-and-out privileges.
Clusterfest (June 21-23)
Clusterfest, SF's only festival devoted to comedy and music — with music acts playing second fiddle to the standups — is shifting to the third week in June this year. The food lineup, while not as extensive as the much larger Outside Lands, includes vendors like KronnerBurger, Southpaw BBQ, and Gerard's Paella.
VIP tickets, which are still available both for single days ($274.50, Friday or Sunday) or three days ($654.50), have specific benefits at this festival that mostly have to do with food and main stage seating access.
The only VIP area that really matters at Clusterfest is the one adjacent to the main stage, which gets you to a non-crowded bar, as well as access to specific food trucks with shorter lines. There may be a few more food vendors in the main food area this year (including Ike's Sandwiches, Bling Bling Dumplings, and Johnny's Doughnuts), but VIP will help when you're hungry and hurrying between sets, because the lines get extra-long at the food concessions when the sun goes down. The VIP area is also the only way to get a seat for a main stage show, though these are first-come, first-serve. Otherwise you're standing behind a barricade, behind the seated area.
Clusterfest offers three-day Platinum VIP passes ($1250), which get you access to special after-parties and meet-and-greets with comedians.
Bathrooms are less of an issue at Clusterfest because everyone has access to Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which has a plethora of bathrooms on multiple floors that don't typically have lines.
In Bill Graham, though, where a lot of big names will be doing sets all weekend, VIP pass holders get a dedicated platform viewing area — at the rear of the auditorium — the only benefit of which is that you do not have to waste time claiming seats in the rest of the auditorium. You also get "priority" access to tickets for the small-room shows, but you still have to get it together to pick those up before they disappear.
Outside Lands (August 9-11)
In the middle of Fogust, in the middle of Golden Gate Park, it definitely helps having the few extra creature comforts offered by the VIP areas at Outside Lands. Just be forewarned, the one main VIP village near the main stage is a trek from all the other stages, and because this festival is so spread out, if you're really interested in hearing music, your time hanging out in the main VIP area may be limited.
For bathroom access, food, and cocktail options, though, being in VIP can be very nice. I've been to this festival just about every year since it began in 2008, and much like Coachella-goers experience — only with the weather being the exact opposite — the experience of marching back and forth between stages and trying to get a bite to eat or a drink can be very draining by Day 2 or 3. Three-day VIP passes are still available for $815, with single-day VIP for $355. New this year is the premium Golden Gate Pass, which in addition to regular VIP access gets you into an as-yet unseen elevated viewing area at the Lands End mainstage, with its own snacks and open bar. Those passes are $695 for single-day, and $1595 for three-day.
Food-wise, this year's VIP array at Outside Lands includes chef's selection sushi boxes from Michelin-starred Omakase, wood-fired pizza from A16, and Michael Mina's Trailblazer Tavern — the Salesforce Tower restaurant — which will be serving Kalua Pig Steam Buns, Kimchee Fried Rice and Umami Kettle Chips.
There is a ton of food to be sampled in the main food areas of the festival too, but having a few great options in VIP, where you can sit on a sofa and put your wine or cocktail down on an actual table, is a godsend after a long day of trekking.
The VIP bathroom area is extremely nice, and offers actual toilet stalls in trailers, actual sinks with soap, and virtually no lines at all. The same can't be said of the VIP bathroom trailer at the far-flung Twin Peaks stage, where there will often be lines, because the stage is huge and the VIP section is not.
Navigating crowds and being comfortable while watching sets at Outside Lands can be majorly difficult, so having VIP areas at the two main stages is a huge help. The fenced off, lawn VIP section of the polo field main stage can get crowded for big acts, but NOWHERE NEAR as crowded as the area just beyond the fence. And if being up close isn't important to you, you can hang back in the VIP viewing tent and bleacher area, which has seating.
Also note: Two of the five stages don't have VIP viewing areas, but these tend to host smaller acts.
And just know that if you can't afford VIP right now, all three of these festivals are basically just as fun without it — just maybe not as cushy for those of a certain age. Also, people in VIP at Clusterfest and Outside Lands are just as cold in the main viewing areas as everyone else come 8 p.m.