The first annual BottleRock came to a close last Sunday, and now that everything has had some time to sink in, it’s time you all hear about just how amazing this festival was. Ourvinyl had the amazing privilege of attending the Friday and Saturday portion of the event, which was more than enough to leave absolutely blown away at what transpired.
Let’s start with the setting. The grounds of the event had its ups and its downs, just like any venue trying to take on the task of cramming upwards of 30,000 spectators into a relatively small area. One of the main perks of this more intimate setting was that travel between the three stages was extremely easy, and quick to boot. Walking from one stage to another provided the opportunity to grab a quick bite, find some shade, hit the head, etc. all within a quick walk. This also gave maximum exposure to all of the local venders who chose to participate, a deviation from some other festivals out there. While on the topic of the vendors, let’s just say that one of the greatest parts of this festival is the generosity of everyone, vendors especially. Conceivably, you could spend the entire weekend at this festival and not spend a dime on anything other than your ticket. Bottles could be refilled with filtered water at one of the three water stations, granola was being handed out by Bear Naked like it was going out of style, and Morning Star was feeding everyone veggie burger samples in an effort to boost their brand recognition. Honestly, the only thing you may spend money on is beer/soda/actual dinner if you so choose. It was incredible. The kindness of these vendors was a direct reflection of everyone Ourvinyl dealt with, from the PR team to those managing the acts themselves.
It wasn’t just the BottleRock team that was outstanding, either. Those who came out to this event had one thing on their mind, music. This crowd didn’t seem like your typical music gathering. Sure, there was a mess of neon, headdresses, and Ray Bans, but the crowd seemed rather subdued comparative to places like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and the like. It may have been the lack of herbal fumes, or it may have been the absence of the overly inebriated college coed at 2 in the afternoon, but it felt like everyone was intent on seeing every band they could and, therefore, they tapered back their intake of illicit substances to make sure they did so. A theory: this was the first year and BottleRock wasn’t widely advertised which led to a more dedicated crowd. A second theory: the lineup was so jam packed with electric talent, the people did really hold off on booze and drugs until after the shows ended for the day. This could drastically change next year once word gets out. (Hint: BottleRock might see this already and that’s why they are selling their 2014 tickets early at a discounted rate to those who attended this year. Read to the end of the story and I’ll tell you how to get that discount)
Once you landed at your stage of choice, you were greeted with a unique vision and sub-setting at each stage. The main stage offered what you would expect, you know, the glitz and glamour that the main acts will command. The two smaller stages offered more intimacy but were still tiered to the acts they would play home to. It appears that great care went into the placement of each and every stage as well. While shade was not easy to come by when watching the performances, it was fairly easy to dip into the walkways between stages. However, the placement of each stage created an absolutely brilliant scene at dusk each evening. The sun setting over the Napa Valley made of incredible lighting from each and every angle. Seeing acts like Edward Sharpe, the Black Keys, Iron & Wine, and the Flaming Lips in the midst of twilight was an indelible sight I will not soon forget.
Sure, BottleRock was incredible, but this was their first year on the job so there were definitely some issues that need to be worked out before next year. First, the logistics of the festival are a bit frustrating. With the festival taking place right in the middle of Napa proper, there just wasn’t the lodging or parking necessary to accommodate all of those who planned to attend. The solution this year was to offer as many shuttles to the grounds as possible. This included free shuttles from the general parking lot that was a few miles out of the city, from the sponsored campgrounds, and even from many of the hotels in the area. On the surface, this seems like a very effective and even generous option to those who did not live in Napa. However, this posed a problem because there was a no re-entry rule, which would ruin your day if you needed to make a trip to your car for some unforeseen circumstance. A simple trip would cost you your day’s ticket and a nice ride back to your final destination, but only if your desired shuttle happened to be running at that moment. While I personally don’t have a solution to this particular issue, it’s something to think about if you plan on attending next year. Make sure you have a backpack with all your necessities in it to ensure you won’t need to head back to the parking lot and end your day.
The only other complaint, which is actually a very easy fix, was the scheduling of bands. BottleRock seemed to think that it would be a good idea to pit Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros against Jane’s Addiction. Sure, this ensures that the entire crowd won’t be at one stage, but it also makes me pick between hearing “Home” or “Jane Says” live. This isn’t a decision I should have to make. It would make more sense to space out the bigger acts so that at any one time, you have one premier act playing with a couple undercard acts playing on the other stages. Also, spacing out the set times would help immensely. Having two bands start within 5 minutes of each other really puts a burden on the concertgoers. It also creates a serious logjam in on the paths to the various stages as people are sprinting back and forth from one to another. Next year it would be much more beneficial to space the set times out by 20 minutes or so. This allows those lukewarm fans to check out a new band for a little while before jumping off to another stage and really segregating fan bases, something that was extremely evident during the Jane’s Addiction and Edward Sharpe debacle.
