Fourth annual Napa Valley music festival hits right note with tasty food and phenomenal headliners
Where’s the perfect place to hold a music festival? To the estimated 120,000 people who attended the BottleRock Napa Valley festival this past weekend, the answer is now obvious: right in the heart of wine country, of course. Add in headliners like Stevie Wonder, Florence + The Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a good time is all but guaranteed — even for a 20-year-old arts and culture reporter from a college newspaper (a.k.a. yours truly) who spent the weekend unable to purchase any alcoholic beverages.
But the magical thing about BottleRock is that you can be any age and still have a good time. Need proof? Look no further than the first band to hit the main stage on Sunday: The Helmets, a rock band consisting of four dudes all under the age of 12. The Helmets ran through a hard-rocking set that included covers of Nirvana’s “Smell Like Teen Spirit” and Green Day’s “Welcome to Paradise” and had the crowd dancing along the whole time. I saw babies (with noise protection headphones, of course) jamming out to the Lumineers and toddlers dancing in the Silent Disco. In other words, BottleRock is truly an experience for all ages. And with that, here’s the breakdown of my weekend, from the music to the food to the people and the overall vibes.
I started Friday off with a set by the Cold War Kids. Having been a fan since their Robbers and Cowards days, I decided to forgo seeing Gordon Ramsay’s demonstration at the Culinary Stage to catch this set but was left feeling a little disappointed. While the performance itself was fine, it didn’t look like any the members of the band were particularly excited to be there and there was little engagement with the audience. They merely played the songs, thanked the audience for being loyal fans and left.
Grouplove, the next band to take the stage, was much more energetic and by the time they played their hit song “Tongue Tied,” the crowd was dancing along with an intensity that the Cold War Kids never managed to achieve during their set.
Stevie Wonder closed out Friday night with classics like “Superstition” that had the whole crowd feeling the funk. But he also made some odd musical choices, instructing the audience to call him DJ Tik Tik Boom and then launching into a long tribute for recently deceased musicians like Prince, David Bowie, Natalie Cole and Eagles drummer Glenn Frey by playing their biggest hits from his iPod. Wonder also used his platform to make some thinly veiled remarks against Donald Trump and his campaign.
He wasn’t the only artist who got political. With the California primaries just a week away, artists like Misterwives and Florence + The Machine all commented on the hateful rhetoric espoused by some of the presidential candidates and urged crowds to choose love and to vote to make their voices heard.
And speaking of Florence + The Machine, is Florence Welch even a real human being? Her band’s headlining set on Saturday was nothing short of magical. While Saturday was stacked with talent (Walk the Moon played the final show of their Talking is Hard tour at BottleRock and I fulfilled my high school dreams by rocking out with Death Cab for Cutie), Florence + The Machine truly stole the show. Dressed in a flowy, sheer green dress, Welch captivated the audience with haunting renditions of her biggest hits, all while twirling furiously around the stage barefoot. She was moving around with such ferocity, I was sure she was going to fall at some point, but she remained ever graceful and ethereal.
The highlight of a gorgeous set: during “Dog Days Are Over,” she instructed the audience to embrace the people around them, and then commanded everyone to take off one piece of clothing and wave it in the air. The result: an astonishing sight of strangers hugging strangers, of people losing inhibitions and waving and dancing feverishly, all set against the backdrop of a gorgeous Napa Valley sunset. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.
Sunday’s lineup was strong, with energetic performances from Misterwives (frontwoman Mandy Lee is a musical force to be reckoned with), the Lumineers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers but all through Sunday, I kept thinking back to the magical evening that was Saturday night.
Since I couldn’t experience the wine for myself, I diverted my focus to food. There were lots of delicious vendors to choose from. With a wide variety of food trucks and restaurant booths, there was a type of cuisine to please every taste bud. The Culinary Garden also featured a large number of booths from local Napa restaurants like Mustard’s Grill, where I ate some perfectly cooked pulled pork alongside a crisp slaw, and Eight Noodle Shop, which served up some chilled rice noodles that were a perfect remedy to the weekend’s heat.
But the Menchi Katsu Burger from Morimoto Napa was by far the best thing I ate all weekend. The burger itself, breaded in panko and deep-fried, was juicy and perfectly cooked. The bun was well-toasted and strong enough that my burger didn’t fall apart as I was eating it and the kimchi that accompanied the burger was the ideal complement to a heavy burger: crunchy, fresh and just spicy enough.
I was glad to see the festival embracing local businesses and while I was line for Morimoto Napa, I struck up a conversation with a BottleRock Ambassador, who informed me his job was to check in with surrounding residents to see how they felt about the festival and find ways to improve the experience for locals. Things like these make it clear that the organizers of the festival truly value the city of Napa, which is a plus in my eyes.
I didn’t have a single negative experience with any of the BottleRock staff. From parking to gate entry to information inside the festival, everyone was incredibly accommodating and well-informed. Exits and entries were clearly marked and the grounds were well-lit. More shade would also have been appreciated considering how hot it got; I turned a couple shades darker even though I tried to be conscientious about applying sunscreen. The owners of Latitude 38, the company that runs BottleRock, stated in a press conference that they planned on adding more shaded areas, so hopefully this aspect will be improved next year.
BottleRock 2017 will be held May 26 to 28. I’m already looking forward to it — and not just because I’ll actually be able to try the wine next year.
For more information about the festival, please visit their website.
Written by: Amanda Ong – firstname.lastname@example.org