BRNV Lineup Graphic

As we told you last month, BottleRock Napa Valley – the festival that, despite a pretty stellar lineup during its inaugural campaign in 2013, was marred by reports of terrible traffic, oppressive heat (and little shade), and post-fest financial issues – is back for a second year after a group of local investors took over the festival’s operations (and massive debts) and takes place May 30 to June 1 at the Napa County Fairgrounds.

The new producers’ plan to revamp the fest into a fiscally viable operation for years to come apparently starts with an effort to get children of the ’90s to take a nostalgia trip to wine country. That’s right – if you grew up in the age of alternative rock (or No Alternative, if that’s how you see it), then you’re in for a treat. Sprinkled throughout the weekend’s performances are a number of acts that came on the scene during the Clinton administration (or even the George H.W. Bush administration), from the headliners all the way down to handful of long forgotten one-hit (okay, maybe two) wonders.

Well, this particular member of Gen Y is both ecstatic (Outkast! Weezer!) and a bit amused (Smash Mouth? Really?) at the prospect of a taking a trip back in time for one weekend this year, even if it means taking a few lumps from friends for my past (current?) musical transgressions. See, back before there was “indie rock” (or at least before indie rock became a thing), there was alternative. And, like with indie rock, alternative had its fair share of both hits and misses (again, I’m looking at you Smash Mouth). So I’m here to help guide those of you who were a bit too young during the last decade of the twentieth century in making educated choices up in Napa, as well as to remind my fellow ’90s vets of some blasts from the past that they’ll want to catch, or possibly avoid.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Although Friday headliners The Cure were active during the ’90s, they’re more of an ’80s act in my mind. That leaves just two ’90s acts to choose from on the festival’s first day – Sublime with Rome and Gin Blossoms, and the former is only kind of from the ’90s.

Sublime with Rome: Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 18 years, you know that Bradley Nowell, Sublime’s original frontman, died of a heroin overdose at the Ocean View Motel on Judah Street in San Francisco on the eve of the release of the band’s self-titled major label debut in 1996. Despite the ensuing success of that album, the two surviving members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh pursued other opportunities for the next thirteen years, before reviving the band in 2009 (and then changing the name to Sublime with Rome after a legal challenge from Nowell’s estate) with singer, guitarist, and East Bay native Rome Ramirez in Nowell’s place. Then, in 2011, Gaugh left the band, leaving Wilson as the only original member. So really, Sublime with Rome isn’t Sublime at all, even if they do play a bunch of Sublime covers in addition to their own original songs, and you’ll probably hear better versions of “Santeria” and “What I Got” on the jukebox at your local watering hole. Verdict: Meh

Gin Blossoms: Gin Blossoms registered their first blip on the rock music radar screen back in 1992 when they dropped their major label debut New Miserable Experience, releasing a couple hit singles with “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” as the album went multi-platinum. The band’s power pop rock sound, although not for everyone, is, well, undoubtedly well-crafted. Sure, well-crafted sounds about right. Verdict: Meh

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday is by far the strongest day of BottleRock 2.0, with back-from-the-dead hip-hop legends Outkast leading the charge, followed by alterna stalwarts Weezer and a slew of other acts outta the roaring ’90s.

Outkast: If you’re not familiar with Outkast, you need to educate yourself immediately. No explanation should be required here. Verdict: Must See

Weezer: See above re: Outkast. Verdict: Must See

Third Eye Blind: You couldn’t scan through the radio dial between 1997 and 2000 without hearing a Third Eye Blind song. Their eponymous debut sold over six million copies and featured no less than five hits – “Semi-Charmed Life”, “Graduate”, “How’s It Going to Be”, “Losing a Whole Year”, and “Jumper” – but following the band’s 2000 sophomore effort Blue (which still sold over a million copies), Third Eye Blind faded into oblivion like many of their post-grunge compatriots. You’re advised to stick around for “Jumper” and then go grab a beer – or, if it looks like they’re waiting until the end of their set to play “Jumper”, go get your beer now. Verdict: Meh

Cracker: One of the more underappreciated bands to come out of the ’90s alternative explosion was Cracker, a project featuring Nick Lowery of Santa Cruz’s O.G. champions of indie rock Camper Van Beethoven and his childhood friend Johnny Hickman. Most folks will only remember the track “Low” off their 1993 sophomore album Kerosene Hat, but Cracker’s discography is much deeper and stronger than just their biggest hit, and they’re definitely worth the price of admission. Verdict: Check ‘Em Out

Blues Traveler: If you haven’t already seen Emma Stone’s lip-synced take on Blues Traveler’s “Hook” from Jimmy Fallon a couple weeks back, you’re missing out. And be sure not to miss your chance to see a (relatively) skinny John Popper’s masterful work on his vast collection of harmonicas. Verdict: Check ‘Em Out

Smash Mouth: It’s truly hard to believe that the band that brought us such timeless classics as “All Star” and “Walkin’ On The Sun” is still roaming the Earth, and it’s even harder to believe that people still pay to see them play live. Verdict: Run For The Hills

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The ’90s renaissance at BottleRock goes out with something less than a bang on Sunday, with just a few slightly less than memorable acts from yesteryear taking the stage.

Barenaked Ladies: Ontarians Barenaked Ladies are still going strong after more than 25 years churning out recognizable alt rock hits like “If I Had $1000000”, “One Week”, “The Old Apartment”, “Brian Wilson”, and, well, the theme song for The Big Bang Theory. The band is known for their light-hearted and engaging live sets, replete with sing-alongs and the like. Not my favorite band, but certainly worth a listen. Verdict: Check ‘Em Out

Ed Kowalczyk: Okay, so the solo Ed Kowalczyk isn’t exactly Live, but he’s the closest thing to Live in 2014 (despite the fact that the other members of Live have soldiered on without him since 2009). Yes, he still plays some of his old band’s “classics” like “Lightning Crashes”, “I Alone”, and “The Dolphin’s Cry”. Okay – enough with the pretense. Verdict: Meh

Spin Doctors: “Two Princes”. Oy vey. Verdict: Run For The Hills

Get your tickets to BottleRock Napa Valley 2014 here.