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We go inside 2018’s Bottle Rock Confidential

By Lucy Graves

BottleRock Music Festival 2018, Napa Valley

In the world of Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly, is BottleRock the new mothership of great Bay Area music festivals?

Carey Lee and Sean Walters have made the 1,700-mile trek to Napa for the past three years. 

Rather than visit the region’s plethora of wineries, abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants or add a day trip to sightsee in San Francisco, the Dallas couple shells out more than $15,000 each year for one reason: Three music-filled days at BottleRock.

Over the past six years, more than 120,000 people descend on the Wine Country hotspot to listen to everything from Bruno Mars, Macklemore and The Chainsmokers to OutKast, Weezer and Stevie Wonder.

Tickets to the three-day lollapalooza sell out within hours. Airbnb bookings soar. Want to get nearby parking? Good luck. Trying to score an extra ticket for a friend? Better say a prayer. Once the BottleRock hype begins to build at the start of each year, pull out the crop tops and inconveniently sized hats, because the typical boozy serenity that fills the other 362 days of each year is tossed aside to make way for one of the most talked-about music festivals in the country.

Opening Act

Just like a bottle of fine wine, BottleRock keeps getting better with age. Since it kicked off its inaugural festival in 2013, the event has attracted some of the biggest names in the industry. For 2018, that included showstoppers — or is it showstarters? — like Muse, The Killers, Halsey, Oh Wonder, E-40, Snoop Dogg and 80 others that graced eight stages across the Napa Valley Expo’s 34-acre expanse.

BottleRock Music Festival 2018, Napa Valley

Attracting that level of musical talent was made possible last year when media conglomerate Live Nation Entertainment acquired a majority stake in the Napa music festival. Live Nation has since taken a more hands-off approach to BottleRock’s organization — most of that power has stuck with former Latitude 38 founders Dave Graham, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins — but the relationship has meant the festival has received a dose of sophisticated glamour mixed with powerhouse headliners. Who else would be able to bring in The Roots one year and The Revivalists the next?

Graham, CEO of BottleRock Napa and BottleRock Presents, said earlier this year that the organizers were “thrilled about this year’s lineup featuring world-renowned artists who, combined, have won 39 Grammy, Billboard Music and American Music Awards and received 150 nominations.”

In a word: Whoa.

General admission tickets for all three days started at $350 this year, an amount Elsa Rodriguez, a 23-year-old from Sacramento, spent months saving up for.

“It meant no Ubers, no new clothes and asking my parents for the extra $50 for an advance birthday present,” the romper-clad millennial said while holding a glass of rose and adjusting her oversized glasses. So was it worth it? “Oh, my god, yes. I mean, I came for Bruno Mars, but this is something people will be talking about for months. The lineup is amazing, the food is amazing and yeah, the drive home sucks, but the music can’t be beat.”

No pun intended.

It’s a sentiment everyone from the twentysomethings to the married professionals share as they pack themselves in as close as possible to the stage without crawling into a speaker.   

Lee, who works as a boutique publicist back in the Lone Star State, said BottleRock and Austin City Limits are the only live music festivals she and her husband attend religiously each year. 

“There’s nothing like it,” she said of the Napa event, which has become known for kicking off one of the busiest seasons of the year for the city’s hotels, restaurants, wineries and small businesses. “Where else can you carry around wine glasses and hear some amazing music? Everything else feels grimy or like I should have just graduated college. Something about BottleRock just feels classier.”

But neither Lee nor her husband are willing to settle for general admission. They shell out for the perks.

BottleRock Music Festival 2018, Napa Valley

Very V-I-P

While every one of the 40,000 event-goers who cross through the BottleRock turnstiles have access to some of the best amenities that music festivals can offer — world-class food, readily available alcohol and even astroturf to cut down on the dust that used to carpet the expo grounds — there are benefits to shelling out thousands of dollars for a three-day pass.

For those who want to go beyond blanket seating and paying for drinks, there are multiple levels to BottleRock’s above-average experience.

For more than double the cost of a general admission pass, the first VIP level comes with a special stage-side viewing area and an exclusive concessions stand. While you still have to pay for all the beers and glasses of wine consumed between the festival’s 10-hour span, it comes with shorter lines and that extra shot of privilege. The price: $750 for all three days.

If you want to take another step up the ladder, there’s the Sky Deck option, which will set you back $1,500 a pop. From free drinks and an elevated viewing area to get a better glimpse of Earth, Wind & Fire, there is only one drawback, according to Walters.

“There aren’t any special bathrooms this year,” he lamented. “Last year they were set aside for us, but at least we still have the drinks and shade. That makes it worth it.”

As with everything in Wine Country, there is always room for more luxury. Bottlerock, however, comes with a serious price tag. For nearly $4,000 a pass, all of the stops are pulled out for Platinum ticketholders. Along with all of the booze you can hold and some of the best seats in the house to see the shows, bites of flame-grilled steak, creamy risotto and upscale tacos — no unidentifiable meats in these wonders — the Platinum perks are worth the splurge if you’re aiming to live your #bestlife.

Spillover

All of the glamour and excitement that envelopes the expo grounds has built up over the past six years — and simply can’t be contained within BottleRock’s gated entry points.

As Michael Franti’s performance echoes throughout downtown Napa, nearby hotels and restaurants have tailored their typically high-end experiences to the throngs of guests who crowd into their space over the three-day period.

Festival-goers completely booked the ritzy Carneros Resort and Spa months in advance, sending rates even higher than their typical $850-per-night average.

Ed Costa, Carneros’ general manager, said the hotel provided daily shuttles to and from BottleRock, expanded restaurant hours so people could grab a late nightcap and even added another brunch option on the following Monday.

Aaron Meneghelli, Carnero’s executive chef, even performed on the festival’s Culinary Stage, an entirely separate arena to embody Bottlerock’s ideal threesome among music, food, and of course, wine.

BottleRock Music Festival 2018, Napa Valley

Final Act

BottleRock is no average music festival. Sure, it has all of the headliner appeal to compete with the Coachellas and Sasquatches. But when it comes to living large, BottleRock’s organizers have been focused on perfecting the experience. (The location certainly helps.)

Sure, it took some time to get there. When the festival first kicked off, Napa residents were concerned it was incompatible with the iconic destination. But Team BottleRock was committed to the riverside spot, and prohibited camping or parking in neighborhoods to appease worries. Over time, there were tweaks and upgrades in order to make BottleRock what it is today: a classy combination of A-list music combined with Napa’s top-tier food and wine world.

As The Struts’ lead singer Luke Spiller told the enthused crowd screaming before him, “We are playing the greatest festival in America.”

And, of course, he was talking about BottleRock.

All photos courtesy BottleRock Napa Valley.

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