Bottle Rock: The Black Keys and Flaming Lips Can't Break Through Distractions at Napa Valley's New Fest, 5/10/13

Categories: Music Festivals

black-keys-bottle-rock.jpg
Instead of watching the Black Keys onstage, you could watch them on a screen in the food court area.
The Black Keys, the Flaming Lips, Andrew Bird, Alabama Shakes, the Dirty Projectors, Vintage Trouble and more
Friday, May 10, 2013
Bottle Rock Napa Valley

Better than: Bob's Hot Rods cover band, Craig Chaquico, or other music you'd typically hear at a winery.

Ostensibly the four-day event that took over downtown Napa last weekend was a "music festival." But that doesn't seem like an accurate term for the situation at Napa Valley's fairgrounds on Friday.

Most major music festivals offer diversions from the stages presenting live music -- ferris wheels, silent discos, etc. But at Bottle Rock, the bands and their performances felt like diversions themselves. Instead a "music festival," perhaps we should think of Bottle Rock as a day-drinking conference, or consumption confab, or cash-discarding party. It was a pricey, exclusive-feeling event packed with comedy, fancy food, and plenty of drinking, one that happened to include -- as a matter of course rather than an aching passion -- live performances from big, broadly appealing rock acts like the Black Keys, the Flaming Lips, and Alabama Shakes.

See also: Bottle Rock: Napa Festival's Attempt To Combine Food, Wine, and Music Falls Short

To be fair, this was the second day of Bottle Rock's first year, and no festival has figured out the focus and balance of activities by this point. Bottle Rock was also a smoother experience than we expected of a new major event, with good live sound and decent logistics. (Although that certainly wasn't everybody's experience.)

But on Friday, most of the musical performances were overlong and not particularly thrilling. At 3:30 p.m., perhaps couple hundred people lingered in the sun at the Citi Bank stage to watch Dirty Projectors work through the almost-Afrobeat of "What I See" and the knotty "Fucked For Life." The latter song approached a kind of odd, offbeat funk, but it never really became truly satisfying. This seemed as much the fault of the musicians as the setting: While they sounded crisp, a hot lawn in the middle of the afternoon didn't easily facilitate the scrutiny and careful attention that the Dirty Projectors' sonic cubism requires.

Unsurprisingly, there was a mass exodus toward a band seemingly better-suited for the situation: Alabama Shakes. Save of the presence of the sun, the band's 4 p.m. set on the main Willpower Stage had all the appearance of a headlining performance, complete with a thick crowd that stretched in every direction. The band dispensed with "Hold On" immediately, sounding full and clear and getting the massive crowd waving arms and singing along. But after three or four songs, another reality of the Shakes' music became all too obvious: Most of it is pretty mellow. Drenched in sunlight, echoing out over Bottle Rock's thousands, "Rise to the Sun" and "Boys and Girls" felt languid and distant, a pleasant dream on a summer afternoon. Soon the tipsy masses around us were talking loudly amongst themselves, and the music receded into the background. About halfway through the set, the sliding, slippery guitar riff of "Be Mine" jolted the crowd's attention -- but it never came back to "Hold On" levels.

bottle-rock-gate-1.jpg
A glance at the schedule revealed another obvious problem with the music lineup at Bottle Rock: All of the sets were way too long. Alabama Shakes were set to play for 75 minutes -- a reasonable duration for a headlining set, but not one in the middle of the afternoon, especially from a band whose sole album doesn't even last 40 minutes. When you're standing in the sun among loud, drunk people, things need to change quickly. Predictably, Alabama Shakes started to drag after 35 minutes.

This problem wasn't just with their set, either. Dirty Projectors had been given an hour, when 30 minutes would've been more than enough. The Shins, up next on the big stage, got an hour and a half -- as did the Black Keys, afterward, and the Flaming Lips for closing out the smaller Citi Bank stage. The long sets made it especially hard to decide whether to stick around or leave one set for something better. These days the Shins are purveyors of background music, anyway. This became obvious as soon as they got through "Phantom Limb," and we left to grab dinner -- only to hear them go into excellent older songs like "So Says I" and "Kissing the Lipless" from a distance. If you wanted to hear "New Slang," you had to stick around until the end.

