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Review: BottleRock Napa Valley Year One

By Bobbye Jo Green
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“I dressed up real nice for y’all” states the expressive Brittany Howard, lead singer of Alabama Shakes. She wears sunglasses and a knee-length blue dress that looks more like a large t-shirt. It is likely there is no person walking the earth that could make such a get-up look so…damn…cool. Although such a sentiment may be formed by the breeze, carrying scents of fermented grapes, sweat, pulled pork and an illegal green herb popular at music festivals the world over.

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes (credit: Sean Walsh)

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes (credit: Sean Walsh)

It is Friday of the four-day BottleRock Napa Festival. A casual glance around reveals multitudes of music-lovers in a variety of fashions, holding first-class disposable wine glasses, and what look to be large Capri Suns filled with, you guessed it, wine.

The sizable outdoor stage areas are framed by clean white tents housing mini-versions of Napa tasting rooms sans free tastes. It is here where a concert-goer can be found taking cover from the heat and saying things like, “I’ve always preferred a nice Rosé.” As well as, “There really is no cell service here.”

At the Boyd Family Vineyard suite, (ironically found next to the Lloyd suite) Joan and Stan Boyd serve up their creations to thirsty visitors. “Coming to BottleRock wasn’t a business decision,” Stan recalls, “We came to drink wine with our friends and to meet some new people.” As the clever Boyd family’s tent features an array of iPhone chargers, it is likely meeting new people has for them been quite effortless since their little home away from vineyard is placed directly in front of the main stage. Joan (who retired from the travel industry to grow wine) mentions, “I’m looking forward to The Black Keys, but also The Shins.”

Over in the Whole Foods Market Garden, families, hipsters and hipster-families dine on gourmet fodder served up by the Napa cuisine elite. They nosh comfortably on specially made tables supported by metal guitar insignia. Grilled mozzarella cheeses, memorable pulled pork sandwiches, cilantro fries and cold coconut milk served in massive fresh coconuts turn the heads of hungry foodies, guiding them from one booth to another. The most common phrase uttered in this sect of the festival is most certainly, “Excuse me, where did you get that?”

(credit: Sean Walsh)

(credit: Sean Walsh)

Incredible food, wine and music are the ingredients that have made BottleRock Napa Valley so delicious. The added spice of Stand-Up Comedy however does not fit into the recipe so tastefully. Although the featured acts themselves are known in the comedy world as some of the best, the ‘Comedy Closet’ venue and atmosphere of the festival seem to be all wrong. During his set, Demetri Martin said of the Comedy Closet space, “This is like the Guantanamo of comedy venues, where jokes go to die.” The building is long and wide, dwarfing the tiny stage. It is 7:30 p.m., adrenaline has been pumping for the last six hours and attendees hardly have the attention span to enjoy the subtleties of a stand up performance. C’est la vino. Such issues are bound to happen in the inaugural year of any event of size. Yet, BottleRock Napa is only six months old. That is to say the idea of an ultra-Napa festival was brought to the table half a year ago by locals Gabe Meyers and Bob Vogt. Such a timeline goes to show all that a taste for style and a capable community can accomplish.

One such Napa community member, Designer Richard Von Saal gave the festival its rock-chic aesthetic. The elegance of BottleRock is found in the details, from the aforementioned tables in the food market to the large wooden guitar arch at the entrance, as well as a substantial stone guitar head to be signed by the bands and participants.

(credit: Sean Walsh)

(credit: Sean Walsh)

According to Von Saal, “Everyone involved wanted this festival to be Napa, it’s this sophisticated glamour. BottleRock could not be a better chess move in the growth and development of Napa.”

As evening begins to fall, the slightly dusty masses move their way past the standing gardens and mini-wineries toward the main stage to hear Friday’s headliner The Black Keys. Although the crowd is tightly woven together, the stars are out and there is an air of graciousness and civility — as long as no one spills their Merlot. They wait until to emphatic applause, drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach take the state-of-the-art stage with their “whatever” swagger and proceed to tear down the house.

Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys (credit: Sean Walsh)

Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys (credit: Sean Walsh)

Both Carney and Auerbach begin the show in rock-star leather jackets, but by the end have stripped down to tee-shirts and jeans. Watching the two perform, it’s easy to forget they aren’t just jamming together in a garage with incredible acoustics.

The lights flash THE.BLACK.KEYS and the crowd rudely begins to depart without requesting an encore. It’s understandable however, considering many would be returning for the next two days and need to buy some more socks to be rocked off.

Tickets are already on sale for next year’s BottleRock Napa Valley, although the lineup has obviously yet to be announced. In the meantime, Napa itself can take a breath. The rest of Northern California has had the opportunity to taste the charms of the area and they will be back for more.

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