Photos by Daniel Kielman; text by Roman Gokhman and Daniel Kielman
There were fewer acts and the names did not shine as brightly as last year. Fewer food venders took the risk to take part. But all things considered, it was a miracle that BottleRock Napa Valley — the independent music festival started last year by a group of industry newbies — even had a chance to take an encore bow.
After the festival’s founders ran into massive financial trouble — many venders and employees didn’t get paid — and were forced to file for bankruptcy, BottleRock’s future was very much in doubt. Enter a new group of local entrepreneurs, who aimed to right the ship. And despite the aforementioned negatives, they seem to have stabilized the festival for a third go-around next year. Nearly 20,000 tickets were sold for Friday, when the Cure and Sublime with Rome headlined, and 30,000 paid to see the Outkast reunion and Weezer Saturday and country superstar Eric Church, as well as hip-hop pioneer LL Cool J on Sunday.
As for the positives, fewer attendees meant that it was easier to move from stage to stage, and those arriving at 7:15pm could still grab great spots close to the main stage for the Cure at 7:30. Shuttle buses ran early and often, and lines weren’t nearly as long as last year. And the undercard acts proved their mettle after all, with acts such as Nashville’s Moon Taxi — who were parts rock and prog, and pop country band Delta Rae — making their time count.
Outkast had worked out any initial problems from earlier festival appearances this year, as the duo were in full form for their headlining set Saturday night, drawing the largest crowd of the festival. Energetic, animated and working off a set list consisting of every one of their hits, they also found time to devote a portion of the show to five songs from their first album. They showed much love for the Bay Area, with Big Boi specifically calling out for fans from East Palo Alto multiple times and both rappers expressing that Oakland felt very similar to their home Atlanta.
John Popper of Blues Traveler made his bid for hardest working performer at the festival, playing not only with his band Saturday night but sticking around Sunday to guest during a few songs on both Spin Doctors and Barenaked Ladies’ sets.
Some of the more contemporary artists such as No Age and Deerhunter may not have drawn in sizable crowds when placed opposite the powerhouses from the ’90s, but that didn’t stop them from having engaging sets in their own rights on a smaller stage.
The plug was pulled on both Heart and The Cure at a very hard 10pm ending time. The organizers later explained that all bands, especially the headliners, were aware of the cutoff time and that due to contracts with the city, community and local businesses this was a rule they had to stick by. The organizers added that they were happy with the attendance numbers, that they never want the festival to compete with Outside Lands or even attain numbers as high as 50,000, keeping it easy for attendees to traverse the small festival grounds easily. Most festival-goers seemed ecstatic for the lineup and elated when the radio hits from yesteryear eventually got played, knowing all the words to “Two Princes,” “Semi-Charmed Life” or whatever song you immediately think of when looking at the lineup.
Now that BottleRock’s operators seem to be on the right track, look for next year’s go-around to shine brighter, with a full year to book a lineup instead of the few months they had this year, and with the trust of the local business community regained.