BOTTLE ROCK NAPA (http://www.bottlerocknapavalley.com)
Just returning from my second year at Bottle Rock in Napa, I thought I’d share what this festival has to offer from my perspective. But, if you want to read complaints and negativity about the event, you won’t see them here…cuz I tend to prefer things with a positive spin. Taking place at the Napa Fairgrounds in Northern California’s gorgeous wine country, this event is awesome, to say the least…but, it comes with some challenges. The lineup was phenomenal considering that this festival is all of two years old! The frustrating issue with festivals is that there are more than one stage, and the bands tend to overlap. So, you run into the problem of having two great bands (sometimes more)
performing at the same time and having to make the decision of which ones to see. It can be a tough challenge deciding whether to watch one band and miss the other, or to catch a little bit of each band, missing a portion of both shows (and usually some of their best songs.)
My two experiences (2013 & 2014) were very different from each other, but both kicked ass. But, unfortunately, due to my busy schedule, I was only able to spend one day out of three at this festival each year. Oh well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s better than not going at all.
In it’s debut year, my friends and I chose to plant ourselves at the main stage and stay there for the majority of the time. This was, according to us, the best choice, because three great bands were performing here, one right after the other. First was Michael Franti and Spearhead, who was followed by Train, and the grand finale was the Zac Brown Band. And, though the other stages featured bands we wanted to see, we felt that it was better to watch three bands in their entirety, than to catch partial shows at different stages, spending valuable listening time walking from one stage to another. This year, however, we did the opposite by mapping out our schedule and trekking from one stage (and one band) to another.
Bottle Rock 2013 was very warm, with temperatures feeling in the high 80s/low 90s. The fairground was dirt-filled and dusty, mingling with sweaty bodies, it was grimy. But, having spent what seems like a lifetime at concerts (I’m from the Day on the Green generation,) as well as experiencing festivals of many varieties (New Orleans Jazz Fest, South By Southwest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, etc,) you know that anything can happen here, so you’d better be adaptable! It can be a scorcher, it can rain, it can be cold, it can be dirty, it can be crowded, it can be irritating, but if you truly love music, it is an experience, and usually a good one, if you ask me! As I mentioned earlier, we decided to stay put at one stage (there were four)…the Main Stage. First on was Michael Franti & Spearhead…but, I’m not going to critique or review their show here, as I’m no professional…and, that’s not what I really do on this blog. I will, however, mention that this was my first time seeing these guys and I really enjoyed them. With his hair wrapped up in a beanie, and strumming a beautiful acoustic guitar with a wooden inlaid design reminiscent of a Peter Max poster, Franti and the band hit the stage. They were high energy, with Michael commanding the stage (and the audience’s attention) from one far end to the other. At one point, he came out into the crowd to entertain us, up close and personal. Before long, the beanie was gone and his long dreadlocks hung freely in the warm breeze. I was impressed by the sharing of his personal path with the crowd, mentioning that he had been adopted by a family in Oakland, California and was so grateful for his life. He makes sure to pay it forward and is involved in a number of foundations, organizations, fundraising events, and raising awareness for those in need. Towards the end of their show, the band invited a whole bunch of kids onstage to join them for a song or two. Michael Franti embraces mankind and seems really in touch with who he is (an adopted child with French, German, Irish, Native American and African American) and where he came from (Oakland, CA.) Whereas, I really liked the music, which is a complimentary blend of reggae, hip-hop, funk and rock, I was more impressed with the man. Any way you look at it, though, it was a show worth watching…and a band worth seeing again! Check them out here: https://www.michaelfranti.com
***As the confusingly annoying website suggested, I got myself down to the Austin Convention Center, checked in, got all tagged up with my Music Badge and R & R Transportation wristband, then took myself on a tour of the grounds. It all went smoothly, I fit right into the crowd (who wouldn’t – there are people of all ages, sizes, shapes and fashion) and immediately strolled around the Trade Show floor. All the booths and displays were high tech, over my head and beyond my interest types of rigamorole. I know, I should probably make an effort to learn some of this multi-media-techno-appie-state of the art computer braniacal information, but nah….I don’t feel like it. Not today, at least. The one and only booth that stopped me in my tracks, and held my interest for more than a minute, was the vinyl record one, (http://www.vinylrecorder.com/index-e.html) where they were imprinting a record album before our very eyes. Now this was cool!
