A Brief History of the BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival

Since May 2013, BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival has drawn rock & roll enthusiasts to California’s premiere wine country. When it first began, it seemed to locals that the idea of a four-day music festival in upscale Napa was completely incompatible, and not the greatest plan. But organizers determined to hold the festival at the park-like area of the Napa Valley Expo situated alongside the river in downtown Napa. The two square miles of riverfront offered a cozy location for concerts, and the organizers clearly advertised which acts played on each day. The idea was to focus on selling more single-day-tickets. Fans wouldn’t have trouble finding places to spend the night. No camping was allowed at the site, and attendees would need to leave their cars in satellite lots and transfer into the concert area on shuttles. Plenty of attention was focused on crowd management, and even more was directed toward booking established artists for the event.

The first lineup included Alabama Shakes, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Best Coast, Dirty Projectors were the newest Billboard arrivals. There was also a diverse selection of diverse, yet more established acts such as Dwight Yoakam, Jackson Brown, Primus, Blues Traveler, Cake, Black Keys and Train. The overall plan was to have a rock show which would bring in about 35,000 people each day. This was considerably less than other festivals such as Coachella which was bringing in anywhere from 65,000 to 85,000 per day.

Willpower Entertainment was the small firm from Napa which organized the first event. Gabe Meyers, one of the co-founders of the firm, described BottleRock as “a connoisseur’s rock festival for people with a palate”. Bob Vogt was a real estate attorney who was passionate about music, and co-produced BottleRock with Meyers. He moved to Napa to raise his children in a great place. He met Gabe Meyers, who was a Napa native, and the two worked at downtown development together for a long time. They also grew apart for a time, but reconciled and formed Willpower Entertainment.

Vogt and Meyers aimed the rock festival toward millennials ages 26 to 45, and selected bands that played music for those who grew up in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. They did the work of organizing themselves, and then relied on connections and festival experts to do what they couldn’t. They created areas for three stages and planned to sell low-backed chairs to keep folks comfortable. A stage was placed at the entrance for local bands to perform, and a comedy stage was set as well. Whole Foods, top chefs, and 40 wineries were included for food and beverage tents. Plans to donate funds to charity were added in, and included several causes such as autism research and the Music Connection which donates instruments and baseball fields to kids that need them.

It was unfortunate that the inaugural festival was estimated to have left $2.5 million in unpaid wages and services. The City of Napa, catering and transportation vendors, the Napa Valley Expo venue provider and various individuals all lined up as creditors. Though there were more than 120,000 concert goers, and generally positive reviews, the first event suffered from various issues. Bob Weir, guitarist and Grateful Dead offshoot had fallen on stage before the BottleRock event, and cancelled. This led to more cancellations from headliners. Last minute planning changes created debts to the City of Napa which were left unpaid. Public opinion sagged as even the portable toilet vendor of more than 300 festival toilets remained unpaid. To resolve financial woes, subsequent festival proceeds were used to partially pay off debts.

Even with the shaky start, the festival continued with new promotors and amazing line-ups of top performers from 2014 through 2017. The festival will again take place on May 25 through 28, 2018. Performers set include Earth, Wind & Fire, Bruno Mars, Dean Lewis, MUSE, The Killers, Snoop Dogg, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Billy Idol, Incubus, E-40, Mike D, Head and the Heart, Tanks and the Bangas, the Chainsmokers, Phantogram, and Thievery Corporation. Soon, the City of Napa will resonate with incredible music, food, and wine. The original vision of Vogt and Meyers has been realized and continued. The unlikely combination of palette and passion for music seems to suit Napa well.

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