After a seven and a half hour drive through the armpit of California (sorry Central Valley audience), a pit stop at McDonald’s in which our order was predictably screwed up (not sorry crappy cashier), and inhaling enough cow manure fumes to get the grossest head high ever, we made it to BottleRock in Napa Valley. Rolling hills, vineyards, and seemingly eternal sunshine was all that stood between us and the likes of Lenny KravitzStevie WonderFlorence + The Machine, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Oh, and an LA  freeway’s worth of traffic on a single lane road. On paper, Napa Valley is a prime location for a festival. It seems like a dream: fantastic wine, terrific food, and quaint scenery. That is, until you throw a combined three-day attendance of 120,000 people into the mix. Then, the small town becomes quite hectic, especially after each day concluded and everyone was trying to leave. Though the location had its downsides (as does every festival setting), the event itself surprised us in more ways than one.

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The first day, due to our difficult and long drive, we arrived at BottleRock just as Lenny Kravitz was to take the main stage. Due to past experiences at festivals and even more intimate venues, I expected us to miss much of his set due to media pass complications. Surprisingly, Monty, one of the event’s organizers stood under the media tent, ready to get us in as quickly as possible. After delightful conversation and an exchange of passes later, we were walking in to the gates. As it was an all ages event, security was very cordial and endearing, unlike the full pat-downs at HARD and EDC. We walked on to the turf that covered a large portion of the area, providing attendees with ample room to walk, sit, or even lay. Instead of fighting our way to the front of the crowd and becoming sardines, we opted to relax on the turf and listen from afar. Surrounded by booths for local breweries and restaurants, we had the opportunity to appreciate the diversity of the culinary arts in Napa Valley. Paellas, BBQ, sushi, tamales, beer, wine, hard alcohol, and entirely novel desserts lay spread across the venue.

After recuperating from the long drive by simply sitting on the turf and leisurely enjoying Lenny Kravitz belt “American Woman” even louder than my mom in the car, we decided a change of pace was needed. One of the only DJ sets at BottleRock, White Panda, offered a breath of familiarity. Though I like to pretend that I scoff at progressive house and commercial EDM, I soon found my fist uncontrollably rise and start pumping to that four on the floor kick. Taking every well-known vocal from the past few years and coupling it with big room and progressive drops, the DJ duo had the whole crowd vibing. Though this was certainly the most turnt the festival was to get over the three-day period (for me) we weren’t going to miss Stevie Wonder for a mix we could hear at any other set.

Quickly making our way back to the main stage, this time in the crowd, we were two in tens of thousands that were there to see the legend grace our ears. Stevie Wonder was absolutely amazing. Growing up as a longtime fan and listener, you forget how many songs really has under his belt. Songs In The Key Of My Life is widely regarded as his best album, and we were not disappointed that he played “Sir Duke” and many of his other greatest hits. Moreover, I was very appreciative of all the covers that Stevie played for the audience. He honored Prince, David Bowie and Glenn Frey from the Eagles, playing songs from each of their catalogs. Just when we thought Stevie would ask, “What’s my name?” for the last time, he finished his set with “Superstition”. Nothing is better than experiencing the wonder and beauty of a legend like Stevie Wonder.

At the beginning of Day 2, we found ourselves avoiding the heat inside of the media lounge. But, because BottleRock is so amazing and efficient, they were also hosting band interviews inside the building. We got to ask Atlas Genius about their pre-show rituals and talk about fashion with Iration.

Of course, Elijah and I had to go see The Pharcyde after all of our fun interviews. The L.A. based rap team rocked the house. They hit “Oh Shit” and covered Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” From here, Elijah and I split. I stayed at the Midway Stage the entire night. Ziggy Marley followed after The Pharcyde and brought such good vibes and peaceful tones that I ended up in a giant swaying sea of love during his set. He covered a couple of his Dad’s songs, and played his most popular tunes like “Love Is My Religion,” “True To Myself,” and “Beach In Hawaii.” After our euphoria slid away in between set times, it was immediately ramped back up to times ten when Iration took the stage. They’ve been together for 10+ years, albeit with a few band member changes, but have continued to jam the hell out of any set they perform. We heard so much music. They played from their latest album, Hotting Up, served up classics from Time BombAutomatic and so much more. Closing with “Time Bomb” as an encore made my entire night and day come to a close in the most cheerful of moods. Next, I raced over to catch the end of Florence + The Machine and was blown away by her performance. She not only killed it musically, but entertained everyone.