As the flat, smooth disc revolved on the turntable, the needle carved the grooves…and was turning it into a record album! Now, this spoke to me! I immediately dug out my camera and took a few shots in fascination, as did another, professional, photographer, who was as mesmerized by the process as I was. We chatted it up about the good ol’ days of albums and 45s, and how clueless we were to how this process was possible, but how thankful and grateful we were to whomever came up with it! It was music to our ears!
After wandering around a little more, and not being enticed by much of the newfound interactive web tech stuff, I decided to hit the streets. 6tth Street, Austin’s wild and crazy street scene, was right around the corner….and I heard it calling me. So, like a good girl, I went! It was broad dayight on a Wednesday afternoon, and the joint was jumpin’! There are bars upon bars on 6th, and each and every one had live music pouring out of it. It was insane! Musicians, college students, SXSW attendees, visitors, locals, etc, filled the streets partying, playing, and performing. It’s a haven for creative souls and those who love them!
I cruised in and out of a number of clubs, getting a large helping of music – at places called the ‘Chuggin Monkey,’ ‘Blind Pig,’ ‘Thirsty Nickel,’ ‘Darwin’s Pub,’ ‘Dizzy Rooster,’ ‘Whiskey & Ink,’ ‘Friends,’ and the ‘Rooftop Bar’ to name a few. There seemed to be one heavy metal/death metal band after another at these places and I thought that if this is what I’m in store for all week, please shoot me now! I do not consider this music. When each band member seems to be competing to make the most noise as fast as possible, I call it ‘Music on Crack’ or ‘Speed Playing.’ There is no talent involved, as for as I’m concerned. Riding the cymbals at 100 mph is simple….any speed freak can do it.
I continued on until I came across a band that had some talent and weren’t trying to blow peoples’ eardrums out. Granted, I’m no spring chicken, so I like music from, or at least similar to, what I call ‘back in the day.’ I was raised on the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Who, so I prefer music by musicians who also were. These guys, the Kris Bell Band (http://www.krisbellmusic.com/BIO.html) obviously were. They played original music that had a beat, groove, vocals, melody, and came together in coherent songs.
They’re from Tennessee, were straight up musicians (didn’t rely on fluff and sparkle to entertain. They just played….and I stayed around to listen. All their tunes were catchy, and for their grand finale they played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird,’ which is a classically iconic tune that transcends generations of music lovers, tastes, styles and interests. It’s an anthem!! I walked out of Darwin’s with a smile on my face and the name of the band in my hand.
A block down the street I came across another intriguing band – LA Velvet (http://www.lavelvetband.com/). The first thing that catches your eye is the gimmick – girl leads, pink hair, short school girl skirts, big boobs. But then, you stop and take a listen and get hooked. The front man is a woman, who plays the guitar, sings, and is appealing to the eye. Up front with her, and not to be outshown, is a fiddler who strutted her stuff and rocked the strings! The other three – bass, guitar, and drums – were guys who brought their own wiley ways to the stage. This band may look glitzy, but if you saw their schedule (they played five times in five days in Austin) you’d see that they are a hard working group.
Ok, as you can see, I’m not a critic, reviewer, or journalist…I’m just a music appreciator. I can size up a band in a matter of minutes, and a few songs. If they don’t keep my interest, I’m off to the next one. This is what makes South By Southwest so much fun. It’s like being a kid in a candy factory. When one doesn’t please your palate, go take a taste of the next one. I think I said it earlier, but I’ll say it again….SXSW is a music lovers haven! Today was great…but tomorrow is another day!