Growing pains. In order to mature you have to go through them. BottleRock 2014 seemed to be no different. Fantastic music was, at times, overlooked due to logistical flaws, technical difficulties, bad foresight, and inexperience. This isn’t to say that the festival wasn’t a success. The acts performed remarkably and the crowds made it worth whatever frustration may have occurred. With that being said, let’s first explore areas where BottleRock 2015 can, and most likely will, improve.
The largest and most noticeable of the issues that took place over the weekend dealt with the unconventional transportation needs the festival has. With the grounds being in downtown Napa, there is no place for everyone to park. Because of this, the festival owners rent out what appears to be a nuclear wasteland for people to park, for a $30 fee, and then be bussed to the gates. While this may seem alright in theory, it creates a severe issue at the end of the day as 35,000+ fans try to leave at the same time. Saturday night was a 2 hour wait just to leave the Napa Expo. Once festival goers got to the parking lot, they had to wait again as there was a traffic jam leaving the lot. This will almost assuredly be taken care of next year, as the promoters must find new ways to take care of transportation.
Once again, BottleRock had a tough time figuring out the scheduling of their acts. Last year it seemed they overlapped too many of the most popular acts instead of staggering them. This year the problem became a logistical one in which they scheduled all the big ticket acts on one day, on the same stage. Saturday created an absolute nightmare with what appeared to be an overselling of tickets and every major act appearing on the main stage. What transpired was a mass of people setting up shop in this area and suffering from overcrowding, long lines, and no ability to get from point A to point B in a timely manner. To add to this, promoters struggled to deal with the crowds as concession lines (read: beer) took upwards of half an hour to reach the front. The tents were understaffed as those working the register were also pouring drinks and helping with other tasks while lines never seemed to dwindle.
Compounding the problem with concessions was the very obvious overspending on security. What Latitude 38 seemed to overlook was the location of the festival as well as the demographic that would be attending a festival mainly featuring acts that saw their heyday 20 years ago. There weren’t too may fans under the age of 25 in attendance. Thus, it seems the masses of security lurking everywhere could have been better purposed. While I understand the need for crowd control, I don’t understand the having so many of them wandering the crowd and standing sentinel in the copious amounts of VIP areas.
Speaking of VIP areas, here’s to hoping BottleRock 2015 tapers back the visibility between the “haves and have-nots.” So many sections were not only reserved for VIPs but also painfully visible to the rest of the crowd. I understand the Bay Area has a high degree of income disparity, but putting it on display for everyone to see just seems a bit egregious. We’ll know in the coming weeks whether or not the promoters have paid their debts from the previous festival owners. If they have, there may be less need for the blatant pandering to the VIPs. Festivals have always been about the crowds, let’s hope this festival doesn’t make it about luxury.
Just one last gripe before we got to the incredible music that took place last weekend. A couple of times over the course of the three days the sound was either purposely or accidentally cut. The first instance was Friday night when the Cure’s sound was cut immediately at 10pm. While this could have been an agreement with the city of Napa, it might have been a good idea to not have the Cure close then, as they have always been know to go longer than they were supposed to. The same happened Saturday to Heart. Again, right at 10pm the sound was cut. For Weezer, however, there was a definite accident. Within the first 15 minutes of their set, the sound was cut completely for about 2-3 minutes. While this is a mild technical problem, it may have been amplified by the other logistical problems taking place.
Acts Seen: Ben Sollee, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Matisyahu, Robert DeLong, Mayer Hawthorne, Gin Blossoms, The Cure, Sublime with Rome
Ok, now that I got all of that off my chest, let’s get to the music because it was pretty amazing. As mentioned previously, Saturday was the day to be on site. This made Friday a pretty tame day. Crowds were smaller, as to be expected without the big name acts and the fact that most normal people work on weekdays. Our first taste of the festival was Ben Sollee. With such wide-open spaces, his smooth Kentucky cello seemed to resonate off the trees and create a nice ambient atmosphere in the sun for those who came out early to learn the lay of the land. After catching a couple of Ben’s tunes we cruised over to another stage to catch Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. After a couple of originals, Karl and his crew played a fantastic cover version of the Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Out to Dry.” As the day wore on, the crowd began to change, more and more fans that were excited to see the Cure were making their way into the Napa Expo. There was poorly plastered lipstick and eyeliner as far as the eye could see. We all took in an unexpected set by the usually energetic Matisyahu, who came out looking more like a musical Anthony Bordain without his trademarked beard. ‘Yahu played more of his newer music juxtaposed with a pair of hippie women painting behind him during his set, which created quite the interesting dynamic for onlookers.
Following Matisyahu was one of the more underappreciated acts of the weekend, Robert DeLong. Armed with video game controls, Day-Glo paint, and more energy then he knew what to do with, DeLong pumped the crowd full of hysteria and EDM during the middle of the day, which consisted of a very lackluster performance by aging 90s band Gin Blossoms and then a fun but laid back set by Mayer Hawthorne, which featured a great cover of Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” The relaxed mood of Friday afternoon led into the big headliner of the evening, The Cure.
