Gabe Meyers walks the empty grounds of the Napa Valley Expo, imagining how it’s going to go off. Some workers assemble scaffolding down the way. The occasional golf cart whizzes past. Banners out front announce a barn dance for the local 4-H chapter and the Napa-Solano Home and Garden Show.
Meyers’ event is a little bit bigger—and louder. BottleRock Napa Valley, in fact, is the largest, craziest event that’s ever been planned for Napa. Sixty-eight bands. Sixteen comedians. Four stages. Up to 35,000 people each day.
4-H barn dance, eat your heart out.
“If there’s one way to protect the future,” Meyers says confidently, “it’s to go big. We’re on the map now. Our goal was to establish this as a must-do, for artists and fans alike, early on in the festival season.”
With big size comes big headaches. Today, a week before BottleRock kicks off with a pre-festival concert by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Meyers has been pummeled with logistics. He’s been in even more meetings with the city today. He’s just talked again to the fire marshal. A couple days prior, Furthur, his Thursday night headliner, canceled, citing Bob Weir’s collapse onstage the week before in New York.
But Meyers is nothing if not determined, and one can sense he’s certain he’s already won. “Clearly, the response from the talent, the response from the customer—it’s something people want to be a part of,” he says. “This is already happening; we’re not going backwards on this.”
In other words: Napa, open your doors to the biggest, craziest lineup the North Bay has ever seen.
The night before the full BottleRock lineup was announced in January, a photo of a fax on BottleRock letterhead featuring a hoax “lineup” spread around the internet. It listed the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Beck, Jack White, Robin Williams, the Pixies, Louis CK, New Order, Fiona Apple and other bands that were surely too good to be true.
But come the next morning’s official announcement, the fake fax lineup had also listed many of what turned out to be verified bands. Flaming Lips. Alabama Shakes. Macklemore. Zac Brown Band. Ben Harper. Bad Religion. Jackson Browne. Andrew Bird. Wallflowers. If you’re reading this, you know the others—the Black Keys, Primus, the Avett Brothers, Kings of Leon, Jane’s Addiction, Dirty Projectors, Violent Femmes, the Shins, Dwight Yoakam, Iron & Wine and many, many mind-boggling more. “Too good to be true” was, well, just plain true.
How’d they do it? Credit must be given to talent buyer Sheila Groves-Tracey of Notable Talent, a Petaluma resident who in the past has booked New George’s in San Rafael and the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, and who now manages the Uptown Theatre. Both Vogt and Meyers credit Groves-Tracey with being “a huge help” in handling the booking.
But the biggest question is about who’s putting up the money, and on that point, Meyers and BottleRock cofounder Bob Vogt keep quiet. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss that,” says Vogt, in the middle of the fairgrounds’ huge, empty field, soon to be filled with screaming fans. Meyers is only slightly more forthcoming: “The funding specifically for this event has come from a variety of sources: private equity, sponsorships, and ourselves.”
“Ourselves” means two guys who have only a little experience in the concert-promotion business—they’ve held numerous benefits for Giants fan Bryan Stow at Napa’s Uptown Theater, in which Vogt is a partner—and none putting on a festival. Which is what makes BottleRock such a tremendous underdog story. Most festivals of comparable stature are booked by Live Nation, AEG Live, C3 Presents or Another Planet Entertainment. That two Napa locals and a Petaluma talent buyer are presenting BottleRock, with no outside promoter, is more than impressive—it’s got everyone in the industry talking.
It certainly has locals talking, too. Because 35,000 people is nearly half the population of the city—and because there’s only a handful of roads in and out of town and fairgrounds parking is scarce to nonexistent—some critics of the festival suggest the possibility for disaster.
“People talk about all these logistical issues and everything,” says Vogt, “and I keep coming back to the basic point that it’s as great a lineup as anyone has seen, I think, in a long time. People will figure out how to park and get here when there’s great music.”
Meyers likes to say that the idea for the festival came to him when he was in utero at Altamont—he was born in August 1970—and, in fact, he and Vogt thought about using Altamont’s original location, Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) for BottleRock. Vogt and Meyers also bandied around the idea of a South-by-Southwest–type setup, with concerts at multiple venues around town nightly. But after talks with other promoters, it was decided that the Napa Valley Expo had the type of infrastructure perfect for a festival—power, toilets, buildings, big open fields. And, Vogt notes, the Napa Valley itself provided an alluring reason for a lot of bands to say yes.
“We just thought it would be a historic opportunity for the Napa Valley to come together,” says Vogt, “to kick off something of this size, and of this transformational sort of nature.”
The festival is transformational for Napa from an economic standpoint, as well. Hotel rooms normally going for $329 are going for $799, Meyers says, and “if we average 30,000 people a day, I’m sure there’ll be a calculation coming in around $30 million of economic impact.”
Today, while the large wooden guitars made by Napa artist Richard Von Saal are going in at the Expo, and while around the corner, artists Tim Kopra and Paul Slack construct a triangular sculpture for the VIP area, Vogt says he’s thinking only of preparations for executing everything properly. But Meyers allows a little bit of wistful nostalgia for when the last bands load out and BottleRock is over.
“It is really, really gratifying that so many friends and family have participated. So knowing me, I’ll feel a little bit like summer vacation’s over, ’cause everybody’s gonna disappear,” he says.
Don’t rule out a 2014 BottleRock, however.
“We’ll get back together,” Meyers promises. “We’re planning for next year, definitely.”
This is only a select list. For full lineup, see www.bottlerocknapavalley.com.
The Black Keys
What You Need to Know The duo once recorded an album inside an old rubber tire factory in their hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Song You Hope They’ll Play “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” a Junior Kimbrough cover.
From the Gossip Pages In 2011, drummer Patrick Carney’s ex-wife wrote “Snapshots from a Rock ‘N’ Roll Marriage,” about the couple’s tumultuous marriage and eventual split.
What You Need to Know Just see them. Then you’ll know.
Song You Hope They’ll Play “Hold On,” which blows away the Wilson Phillips song of the same name by miles.
Let’s Compare! Singer Brittany Howard gets the Janis Joplin comparison on an hourly basis, but she’s far more reliable live.
What You Need to Know Primus is led by the best damn rock bassist in the world. Even folks in the pit will stop at one point to gawk at the thunderous pounding and plucking of Les Claypool’s mindboggling fingers.
Song You Hope They’ll Play An incredible claymation video for “Southbound Pachyderm” was made in 1995, involving a kidnapped elephant and an evil dictator. Hopefully, they’ll show the video, too.
Join in the Chant Fans routinely chant “Primus sucks!” at their shows. It’s a term of endearment.
Kings of Leon
What You Need to Know In 2010, the Kings cut their set short in St. Louis because a flock of pigeons decided to shit all over the band.
Song You Hope They’ll Play “Taper Jean Girl,” the last song the band played while pigeons were shitting all over them.
What Could Go Wrong Napa has even bigger pigeons than St. Louis.
What You Need to Know This hip group uses a lot of electronic sounds on record and recreates them live almost perfectly.
Song You Hope They’ll Play The badass rhythm, powerful yet sweet female vocals and sweet ear candy guitar parts of “Stillness Is the Move” are groove-inducing.
You Should Bring Dancing shoes, tight pants, dark sunglasses and a goatskin pouch.
What You Need to Know It’s as if this band were cryogenically frozen in 1994 and thawed out a couple years ago to teach overproduced hipster bands a lesson. And they don’t even know how to use the “three seashells.”
Song You Hope They’ll Play “When I’m with You,” the saddest happy song you’ll hear all day.
Surf’s Up Best Coast is often categorized as surf rock, which is odd considering they don’t surf and their music has nothing to do with the sport. Don’t be fooled.
What You Need to Know They’re one of the biggest bands in Latin America and won three Grammy awards for their last album.
Song You Hope They’ll Play That haunting acoustic version of “Maria,” about a beautiful ghost that roams the city at night. And “Chilanga Banda”; Mexico City is famous for its slang dialect that almost no one can understand—and the band put every single catcall and cussword in existence into this rowdy crowd inciter.
What You’ll See Lots of spastic jumping around, Spanish-speakers belting out the lyrics and maybe some artist-inspired communal hugging.
What You Need to Know The baddest honky-tonker to ever pull a ten-gallon hat over his eyes.
Song You Hope He’ll Play “Little Ways.”
Watch Your Back, Though An occasional actor, Yoakam played an abusive boyfriend in Sling Blade and a psychopathic killer in Panic Room.
What You Need to Know He once recorded an album, 1,000 Years of Popular Music, spanning traditional songs from 1068 to Britney Spears.
Song You Hope He’ll Play “1952 Black Vincent Lightning” is as technically thrilling as it is emotionally moving.
As a Laddie Thompson was born in Notting Hill, before the movie of the same name and before the neighborhood got all fancy-schmancy.
Justin Townes Earle
What You Need to Know Steve Earle is his pops; Townes van Zandt is his namesake.
Song You Hope He’ll Play “Harlem River Blues,” with its catchy chorus of “Tonight I’m going uptown to the Harlem River to drown,” is sure to be crowd-pleaser.
What Could Go Wrong The dapper singer-songwriter always looks impeccable, but in front of such a large crowd, in the heat, it’s hard not to wonder if the hair gel will run or bow-tie go askew.
Iron and Wine
What You Need to Know Lead singer Samuel Beam is not related to Jim Beam; his band name comes from a dietary supplement; and his cover of “Such Great Heights” was the wedding song for a certain Bohemian staff writer.
Song You Hope They’ll Play “Sodom, South Georgia” once inspired said Bohemian staff writer to take a road trip through the Peach State until she realized it wasn’t a real place. It’s desolate and hopeful and heartbreaking enough to be real.
Watch the Crowd For White people drinking Jim Beam and crying like fools.
What You Need to Know Started busking in Milwaukee and hit college radio with “Blister in the Sun,” featuring the most recognizable bass line from the 1980s.
Song You Hope They’ll Play “Never Tell,” a hypnotic minor-key dirge that the band inhabits and completely transforms live.
So Happy Together Singer Gordon Gano broke up the band by selling “Blister in the Sun” to Wendy’s against band mates’ wishes; they recently kissed and made up.
Rodrigo y Gabriela
What You Need to Know They perfected their magnificent guitar skills playing in a thrash metal band in Mexico City before moving to Europe.
Song You Hope They’ll Play A medley of Metallica and Slayer covers mixed in with “Stairway to Heaven,” and the original flamenco-inspired “Tamacun.”
Viva Obama! They were invited to play at the White House when the Obamas hosted the president of Mexico.
What You Need to Know John Doe once punched out a guy at a party in L.A. for making moves on his then-wife, singer Exene Cervenka.
Song You Hope They’ll Play “The Hungry Wolf,” a driving beast of a song.
Is He a Statue? Guitarist Billy Zoom tends to stand immobile on stage, legs spread, strumming and smiling calmly.
Girls & Boys
What You Need to Know These Sonoma County darlings were crowed Best Indie Band at the 2012 NorBay Music Awards.
Song You Hope They’ll Play The heart-wrenching tribute to local guitar legend Johnny Downer, “Johnny’s Song,” which might provoke a few tears in the crowd.
Why They Are Awesome Because only a handful of local artists were selected to perform on the BottleRock stages.
Sharon Van Etten
What You Need to Know Last year’s album, Tramp, keeps making new converts.
Song You Hope She’ll Play “I’m Wrong,” which builds in emotional intensity to inexplicable, joyful terror.
The Page Factor It’s not unusual to see her backing band playing their guitars with violin bows.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
What You Need to Know One of their members actually, legitimately plays a jug.
Song You Hope They’ll Play Although most of their numbers are based on traditional roots music from the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, they do a mean cover of “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”
Watch the Crowd For Tweens wanting to hear that one song from The Hunger Games soundtrack.
What You Need to Know Known as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jett was named by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Song You Hope She’ll Play “Bad Reputation” is the anthem for justifying unladylike behavior of females everywhere.
Watch Out For Lake County biker chicks pummeling frat boys.
WHERE DO I PARK?
There are 12,000 spaces for parking at BottleRock. Parking is $20 per prepaid space, $30 the day of the event. VIP pass holders can park for free in special lots. Five people in a vehicle equals a free space. Shuttles to the festival are free.
From the south: Parking lot is at the Napa Pipe property on Kaiser Road. Opens at 9am. Service starts at 10am, with shuttle frequency every 10 minutes; drop off is at Third Street and Soscol Avenue.
From the north: Parking lot is at Vintage High School and Napa High School (weekdays after 5pm, weekends all day). Service starts at 10:30am. Shuttle frequency is every 10 to 20 minutes; drop off is at Clay and Juarez streets.
Free valet bike parking is offered at Third Street and Soscol Avenue.
Round-trip buses are available from San Francisco, Oakland, Concord, San Rafael and Sacramento for $29 per seat.
Buses leave at 10am and arrive in Napa in time for the first act. Departure time from the festival is 11pm. There’s also a 1am bus for stragglers.
Bus pickups are: San Francisco Caltrain Station at AT&T Park (700 Fourth St.); San Francisco Union Square (335 Powell St.); Oakland Rockridge BART Station (5660 College Ave.); Concord BART Station (1451 Oakland Ave.); San Rafael, Marin Civic Center (10 Avenue of the Flags); and Sacramento Capitol (10th Street between L and N streets).
For more, see www.bottlerocknapavalley.com.