All About BottleRock 2017:
A First-Time Rock Concert from a Parent’s Point of View
By Kathy Chin Leong

Your first taste of summer. That’s the tagline behind one of Northern California’s hottest rock festivals dubbed BottleRock held here in the city of Napa. With tunes wafting from the fairgrounds, it’s an all you-can-listen buffet of more than 60 bands young and old, local and international.  Every year the event grows larger and larger. On this fifth year, a total of 120,000 music lovers or 40,000 daily attendees waited in front of the gates daily, lining up 30 minutes or more each day  over Memorial Day weekend, Friday through Sunday. Nightly headliners included Maroon 5, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and the Foo Fighters.  

The festival’s timing was uncanny as one week earlier a bomb in Manchester, England killed 22 young people during an Ariana Grande concert. So it was no wonder as we stood in line, that patience was the key word after the gates opened, for security folks scanned each person with wand detectors. No one complained.  We spread arms and legs and unzipped backpacks and purses for a quick inspection. To get in, we tapped up our computer-chipped wristband to a little white box with a circle that lit up green or red.  If your band was legit, the circle activated in green.  The same white boxes were used for the VIP areas of different levels.  A general admission pass would get you into the majority of the areas, but not into special pavilions and upper decks that offered better views of the stages.

Once inside, it was an adult’s Disneyland across the sea of stages, food and vendor booths, pavilions and picnic areas.  With colorful banners and necklaces of lights strung throughout, I felt I was at a county fair, minus the animals. Beloved Napa artist Gordon Huether was chosen as the festival’s key artist, so he created giant signature pieces that would be on every festival goers’ social media pages. Huether’s giant sunshine yellow hand with detail down to the fingernail and wrinkles was holding a ball in between the index fingers and thumb. (The ball lit up at night, by the way). Mr. Hand greeted us as we walked in.  

Another artist, Laura Kimpton, created the larger-than-life-sized LOVE sculpture, a favorite with the L-O-V-E letters in rusted metal. Each letter was three-dimensional, standing erect at least 50 feet long on the lawn.  Fans loved to curl inside the O as they lined up to take photos.  Another fellow was daring enough to climb atop the V about 15 feet in the air. And fans of all ages and ethnicities were open and friendly, offering to take photos of my husband and I as we struggled to take our selfies in front of the structure.

On this weekend with temps in the 70s, the mood was, again, festive and happy with no flaring tempers or gangs in the making. I didn’t see festival attendees who seemed to want to be at the event to only get drunk and wasted.  I saw music lovers who zipped from one venue to another to enjoy their favorite performers.  There were many fans brandishing BottleRock t-shirts from year’s past and BottleRock 2017. I saw folks clad in t-shirts signifying certain bands, singers, and other rock festivals as if they were badges of honor.

 The pricetag for the event was not cheap. It started at $149 for a one-day pass.  The $349 three-day, general admission pass got us into all the concerts and activities.  The VIP passes cost $275 for a single day and $709 for all three days.  These included private sanctuaries on shaded pavilions that offered excellent views of the different stages.   Those who really wanted the ultimate experience paid $435 for one day and $1,200 for three days to get access to the Alaska Airlines Skydeck, the topmost platform that offered the best views of the performers.  

While in line, I met a young couple who drove two hours to see Tom Petty. They told me their one-day pass was a great price to pay since Mr. Petty rarely does solo concerts any more.  They also said that many musicians charge over $100 for a single show, and thus, $149 for an all-day pass with several concerts was worth the price and the drive. If you plan to go, note that tickets sell out within days when online sales open up in December.

If you want to bring your kids, the bonus is that children six and under are free when accompanied by one adult.  Each adult can bring up to two kids. Here’s what to expect: the sweet smell of weed will probably be in the air as it was this weekend. The two days I went, people were puffing and sharing joints during the concerts. The smell was strong, and I wondered what effect that would have on the babies in the audience who were already wearing baby headphones for protection.  Bringing in any type of drug is not allowed, but apparently attendees snuck it in anyway.  And even as people were smoking, no one did anything about it, either. I suppose the focus of security was on anti-terrorism and well-being and safety during the affair, and so volunteers overlooked this rule.

For the sake of kids and families, and for the integrity of the festival to adhere to rules, this should be enforced in an appropriate manner just as we emptied out our water bottles and gave up our edible snacks at the security gates. And heads up, parents, the performers do swear on stage as well, so don’t be surprised. This is a general interest rock concert, not a family-focused concert festival, remember?  

The program lineup featured local up-and-comers, current big names as well as older remarkable, legendary favorites. Mavis Staples is a popular blues and rock singer, who has been at it for decades. During her set, she told everyone where was a freedom marcher in the 1960s who marched with Martin Luther King Jr.   People applauded the diva.

And then Adam Levine, celebrity and judge of The Voice TV show, was a clear favorite on the first night with a 90-100 minute set. His high-energy showmanship in roaming the stage, angling the mike stand, pointing at the audience, combined with choreographed lighting, proved he is the consummate performer. He was at ease and at home in the spotlight, winning over the audience, engaging everyone in song.  Earlier on the first day, a young band named Secure the Sun opened up the show.  What a great opportunity for this regional band to be able to state they sang on the same stage as Maroon 5.  Variety, indeed, is the spice of life.

