Bob Vogt, the co-producer of BottleRock at Napa Expo, is far from most people’s vision of a rock festival producer.
He is a lawyer who made a career of real estate development and created a chain of drive-up coffee kiosks, while dabbling in his dual passions for music and sports.
Through a twist of circumstances, Vogt is now one of the driving forces behind BottleRock, the biggest event to ever happen in Napa Valley.
Vogt, born and raised in La Jolla, graduated from UCLA and got his law degree at the University of Santa Clara. When he settled in Sausalito, he discovered that law wasn’t his passion. Instead, he started developing real estate in Mill Valley. About the same time, he reconnected with a college classmate named Teresa and married her.
He moved to Napa in 1981 at the urging of one of his mentors, viewing the community as a good place to raise kids.
Vogt worked on various projects including development of the Napa Yacht Club, selling his stake before the market turned sour.
In the early ‘90s, seeing Starbucks’ success, he founded the Caffino chain of espresso drive-ins (one operated in Bel Aire Plaza until recently), eventually owning 30.
That’s when he met Gabe Meyers, a young native of Napa who was then a barista at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. Impressed with him, Vogt made him his right-hand man.
Opening the Uptown
In 1998, after Napa County voters passed the flood control project, Vogt sensed opportunities in downtown Napa. Looking at the rundown Uptown Theatre, he and Meyers dreamed of showing thoughtful films for the community, not the commercial movies of the Cinedome.
On Christmas Day, 1998, they took over the movie house under a one-year lease.
They quickly learned that the auditorium didn’t have heat -— and that running an independent movie theater was challenging. “We had passionate fans,” he admits, “but not many of them.”
Vogt started practicing sports law to support his family and the theater. In the process, he met many sports figures he later worked with on charities and concerts.
When he realized that the Uptown couldn’t handle two partners, Vogt bought Meyers out, unfortunately not happily. They didn’t talk again for seven years, he said.
Meanwhile, he had met George Altamura, the prominent downtown property owner. Altamura needed to invest the proceeds from selling his wine venture to Darioush Khaledi. Vogt arranged a dinner with Altamura, entrepreneur Tim Herman and Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola.
During the dinner, Vogt suggested that Napa was ripe for a venue for headline music and comedy, and that idea resonated with the group.
Coppola endorsed the idea of restoring the theater, and though he didn’t get involved in the project, his blessing helped convince the others.
They bought the property and announced big plans. “We moved quickly — at first,” said Vogt. “Then George said, ‘Let’s slow down.’”
The canny developer saw the signs of economic trouble after 9/11 and the dot com bust: The flood control project was moving slowly, Copia was in trouble, the Opera House was struggling.
“He said, ‘The good news is that great things are coming, but not for a while.’” said Vogt.
With great regret, the partners reined in their plans.
Then in 2008, Vogt heard Lucinda Williams and Roseanne Cash at the Opera House, and both sold out the small auditorium. “It was time to go,” he felt.
Work started in earnest, though it took two years before the restored Uptown Theatre opened on May 14, 2010. It was a grand birthday present for Vogt.
They found Sheila Groves-Tracey, a top talent buyer with great connections, to be executive director, and started booking acts that drew people to Napa from all over the Bay Area.
Though a minority partner in the effort via a trust for his son, Vogt said he has been deeply involved in management and choosing artists. Though never a professional musician, he formed a band, Will Power, playing guitar, with his son Will as drummer and Meyers on bass.
An idea grows
Last year, Vogt and Meyers reconciled and formed Will Power Entertainment to produce events that combined entertainment and philanthropy based on his interest in music, sports and good causes.
The partners rented the Uptown for two successful concerts to benefit Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who was brutally beaten after a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. They also supported the Tug McGraw Foundation and autism research and treatment.
Last summer, the pair decided to do something bigger. “We wanted to take the next leap for Napa after the Uptown,” said Vogt. “Napa never had a big music festival. In fact, there was no pure rock festival in the west. We saw that niche.”
Aiming at a millennial crowd of 26 to 45, Vogt picked bands that played music that resonated nicely with people who grew up in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
“You may not have heard of them all,” he admits, “but you’ll like the music. It’s a chance to catch up quickly.”
They started working in September, and Vogt says they even mentioned their plan to Mayor Jill Techel and Councilman Peter Mott, but apparently it didn’t register with them. “I guess it was so big they didn’t take it seriously,” he said.
After first considering bringing in a large national firm to produce what would become BottleRock, they ultimately decided to do it themselves.
