Never has a festival jumped onto the ‘90s nostalgia train as BottleRock Napa Valley 2014 did. Curated largely around bands that peaked more than a decade ago — including The Cure, Weezer, Blues Traveler, Third Eye Blind, Barenaked Ladies, Smashmouth & LL Cool J — it was easy to wonder if aiming for an older demographic made sense when it’s largely youngsters that are feeding the current festival boom.
So was this a smart move for a festival in the heart of wine country? Damn straight it was.
The Napa Valley location screams “destination-event” for folks 15-years into building their 401K, helping to feed the local economy in a serious rebound year. But it’s dangerous to throw all the musical eggs into such a narrow basket. Enter OutKast, the festival booking of the summer, and other strategically-placed artist options that appeal beyond mainstream radio. Year two has proved that BottleRock Napa Valley is eclectic in a way that is truly their own.
In the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback, as the third iteration of BRNV has already been announced. Now that opinions have settled and the wine stains have been removed, here are our top five sets of the weekend, along with a breakdown of BottleRock changes this year, for better or worse.
Top 5 Sets of the Weekend
Robert Smith still has “it”. Simply put, the 50-something frontman is still the musical force he was well over 30 years ago, and he effortlessly proved that to a modest, yet passionate crowd. Being rewarded with the longest set of the weekend was no surprise and it was easily tackled by Smith and cohorts as they jumped seamlessly between slightly more obscure tracks such as “alt.end” or “Never Enough” and sing-along hits like “Lovesong” and “Friday I’m In Love”. “Before Three” was a hardcore-fan favorite as it has been considered a shining light on 2004’s self-titled and hadn’t been played on stage since the same year. All in all, this set was one massive treat for fans of The Cure as the superb sound, manageable crowd and intricate setlist added up to the undoubtable highlight set of the weekend. Hell, not even having the sound cut due to a strict curfew in the second encore during “Why Can’t I Be You?” could phase the band or crowd. -KQ
TV On The Radio
One of the more avant-garde sets of the weekend came from TVOTR as they rocked a mid-sized Friday afternoon crowd. Many attendees were camping out for The Cure and were treated to a twelve song barrage of hits and reconfigured favorites. Working the heat-stricken crowd, the band debuted three new songs off an album in the works, igniting a strong response from die-hard fans — two of which were played mid-set before launching full throttle into a stirring second half of their performance, including an spectacular punk rendition of “Staring at the Sun”, played at double the pace. Other highlight tracks included “Golden Age”, “Halfway Home” and an impressive delivery of “Wolf Like Me”, riveting the crowd to unleash their inner beasts. -MK
Saturday clearly took the crown for busiest day in celebration of André 3000 & Big Boi’s reunion tour appearance, and disappoint they did not. Tightly produced and incident free, OutKast’s headlining set kept the fairgrounds bouncin’ and engaged, often relating between-song banter to the Bay Area. For anyone that attended the first weekend of Coachella, this was a redemption show. It was nearly the same set list and performance, but this time without the technical glitches and awkward stage presence of André 3000. While Big Boi is the consistent, poised professional, his partner is a bit of a wildcard, yet he shined bright this night. André 3000’s rhymes were clean and on point as he sported a jumpsuit with “I’ve never had F@cebook, Twitt@r or Inst@gram” written on it. The fairgrounds were alive all the way to the back, with virtually everyone vibing to the music. Overall, it was a winning return to Northern California, even though the Atlanta duo ended fifteen minutes early without an encore, disappointing many still hanging on every word from the last song of the night, “The Whole World”. -MF
Weezer was the best example of a band well equipped to override the generational gaps of the weekend. Beyond the likes of Third Eye Blind, Weezer is arguably the most successful band on the bill in the context of career spanning, mainstream radio airplay. Even after playing through the set’s first song “My Name Is Jonas”, completely unaware they were absent of sound, Weezer still went on to perform one of the most memorable sets of the weekend. It was a near-perfect technical glitch, causing the main-stage audience to erupt into uproarious cheers once amplified sound returned. Pulling from their long list of hit singles, Weezer covered their entire body of work and even managed to mix in some band improvisation and cover songs. Highlights included Rivers Cuomo and Patrick Wilson switching instruments for “Photograph” and a cover of Blur’s “Song 2”, as well as Scott Shriner working the Primus hit “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” into their self-titled album single, “Pork and Beans”. -MK
“The Deerhunter musical group,” as they were introduced on the smallest stage late Sunday, must have felt a bit out of place due to the sparse crowd and intimate setting. But Bradford Cox’s group paid no mind for this one-off performance. While Eric Church and The Fray played to much bigger audiences, Deerhunter’s unique combination of shoegaze, noise-pop, and psych-rock offered a clear alternative to mainstream fare. An opening section of ‘Nothing Ever Happened” into “Hazel St” from the group’s early material was blissfully extended into jam territory, led by guitarist Locket Pundt — the elongated bridge between the songs sounded like a Lotus Plaza cut, another group that Pundt fronts. Highlights from Deerhunter’s most recent records, Halcyon Digest and Monomania, filled out the set, and another extended segment from “Desire Lines” directly into “Helicopter” hypnotized. As expected, Deerhunter delivered a transcendent set that felt like something out of a dream. -MF
For Better or Worse…
Although similar in many aspects to BottleRock’s first year, many issues were vastly improved while certain complications remained.
•The amount of general admission bathrooms seemed as though they nearly doubled this time around, making it a very easy process to get in and out for the least favorite part of any festivalgoer’s experience.
• Larger and more staff-operated water filling stations kept concert attendees well-hydrated.
• There was an increase in knowledgeable and friendly volunteer staff who were generally excited to help with questions.
• Food options were improved, further enhanced by vendors on foot providing quick access to snacks and beverages without having to leave your spot amidst even the largest crowds of the weekend.
• The absence of last year’s indoor comedy showcases, which provided hilarious, air-conditioned entertainment away from the penetrable afternoon sun was disappointing.
• There were price increases and a lack of varietal options in the sponsored tasting rooms. Not being able to sample enough participating vineyards due to the $15 per glass price removed most concert goers from the “wine” identity of the festival.
• The wine pouches similar to Capri Sun were gone this year, and perhaps we should file this under “Improvements” since this meant there were way less “wombies” wondering the grounds this year.
• Encouragement of lawn chairs and blankets caused some spatial constraints throughout headliners sets and afternoon/evening crowds, particularly on Saturday. Although, those who set up vast camps by staking their claim early benefitted from the suggestion.
• For those that partook in the festival shuttle service to the parking lots four miles away, transportation issues remained or worsened. Between going to the wrong lots and sparse directions available upon leaving the venue, the BRNV’s travel turmoil remained at the forefront of festivalgoer discrepancy.
• Corporate sponsorships somehow increased this year, as video advertisements with audio between sets didn’t feel right, especially when daily tickets already cost $150.
• Set scheduling was a bit of a problem considering this year’s larger crowds. Whereas most festivals will organize acts to start/finish at separate intervals throughout the day, crowds we’re releasing from all three stages at parallel times throughout the weekend, unleashing hoards of folks upon vendors and bathrooms at the same time.