Editor’s note: Register music writer David Kerns is writing a daily diary from the BottleRock music festival. Here is his submission from Sunday, Day 3 of the festival.
You’ve come a long way, baby
Latitude 38 CEO Dave Graham was asked at a news conference on Sunday to talk about BottleRock’s growth potential. He stated clearly that quality, rather than expansion, was the focus. “We don’t really have plans for growth,” Graham said, “we have plans for improvement. For growth, we’re kind of capped. We just really want to create loyal customers, repeat customers, and continue to raise the bar relative to the BottleRock experience.”
Jason Scoggins, one of the three Latitude 38 partners, had talked with me on Saturday about what attention to quality looks like in real time. “We built a big wooden boat, literally and figuratively, that had never been in the water,” he said, “and Friday at 11:30 we pushed it into the water and we got to find out real quick where the leaks were, and we spent all day Friday working on fixing those leaks, plugging those leaks.
“We were here till 1 in the morning talking about game planning and got together early Saturday morning and talked about executing those plans. I probably walked 20 miles on Saturday fixing all those problems out. It’s a ton of little things. There’s been zero crises.”
It’s an understatement to say that BottleRock has come a long way. After a talent-laden but financially catastrophic first effort by previous producers in 2013, there was near certainty that the festival would not be resurrected. I spoke with Jim Harrington, the ace music journalist of Bay Area News Group (includes the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune), about his perspective on the history of the festival.
“I just want to say that’s it’s amazing that it’s still here,” Harrington said. “I really believed that the hole that was dug the first year, in terms of tarnish to the name, to the financial difficulties, I thought the hole was too big to climb out of. I did not think there would be a BottleRock year 2. I thought that it was going to be this thing that we’d be talking about, ‘say, remember when they tried to do a music festival in Napa?’
“And it’s just been amazing to see what the guys at Latitude have been able to do, not only to save it, put a Band-Aid on it, which was what year 2 was about, but actually turn it into something that has a real future. I believe that it is one of the marquee festivals in the U.S. It’s something that people travel for. If you want to plan for BottleRock 2019, go ahead and plan for it. It’s going to be here.
“There are not a lot of festivals like BottleRock,” Harrington added. “As far as something that holds 40,000 people per day, the way it is nestled into this all very manageable area, that’s unique. You go to Outside Lands and you walk between the two furthest stages, it’s a dozen-plus city blocks. I have to go between stages, but if I were a fan I’d be making decisions very carefully.
“Here you can split sets, which is so important. It’s one of the things that’s made SXSW (South by Southwest) so successful, the fact that you can go from spot to spot to spot, you don’t have to decide where you’re going to be for the whole day. And you get that here. I’m not going to feel like I’m killing myself going between stages.
“I’m just super glad this thing made it, having been through the whole thing. This is not teetering. It’s here, get used to it, make your plans for next year, get your hotel room now.”
Martin Lacey is a seasoned rock music photographer. I asked him about his experience here and to compare the Napa festival with other major rock festivals. “I’ve been lucky enough to be at all four BottleRocks,” Lacey said, “and I’ve seen somewhat of an evolution. This one is the best organized.
“In comparison to other festivals, I think it skews slightly older. Not surprisingly, being in Napa there’s more of a wine and food culture, more affluence I think in general. So the type of folks that like Napa tend to come to this festival.
“Most festivals are known for specific things, so Coachella, for example, is known for having an L.A. crowd, a younger crowd and a more EDM (electronic dance music) sort of feel to it. BottleRock is starting to develop its own feel, and that feel includes food and wine at the forefront, it’s not just a music festival. But it’s not a food and wine festival with some bands that were dragged out. Premier acts are coming here.”
“And because it skews older,” Lacey added, “I think people are likely to be nicer. I think it’s indicative of the town of Napa, which I find to be a friendly place. Winemaking and food, there’s almost this European, laid back culture to the town which seems to have extended to the festival as well. It doesn’t have that ‘too cool for school’ kind of thing. People are happy to be here to experience good music.
“There are festivals that I would regard as less friendly than BottleRock, actually I would say most of them. Most people like music. If you can combine that with food and wine and the promise that you’re not going to get trampled on, and the weather’s probably going to be good, it’s pretty secure and you can bring your kids to it, you’re on to something there. There’s very few festivals that are really welcoming to families. Together, those are all differentiators.”
“This is one of the few festivals that I would come to if I wasn’t shooting it,” Lacey said. “Just for fun.”
If you had the endurance and good luck to show up at the BottleRock after-show at the Napa Valley Opera House Sunday night, you got a whole lot more than advertised. Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins’ side band, Chevy Metal, was the scheduled headliner. One all-star drummer was apparently not enough, though, and Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and Green Day’s Tré Cool showed up to take turns behind the kit. Before the night was out, two more Peppers, Flea and Josh Klinghoffer, joined in and so did The Struts lead singer Luke Spiller and blues harmonica ace and world-famous rock photographer Danny Clinch. Oh, what a night.