Between them, Meyers, who had been organizing events in the Seattle area for seven years, and Vogt had excellent connections. They brought in experts to handle every aspect of the event.
Vogt calls them “festival pirates.” They move from festival to festival, operating quietly but effectively in the background.
The partners raised a little money, including sponsorships and some of their own, then got to work.
Vogt’s idea was for an upscale rock festival with Napa as a big draw for both artists and attendees. “We wanted it to be a big hugfest for the creative people, like a big party where they could meet each other and interact.”
Since it was in Napa, that meant winemakers and chefs as well as performers. And it also meant sunny weather, as opposed to San Francisco which is famous for its big festivals in the cool, foggy climate.
The festival expands
The original idea was for a two-day festival, but it grew to four plus a pre-opening act on Wednesday. “We had to decide whether to start small or go for the big time,” he says. They gambled on big, though in retrospect, having it start on Thursday might have been a bit ambitious.
Rather than bringing in big money, they’ve bootstrapped the effort, Vogt said, first gaining credibility by signing up big names like Black Keys. “We knew they’d sell tickets, and they also attracted other bands.”
Will Power also paid its contracts quickly, putting its money in the artists. They haven’t paid themselves yet, a concern, Vogt admits, to Teresa.
One issue was finding lodging for the artists, as most wanted to linger a bit in Napa. Will Power accomplished that prior to announcing the festival. About 150 rooms were made available for those who buy Platinum ticket packages.
Logistics is a big issue. In addition to providing parking around the area to bus people to the Expo, BottleRock has arranged “Bottle Buses” from San Francisco, Berkeley, Petaluma, Sacramento and even Silicon Valley corporations.
Vogt said they made an early error. When they first announced the festival, tickets sold so fast that they were afraid they’d run out of spaces for the VIP packages and cut off sales. Sales lost momentum and many people think the festival is sold out, which it isn’t, he said.
They’ve restarted the campaign, however, and he expects Friday and Saturday to be at or near 35,000 capacity, lighter on Sunday, but Thursday is a problem.
He’s lowered the price on Thursday to $99 for two tickets for locals that day, and wants to make a big celebration for Napans. “I want them to embrace this as their festival,” he says. “We want everyone to come!”
The layout of the festival
Though originally considering spreading the concerts around local sites, Vogt and Meyers decided otherwise after Vogt attended South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. “Even with VIP credentials, we had to wait hours to get into shows at small venues,” he observed.
“Why make it complicated?” he asked. Having everything in one place vastly simplifies logistics, though he expects many attendees to head for downtown Napa after the concerts end at 10 p.m.
The 26 acres of Napa Expo, which is state property outside the city’s control, will feature three stages. The Miner Family area has room for about 2,500 fans for more-acoustic music, the main Citibank stage has 12,000 to 15,000 capacity and the Will Power stage has 20,000-25,000.
Vogt is shooting for an ambiance like the Robert Mondavi Winery concerts, and he’ll sell low-backed chairs for comfort.
Local bands will play on a small stage near the entrance.
Audiences shouldn’t hear the other stages except during silent times, and the bands will be staggered to allow fans to move around. The comedy stage will be in Chardonnay Hall.
In the center of the Expo will be the Whole Foods Garden plus other food and wine tents. Cindy Pawlcyn and Sean Knight are organizing the areas when top chefs will offer their specialties for sale around tables and chairs for seating. “What will be different from most festivals will be the fine food and wine,” claims Vogt.
About 40 wineries will have tents where they will pour their wines.
Because of Vogt’s passionate interest in serving the community and other good causes, one big part of the festival is the emphasis on charity.
To start with, $1 of each beverage sale will go to autism research, a cause dear to Vogt because of his son’s diagnosis. The festival will also donate to about 25 other local, national and international causes from the Music Connection that buys instruments for local schools to baseball fields for kids.
He’s also working with the Staglin family and their International Mental Health Research Organization, which includes autism among its targets.
Vogt also bought 200 tickets worth $5,400 to support nonprofit Lucky Penny Productions, which is producing “Funny Girl” at the Opera House starting that weekend. He’s distributing the tickets to nearby residents as an alternative if they don’t want to get a free ticket for Thursday’s concerts.
Vogt considers BottleRock a gift to the community and has trouble understanding opponents, who have criticized the feared noise and parking impacts.
Vogt is clearly having a great time and wishes everyone else would, too. “Why can’t they just enjoy it?” he said.