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Even with its backdrop and video screens yet to be installed, the main stage for Napa’s BottleRock music festival looms large.

Spanning 150 feet wide and 65 feet tall, the JaM Cellars Stage – the venue where Imagine Dragons, Neil Young and Mumford & Sons are slated to perform over three nights – already towered over an expanse of lawn that remained empty Monday afternoon. Around the Napa Valley Expo, workers in hard hats busily assembled the stages, food and wine courts, and all the amenities that would be swamped by an estimated 100,000 spectators starting at noon Friday.

Signs hung on poles marked the way to stages, food stands and souvenir shops. Dozens of crates of wine cups were stacked against the wall of a fairground building, along with a handful of beverage refrigerators. At one end of a temporary lawn of synthetic turf stood four letters of pre-rusted steel, each taller than a human, that spelled out “LOVE” – a recurring BottleRock landmark that would become the backdrop for innumerable weekend selfies.

“It’s like a small town is erected here every year,” quipped BottleRock spokesperson Tom Fuller as he strolled the fairground where the seventh annual festival will take place from Friday afternoon to Sunday night.

It was another race to the finish this week at the Expo, where BottleRock has evolved into a showcase not only for famous pop music acts but for Napa Valley wineries and restaurants, drawing a reported 120,000 spectators a year ago.

BottleRock will unfold on a layout largely similar to that of the 2018 festival. But with music lovers thronging to a fairground tightly packed within the Oxbow neighborhood, organizers focused this year’s changes on getting festival-goers onto and out of the grounds – and from stage to stage – more quickly than before.

The main entrance on Third Street will include 50 percent more lanes for security searches than before, according to Justin Dragoo, one of three partners in BottleRock’s production firm Latitude 38 Entertainment. “That was the No. 1 thing that came up after last year, that we don’t want anyone to have to wait outside the venue,” he said of the change.

The increase in entry lanes into the Expo accompanies a stricter limit on what types of bags fans can carry into the festival. Bags will be limited to a maximum of 14 inches square with no more than two pockets, and organizers recommend – but are not requiring – that such bags be transparent. The rule is intended to speed up bag searches and reduce congestion, by allowing more bags to be inspected by machine instead of by hand.

This year’s BottleRock also features changes to the scheduling of musical acts, another step Dragoo said is meant to reduce crowding on the grounds. In each time slot, promoters are arranging starting times at various stages to feature musicians of different genres simultaneously – for instance, starting concerts by Mumford & Sons, Santana and Big Boi all after 8 p.m. on Sunday.

“It’s important to distribute the crowd more evenly, so we have more front-line bands scheduled during the same time when possible,” said Dragoo.

In addition, the amount of fencing on the Expo grounds has been reduced and open space increased to free up circulation further, he said.

Away from the stages, some parts of the BottleRock grounds took a turn for the whimsical. Within a lounge in the festival’s VIP area, the San Francisco stylist and event planner Ashley Smith was guiding a team of workers decorating a space lined with abstract black-and-white stripe patterns – and its ceiling with clusters of white balloons large and small that could have resembled clouds or bunches of grapes.

“We wanted to make it fun, but light and airy,” she said of the lounge’s design. “It feels like clouds; it brings the outdoors inside. We wanted to make it feel modern and fresh in here.”

Latitude 38 officials anticipated that the last remaining single-day BottleRock passes would sell out in the coming days – with Sunday tickets expected to be snapped up by Wednesday and passes for the first two days expected to be claimed by Friday’s opening.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.