What comes to mind when Napa is mentioned? Postcard vineyards that sprawl across rolling hills? World-class wine complimented by the most impeccable cuisine? Snoop Dogg announcing “Smoke weed motherfuckers” to a wild, screaming, sold out music festival? Yeah, I would say that last one seems a tad bit off . Well, get accustomed to this becoming a staple of the ever-famous Napa valley. Where the quaint town was once a dream destination for relaxation and partaking in the finer, more subtle, qualities of life stands a feast of music brilliance. And when I say “stand”, I mean firmly cemented. With notable headliners that include Imagine Dragons, Robert Plant, and No Doubt, it’s no question why word is getting out about Northern California’s new spectacle. While BottleRock is still a youngin’ in its short lifespan, already it’s making a profound name among the giants of Coachella, Outside Lands, or Lollapalooza.

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Day 1: Northern California’s gorgeous weather welcomed it’s eager patrons with warm weather and blue skies. After dealing with the parking, which was a solid 25-30 minute walk from the actual grounds itself, the BottleRock festival welcomed all with a plethora of wonderfulness right off the bat. At first sight, you’re bombarded with food galore. Everything from food trucks, to ice cream and desert, and everything in-between; it was all there. Not to mention the the heavy component of alcoholic beverages that included every wine, beer, and mixed drink imaginable. A huge complaint from BottleRock’s two previous years were the long lines to receive these palatable delicacies; this was more than eliminated this time around. After walking through the packed, tempting, sensory overloaded grounds, I manged to have enough self control to make it to Cage The Elephant. Being highly optimistic, I easily strolled past the onlookers in the back who would much rather post a selfie with their delicious chardonnay, then partake in Matt Shultz’s legendary performance. “Spiderhead” begin their set with vicious guitar explosions that jolted most from their wine-drunk stupor and into the world of music bliss. As usual, the world of Cage the Elephant and their unique, unorthodox, wild selves gave it their all. Back to back to back hits with “Aberdeen”, “Cigarette Daydreams”, and “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” accompanied their impressive set list. Running through every inch of the stage like a track star, Matt had a couple instances where the mic wasn’t his best friend. Having it get disconnected from the cord once, and the other where the wire limited his ability to spread his musical love to the crowd below. This, however didn’t stop him, and the mass of people were happy enough to fill in the lyrics for him while stagehands assisted him with another mic. Scaling barricades, removing clothing, diving into a sea of people… all the normal for a Cage The Elephant show. Jubilantly skipping up and down the stage, wildly dancing, feeling like a “Warrior princess”, Matt finished off with “Shake Me Down” in sheer rock greatness. Before walking off, he gave us all a friendly reminder that “sometimes it’s okay to put away your cellphones.”

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Next on the main stage came Foster The People in their skinny black-jeans that more than mirrored their Los Angles background. Backstage they emerged to a long intro with synthesizers blaring, feeding the audience’s anticipation. Finally, “Miss You” opened up their Napa Valley act with well rehearsed professionalism. Involving the crowd heavily throughout the set, their other hits that included “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Best Friend” littered a more than satisfactory performance.

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BottleRock’s incredibly small venue made it simple and effortless to travel between stages. Average time for this was five minutes or less, which for you Coachella veterans probably brings a tear to your eye. Accessibility such as this made it a breeze to stay through the end of a set, and still make it to another stage without missing anything. The Jam Cellars stage, which was the second biggest, hosted Public Enemy next. As you could expect, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and, Terminator X’s successor, DJ Lord brought out the most explosive set I enjoyed that day. These two rappers may seem aged and too old for the game, but this is far from the truth. Vibrant energy and passion oozed from every rhyme they spit. Every jump and skip and fist pump was enough to finish BottleRock two days early. From old school classics like “Miuzi Weighs A Ton” and popular favorites like “Bring The Noise” and “He Got Game”, the triple talented, trifecta delivered. Entirely. Unmatched by anything prior that day. Flavor Flav and Chuck D mentored the crowd with mini lectures about political and ethical issues plaguing the Earth throughout their show. Personally, it was a welcome sight to be reflective and conscious towards these prevalent problems than the majorities “Am I gonna get my hot dog and make it in time to Imagine Dragons in time?” After DJ and Chuck D harmonica solos, Flavor Flav switching it up by drumming for a song, and the appearance of real instruments on stage, it seemed as if I was transported back to the 80s and 90s of hip hop. And as an intimidating Public Enemy flag hung behind them, and Flavor Flav proclaimed “yeaaaaah boiiiiii” for the thirteenth time, and Chuck D said “shut em down”… the music gods smiled upon BottleRock.

