Festival Napa Valley Invites Delight

By Jennifer Raiser

Diavolo — renowned for combining contemporary dance with martial arts, acrobatics, hip-hop and elaborate set design — performs on July 19th as a part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. (Sharen Bradford)

Napa Valley in summer is always a sybaritic experience, but in mid-July the delights intensify with Festival Napa Valley. Now in its 14th year, the 10-day celebration of art, music, dance, food, and, of course, wine offers extraordinary experiences for everyone who loves Napa. That brings oenophiles, foodies and culture vultures together with schoolchildren, families and locals to celebrate the richness of community and raise funds for arts education. The chockablock schedule is jam-packed with concerts, tastings, dinners, an arts-oriented youth summer camp, an academy for young professional musicians, five free public concerts, and a screening of the first Star Wars movie — with a live orchestra.

“Our mission is ‘arts for all,’” says festival President and CEO Rick Walker, “and we mean it. We are the largest funder of arts and music in the Napa Valley public school system. We’ve raised $12 million so far.”

Walker describes an ingenious system in which everyone contributes what they can: Wineries and proprietors offer top-tier dining experiences; restaurants join forces for the Taste of Napa and concert with Wonder Bread 5; and patrons pony up for parties with headliner performers. This year’s A-listers include the singer Seal and Broadway royalty Patti LuPone. Everyone can get in on the giving as volunteers, ushers and hosts to young musicians who come to study at the institute by day and perform with top-tier musicians at night. Many artists adjust their fees and stay on after they have left the spotlight.

“Normally a performer goes offstage and that’s it,” Walker says. “Here they join us afterward for dinner and often stay a few days. They love the unique spirit of this festival, too.”

Patrons come from near and increasingly far for days of exclusive food and wine experiences followed by world-class performances. “We have many people who make this their annual indulgence vacation; they treat it like a reunion to see their festival friends,” Walker says.

Walker cites his board of directors, a veritable who’s who of the Valley, and the hosting venues as crucial components in assuring success. “The vintners and resorts really look forward to this festival — it’s a time for them to shine,” he says. “They know that supporting a worthy cause helps to build a strong community, and they all want to be part of it. This tradition of hospitality is a deep part of Napa.”

Walker recalls a signature festival moment from a few years ago, a gala dinner on the croquet greens at Meadowood Resort: “Everyone was having such a good time, the evening just kept going on and on into the night. As we were getting up to leave, the high-powered golf sprinklers went off and guests were suddenly soaking wet. In a lot of situations people would have been appalled. Margrit Mondavi, who was very active with the festival, started dancing around in the sprinklers and soon many joined her, laughing and having a great time. It was joyous. That’s when I knew this festival was something really, really special. And it still is.”

Don’t Miss

July 12: Opening Night: Opera Under the Stars at Meadowood features soprano Joyce El-Khoury, tenor Francesco Demuro and baritone Lucas Meachem.

July 13: Indulge in top-notch food, wine and, yes, music at Taste of Napa, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Vista Collina Resort.

July 14: A highlight of Festival Napa, this year’s Arts for All Gala at HALL Wines features Seal in concert.

July 15: Don’t cry for Patti LuPone! She’ll perform for lucky festival patrons at Calistoga Ranch. Invite only.

July 18: Get your geek on as Lincoln Theater screens Star Wars: A New Hope Live — with a full orchestra! Patrons invited. Let the force be with you.

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