Well, we made it. For the fourth year in a row, Napa and the surrounding valley endured three days of massive crowds reveling in wine, food, music and more on a hot and crammed Memorial Day weekend event.
The sold-out BottleRock Napa Valley festival filled the downtown exposition fairgrounds with upwards of 40,000 people each day. Aside from the now standard traffic woes getting into and out of the festival and a few odd occurrences, the crowds undauntedly rocked out for the full weekend.
Friday, May 27, featured Napa acts the Deadlies and Anadel opening the day with local musical flavor. From there, fans got a chance to choose between the dance beats of La Misa Negra and the roots-punk of Fantastic Negrito, both based in Oakland.
Los Angeles indie rock band Bird Dog played a chilled-out set on the Lagunitas Stage, the last under its current moniker and first for lead singer Maxim Rainer’s eight-week old daughter, in attendance with giant headphones over her ears.
Friday’s musical highlight came in the form of blues legend Buddy Guy, playing on the festival’s smallest stage for some reason, yet sizzling with a set of triumphant guitar work. The culinary highlight of the day was undoubtedly the appearance of chef Gordon Ramsay, cooking up some scallops and ribbing the crowd with his signature salty language.
BottleRock’s strangest scene also came on Friday, from the unlikely source of headliner Stevie Wonder. After opening with a string of popular hits, Wonder stopped the show cold when he decided to “honor” recently passed songwriters like Prince, Glenn Frey and David Bowie by playing some of their songs from his computer, shuffling through an iPod to the growing bewilderment of the massive crowd before launching into a grand rendition of “Superstition.”
Saturday’s theme was heat, as temperatures rose to nearly 90 degrees. Old-school hip-hop group the Pharcyde, who pioneered throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care back in 1992, dominated the afternoon. Saturday’s headliners, Florence and the Machine, performed one of the best sets of the fest.
By Sunday, the sun was having its way with the crowd, and the bodies littered on blankets began to outnumber the feet dancing on the lawns. Still, the music played on and an international lineup of bands, including British bluesman Jamie N Commons and Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, delighted those who were able to stick it out.
The biggest question mark on the lineup was Sunday headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as lead singer Anthony Kiedis was hospitalized on May 15 with an intestinal flu. Luckily for fans, Kiedis and the band played a spectacular career-spanning set of hits and fan favorites to close out the weekend.