Robert Smith is not a pretty man. He never has been. His ghoulish appearance and sound give his band such a unique feel, which rocketed them to stardom and eventual place among music’s greats at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Robert’s voice is unmistakable. Friday was no different. For two and a half hours, before they were cut off, the goth rock gods played seemingly everything in their catalog. Smith was tamed and calm onstage until he noticed just how in awe the crowd was. Once that hit him, he let loose on stage with moves that he would most likely refer to as dancing, while we’ll call it “gyrating.” The setlist consisted of an incredible 34 songs.
To finish up Friday’s festivities, playing at the same time, we managed to make our way over to see Sublime with Rome play a fantastic cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” before the night ended and the masses made their way for the shuttle busses back to the parking lot.
Acts Seen: Matt and Kim, Third Eye Blind, Weezer, Outkast, Heart
Not to beat a dead horse, but Saturday was chock full of acts, but nearly impossible to see all of them without forfeiting standing room or the majority of another act’s set. With that in mind, we followed what seemed to be a trend of camping at the main stage and catching whoever came through on the lead up to Outkast. While missing Blues Traveler, Smashmouth, and De La Soul, I can truthfully say this was the best day, musically, I’ve seen at a festival in some time. Matt and Kim were the highlight of the weekend for me. Having seen them a couple times in the past, they never stop mesmerizing me. The energy they put forth and genuine fun they have while performing makes watching them all that much better. They interact with the crowd, show emotion, and have fun; a quality that seems to get lost on performers as they play more shows over the course of their career and start treating their performances like a job. If more bands were able to spend their time on stage having just half as much fun as Matt and Kim, I wouldn’t mind paying these exorbitant ticket prices.
The rest of Saturday went as you might have expected seeing four more bands that have catalogs rife with hits. Third Eye Blind played a set littered with fan favorites “Semi Charmed Kind of Life,” “Jumper,” and “Graduate.” Weezer followed that with an incredible setlist of hits from their entire career, and even threw in a cover of Blur’s “Song 2.”
The night ended with Outkast and Heart playing concurrently. Heart had a fantastic set. Outkast had a phenomenal one. Heart played rock ballads from yesteryear. Outkast played fast-paced hip-hop music that is timeless. Big Boi and Andre 3000 were joined by Sleepy Brown to play a diverse set list from their whole catalog. The veterans of hip-hop were full of energy and fed off of the excitement of the crowd. Blasting popular favorites “B.O.B,” “Sorry Ms. Jackson,” “Hey Ya!,” and “So Fresh, So Clean” among others along with deeper pulls like “Skew it on the Bar-B” and “Crumblin’ Erb,” Outkast was flawless. Their return to the Bay Area was very much a success.
Acts Seen: Black Angels, Spin Doctors, Ed Kowalczyk, LL Cool J, Eric Church
As with the last day of any festival, the crowds are typically much smaller and more laid back. It may be due to fatigue or just the overloading of acts on the previous two days. Regardless, BottleRock was no different. Sunday’s crowds were tamed down and the music properly reflected its onlookers. After a late arrival, we got to check out the Black Angels and get up extremely close to the stage thanks to an extremely small crowd on hand for the psychedelic rockers.
The 90s alternative vibes kept flowing by featuring the Spin Doctors and Live front man Ed Kowalczyk. Both had decent sets but nothing to write home about. My theory behind this is the lack of crowd energy that powered the crowd through Saturday, just wasn’t there for the acts on Sunday. LL Cool J had a fantastic set weaving in bits of Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama” at times to spice it up. Perhaps the most curious act of the festival was Eric Church. The lone true country music representative played a tight 16 song set, which culminated with his hit song “Springsteen” and the shooting of fireworks.
In all, the weekend was a success and while there some misses by Latitude 38 Entertainment, the first year owners of the festival made noticeable changes. These changes reassured me that they are working to make the festival better. With that in mind, take my previous comments as a sort of constructive criticism. I have zero doubt that next year BottleRock will be even more different, but overall a better experience as they learn from mistakes. Lastly, I would like to speak to the two most important consistencies that the festival has fostered, regardless of who owns it: the music has been great and so are the people. The volunteers that have helped put these shows on are the most impressive group of help I’ve ever seen in the festival setting. They go out of their way to help you in any way you need. Oftentimes the volunteers have been ambassadors of the festival and are more interested in ending their shift to watch the music themselves. Those volunteers at BottleRock feel like ambassadors of the city of Napa, happy you’ve come to visit them. For that alone I’d recommend visiting BottleRock 2015. If you want another reason, see the music noted above and realize that my criticisms are pretty minor and liked noticed by officials and corrected next year. I look forward to BottleRock 2015 and can’t wait to see whom they get to play on a full budget.
Written by Mitch Inkrott
OurVinyl | Contributor