The early evening brought the weird spectacle of seeing the Flaming Lips perform in the last minutes of daylight. Wayne Coyne arrived looking like some kind of human-fish hybrid in a shiny, sequined bodysuit, standing on top of what could've been a crash-landed UFO. The band performed in front of a bright LCD screen, accompanied by a battery of lasers, which of course looked better the farther down the sun got. The first half of the performance was largely ponderous and dull -- until, 30 minutes in, they suddenly dispensed with the amorphous sonics and leapt into a fantastic, faithful cover of David Bowie's "Heroes." It was probably the best musical moment of the whole day: the crowd, animated by having something exciting happen onstage for once, shouted along. Coyne played the triumphant hero he does so well, raising his arms high onstage and vamping for all the audience love he could get. "Heroes" is (of course) a great song, and the fact that the Lips didn't mess with it too much made us infinitely glad. It was the kind of happy surprise you expect at a music festival -- but didn't often find at Bottle Rock.

After "Heroes," though, the Flaming Lips went back to their dull atmospherics, playing as if they had a long set to fill -- and not realizing, apparently, that the time to catch the Black Keys was fast approaching.

Up on the big stage, the Ohio blues-rock duo at first felt tantalizingly concrete. They wasted no time in getting to good songs like "Lonely Boy," "Run Right Back," and "Gold on the Ceiling." But after a quick run through newer songs written with a full band in mind, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney dismissed their bandmates and proceeded to air material from their old days as a bluesy two-piece. In a smaller setting, Auerbach and Carney alone can kill -- we've seen them do it many times. But drums, guitar, and vocals alone do not easily fill the vast expanse of a festival grounds. Left with just two musicians on that giant, towering stage, the energy noticeably dissipated -- and so, it seemed, did the crowd's interest.

The fact that this band has been playing pretty much this exact show for a year now also contributed to a feeling that even this Bottle Rock headliner was just going through the motions, playing a long set for what had to be a big payday, with nothing particularly fresh to contribute. It wasn't bad background music for drinking. But if you want the surprises and revelations that usually come with a major music festival, Friday at Bottle Rock Napa Valley wasn't the place to find them.

Critic's Notebook

Price list: $8 for a Budweiser; $9 for a number of Sierra Nevada brews; $15 for a 12.5oz bag of cold, somewhat decent red or white wine; $10-15 for high-end grub in the Whole Foods market area; and $13-$17 for a five-ounce pour of high-quality wine from any of the winery tents. And that's on top of tickets and parking, of course. So Bottle Rock ain't cheap.

Spoiled: After becoming so used to attending festivals in Golden Gate Park, we had high hopes for the natural beauty of the Napa Valley. But it turns out the area where Bottle Rock took place was just your basic fairgrounds, with paved lots, a few scrubby lawn areas, and random buildings. It was a functional setting -- things were compact and easy to get to -- but certainly not a magical one.

-- @iPORT





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24 comments
juliegal
juliegal

I agree with the author. I'm a veteran of festivals. Some people dislike festivals for the sound quality and irritations; I love them for the ability to see many established and emerging bands in one setting, cheer on my old favorites,  get exposure to bands I haven't heard, and exercise my right to "vote with my feet."  Generally, Coachella, Outside Lands, even BFD have about 30-40 bands playing each day, with a couple running at opposite areas all day long. I attended BottleRock 3 days, and while there were many fine bands on the very eclectic lineup, there were only about 15 per day.  Sets were long, and there were frequent empty gaps on the lineup (ostensibly to encourage consumerism). Unlike other festivals, there wasn't much of interest to do or see during the downtime (no intriguing art installations, sprinkler cooldown areas, roving performers). In addition, many of the bands playing seemed to have sets heavy with quiet,  downbeat, "mellow" music appropriate for snoozing the day away in the hot Napa sun--to my taste, not nearly enough fun, danceable, uptempo stuff. The venue consisted of dusty ground with patchy dead grass to sit on, except at one small shaded stage where the lawn was lush and cool---that area was packed most of the day.  Food was good but expensive; beer was scarce other than the ubiquitous Bud.  It was too hot to drink wine all day.  I will find fun in any experience, so all in all, I had a pretty okay, if underwhelming time.  I can't believe next year's tickets have already been put up for presale, at a substantial price increase.  I might go again, but at prices exceeding other festivals there would have to be a fuller experience with more attention to the talent lineup.