The four venues were plenty big enough to hold fans, and there was enough shade even in the hottest part of the day. What did make it hard was listening at certain times when two bands were entertaining at once. Sometimes the sounds would crash, and even Adam Levine was a bit perturbed when he was singing, and he could hear the other band, Modest Mouse, playing in the distance.  

This rock festival is unique in that it has a separate culinary series where celebrity chefs are paired with musicians.  They are given just 30 minutes to perform, so there is no technical cooking instruction, just entertaining banter.  The chef will do something related to food while joking or sharing stories with the guest musician. For instance, Ayesha Curry (wife of the famed Steph Curry) offered to make fried chicken and waffles as musician E-40 looked on, commenting on this and that.  She had the chicken ready and prepared the waffles as her husband made a surprise visit to the stage with fans screaming in delight.  And when the cooking burner failed to operate when she was hoping to make a bananas flambé, Ayesha quickly performed a rap and dutifully dropped the mike when she was finished.  Other celebs included Martha Stewart and Jesse Ferguson of the Modern Family television series. 

Throughout the day, starting at 11:30 until closing time at 10 p.m., a boatload of activities entertained young and old. Sure, there were three music stages and the Williams Sonoma Culinary stage with simultaneous acts, but there was also a kid’s play area with pre-school and elementary school art projects and climbing blocks. The Sutter Health spa pavilion provided free facials, product samples, short massages, and hairdos and makeup tips.  Some services were complimentary, others cost money. The place offered plenty of visibility for local spas. Most unusual was a booth that offered intravenous injections for instant hydration. And yes, many attendees were participating with tubes sticking out of their veins. The sports bar featured fooz ball and pool tables.Outside, we were grooving giddily to the silent disco, also available for children.  

A headphone company issued headphones with built-in tunes so that everyone listened to the same music and danced with smiles in silence.  Strange, but fun to do and to watch. At night the headphones glowed, in purple and red and green, as a joyous people freely rocked to tunes as if they were in the shower at home.   On one of the nights, over 4,500 participated in the country’s largest silent disco on one of the stage areas-another opportunity to experience the festival bands, Outkast’s Big Boi and The White Panda, via headphone. 

In the VIP area, kids and adults also got their manes combed and braided with specific BottleRock hairstyles in the Paul Mitchell hair salon booth.  In the general admission section, an Acura car booth staged its own version of car karaoke, and filmed volunteers who were having a great time rocking out and singing to lyrics televised inside the car. Several wineries decked out their own lounges with chandeliers and carpeting and tables. The Meiomi winery offered guests the chance to make their own jewelry using plastic succulents. For me, it was an ideal opportunity to operate the right side of my brain while my husband Frank nabbed the chance to sit down and evade the hot sun.

In many areas, people could play bean bag  games, giant Jenga, and lawn Connect Four games. More times than not, guests played with a glass of wine or beer in hand.  

Unlike other festivals where food booths may have ordinary carnival food, this fest carried local restaurant fare direct from the Napa greats. Every type of cuisine and dessert and beverage imaginable was there. All you needed was money. Tasties included vegetarian pot stickers, ahi tuna poke, lobster mac and cheese, garlic fries, and more. On the dessert end, we discovered gourmet cupcakes, Vietnamese coffee ice cream, and a Fat Elvis ice cream sundae with peanut butter and bacon. An extensive lineup of local wineries and breweries offered up more labels than the average human should consume.  We are in Napa, right?

Fortunately, with plenty of security everywhere, concert goers did not get scary or out of control.   If you plan to go next year, note that you cannot bring any food or beverages at all. Even your water bottles must be empty. We learned this the hard way when we had to give up our power bars and little pouches of raisins.  Do bring an open appetite, for the food is delicious.

Concert swag was in full force, but it took patience to go from booth to booth to collect goodies.  I thought of it like a personal scavenger hunt.  Dove Bar gave away special caramel chocolate, milk and dark chocolate pieces.  KIND gave away KIND power bars. Other vendors offered up coconut water and also flavored bottled water.  CamelBak provided taps of free purified water at its own booth and also sold signature BottleRock 2017 water bottles. 
Those who came up to Columbus Salumeria of Hayward could pose with props at its photo booth and also receive mini packages of sliced salami.  Jim Beam spirits company handed out tiny electric fans that activated when attached to a juiced up cell phone. Sutter Health featured an online survey with five questions.  Guests could win a CamelBak water bottle, a t-shirt, or socks.  Very useful were the packaged earplugs presented by one downtown day spa.

Throughout the concert event, I noticed groups of people, and particularly grandparents with their grandchildren. Then there were the young parents and their babies who set up their picnic blankets during the evening concerts. It was a delight to see moms and their little daughters listen to Mavis Staples.  I saw dads show their toddler sons how to draw on the chalkboard in the children’s play area. To me, seeing music draw families together was a cool way of seeing how a rock concert can manage to achieve some very special memories. Have the time?  The energy? The bucks? Love for rock?  Give this festival a test drive, and start it off as a parents' getaway.  It’s not for the faint-hearted, for it requires patience to stand in line.  And the crowds can be overwhelming if you are not able to handle thousands of people at once.  Think of it as a big people theme park, and you will understand.  Check often. Your all-year-can-hear rock-and-roll music buffet first taste of summer awaits in 2018.
Napa Valley Fairgrounds
Cost: $100-plus for a single day pass
Upcoming: BottleRock 2018 slated for May 25-27, 2018.

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