Editor’s note: Register music writer David Kerns is writing a daily diary from the BottleRock music festival. Here is his submission from Friday, Day One of the festival.
It’s safe to say that many or even most Napa rock ‘n’ roll fans know The Deadlies. The non-rockers may also be aware of the band’s bassist, Bob St. Laurent, from his long-running gig on local morning radio.
They are a busy surf-rock party band that is often called upon to warm up audiences at major events and concerts, for example an upcoming tour supporting Billy Bob Thornton’s band. They were perfect, then, as the main stage opener for BottleRock 2016.
These guys go for it from moment one; subtlety is not their thing. Aside from being very capable veteran musicians playing classic good-time music, they have a sense of theater. Exhibits one, two and three were the three go-go dancers in thong bikinis with the band from start to finish. The band’s original name says a good deal about their musical intention. Before foreshortening, they were The Deadly or Potentially Harmful Surf Fanatics.
The band members are St. Laurent on bass, James Patrick Regan on vocals and guitar and Colin Douglas on drums. The most surprising thing about them, aside from the go-go dancers, was the revelation that Douglas is the lead percussionist of the San Francisco Symphony.
By their very nature, multi-stage music festivals require choices. On Friday evening, Lenny Kravitz and Buddy Guy performed in roughly the same time slot. Being from Chicago, I had little difficulty making up my mind.
Listening to Buddy Guy play the blues, it is mind-blowing that the man is about to have his 80th birthday. He is not just a bluesman in the traditional sense, playing classical 12-bar tunes with an authentic guitar voice. He is a bold and aggressive soloist, and an adventurer. He is also a narrator with a wicked wit and an R-rated vocabulary.
The surprise in this performance, at least for this fan, was Ric Hall, Guy’s second guitarist, a dazzling soloist matching the master, and prone to breaking into Jimi Hendrix-like moments. Guy gave him the stage several times, and he, as they say, killed it. Overall, this was a thrilling performance by a legend and an up-and-comer to watch.
Sound and light
A few weeks ago, BottleRock CEO Dave Graham said that, among other improvements, they had upped the ante on both the main stage sound and video systems. The quality of the sound was, band to band, superb, clear and without distortion.
At this, and any festival, you don’t get the full effect of the lighting and video until after sunset. Stevie Wonder’s closing set on the main stage was visually luminous. Watching from more than half way back, more than a hundred yards from the stage, the brightness, color and resolution on the two towering video screens flanking the stage were remarkable and clearly an upgrade from 2015. They have technically nailed it.
Michael Franti, joy evangelist
As he is prone to do, Michael Franti spent the better part of his main stage performance in the crowd, wandering far and wide amid the fans. It helps that he is 6-feet, 6 inches tall and relatively easy to see, for us and for the video cameramen. He does this in bare feet, never, apparently, injuring himself.
If he weren’t so talented, and utterly luminous, his shtick and his relentlessly upbeat music and lyrics might be perceived as corny or preachy, but that’s not how this audience, or any other I’ve seen him with, responded. All you see are smiles and singing and dancing people in every direction.
A 40-ish women directly behind me seemed to be having the time of her life, pogo-ing, beaming, swaying. We’d made smiling contact several times during the set. At the end of one of the songs, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I was in the coronary care unit 11 days ago.” The song was “Good to be Alive Today.”