chriswiseowl
chriswiseowl

Actually, the latest music "theory" is that food has taken musics place as entertainment. 

uvaluva
uvaluva

I had a BLAST at Bottle Rock!  We were there Thurs - Sun and thought the music line ups were great, the food was good, the venue was fun and there was plenty of beer and wine for all.   I'm surprised and disappointed at the negativity that spewed from the author - there were some newbie glitches and crowded at times - but part of a music festival (3 stages!) includes all kinds of experiences.  So, if you go - you need to lighten up and enjoy!  If you want exclusivity - go to the Independent, Fillmore or Sweetwater.  It was sooo good to see Napa rockin'!  We had no problems with transportation or restaurants.  If your goal is to experience cheap or free - go to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and enjoy - that's a crowded funfest too!  I hope Bottle Rock becomes a tradition and continues for a long, long time!

gregb511
gregb511

My experience at Bottle Rock 2013 did not come without some glitches but overall I had a great time. There may be a few things that will improve it but as a first year event it was amazing how smooth it ran. It was not inexpensive but the price which was affordable considering the quality of entertainment was probably a deterrent to keeping certain people out that might create problems. I found the attendees (who came from everywhere - Australia, Toledo, San Diego and local) to be very cordial and very nice. People having a good time enjoying good music and god food. The better restaurants charged 3 tokens ($15) for a good sandwich with salad or chips. I had a New York Steak sandwich from Fume Bistro with so much meat I needed a fork to eat it. Wine was $9 to $17 a glass (Silver Oak). Most people I saw were drinking budweiser draft beer. I had bottled water. ($4) but there were fill-up stations. The shuttle and VIP parking was a mess after the show Friday but more organized over weekend. You could actually drive and park in town, if you chose to do so. I would have liked the better known bands to have staggered set times on different stages to catch more of their shows But I saw the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Train and Zac Brown as well as Michael Franti. Each delivered award winning sets!! Reviewers can be snarky but they should try to accurately reflect what they are reviewing. My experience at Bottle Rock was wonderful. Hey...I love Outside Lands festival too. No need to compare...We are lucky in Northern California to now have an additional yearly event celebrating our love of music, good food and

community.

gregb511
gregb511

My experience at Bottle Rock 2013 did not come without some glitches but overall I had a great time. There may be a few things that will improve it but as a first year event it was amazing how smooth it ran. It was not inexpensive but the price which was affordable considering the quality of entertainment was probably a deterrent to keeping certain people out that might create problems. I found the attendees (who came from everywhere - Australia, Toledo, San Diego and local) to be very cordial and very nice. People having a good time enjoying good music and god food. The better restaurants charged 3 tokens ($15) for a good sandwich with salad or chips. I had a New York Steak sandwich from Fume Bistro with so much meat I needed a fork to eat it. Wine was $9 to $17 a glass (Silver Oak). Most people I saw were drinking budweiser draft beer. I had bottled water. ($4) but there were fill-up stations. The shuttle and VIP parking was a mess after the show Friday but more organized over weekend. You could actually drive and park in town, if you chose to do so. I would have liked the better known bands to have staggered set times on different stages to catch more of their shows But I saw the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Train and Zac Brown as well as Michael Franti. Each delivered award winning sets!! Reviewers can be snarky but they should try to accurately reflect what they are reviewing. My experience at Bottle Rock was wonderful. Hey...I love Outside Lands festival too. No need to compare...We are lucky in Northern California to now have an additional yearly event celebrating our love of music, good food and community.

gregb511
gregb511

My experience at Bottle Rock 2013 did not come without some glitches but overall I had a great time. There may be a few things that will improve it but as a first year event it was amazing how smooth it ran. It was not inexpensive but the price which was affordable considering the quality of entertainment was probably a deterrent to keeping certain people out that might create problems. I found the attendees (who came from everywhere - Australia, Toledo, San Diego and local) to be very cordial and very nice. People having a good time enjoying good music and god food. The better restaurants charged 3 tokens ($15) for a good sandwich with salad or chips. I had a New York Steak sandwich from Fume Bistro with so much meat I needed a fork to eat it. Wine was $9 to $17 a glass (Silver Oak). Most people I saw were drinking budweiser draft beer. I had bottled water. ($4) but there were fill-up stations. The shuttle and VIP parking was a mess after the show Friday but more organized over weekend. You could actually drive and park in town, if you chose to do so. I would have liked the better known bands to have staggered set times on different stages to catch more of their shows But I saw the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Train and Zac Brown as well as Michael Franti. Each delivered award winning sets!! Reviewers can be snarky but they should try to accurately reflect what they are reviewing. My experience at Bottle Rock was wonderful. Hey...I love Outside Lands festival too. No need to compare...We are lucky in Northern California to now have an additional yearly event celebrating our love of music, good food and community.

