Bottlerock Napa Valley announced their 2016 lineup yesterday, and it seems they continue to craft their identity on washed-up remnants of the mainstream and current eccentricities in the music industry. The remarkable thing about this festival is that it consistently proves to be one of the most unique billings of the season through never straying far from the blandest of lanes. It’s difficult to read through the list of artists that presenters JaM Cellars have compiled and feel that they have tapped into something truly exciting in the modern music scene.
But I guess in a way that’s the point, isn’t it? Bottlerock is a nostalgia binge — and not just for their favorite decade the 90s, but even for what was popular only a decade ago. While I view an act like Cold War Kids as a contemporary band deep in a downward spiral, the audience Bottlerock is shooting for may just see them as a legacy shadow of their 2006 glory days. This is a band that is barely over ten years into its career, but in a way their draw echoes that of lineup mate Lenny Kravitz, who is still riding off a period of success from more than two decades ago.
Which is not to say that I don’t understand the appeal — drinking a beer with your coworkers while shouting out the words to “Fly Away” as you reminisce over the car commercials where you all heard the song for the first time as kids can reasonably be considered more valuable than the excitement from telling your friends what underground artist you saw that no one knows about but you swear is on the come-up. Like many of the acts that will perform in Napa this Memorial Day weekend, some people just want to relive the best of times as they lay on the other side of their peak consumption date.
And while a festival like Bottlerock usually doesn’t lend itself to the process of discovery —since many of the acts are long into their careers and odds are you’ve already made up your mind about Iration and are either in disgust or delight by their inclusion — as is true of any festival lineup there is some gold to be found hidden amongst the bottom of the poster. UK genre-benders Until the Ribbon Breaks are a welcome addition not getting picked up by other major league festivals; meanwhile Irish singer-songwriter SOAK, who is still in her teens, is going to blow away anyone privy enough to catch her set. WATERS represent the Bay Area as stalwarts of a wave of punchy pop-rock that dominates much of the Bottlerock lineup through the form of less exciting representatives such as GROUPLOVE and MisterWives.
Where the undercard holds sparsely scattered pleasures, at the top-most line Bottlerock has finally hit three consecutive home runs. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are festival veterans, and one of the few longstanding mainstream rock bands that continue to deliver vital live performances. They fit neatly in Bottlerock’s trusty 90s nostalgia box, but also show the exciting possibilities that box can hold — much as Outkast’s 20th anniversary set did back in 2014. Stevie Wonder digs for a much deeper past, and is Bottlerock’s first legitimate legend book that rivals the size of those performing at festivals such as Bonnaroo and Outside Lands. A welcome return after his headlining performance at 2012’s incarnation of the latter festival, Wonder is going to be nothing short of extraordinary. And lastly, showing that Bottlerock has just enough acumen to keep one foot securely planted in the future, Florence Welch is an underdog headliner that has more than proved herself as a top tier performer this past year, and is currently riding the most exciting phase of her career thus far.
Two steps back, one step forward may seem like a poor strategy for just about anything, but it is actually increasingly the norm in festival culture. Lollapalooza last year pulled off a similar top trio with the likes of Florence + The Machine balancing out Paul McCartney and Metallica, meanwhile this year Coachella is drawing out bands previously considered defunct and pairing them with EDM heavyweight Calvin Harris. Sure Bottlerock continues to indulge in their worst tendencies from previous years (was anyone really hoping for Michael Franti a second year in a row?), but they also seem to be fine-tuning what it is they are trying to accomplish. It’s a weird event, but when every festival starts to homogenize into substitutes for one another, any sort of diversity is appreciated. I mean, where else can you see gypsy-punks Gogol Bordello, acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Grabiela, and throwback hip-hop group The Pharcydes this festival season?
Bottlerock takes place May 27th-29th, and tickets are on sale now.