It was another eventful and abundant musical year in Napa Valley—City Winery out, Blue Note in, BottleRock and Porchfest bursting, the Uptown Theatre and Festival Napa Valley and the chamber music programs rolling along, and much more.
A notable trend was the ascendancy of jazz. Add the arrival of Blue Note to the rich Sunday afternoon programs of the Jazz Society at Silo’s and Brian Culbertson’s Jazz Getaway, along with spot jazz artists at other venues, and Napa is now a pretty jazzy locale.
On the negative side of the ledger, the cumulative loss of bookings at the “old Opera House” and the coffee-house priorities of City Winery has left us with a deficit in touring folk music artists. This was somewhat offset at the Uptown (see below), but we folkies are feeling a bit deprived.
The biggest music event of the year, uncontested, was BottleRock. With roughly 40,000 fans a day, world-class headliners (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Florence + the Machine and Stevie Wonder), something for just about everyone down the lineup, upscale food and drink and remarkably few customer service issues, BottleRock’s three-day celebration, heading into its fifth year, has joined the ranks of the best rock festivals in America.
After being dark for renovation much of the year, Blue Note Napa opened with a splash in late October with seven shows by trumpet superstar Chris Botti. Occupying the ground floor of the Napa Valley Opera House, the supper club is intimate and casually elegant. The décor, designed by Gordon Huether, is washed in blue and whimsically adorned with floating musical instruments. The food and service are quite good. This new venue, with the most prestigious brand name in jazz, is unique in the Valley.
The Opera House Ballroom, the newly named upstairs performance space in the historic building, hosted a seated concert performance by Botti, which capped his Blue Note residency, and a standing rock show by The Struts, who were a sensation on the main stage at BottleRock. Expect a wide variety of shows up there in 2017. Ex-Eagle Timothy B. Schmit, Jesse Cook and Ladysmith Black Mambazo are right around the corner.
The Uptown Theatre was reliable this year, with rockers like Dave Mason, Mick Fleetwood, Jackie Greene, Dr. John, Richard Thompson, Peter Frampton and Jonny Lang. There was reggae from Ziggy Marley, Americana from Lyle Lovett, and high-level folk music from Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel, Patty Griffin/Sara Watkins/Anais Mitchell and David Crosby (folk because this show was acoustic and folky). It would be great to see this beautiful venue kick up the quantity of bookings in the coming year.
Porchfest, in its sixth year, was the biggest ever, with 120 musical acts performing on 64 porches or lawns and an estimated audience of 15,000 strolling Old Town, the alphabet streets and Alta Heights. Co-founder Juliana Inman said that the event, as joyful as any in our town, was “peak Porchfest,” meaning that it was as big as it was going to get. Somehow, I remember them saying that last year.
Festival Napa Valley (the newly named Festival Del Sole), our elegant Upvalley music, food and wine extravaganza, was well attended and featured headliners Kristen Chenoweth, Sergio Mendes and Sarah Chang.
Our two extraordinary chamber music series, Music in the Vineyards and Chamber Music in Napa Valley, continued their track record of presenting world-class performances. A special mention goes to powerhouse pianist Yefim “Fima” Bronfman, who in February performed the Prokofiev Sonatas over two nights at the First United Methodist Church. Rather than in decibels, his rendering of the 7th Sonata could have been measured on the Richter Scale.
In June, Brian Culbertson’s Napa Valley Jazz Getaway featured The Temptations, Michael McDonald, Fourplay, Stanley Jordan and many others.
Napa Valley Jazz Society continues its well-attended Sunday afternoon “Parlor Jazz” series at Silo’s, local and national jazz artists performing several times a year. Their biggest score in 2016 was the great hard bop pianist Benny Green and his trio in June. Green has had an illustrious career, including as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater hosted CabFest with Mat Kearney, the Napa Valley Symphony and Youth Symphony, the 12th annual A Cappella Extravaganza, numerous dance performances and portions of Festival Napa Valley and Brian Culbertson’s Jazz Getaway.
And there was plenty more – the 47th year of the Robert Mondavi Summer Music Series with American Authors, Blues Traveler and O.A.R.; Bluegrass mandolin masters David Grisman and Sierra Hull at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch; Michael Franti lighting up the Staglins’ 22nd Music Festival for Brain Health; Charlie Hunter’s jazz guitar wizardry at Silo’s and countless sets by local musicians at Ca’ Momi, Downtown Joe’s, Uva, Rae Set and Melted.
Our musical cup runneth over. Happy New Year!