gregb511
gregb511

My experience at Bottle Rock 2013 did not come without some glitches but overall I had a great time. There may be a few things that will improve it but as a first year event it was amazing how smooth it ran.

It was not inexpensive but the price which was affordable considering the quality of entertainment was probably a deterrent to keeping certain people out that might create problems. I found the attendees (who came from everywhere - Australia, Toledo, San Diego and local) to be very cordial and very nice. People having a good time enjoying good music and god food. The better restaurants charged 3 tokens ($15) for a good sandwich with salad or chips. I had a New York Steak sandwich from Fume Bistro with so much meat I needed a fork to eat it. Wine was $9 to $17 a glass (Silver Oak). Most people I saw were drinking budweiser draft beer. I had bottled water. ($4) but there were fill-up stations. The shuttle and VIP parking was a mess after the show Friday but more organized over weekend. You could actually drive and park in town, if you chose to do so. I would have liked the better known bands to have staggered set times on different stages to catch more of their shows But I saw the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Train and Zac Brown as well as Michael Franti. Each delivered award winning sets!! Reviewers can be snarky but they should try to accurately reflect what they are reviewing. My experience at Bottle Rock was wonderful. Hey...I love Outside Lands festival too. No need to compare...We are lucky in Northern California to now have an additional yearly event celebrating our love of music, good food and community.

gregb511
gregb511

My experience at Bottle Rock 2013 did not come without some glitches but overall I had a great time. There may be a few things that will improve it but as a first year event it was amazing how smooth it ran. It was not inexpensive but the price which was affordable considering the quality of entertainment was probably a deterrent to keeping certain people out that might create problems. I found the attendees (who came from everywhere - Australia, Toledo, San Diego and local) to be very cordial and very nice. People having a good time enjoying good music and god food. The better restaurants charged 3 tokens ($15) for a good sandwich with salad or chips. I had a New York Steak sandwich from Fume Bistro with so much meat I needed a fork to eat it. Wine was $9 to $17 a glass (Silver Oak). Most people I saw were drinking budweiser draft beer. I had bottled water. ($4) but there were fill-up stations. The shuttle and VIP parking was a mess after the show Friday but more organized over weekend. You could actually drive and park in town, if you chose to do so. I would have liked the better known bands to have staggered set times on different stages to catch more of their shows But I saw the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Train and Zac Brown as well as Michael Franti. Each delivered award winning sets!! Reviewers can be snarky but they should try to accurately reflect what they are reviewing. My experience at Bottle Rock was wonderful. Hey...I love Outside Lands festival too. No need to compare...We are lucky in Northern California to now have an additional yearly event celebrating our love of music, good food and community.

BigSkyGuy
BigSkyGuy

I was pretty surprised how negative this review is. Talk about one person's experience! I can't believe Ian's view was shared by very many festival-goers. Maybe it's because I'm from podunk Montana, but I rather enjoyed the entire event, top to bottom. I loved that I could leave the festival when things slowed down, head downtown or across the street and get good food and drink and then waltz back in when it was time to take in the next act. I really don't know how Ian could have had such a lousy time. Different strokes for different folks. Must suck for your life to be so awesome than even awesome events seem dull.

Tom Martin
Tom Martin

Well written, and very informative. I'd like to have caught Alabama Shakes- my eldest daughter turned me on to them a couple months back, and they seem to have a reality and frankness about them I admire. I'll give 'em some time; it's new to them all of this. Thanks for the column, sire. Fairgrounds to tend to make for a funky (pre-musical meaning) festival. I think Newport '69 in LA was the last big festival for me, and it was on the infield of a very big racetrack, I think. There was a lotta grass. And a lawn, too.

Rochelle Gold
Rochelle Gold

Just finished reading the review. So glad it was sucessful. No problem with traffic at our workshop which is close to Napa Pipe parking area. can't wait to hear how the vendors really did too.

