Sunday, May 31
I went back into BottleRock on Sunday with an open mind. Echosmith, the band you know from “Cool Kids,” helped freshen the outlook with a peppy set. Silverado Pickups segued from the Rolling Stones into the Grateful Dead. Los Amigos Invisibles had a full-fledged Latin ska dance party going on. Things were looking up.
But the collective attention was over on the Culinary Stage, where Snoop Dogg and chef Masaharu Morimoto joined forces for a sushi-making demo. It took Snoop less than 30 seconds to make the expected “roll one up” joke, and the short segment was more social spectacle than master class, anyway -- kind of in the same way Vernon Davis' earlier spot on the culinary stage was essentially an ongoing advertisement for his sponsor, a particular brand of beef jerky.
Put all this stuff together -- the excitement of Snoop (“He's dope!” announced stage host Liam Mayclem, awkwardly) in “the hood” of Napa (Mayclem, again); the showering of the crowd with free company swag while said company's social media team takes photos to prove people's excitement over a package of beef jerky; the take-a-picture-of-this-and-Instagram-it-and-win-free-stuff marketing apparatus in effect, widely, throughout the entire festival; the ho-hum lineup of predictable festival bands -- and BottleRock's identity starts to feel like one big opportunity to leverage one's brand, both corporate and personal.
I've grown up in wine country, and I know Napa's wine industry is especially thirsty for this leverage, hoping to mitigate its reputation for being old and staid. Apparently the insurance industry is, too: I walked by the Geico booth and noticed the staffers laying on their backs, having given up, making jokes on the mic about how nobody wanted to interact with their brand.
As various executives funneled into the Platinum reserved area (six feet deep of guaranteed front-row viewing, tickets $3,500/pair), Snoop Dogg took the stage to play songs that the general-admission crowd behind them knew much better, which is to say, at all: “P.I.M.P.,” “The Next Episode,” “Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang,” “Drop it Like it's Hot,” “Gin & Juice,” just a nonstop hit parade, peppered with snippets of songs by House of Pain, Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the start, but by the time he closed with “Young, Wild & Free,” he also achieved the festival brass ring of uniting 30,000 people in a singalong of love and positivity.
No Doubt followed with a similarly hit-ridden set, made off-kilter only for Gwen Stefani's overeager testimonials about how she CAN'T BELIEVE you're all here IN PERSON singing THESE SONGS with her, wow, it's SO REAL. “I'm just trying to find people I connect with so I can think of their faces when I go to sleep at night,” she said in one of many exhortations. “Do you understand that? I'm going to think of you tonight!”
Even for someone who never much cared much for No Doubt, I gotta say, they kept Snoop's unifying ethos alive across the huge field. But the real spirit was outside the festival grounds: walking back to my car, I stopped into Nation's Hamburgers, where the packed restaurant was interrupted by a man's voice.
“Excuse me,” he announced, “but it's this girl's birthday, and she's had a really terrible day. Can we all sing her 'Happy Birthday?'”