Much ado has been made of BottleRock Napa Valley during the first half of 2014. Questions surrounding this year's lineup and last year's debacle have swirled like the dust from the trampled Napa Valley Expo grounds. This past weekend I attended the notorious event and survived by sticking to a set of time-tested music festival maxims:
1. Feed Your Body. You're going to be on your feet, walking, and possibly running for 10 hours. You've got to stay hydrated and, just as importantly, adequately fed. Yes, festival food can be quite taxing on your wallet, but it's also one of the draws of the event. I survived BottleRock by splurging on the awesome Napa Valley food vendors and drinking free water poured into my reusable bottle at the Camelback-sponsored tents.
2. Screen Your Body. This is on par with number one, especially for a festival in Napa Valley. I survived the first day of BottleRock without sunscreen -- barely. I didn't make the same mistake Saturday and Sunday. I slathered on a nice, thick layer of SPF 30 -- even spraying down the visible portions of my head.
Just as you must screen your skin from the sun during the day, you must screen your body from the chill at night. My festival companion started Friday off in a sundress and sandals and ended the evening in boots, jeans, a hoodie and an overcoat.
3. Stake Claim on Your Real Estate. Bring a blanket and relax in your own space during the day, while the crowds are still thickening up. Although you can't realistically expect your blanket to be an invisible fence around your group, it will at least discourage others from getting all up in your business. On the other hand, don't be that guy (or girl) who expects to maintain your little haven all the way through the headliner's set.
4. Make Friends with Your Neighbors. This was an essential and extremely enjoyable facet of my BottleRock experience. I got up close and personal with a group of 8-10 folks around me during Outkast on Saturday night, and we had a reunion of sorts Sunday morning when we all ended up in the same spot. A little secret: people tend to be much less hostile after an accidental bump-in or drink spill when they've gotten to know you a little before the show.
5. Don't Fret. No matter the lengths you go to avoid it, there is bound to be a less-than-pleasant encounter when tens of thousands of people are attempting to get as close as they can to the same place. The best course of action is to worry about your own behavior and remember that everyone is there to have a good time.
Abiding by the above principles, it wasn't at all difficult to survive and enjoy myself at BottleRock 2014. I figured I was in for an okay weekend when I witnessed an interaction that started with a beach-ball-carrying bro yelling to two police officers: "Hey, I bet you guys don't have balls like this," and that ended with a smile and shrug from said officers.
Yes, the musical lineup was strange, and not even close to as stacked as last year's, but it wasn't without its highlights. Matisyahu put a bounce in everyone's step Friday afternoon to really get the festival going. I got to see a couple of hits from Gin Blossoms and hear some brand new material from TV On the Radio, and I can now say that I've seen The Cure.
Matt and Kim put on a show that had everyone dancing on Saturday afternoon. They, along with San Francisco's own Soft White Sixties, got the crowd primed and ready for what were to be the three most entertaining shows of the weekend: Third Eye Blind, Weezer and Outkast.
The Stone Foxes, another local San Francisco darling, ripped open a rager at high noon on Sunday, posting a performance that stood up as the best of the day (although, LL Cool J and Deerhunter get honorable mentions).
All in all, the weekend shaped up to be pretty memorable. As with any young festival, BottleRock is going to have to find its niche in order to stay viable. What I dug just as much, if not more, than the music was the food and drink offerings.
This would seem like a foregone conclusion for a festival in Napa Valley, but given the financial loss last year's inaugural event resulted in, and the forfeited payment to many of the vendors, a strong culinary showing was no sure thing. However, every meal I had was delicious (special shout-outs to Il Posto Trattoria and Gerard's Paella) and every drink satisfying. I also loved the shaded lounges many of the wineries were sporting. They were essential after a few hours of standing in the sun.
According to reports, 2014's BottleRock seemed to at least avoid the financial catastrophe of its predecessor. The crowd surged significantly on Saturday, but Friday and Sunday may have been a bit of a disappointment for the producers. The overall experience was pleasurable and unique, though, and I believe there is a future for a music festival in wine country if its designers focus on this year's strengths and shore up its weaknesses. Hopefully we'll witness further growth of BottleRock Napa Valley in 2015.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED