By Charlie Swanson
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 Memorial Day weekend.
By all accounts, the sold-out BottleRock Napa Valley event filled the downtown exposition fairgrounds with upwards of 40,000 people each day. And despite the now-standard traffic woes, crowds undauntedly rocked out for all of it.
Friday, May 27 opened with local musical flavor—Napa acts the Deadlies and Anadel were featured. From there, fans could choose between the dance beats of La Misa Negra and the roots punk of Fantastic Negrito, both based in Oakland.
On the Lagunitas Stage, Los Angeles indie rock band Bird Dog played a chilled-out set—the last under the current moniker and first for lead singer Maxim Rainer’s 8-week-old daughter, who wore giant headphones.
Friday’s musical highlight was blues legend Buddy Guy, sizzling with a set of triumphant guitar work. And BottleRock’s strangest scene also came on Friday, from 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; he shuffled through an iPod of hits 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. Musically, old-school hip-hop group the Pharcyde, who, back in 1992 pioneered throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care, dominated the afternoon. Reggae stars Ziggy Marley and Iration also brought the noise, as the masses passed up the craft beers in favor of the sounds.
Saturday’s headliners, Florence and the Machine, performed one of the best sets of the fest. The band was recently the subject of a viral video, performing a private acoustic concert for a hospice-bound fan in Austin, Texas, and the weekend’s emotionally-packed performance echoed that tear-jerking set of music—amplified for the thousands in attendance.
By Sunday, the sun was having its way with the crowd, and the bodies 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 stuck it out.
The biggest question mark on the lineup heading into the fest 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 event.