A mark of all good artists is the ability to remove the crowd from its surroundings and into a new world — one of their own making. While Napa is typically known for its scenic wineries and sunshine, the Friday weather for BottleRock Napa Valley 2018 was overcast, misty and windy — it’s safe to say that fans did not mind being transported to a new place, even if only for a set.
The sunshine, however, made an appearance Saturday and Sunday. The three-day Northern California festival, established in 2013, saw acts ranging from Muse, the Killers and Bruno Mars to Snoop Dogg, E-40, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
But beyond the music, the event held culinary showings and an abundance of wine, tailor-made for its largely white and over-30 demographic. All in all, the weekend was a raging success, with all the unique artists managing to take their fans to a new world, one supplemented by good food, good wine and good vibes.
Muse — A dystopian technological empire
Muse came out like true rock stars, surrounded by neon lights, intense graphics, smoke and the works. But aside from the glitz and the glamour, the band proved itself a worthy headliner, giving the fans upward of 90 minutes of hand-banging, bass-rocking techno rock.
This combination of rock and techno culminated in features such as electronic drum pads and an impressive double-necked bass with a touch-screen pad. All the while, robots, dystopian news reports and futuristic graphics populated the screens of the performance, providing a high-tech touch.
Expectedly, Muse performed its Spotify top hits “Madness,” “Starlight,” “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Uprising.” Though lead singer Matt Bellamy’s signature drawn-out notes and silky pronunciations were just as vibrant live, the festival’s audio system made it so that the lyrics were incomprehensible — if you didn’t already know the words to a song, you didn’t always know what was being sung.
Aside from the bigger, more popular songs, the crowd was largely not able to sing back the lyrics for any song outside of the English band’s top hits. But even though Muse lacked a die-hard audience, it performed an impressive set with booming vocals and nuanced instrumentals, one that left fans wanting to know more than just the top hits.
Just a few hundred feet away, the Chainsmokers performed on the Midway Stage, and incomprehensible lyrics be damned, Muse outshone the competing performance. In short, Muse’s set was a shot of fine gin while the Chainsmokers’ set was a crappy glass of a $6 box wine.
Earth, Wind & Fire — A ‘70s nightclub
It wasn’t “September,” but Earth, Wind & Fire surely said, “Let’s Groove,” before taking to the stage to give a “Fantasy” of a performance and take its fans to “Boogie Wonderland.” It was the perfect festival performance to kick off the band’s tour.
Earth, Wind & Fire needed no introduction. The band is an iconic one and has been around for nearly five decades, with a fashion as recognizable as its sound. At BottleRock, the three remaining original members of the band — Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White — hit the stage in the late afternoon along with several other bandmates. White’s magenta pink sequined pants paired with an Austin Powers-esque white ruffled shirt and white leather boots said it all — the crowd was headed to a ‘70s dance hall.
The band played some lesser-known tracks that Earth, Wind & Fire die-hards were not complaining about, because as Bailey put it, the songs may not have been “top 10 on the chart, but (they were) top 10 in your hearts.”
But as with any band, the classic hits were really what got the crowd going. “Boogie Wonderland” and “Let’s Groove” had everyone moving and, true to the song’s name, grooving, in a carefree blissfulness. Fans of all ages could appreciate the disco tunes.
“Fantasy” could only truly have been a fantasy if the late, great Maurice White had been present with his airy vocals, but alas, that in and of itself is a fantasy. Bailey couldn’t hit the notorious high notes, but nonetheless, the song was still oh so magical, with the help of a recording of the song playing in the background.
Surprisingly, the band did not end with its most famous song, “September,” but the track, which came second to last, was arguably worth the price of the entire weekend’s admission. With the evident aging of the 60-plus-year-old original band members since the original recording of “September,” the song’s performance was a vintage wine that, as any Napa Valley connoisseur would tell you, only gets better with age.
Snoop Dogg — The LBC (Long Beach, California)
Leave it to the Snoop D-O-double-G to get the party rocking by blowing several bundles of dollar bills into the crowd, sipping on gin and juice and rolling up some tree. In true gangsta fashion, Snoop Dogg appeared on stage with a stylish red tracksuit, a gold bedazzled mic and sunglasses as he performed in front of dancers on stripper poles.
Earlier in the day, Snoop Dogg took to the culinary stage, where he set a Guinness World Record for the largest paradise cocktail ever made — it was, of course, none other than juice and gin.
The Southern California rap legend was giggin’ and getting lit the entire time and encouraging his audience to do the same. He even brought out former 213 group member Warren G, and while keeping the late Nate Dogg in their hearts, the two performed hits including “So Fly,” “Regulate” and “This D.J.”
Snoop Dogg gave the crowd a good balance of older classics, from songs on albums such as the 1993 Doggystyle to more mainstream popular hits such as Akon’s “I Wanna Love You,” on which Snoop Dogg is featured. The scene was something out of a Southern California house party, with every person in the audience — which was one of the biggest crowds of the day — moving to the beat.
One of the greats himself, Snoop Dogg made sure to shout out other hip-hop legends during his performance, showing love to N.W.A, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Snoop Dogg demonstrated that even East Coast rappers can lay it down by paying tribute to The Notorious B.I.G., though there is no questioning where he stands in the “West Coast, best coast” debate.
As his set came to a close, Snoop Dogg ever so slightly slowed things down, asking his fans to belt his lyrics along with him. His song of choice was “Young, Wild & Free,” a track known for its Bruno Mars feature, which die-hard fans likely considered a weak note to end on. The upbeat pop song is not one of the staples that made the rapper who he is today, but it was hard to not smile and sing along to the catchy tune’s chorus as it played five times.