James Marshall Berry
James Marshall Berry

Your review is off.. you should have went more than one day.. others are raving about it.. sorry it wasn't in the park.. ;-)

quayview
quayview

You're so wrong in this article. After attending all three days, it was by far better than any Golden Gate park festival. Parking and shuttling was amazing, the lineup was one that I've never imagined and everyone was having a great time! It was sold out to over 35,000 people on Saturday and people were happy. You definitely have bottle envy....too bad SF can't put on a festival like this.

13player
13player

The organizers really screwed themselves with the ticket prices.  I might have gone had the ticket included a food and beverage voucher. Younger crowd=more energy

vinatieribuilders
vinatieribuilders

Sounds to me like there's a little BottleEnvy here. I'm wondering if you might have been happier with a 60 degree, mid summer SF festival as opposed to the 80s, spring Napa one. I remember thinking while walking into the thing that I'd much rather be in the cattle call in Oakland, walking around scalpers and looking for bodies in the ditch that lines the parking lot. I looked long and hard for some crack, my drug of choice at a festival, but after finding just wine, beer and vodka, I was wondering if heading to Berkley for some acid and tripping at the exploratorium wouldn't have made for a better use of my day. I was also thinking that after eating all that "crap" "overpriced" food that a wrinkled vendor hotdog at $10 from Shoreline would have been a better fit. Who needs choices, plus it'd give me the energy to hike back to their parking lot and I could use the bun as a dust filter. Tail-gating would have been better than heading downtown for sure. At the "Real" venues there's never lines to get out of the parking lot and the lot staff is usually very accommodating after paying them $50 to park. My God! What were the event planners thinking? As to the music.... I tend to like every song any given artist sings. I stay enthralled at every concert I go to, every song, they are all my favorites. I especially like being stuck listening to the opening bands. If given a choice between seeing two headliners at the same time, I'll pick the DJ that is a distant cousin to the lead drummers wife. The sets did drag though. I like to plan going to a concert, paying a fortune, spending all day to get there, then listening to them play for 30 minutes. Ok, so what I took out of this piece is that the writer is a complete idiot. SF may want to send someone who knows what the hell they're doing next year. It's near sighted crap like this that's killing print newspaper. Stick to covering Google events and drinking box wine asshole.

vinatieribuilders
vinatieribuilders

I nominate you to cover Bottlerock 2014! You seemed to grasp the concept of a festival.

vinatieribuilders
vinatieribuilders

It was sold out. I can't see how they could've packed anymore energy or people in there

kellipsf
kellipsf

@vinatieribuilders  agree.  i had an amazing time.  best festival i've been to in years, hands down.  no drunken idiots pushing, super friendly crowd,  fantastic town set up, hot (lovely for an SF change), amazing high energy line-up (you could leave to get food and not miss your favorite band), tons of restrooms.  you could walk or bike.  the artists all stayed in town increasing the odds you'd run into them.  yes it was pricey.  yes, there were some bumps but for a first year?  i hope they don't change too much.  loved my mini-vacation away from SF!  

vinatieribuilders
vinatieribuilders

I consolidated my comment between this one and the food write up. Don't take it personally Ian, you can share some of the blame with SFfoodie

nkanell
nkanell

@vinatieribuilders None of the ticket tiers sold out. The only day that seemed to have close to a packed house was Saturday. Thursday and Sunday were light. I was able to get 4-day passes on stubhub for $126 each.

vinatieribuilders
vinatieribuilders

Craigslist had them as well but both stubhub and CL are for tickets that have already been purchased. I'm not saying it was impossible to get tickets because like any sold out event, there's always a chance. I don't work for the company that put it on, only know what I see. Player could have gotten tickets at a huge discount once the event started but like I said, pre owned tickets. My big thing is this writer and the SFfoodie article was not what I experienced, at least it wasn't out of the normal range of music events of its size. Players comment was they could have sold more tickets if they were cheaper but from what I saw it was sold out and it was packed so I don't see how the math pens out there. I'm absolutely disgusted that two SF writers would bash the thing. I've been to much worse in their city and I didn't have to dodge drug dealer or get in fights afterwards. If I could see every concert in Napa, after this one, I'd pay more for less hassle and clean environment. My opinion

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