Day 1: Friday
Ok, now that you’ve heard me ramble on and on about what it was like experiencing everything about BottleRock except the main draw, the music, would you like to know about how sick the bands were? Let’s just dive right in. It seems like the promoters decided that Friday would be the penultimate day to be at the festival. This is somewhat astray from the norm, as Friday is a workday and most people decided to come out a little bit later in the evening. Nonetheless, Ourvinyl’s journey started with the Allah Las. Five points go to these guys strictly for the cheeky name. Their sound resonated with bluesy throwback undertones complimented nicely by their sheik style that resembled shades of Buddy Holly. Playing on the main stage right out of the gate was a tough draw for a band that didn’t seem to have a significant following. However, they are worth a look as their vintage style, both aesthetically and musically, are unique.
The Shins’ “New Slang”
BottleRock’s undercard featured some other very pleasant surprises as well. Vintage Trouble subscribed to the “dress for success” mantra. Dressed in sleek suits and ties, these guys exuded enough raw energy to power the entire festival for the entire weekend. With a great amount of stage presence and soulful melodies, Vintage Trouble was one of the most underrated acts of weekend. Next up was a friend of Ourvinyl: Justin Townes Earle. Justin was born into the world of music and his storytelling demeanor and uncanny knack for telling it like it is has garnered quite the cult following. His personable attitude makes his sets all the more fun as well. On this day he mentioned forgetting his gear at the hotel and having to make due. If this was, in fact, the case, it wasn’t at all noticeable. After flubbing up during his first song and recovering quite impressively, he went on to play a fantastic set. While I should probably tell you all the songs he played, I’m going to instead tell you about what makes him so fun to see live besides his music. Justin was in the mood to talk about his disdain for the current state of country music. As he is the son of Steve Earle, his opinion on this specific genre pulls some weight. He said he hates what country music stands for now and doesn’t like how it’s lost its way and is no longer the music of a storyteller. This sentiment was resounded when he told the story of how he wrote “Midnight at the Movies” with the great poet Gregory Corso in mind. It’s this kind of in-depth story and his heartfelt lyrics that allow him the ability to say, “[country music] is the only thing left to be narrow minded about.” (Author’s note: I would concur wholeheartedly)
Playing parallel to Justin Townes Earle was the Alabama Shakes. The Shakes spelled the beginning of the bigger names that would play the rest of Friday. This also happened to be right around the end of the workday. Those just arriving were greeted at the main entrance with Brittany Howard and her absolutely unbelievable voice on the main stage. Playing “Hold On” and commanding the attention of every member of the audience was reminiscent of Outside Lands 2012. The Alabama Shakes are taking the festival circuit seriously and on this occasion they drew more fans than the likes of Jane’s Addiction at the festival’s marquee stage. Playing after the Shakes, in a bit of an interesting situation, was Blues Traveler. Big John Popper and company was put on the smallest stage of the event. This was an interesting selection by the festival’s architects as this also meant a smaller crowd area for a group of guys that were bonafide megastars in their prime. In fact, they were so underestimated by the concert’s promoters that the fire marshal was actually on hand and preventing security from allowing VIP ticket holders from entering their reserved area due to overcrowding. Popper and the gang didn’t disappoint. Playing crowd favorites “Hook” and “Run Around” was to be expected, but when they broke into renditions of Sublime’s “What I Got” and the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” they brought the house down.
Following Blues Traveler were the true heavy hitters of day one. The Shins were a great band to finally see live. Playing a very eclectic mix of their catalog, the crowd was very receptive to “Simple Song” off of their 2012 release Port of Morrow. James Mercer continues to impress with the broadening of his capabilities after his collaborations with Modest Mouse and Broken Bells and shows no signs of slowing down. Shortly after the Shins took the stage, ultra weird Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips began their set a couple hundred yards away. For those who haven’t seen this group of crazies, you need to. Like, right now. Buy tickets before you read the next sentence. Done? Ok, let’s summarize what you just purchased. Coyne stood on a raised platform draped in a shiny turquoise suit holding a baby doll. He proceeded to hold this doll for the first couple of songs. During this time, he pretended to play with the baby while singing. Trippy shit, I know. Once Coyne decided the baby had enough, he put it down and picked up a trumpet with a flare attached to the end. After lighting the flare, “The W.A.N.D” began and Coyne stood on his platform and gyrated while waving his “wand.” To prove they aren’t the only crazies in the music world, they covered fellow weirdo David Bowie’s “We Can Be Heroes” as well. The Lips are a must see. Putting their actions into words is a futile attempt and will never match what you can see with your own two eyes. Therefore, good thing you just bought those tickets. You’ll see what I mean very soon.
Then it was time for the big show. Firestone High School’s own Black Keys were making their way to the stage. Now, there’s a reason why Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach are the class of the rock and roll universe at the moment. When two people can make music that sounds like it takes the best of every decade since the 1950s, roll it into each and every song, and then make it your own, you’re doing something special. The Keys started their set with “Howlin’ For You” off of Brothers and managed to play songs off of nearly every album. “Little Black Submarines” from El Camino, “Your Touch” from Magic Potion, and “Strange Times” from Attack and Release just to name a few. While the sounds seemed a little distorted at times, the guys managed to play through it and put on an incredible show. At this point, seeing the Black Keys perform is like the ultimate sing along. Hearing song after song that everyone in the crowd knows as well as you do makes the experience that much more memorable. It was the perfect way to end our first day of the festival. Spirits were high, people were happy, and Edward Sharpe was playing the next day. What wasn’t to like?