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Florence + The Machine

Though Ziggy, Pharcyde, and Iration are incredible artists in their own right, I decided to take a walk around the venue. Though we had been at the event for a solid chunk of time, I hadn’t had the time to appreciate all the people and booths that were present at the festival. As stated earlier, the diversity in the food was amazing. BottleRock also had a Silent Disco arena for those who wanted a more unique dancing experience. Each time I walked by, the area was crowded with smiling faces. Groups of friends, couples, and individuals combined together in a non-judgmental way to enjoy their music in seeming silence. Thanks to the turf, I was able to walk around for a good hour without getting any dust in my throat or nose. To those of you unfamiliar with venues in desert locations, this was a nice surprise that was subtle, but affected the way I was able to interact with the festival.

Around 7, I headed over to the Lagunitas Stage to check out Alina Baraz. Having been in love with her collaborative effort with GalimatiasUrban Flora, I knew this wasn’t a performance that I’d want to miss. The stage itself was a good distance from any other, and was surrounded by booths and gates every which way but a narrow entrance and exit in the opposite direction of the stage. This provided the audience with an intimate environment for what was to become my favorite performance of BottleRock. Playing all of Urban Flora and a couple other tunes as well, the angelic voice of Alina floated across the audience, captivating every single one of us. The sun began to set right as her performance began, and we were left with the enchanting image of her the last light glinting off her, her dress and hair flowing behind her, and a light fog roll behind her. The perfect setting for the R&B singer’s set, it seemed everyone was reluctant to leave when she waved her last goodbyes. Not only did Alina meet my expectations, her performance blew me away with a strong command of the stage, a gorgeous voice, and a lively band giving her music a more classic R&B feel.

The last and coolest of all the days thus far, we began with X Ambassadors. It was a very interesting set because of the nature of their music and the contrast with the night previous, but they played their most popular stuff and while they were finishing, we headed over to catch Jamestown Revival. They opened with “Fur Coat Blues” which is one of their most popular songs and from there we went and caught The Suffers. Talk about a happy surprise, The Suffers from Houston, Texas played a fusion of Jazz/Latin/Rock/Blues and everything in between to create a wonderfully balanced set. Unfortunately, and this is a reminder to all to always drink water and experience your festival safely, a man next to me passed out and we had to make sure he was all right. But, The Suffers concluded their set to the sound of roaring applause.

The Lumineers

The Lumineers

Then I raced to the main stage to catch The Lumineers who although used very little in terms of effects or stage design, wowed the audience with their amazing songs. From their latest single “Ophelia” to the old album and the new, they played just about everything. With “Hey Ho” they divided the audience in half and everyone sang along. It was great fun and family entertainment. After they finished, it was time for the big name of the weekend: The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The pre-1991 playlist dominated the scene with a lot pulled from Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Mother’s Milk. But of course they played from Californication, By The Way, Stadium Arcadium and of course “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” from I’m With You. Their newest single, “Dark Necessities” also came out to play during their set. Perhaps one of my favorite moments was when Anthony Kiedis went and sat next to the sign language interpreter for their set. It not only brought attention to the fact that deaf people can enjoy music like anyone else, but also promoted the very need for all artists to incorporate sign language interpreters in their sets. It’s an issue we tend not to think about at big festivals, so massive ups to BottleRock Napa for providing sign language interpreters.

Though BottleRock was hot, crowded, and expensive, you could honestly say that about nearly every festival. No experience is perfect, but at the end of the day, BottleRock was damn near close. With a variety of artists that both hold on to the past and embraced the present and future, the lineup stood out from other festivals thus far. The food was quite good and the wine never disappointing. The layout of the event was superior to many of the major festivals; offering turf was a smart move so attendees could sit through much of the area and rest from the heat or typical festival fatigue. Overall, BottleRock was definitely a worthwhile experience, and one that we will be looking forward to in 2017.

You can catch the “Best of the Fest” video BottleRock created, and stay up to date with tickets for next year’s show via the BottleRock site.

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