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Nightfall came upon the Napa Fairgrounds just shortly after Public Enemy‘s set. With the latest acts starting at around 8pm every night, and the festival ending at 10, this only allowed the headliners to bask in the glory of lighting during their acts. The first of these, Imagine Dragons, took plenty advantage. The relatively quick to success band from Las Vegas made it their objective to close out BottleRock’s first night in style. They achieved that in bolstering drum solos, crisp, smooth-sounding vocals, and covers of Alphaville‘s “Forever Young” and Ben King‘s “Stand By Me”. Continuous crowd engagement by running into the audience, holding their hands, and even wearing roses in his shirt pocket handed to him. As expected, they played everything from their newest to their oldest with new live additions to songs like “Polaroid”. Pausing in between songs to talk for a brief moment, Dan went on to say to ask his adoring fans: “This is a great festival. It is its third year, right? I think BottleRock will go on for another 20 years.” With wonderful backing like that, I’m sure the folks at Latitude 38 and Sunshine Sachs are quite thrilled. Absolutely killing “Demons” and “Radioactive”, the show was electrified by Dan Renoylds’ genuine thrill that could be seen on his face. In fact, each of the band members evoked a pure happiness that reflected their incredible performance and showed BottleRock to a wondrous day 1 exit.

Day 2: Recovering from my wine and cheese hangover, day two arrived with a powerful lineup. Tennessee’s Bonnaroo ain’t got a thing on this Napa weather as the sun shined, and a cool breeze rolled down from the surrounding hills.

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Portugal. The Man started off my day 2 experience with a very chill vibe; not only from the band, but the crowd as well. It seems as if everyone had gotten past the day 1 antics, and were starting to fall into the festival groove. It was apparent from the member’s faces that this hour and 15 minutes was gonna be a fun one. Smiles shined beautifully in the sun as they started off with “Hip Hop Kids” in delicious rock n roll spirit and vigor. Sporting their Pittsburgh Pirates hats and having very chill attitudes, the Alaskan boys continued the relatable awesomeness by doing their own rendition of “Dayman” from the tv show Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, they managed to transition that silly song into “So American” which was just downright sweet. Their short breaks between songs were filled with sips of on-stage beers, little thanks, and mentioning their shenanigans from the night prior. This gave them a very engaging feeling and only amplified the good vibes. Among Oasis covers, followed by their own “Atomic Man”, “Modern Jesus”, and “Purple Yellow Red and Green”, this show was perfection. They even had Spencer Ludwig (from Capital Cities) come on stage towards the end and bring some brass soloing to the show with his notorious trumpet. A photo of the crowd, by bass member Zach ended their memorable set.

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Fortunate enough to have Young The Giant on the same stage afterwards gave me a stellar spot to see them. As this was my first time covering them, I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea they were going to be filled with so much energy and outright intensity. “I Got” and “Eros” brought the already warmed up audience into a frenzy of hands and jumping. Even joking around, the lead singer, Sameer Gadhia told everyone “I feel compelled to say something profound and eloquent” then paused and showed everyone his socks. This kind of easy-flowing silliness and equally matched rock spirit made their last couple songs of “Apartment” and “My Body” an absolute thrill.

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Before heading to the Jam Cellars stage, I got to witness some of the Avett Bothers on the main. Effortlessly, they commandeered the majority of this festival and brought them to the main stage. I hadn’t seen so many people all festival for a daytime set just yet. The folky, fully-stringed armada of musicians swarmed the stage and had the crowd eating out of their hands. The wildly fun performers from the South brought all that flair up to Northern California with superb execution. I even witnessed people square dancing in the crowd. A few songs I recognized were “Laundry Room” and “Down With The Shine”.

While Capital Cities‘ time on stage was short, it was well received by everyone lucky enough to attend. No fancy intros; just coming on and playing right off the bat. “Tell Me How To Live”, “Kangaroo Court”, and remixing The Bee Gees‘ “Stayin’ Alive” gave the most wonderful party atmosphere to BottleRock that I’ve witnessed. Funky dancing from every walk of earth, a constant torrential rainfall of beach balls, and more trumpet solos peppered their stay on the Jam Cellars stage. What I was impressed by was the ending. After playing their popular song “Safe And Sound”, they all took off their mics and came to the front of the stage. They played an edm-ish remix of that same hit and proceeded to have a dance party with the audience. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen prior, and left everyone in a fantastic mood for the final two acts of the day.

Utilizing the nighttime set with brilliant lighting were the two acts that closed. The legendary Robert Plant on main, and Passion Pit on Jam Cellars. As expected, Robert Plant was authentic, real, unadulterated class. From beginning to end, playing plenty of his, and Led Zeppelin‘s, classics like “Whole Lotta Love”, “Black Dog”, and “Rock n Roll”. Not only was his stage presence something in and of itself, but the essence that materialized from his singing was almost alien. Godlike. A true master of his craft. Long curly hair swayed with his gracious movements across stage. He effortlessly moved the audience with “Going To California” and had almost everyone in sight belting out the lyrics with him; i.e. it was an older crowd. As expected, it was gorgeous work by Robert and his band behind him. Completely and utterly handed his fans a one of a kind spectacle.