Day 2: Saturday
Saturday was a much different lineup than that of Friday. One would think that Saturday would feature a larger portion of the bigger names on the festival card because patrons would be able to spend the entire day on the grounds. However, this wasn’t the case. Best Coast opened the day on the main stage to a rather sparse crowd. With such a small crowd, the band seemed very stale on stage. This could have been because lead singer Bethany Cosentino openly admitted she was excruciatingly hungover, but we’ll chalk that up to playing at noon on a Saturday, and knowing your audience wouldn’t exactly be rife with energy. Nonetheless, they closed with “Boyfriend” and received a favorable reaction. One was just left to think they could have really put on a much more energetic show later in the day with a crowd who was ready to enjoy themselves and weren’t just arriving an getting their bearings for the day.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ “Janglin”
As mentioned earlier, BottleRock, like most other festivals, featured many acts that seemed to fly under the radar. Saturday’s diamond in the rough was the Carolina Chocolate Drops. After hearing the first song of their set, one would have just assumed they were a dustbowl style string band. One member was playing the kazoo while another played the spoons. Yes, I said he was playing the spoons. Not only was he playing them, but he was so good at them, he had his own damn solo. Oh, and his solo was so amazing, he received a pretty loud roar from the respectable crowd that had gathered at the festival’s smallest stage. Their second tune was a sung in traditional Haitian Creole and their third was music from the Scottish Highlands. You want versatility in a band? Well, these guys reinvented themselves more times in one set than Radiohead has in their entire career, and that’s saying something. Keep the Carolina Chocolate drops on your “Bands to Watch Out For” list, they’ll be one to see here very soon.
Next up were two of the most anticipated acts of the festival…outside of the Black Keys. Jane’s Addiction, led by the ageless Perry Ferrell, took the stage to some serious fanfare. It became more obvious as the show went on; there was a growing amount of people watching this show that had bought tickets to see this act specifically. Gen X showed up in droves. Starting with “Mountain Song” the rock and roll vets got the crowd’s blood pumping. Ferrell and Dave Navarro have lost nothing with age. Their stage presence alone is worth seeing them live. There’s just something to be said about the old guard of rock and roll when you see them live. It’s like when you were a kid and you were watching a rated R movie without your parent’s permission. There’s a certain thrill to it. You’re seeing people do things that are just so crazy and out of control that you know if your parents saw it, they would judge you for liking it. It may not be that this same excitement is missing in today’s musicians, but a lot of acts just don’t have that “Fuck You” rock and roll attitude that bands of the 1990s and before had. Anyway, Jane’s Addiction will never get old. Launching into “Been Caught Stealing” and “Jane Says” was enough to get me to go home and just toss on Nothing’s Shocking. If you get the chance to see them before their inevitable breakup, again, take it. Seriously, take it.
The final act that Ourvinyl took in for the weekend was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. If you have never seen this spirited bunch, than are missing out on what may be one of the most interactive shows in music. Alexander Ebert and his cast of merry pranksters play to the crowd in a way that is unrivaled in today’s music scene. As was learned earlier in the day from drummer Orpheo McCord, the band has no setlist and makes their show up on the fly, and therefore judging the crowd’s energy and what they feel the crowd might feed on the most. Alex was suffering from the flu on this day, so it made choices from their catalog that much more difficult, or so one would think. Starting with “40 Day Dream” off of their debut album Up From Below He powered through some extremely difficult vocal runs with the help his band mates and adoration from the crowd who’d been looking forward to seeing him all day. Even with an album more recent than Up From Below, to became glaringly obvious that the crowd was there to hear Alex woo them with his original masterpiece. He seemed happy to oblige and worked his way through “Janglin,” “Carries On,” “Up From Below,” and “Home.” In what may be the most memorable moment of the entire festival, Alex went into the crowd (for the second time) during the last interlude of “Home” and began asking members of the audience to tell his a story. After a couple of profanity laden attempts and a drunk girl telling everyone to, “[…] fucking dance!” Alex found what he was looking for. The storyteller spun a tale of a previous Zeros show at which he was invited on stage and given a chance to play the harmonica. He admitted his failed attempt at the instrument but noted that it urged him to learn to play it. As he told his story, his instrument materialized and he again played a few hastily thrown together notes before he admitted just how drunk he was on this occasion. Regardless, the kid had been featured in his second Sharpe show in as many years. This is somewhat of a microcosm of their shows, completely unscripted and fun for both the band and their dedicated fans. It didn’t hurt that the sun was beginning to set over Napa Valley in the background, thus painting an absolutely magnificent picture of a fantastic performance and final evening for Ourvinyl at BottleRock 2013.
For those of you who made it through this monster of an article, or just cheated and went straight to the bottom after the tease, you can purchase you 2014 BottleRock tickets now here. Promo codes of “2014” or “thank you” will get you discounts on next year’s passes. After this year’s lineup, I can’t imagine anything less than absolute greatness next year. Hope to see you there!
Written by Mitch Inkrott
OurVinyl | Contributor