Festival dispatch: BottleRock in Napa Valley

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Jenny Wu/Staff

BottleRock, Napa Valley’s young addition to the California music festival scene, took place May 29-31. Now in its third year, BottleRock remains utterly unpretentious, catering to an older demographic and to families. The absence of twentysomething music snobs was rather relaxing. Instead, the feeling of a slightly bourgeois suburban family picnic dominated. The lineup catered to parents and Gen X-ers attached to music of the 1970s-90s, as well as to their teenage spawn. Headliners this weekend included Robert Plant, the Avett Brothers, Snoop Dogg, No Doubt and Imagine Dragons. Read on for look at some of the best performances the festival had to offer.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Exuding sex appeal and pure musicianship, Preservation Hall Jazz Band played a set worth vibing to Saturday. With an early evening set time, the New Orleans jazz band almost seemed like a deliberately hidden festival gem. The group performed at the Miner Family Stage, the only stage placed in shade and atop soft grass, making it the perfect place to dance barefoot while enjoying one of the dozens of local wines offered conveniently at adjacent vendor booths. With Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing swing, blues and dirty jazz, the performance felt like equal parts outdoor picnic and jazz lounge. Horn solos alone induced nose-crinkling and shimmying frenzies among the crowd. Between the wine, the fat bass notes and a rhythmic drum solo, the crowd seemed unable to keep itself from moving to the incredible rhythms of the must-see jazz group.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

The former Led Zeppelin frontman and vocalist, Robert Plant, headlined Saturday night, mesmerizing audience members and other bands on the lineup, who later cited Plant’s performance in their own sets. Plant solidified his reputation as a god of rock music, and the mythos behind his persona resonated throughout the crowd. Plant, donning a liquid pewter satin shirt, appeared dreamlike under violet stage lights. The performance was a mature take on Led Zeppelin’s legacy, with Plant finally acknowledging the blues rock genre he has staked a career on playing. Half the set was composed of Led Zeppelin classics that were modified, modernized and fused with different genres of music from around the globe. Justin Adams played perhaps one of his strongest rhythm guitar solos during a cover of Bukka White’s blues original “Fixin’ to Die.” “Fixin’ to Die” was also modernized with the synthesizer and keyboard of John Baggott (of Massive Attack and Portishead). Juldeh Camara also elevated classics and Space Shifters originals alike by shredding on the riti, a West African one-stringed fiddle. Plant himself appeared like a sage, prepared to educate listeners on music, its history and its global manifestations — all the while singing ethereally, of course.

No Doubt

No Doubt boasted the most audience-to-stage connectivity of any BottleRock performance. The band closed out the festival with a frenetic performance, working up a sweat as it paid deference to its fans by playing the most beloved singles from its repertoire. Naturally, the crowd performed just as hard by dancing, screaming and generally recreating P90X. Despite the fact that the group has been performing for about 30 years, it seemed as humble as a band just making it big. The band genuinely emphasized its appreciation for its fans by pulling a couple up from the crowd and posing for photos midset. Vocalist Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal wowed with reverence for their fans. On multiple occasions during the show, between running to the far ends of BottleRock’s gargantuan mainstage, Kanal and Stefani made an effort to dance alongside the interpreters for hearing-impaired attendees. Kanal impressively managed to kiss an interpreter on the cheek while playing, before running off to occupy the empty stage space. Additionally, it’s impressive that the band is essentially immortal. Seriously, the band members all look and sound like they’re still in their 20s — if 20-year-olds had their shit together, that is.

Courtney Barnett

Despite the fact that the Australian indie-rock singer-songwriter’s style sounds like she’s half rambling to you while playing guitar and reclining on a worn-in couch, Courtney Barnett and her band put on a hard-hitting show. There’s something in Barnett’s long-winded and almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics that approximate Bob Dylan a la Tombstone Blues. Yet Barnett’s lo-fi, garage-rock guitar and simple drums are flavored with just a hint of 1990s garage rock and a smidge of punk. Nothing about Barnett is try hard. In fact, Barnett’s sound and performance felt superbly carefree. She was focused, seemingly losing herself in a sea of hair and lyrics and resurfacing to move about only during instrumental breaks.

Snoop Dogg

A cloud of “sticky icky” hovered above the crowd just before Snoop Dogg took to BottleRock’s mainstage early Sunday evening. Though Snoop’s performance wasn’t particularly impressive, the crowd’s excitement was electrifying. The audience was perhaps the most packed it had been the entire weekend, drawing in what seemed to be all the dads in attendance. Snoop showed up and did Snoop, playing every hit from early Dr. Dre collaborations — including “The Next Episode” and “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” — to the verses he contributed to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” and Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle.” Transitions between songs came quickly, cut intermittently with generous doses of airhorns. The most out-of-place moment in Snoop’s set came when he urged the crowd to karaoke two rounds of choruses to Joan Jett’s cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Though it seemed as though he was about to bring out a rock guitarist (perhaps Jett herself, a BottleRock veteran), nothing happened, and he soon transitioned to the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” Snoop concluded his set with a joie de vivre sing-along of “Young, Wild and Free.” Unfortunately, he did not play the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons.”

Snoop Dogg & Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto Make Sushi

Yes, that iron chef Masaharu Morimoto. BottleRock boasts a quality food and wine lineup on par with the likes of San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. Naturally, a weekend music festival in Napa must cater to the region’s high-brow food and wine culture. In addition to the wide array of food and alcohol vendors, BottleRock provided attendees with a unique Culinary Stage sponsored by Williams-Sonoma. Over the course of the three-day festival, celebrities and performers were invited to cook alongside professional chefs for a live audience. Michael Franti (of Michael Franti & Spearhead), Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Allison Holker (of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame), and Snoop Dogg all graced the stage throughout the weekend. Snoop Dogg’s collaboration with Morimoto proved to be a huge draw — so large, in fact, that the small stage, with its small speakers and display screens, could not comfortably accommodate the crowd. That did little to deter viewers, however, who gathered to see the spectacle of Snoop learning how to roll California rolls from a culinary mastermind — as if he didn’t already have experience rolling sticky things.

Contact Jeila Saidi at [email protected].