BottleRock Napa review and photo essay

Outkast’s André 3000 made a fashion statement of sorts. 

—by Paul Piazza

Nineties nostalgia and $20 wine: Last year’s inaugural BottleRock Napa festival was an artistic success, but a financial disaster. While bands like Kings of Leon and the Black Keys were paid top dollar and put up in extravagant wine country digs,  mulitple vendors were allegedly stiffed and the original promoters filed for bankruptcy. They left an unpaid tab of over $8 million and a general feeling that the festival wouldn’t continue. 

Then Napa local David Graham (son of the late concert promoter legend Bill Graham) and the Latitude 38 Entertainment group intervened. Long story short, the result was last weekend’s successful reboot with notable headliners such as Outkast, Weezer, Eric Church and The Cure. Better yet, the event was both fan-friendly, simple to navigate and boasted a terrifically tempting food garden that featured reasonably priced offerings from Napa eateries—well, reasonably priced for Napa anyway. A nice glass of Cabernet ran about $20.  

With four stages, music played constantly. Still, prior to the festival’s start, there’d been some carping about the line-up being a little heavy on the ’90s acts, ultimately it seemed to satiate festival goers. On Friday night, the Cure played a two-and-a-half hour set and sounded amazing in what was first of only a handful of scheduled U.S. shows they’ll play in 2014. 

Other highlights included Matisyahu surprising the audience by playing a set that almost entirely comprised brand new songs from his new album Akeda, which at that point at not yet been released. Also, Matt and Kim blew the crowd away with frantic antics and pure enthusiasm.

Outkast may have been the festival’s loudest, but Weezer had a great moment where the sound cut out and the crowd gleefully took over the singing until it came back on. Robert Earl Keen played one of the events finest sets. And Sacramento’s Autumn Sky made the most of a great opportunity, playing a well-received set early on Saturday. 

Going forward, Graham says he wants to keep the festival reasonably sized while constantly improving upon the talent, food and wine offerings. “We are not ever going to bring in 50,000 people even if we could,”  the promoter said Saturday, as attendance neared a comfortably crowded 30,000. “It’s about experiencing music on a level [the fans] experience.”

Here are some photos from the weekend:

Robert Smith of the Cure sported his trademark red lipstick and black clothes.

Matisyahu performed a lot of his new album Akeda.

Robert Earl Keen brought some Americana stylings to the show.

Weezer guitarist Brian Bell shredded right in front of the group’s logo.

A couple of festivalgoers rocked the furry hats—classic Bay Area scenester headwear.

Autumn Sky played a great Saturday-afternoon set, just hours after rocking a Radiohead tribute show in Sacramento on Friday night.

Kim Schifino of Matt and Kim said “What’s up?” to the crowd.

Matt and Kim’s Matt Johnson got the crowd going, too.

Schifino (Kim) of Matt and Kim threw balloons into the crowd.

Kyp Malone sang and played guitar during TV on the Radio’s set.

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article refered to BottleRock promoter David Graham as “son of the late concert promoter legend Billy Graham.” He’s not; he just shares the same name as the famous promoter’s son. This error has subsequently been corrected via a strikethrough. 

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