BottleRock Napa Valley‘s first act kicked off at noon, but hundreds of fans were eagerly waiting in line long before then.
Scalpers scrounged for tickets blocks away from the Napa Valley Expo, parents lugged their kids in wagons down Third Street and some festivalgoers bought $20 flower crowns from a vendor across the street. Anticipation grew as antsy ticketholders heard the first beats of sound checks — drums, cymbals and a cappella vocals.
While frantic BottleRock staffers and vendors scrambled to set up, make last-minute adjustments and stock booths, most of the first customers let inside took time to meander through the empty lawns of the whimsical festival grounds.
Just past the security entrance was a revolving, wooden hot-air balloon, and a selfie wall of stacked wine barrels. In a wooded part of the festival grounds, string lights and lanterns hung from trees, and picnic tables were set up in the shade. Kids twirled and ran across the open lawn, kicking yellow balls.
The skies were cloudy and the air was chilly for the first hour of the festival, but it warmed up quickly in the afternoon. Fans lauded the festival’s great food and drink, and said it was well-organized.
Dedicated fans beelined for the main stage, which was sponsored by JaM Cellars. They knew what they came for. They weren’t going to get stuck in the back of the crowd, craning their necks and fighting for a glimpse of their favorite artist.
But for others, their motivation for camping out at the guardrail was less calculated.
“We’re too poor for VIP,” said Kyra Forfyth of Truckee, who came to BottleRock with friend Jules Kaufman.
Being an early bird fan means “a lot of waiting around, but it’s worth it,” said Lisa Shaw, who came to see her sister, Shannon Shaw, perform. “We’d rather get here early and not (be) missing something.”
As they waited for Shannon Shaw to come onstage for her sound check, Shaw laid out a blue and green quilt.
Shaw, who is originally from Napa, came to the event with her daughter, Trinity Harris of Suisun City, and other family members. While they staked out a spot for Shannon Shaw, who was playing in her hometown for the first time, Harris said she was looking forward to seeing headliner Imagine Dragons play.
Even more excited to see Imagine Dragons was Dena Lindsey of Rohnert Park, who relaxed on a San Francisco Giants blanket while waiting for her boyfriend to return with drinks. She said their song is “I’m Yours,” but her theme song is “Thunder.”
Hours of waiting didn’t phase her. Lindsey said she’s been a fan of the band for years, but has yet to see them live.
“I’d sit here for two days, honey,” she said.
Within the first hour of gates opening, spots closest to main stage were starting to fill up. Many brought blankets, but others sat on jackets or on the damp grass.
Carissa Dunn of Merced and Katie Canady of Waterford laid down a red, white and blue quilt near the main stage.
It was their first time at BottleRock. Dunn said she heard about the festival because her friend’s dad is “kind of a wino” who knows the Napa Valley area well.
They looked forward to catching Imagine Dragons and One Republic on the main stage, but planned to catch some celebrity chefs at the nearby Williams Sonoma food stage.
Linda Hsu of San Rafael and her friends had claimed spots near the main stage guardrail by laying down a sky blue towel and blanket. She looked forward to watching some of the main stage performers, including Neon Trees, but said she was up for anything and wanted to learn about new bands.
It was her second time at the festival. What brought her back?
“Not being at the office,” Hsu said. “Hopefully the weather will clear up.”
Bakersfield sisters Hallie and Grace Terrazas came to BottleRock for One Republic. Even though they had colds, it was their first time at the festival and they looked forward to checking out the food and music.
But Hallie, a 10-year fan of One Republic, anxiously awaited the band’s performance.
“I have a sign,” she said. “I have all their stuff.”
Fans will return Saturday to watch headliners Neil Young, Pharell Williams, Juanes and White Panda.
While Napans have been abuzz for days with BottleRock talk, the festival drew partiers from all over. Kris Bergesen of Sacramento, who was at BottleRock for her third time, said she enjoyed the experience so much that she invited friends from Texas.
“It’s always just such a good time,” she said.