The fifth year of BottleRock was its best and biggest yet with over 120,000 people traveling to Napa on Memorial Day Weekend to see Maroon 5, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Foo Fighters, and more, while also indulging in the best food and wine options of any music festival. (It is Napa, after all.)
The Napa Valley Expo grounds (right in the heart of downtown Napa) were transformed into a beautiful and shockingly well-organized village for the festival that featured four stages, over 80 artists, dozen of gourmet food options, tons of VIP perks for those who chose to indulge, and more craft beer and wine than anyone can care to (or probably even can) remember. Even better: the weather completely cooperated with blue skies and refreshing breezes all weekend long.
Clearly with so many options, we couldn’t see, eat, or drink it all, but we did our best. Here’s what we observed.
· The 210,000 square foot Bermuda grass lawn in front of the main stage was a game-changer. After all of the complaints about the dirt and dust the previous four years, this fake grass not only looked aesthetically pleasing, but majorly upped the comfort level for concert-goers.
· The BottleRock crowd is definitely older than the Coachella crowd. At one point we overheard someone whine, “I don’t know ANY of these bands.” She was 14 and saying it to her parents, who seemed nonplussed as they sipped on their chardonnay and nodded their heads along to Gavin Degraw.
· Still… the crowd wasn’t so old that we didn’t spot plenty of flower crowns and intricate braids, though we suspect that’s because there were several places to get one’s hair braided, including the Sutter Health Wellness Spa (where one could also pay to get a massage or hydration treatment) or in the VIP area where Paul Mitchell was doing “15 minute braids” for free.
· Martha Stewart, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage was a bit of a miss. The crowd was big, but also loud, so it was impossible to hear what dish Martha was making (turns out it was chicken and rice and also a pork chop), and it seemed like she was really just there to promote her meal kits… which seemingly worked since here we are talking about it.
· Ayesha Curry and E-40, on the other hand, were thoroughly entertaining and informative (she made chicken and gruyere waffles, followed by bananas Foster and admitted that though she was making the waffle batter from scratch for the demonstration, at home she uses the box mix ‘cause “it’s all about ease”). E-40 was also pimping out his wares (Curry made her fried chicken using a 40-ounce of E-40 and the East Bay rapper poured his “brand new Tropiscato” which “tastes like juice” and is available at BevMo.
Of course, the real highlight was when Steph Curry jumped on stage. The crowd went wild, screaming “MVP.” How’d he rank his wife’s chicken and waffles from one to ten? He gave them a “30,” of course.
· Chef Masaharu Morimoto used his time on the Culinary Stage to break down a 120-pound blue fin tuna with a little help from NFL legends Franco Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Charles Woodson (a former Raider who just handed down his number to Marshawn Lynch). All there is to say about that is 120-pounds of tuna is a LOT of tuna.
· There were VIP areas inside the VIP areas, so only a select group of people could access the Alaska Airlines Sky Deck to enjoy the free daily wine tastings from some of Napa’s most acclaimed wineries (including rose from Blackbird Vineyards and Rombauer Chardonnay that was selling for something like $30 a glass elsewhere).
· There was also the Alaska Airlines “Sips and Tips” tasting with a Master Sommelier every day at 4 p.m. Saturday featured Chris Blanchard (MS, National Director Wine Education, Jackson Family Wines) and Jay James (MS, Director of Trade Sales, Chappellet Vineyards). The Sky Deck also featured shaded areas, respite from the crowds, and amazing views of the main stage, which explains why it was so heavily guarded.
· VIP-goers were also lucky enough to get pop-up acoustic performances from tons of the artists, including Warren G, Fitz & the Tantrums, Saint Motel, Cobi, and more. These performances were barely hyped, so it an intimate setting with maybe only a couple hundred people watching each one.
· There was no shortage of food and alcohol. From the Jim Bean Bourbon Bar to the alley of food trucks (Chairman, Kara’s Cupcakes, Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, etc.) to the stands in the Culinary Garden (Ca’ Momi, Morimoto Napa, Mustard’s Grill, etc.)… everywhere we looked there was another opportunity to drop some pretty serious cash. Luckily, it all felt worth it. Even the $12 beer. Ca’ Momi gets our MVP award for the weekend for staying open later than everyone else, and making sure everyone got their pizza, even as organizers were trying to shut them down.
· Speaking of getting shut down… That’s exactly what happened to the Foo Fighters who dared to play past the strict 10 p.m. curfew and had the plug pulled on their set.
· The weekend was all about tough decisions. Maroon 5, Modest Mouse, or Warren G? Foo Fighter or The Roots? Tom Petty or the silent disco featuring Outkast’s Big Boi and The White Panda? The latter was a no-brainer for us (Tom Petty, of course), but almost 4,500 people opted for the silent disco, making it the biggest one ever in the United States.
· It was a struggle for anyone trying to get an Uber after the show. The ride service instituted a blackout zone around the fairgrounds, forcing potential passengers to walk a good mile if they wanted a car. It only took us until the final night to figure out that Lyft was not doing the same.
· It’s already been announced that BottleRock will be back next Memorial Day weekend. Like a fine wine, this festival has improved with age — and while we don’t know how they’ll top this year, we can’t wait to find out.