Passion Pit. The well dressed men from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was a little curious to see how these guys would perform, based off how their music sounds; it’s very upbeat any heavily-synthesizer based. They managed. They managed quite well. Over on the Jam stage, they took no time to bring out the big songs with their first being “Little Secrets”, and second “1985” from their newest album. A flurry of spastic, vibrant pink and white lights portrayed the lead singer with a wonderful background to intensify his performance. Climbing on top of speakers, jumping like a madman, and urging the crowd to sing along with him brightened the already happy faces who decided to see this band play. Although the other band members were quite stationary, due to them all being on keyboards, Michael Angelakos made up for it with his astonishing display and passion. Prancing around the stage swinging his mic like a helicopter above his head, he amazed and dazzled the already optimistic crowd. “Moths Wings”, “Until We Can’t” and “Take A Walk” all added to the extraordinary vibe that was exemplified. As they walked off the stage, the monster of a crowd started chanting “Sleepyhead”…. and Passion Pit delivered. Oh did they deliver. They came back onstage to lights flashing. So much jumping I could swear we might have given the San Andreas fault a run for its money. Smiles all around. Day 2 was exceptional.

Day 3: Before arriving inside, the place seemed to have it’s mind fixated on two things: Snoop Dogg and No Doubt. There was a hushed, almost unnerving excitement that echoed around the grounds. But alas, there were other artists who decided to break apart this atmosphere and create their own.

First up: American Authors. Main stage is where they reside. Popularity is what they have achieved. Hits are what they make. Rising through the charts as of late, American Authors is quickly ascending when it comes to writing winners in the industry. A noticeably younger group accompanied them at the main stage as they played off “Believer” and “Ghost” in quick succession. Shouting out “Go Warriors” to a Northern California crowd got plenty of cheers. When not playing songs, they were constantly saying feel good statements and whatnot to keep everyone happy; a little gimmicky, but no one seemed to mind. Instructing their supporters with entertaining clapping rhythms and joyous beats, the show ended after playing their trendy “The Best Day Of My Life”.

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Trampled By Turtles was next on The Jam stage. They were a nice change of pace from the second half of day 2, and all of 3 so far. Evoking a very Mumford & Sons/ Avett Brothers vibe, they came out with very everyday people apparel, and a down to earth attitude. Smiling between songs and sipping on beers, they delivered a very homey/country type ambiance to everyone in attendance. The fully-stringed band jammed to “Help You” and “Western World” before I had to leave and catch the next artist on the Main stage.

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As the day continued, and the people became more enamored, it was time for one of the most hyped acts. Snoop Dogg. With 30 minutes to go before the show, the place was filled to the brim. Packing the house is a understatement in this case. Snoop came on to his adoring congregation with a swagger and grace unmatched by all. The Djs bumped “California Love” by Tupac to announce his entrance. Indicating that he wants to “hear some pimp music”, “P.I.M.P.” was laid down and executed exquisitely. While throwing out compliments and shout outs to the “ladies” every couple of minutes or so, Snoop really did put on one hell of a show. He brought out the inner dance in everyone. Everywhere I looked I would see old 50 year-olds dancing to the most explicit lyrics and shouting “Fuck yeah” when Snoop instructed them to. It was a sight to behold. Adding “Wiggle”, “Gin And Juice”, and “Who Am I” to the card pumped up the crowd to unbelievable lengths. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a musical climate like this. The environment consisted of security guards dancing, Snoop grinding with the sign language interpreter, and a smog that rivals LA; and of what, I think you can assume. After playing his favorite “Drop It Like It’s Hot” he gave some thanks and counseled us all about legalizing weed. In his notorious Snoop Dogg attitude, he announced “my last words… smoke weed motherfuckers!” and played “Jammin” by Bob Marley as he took pictures of the crowd and walked off.

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Catching the last couple of songs by Awolnation at Jam was a doozy. Although the crowd, weirdly, didn’t return their enthusiasm, let that not take away from the excellent job they did. There was a rapping keyboardist, a lovingly warm moment when he played “All I Need”, and kicking ass with “Sail” at the end. Pure intensity was felt from all 5, and I wish I could have been there to see the beginning.

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Lastly, the time had come for No Doubt. The main staple of my music diet as I grew up. The epitome of pop and imagery when looking at their genre. As people swarmed to get as close as they could to Gwen Stefani’s home for the next two hours, the night had fully arrived. The moon was up, beers were held warmly in hand, and beaming patrons showered their entrance with applause. The night was a whirlwind of their best; including “Hella Good”, “Just a Girl”, and “Don’t Speak.” The attention-grabbing hairstyle, outfits, and even light up drums brought back the deja vu that these fans desperately wanted. They accomplished that, and more, in a performance as if they never had disbanded. Shining brightly in the last moments of BottleRock’s 3 day fiasco, No Doubt gave a send off worthy of much grander festivals.

BottleRock is quickly becoming a contender in the battle for music festival hierarchy. Their focus on food and drink, mixed with wine galore is an interesting take when compared to others. While I, unfortunately, wouldn’t say the music takes the forefront to this actual event, and it’s VIP and Platinum members are a bit too catered for, it did a snazzy job. Hopefully with the success of this years, and maybe a couple of small improvements, BottleRock has the potential to really shake things up in the world of music.

Check out www.bottlerocknapavalley.com for their presale of next year.

Photo: Adam Maresca