E-40 — The Yay Area
Napa may not be considered part the Bay Area, but the Bay’s claim-to-fame rapper, E-40, made it clear that he was in wine country trying to “Function.” With plenty of fans from the Bay in attendance, E-40’s set was still received as a homecoming.
The only bad thing about E-40’s set was that the crowd was too tightly packed to get your hands on your knees and truly wild out to every song. That being said, fans made do with what they had, leaning and rocking and showing off some good stank faces.
The rapper took his fans back in time to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, providing a backstory for many of his songs and reminiscing about old times. E-40, who is known for his hard-hitting beats and unique sound, got his fans going to songs such as “Yay Area,” “Choices,” “Sliding Down the Pole” and “White Gurl.”
He also bumped another Bay Area classic — “I Got 5 on It” by Luniz — that got everyone going wild. If the Luniz track was too niche for some, E-40 played a more widely known slap with Lil Jon’s “Snap Yo Fingers,” in which he is featured alongside Sean Paul.
Incubus — A homey Calabasas garage
Brandon Boyd, Brandon Boyd, Brandon Boyd. Anyone who knows the band knows that there is nothing more coveted than Boyd’s signature voice. If anyone in the crowd closed their eyes and simply listened to Boyd work the mic, they would’ve thought they were blasting a CD in their headphones or seeing a garage band, straight out of the best memories of their teen years.
The ‘90s band, while slightly aged, retained the same character and skill it possessed when it was on the come up. You really would’ve thought you were on a couch in a garage turned recording studio listening to the band, honing in on that special magic a band has right before it makes it big.
In the best way possible, Incubus makes its listeners feel like angsty teens looking to escape life’s hardships. Fans sang along to favorites including “Pardon Me,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Anna Molly.”
Boyd had a few wardrobe changes — meaning he took off his beanie and put it back on — and he got the ladies riled up when he opted for a shirtless performance.
What sent the performance home was none other than the song “Drive.” Boyd turned the mic to the crowd, and the audience members proudly sang along to the chorus.
While Incubus clearly had fun and put on an energetic performance, the passion, pain and emotion behind every song were clear and immaculately re-created by the band. Incubus was comforting in its staging choices. You could choose to jump and dance to the music or stop and reflect on the words, or perhaps do both, while always grooving to the nostalgic vibes.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue — Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
Trombone Shorty got the crowd going with his up-tempo set list, his rocking dance moves and his mission to take his audience down to “the mighty New Orleans.” A small break in the band’s original music was even taken for a rendition of the classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The style of the set was funky and fun, from Trombone Shorty’s solos on the trombone — boy, can that man’s hands go — to his brotherly interactions with his bandmates on stage. He noted that he and his bandmates have been playing together since they were 10 years old, and their positive energy and passion for their music fueled the energy of the crowd and ultimately of the overall show.
Trombone Shorty’s love for his band showed as he made sure his guitarists, saxophonists and drummer each had a short spotlight during the show. And his bandmates’ love for each other showed too. The tenor and baritone sax players were in sync the entire performance, even sporting similar dance moves.
Trombone Shorty definitely had a strong following of his own, as made evident by the dancing fans, who knew every beat and did their best to sing along. But if by chance viewers were in the audience only to secure better seats for the next act — Earth, Wind & Fire — they were surely not disappointed by the soulful Trombone Shorty.
Michael Franti & Spearhead — A private island where the only rules are happiness, peace and sunshine
Michael Franti, the barefoot humanitarian, made every single fan fall in love with him on Saturday afternoon. The phrase “good vibes” is largely overrated and often cringeworthy, but to describe this set as anything other than “good vibes” would be incorrect.
From Franti bringing his pregnant wife up onstage to sing and dance with him to Franti honoring a war veteran to Franti performing in the crowd for several songs, there was nothing not to love about the performance. Not only is Franti a talented musician, but boy, can he work a crowd and get people going.
Fans were lighthearted and blissful as they jammed along to Franti’s mix of rock, alternative and reggae music. Throughout the whole performance, Franti sent positive messages and loving words to his fans, a testament to his signature phrase, “Stay human.”
Franti’s most popular song, “Say Hey (I Love You),” got every fan, from those in the front row to those hundreds of feet away, singing along.
Jacob Banks — Head in the clouds, whisked away by a warm breeze
First things first: Digital recordings do not do this man justice. It almost feels sacreligious to tell people to go listen to Jacob Banks online because just as a breathtaking sunset cannot be fully encompassed with a photo, Banks’ brilliance is not the same if it is not live.
If you have ever watched “The Voice,” there are some singers who hit a couple notes, and within mere seconds, all four judges have slammed their buzzers and eagerly turned around. Jacob Banks would have easily had four “yes” votes moments into his performance.
The singer, who hails from Birmingham, England, left his crowd dumbfounded song after song after song — one would think you’d get used to his voice, but it got better with every song he sang, reinvigorating the awe of the fans.
There are few artists who you can see live with no previous knowledge of them but still truly enjoy their entire set, and Banks is one of those rare gems. Losing your Banks virginity is an empowering experience, and every deep, soulful, rich note that man booms from his lungs hits you.
Banks balanced more upbeat songs that got his band members involved with more ballad-style tracks, in which he owned the spotlight. He started his set slightly more closed off, delivering music without saying much to the crowd, but as his time went on, he blossomed and appeared more comfortable on stage, grooving to the music and proclaiming that he came to the States to turn up with his fans.
Banks played on a smaller stage at the festival, but he left no doubt that he is a headline-worthy talent, and he definitely turned up with his fans.
Christie Aguilar is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].