Interview: BottleRock aims to bring a major music festival to wine country
April 5, 2013
Written by Roman Gokhman
Longtime Napa residents and businessmen Bob Vogt and Gabe Meyers think that as important as Napa County has been for the Bay Area in terms of food and wine, entertainment is extremely lacking.
Meyers, a 42-year-old sports media producer, and Vogt, a 63-year-old lawyer and commercial real estate developer – he’s one of the principal owners of Napa’s Uptown Theatre – believe the city and region should represent more than a good meal and spa day.
“You can only have so many great meals and so much great wine before you’re like, ‘I have to work off this meal – let’s go see a band and dance,’” Meyers said. Even though the last dozen years have seen the openings of several music venues, such as the Uptown, big names to come through the region were few.
“Napa Valley is already a world-class brand. If we took what was already established, with four-and-a-half million annual visitors coming to this valley, and then added an event with world-class talent, that seemed like a no-brainer,” Meyers said.
That was the genesis of BottleRock Napa Valley, a five-day music and wine festival in the heart of Napa with a level of talent in its first year to rival Outside Lands in San Francisco. It is the largest event staged by Vogt and Meyers, who in 2010 created WillPower Entertainment, a small promotions company.
BottleRock, which will be held from May 8 to 12 on 26 acres at the Napa Valley Expo, will feature more than 50 of the biggest names in rock, such as the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Furthur and Jane’s Addiction. The Alabama Shakes will be there, as will indie favorites Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, alt-rockers like the Flaming Lips and the Shins, country big names like the Zac Brown Band, and one hip hop act, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who will open the festival on May 8.
“All the people we are going to be sharing the festival stage with; it’s incredible,” Zac Brown Band percussionist Daniel de los Reyes said. “I love Ben Harper and Jane’s Addiction, Kings of Leon, Black Crowes…Everyone on that list; some of my favorite bands.”
Attendees will enjoy food and wines from about 100 local wineries, breweries and restaurants, as well as a comedy line-up.
While the list above may sound similar to Outside Lands or Coachella, its size sets it apart and is one of the selling points.
“It’s a huge line-up; it’s amazing that we got that in year one,” Meyers said. “But we’re underselling it. Only 35,000 to 45,000 people can actually come. There were 75,000 people at Outside Lands this year. Bonnaroo and Coachella are 100,000-plus. Our whole idea for this is it’s a little bit more accessible, a little more intimate.”
Many BottleRock artists have never performed in Napa before, but some are familiar with California’s wine country.
De los Reyes said he first met Brown while exploring near the Russian River, and both have spent time in Napa. If he has any extra time while at the festival, he plans to visit a friend’s winery.
“I’m looking forward to the California weather,” he said.
Grouplove singer Hannah Hooper, a Bay Area native, has fond memories of hiking in the Skyline Wilderness Park with her family, although she’s never gone on a winery tour.
“If I do I would love to crush grapes between my toes,” she joked.
CONCERT PROMOTIONS FOR A CAUSE
Until now, WillPower specialized completely in concerts for causes. It is named for Vogt’s son, Will, who is autistic. With the help of Meyers’ wife, Will Vogt was able to overcome a severe disability. Now 21, he still faces many challenges in life.
“There are not a lot of resources out there in the world for adult autistics,” Meyers said. “It’s not a childhood disorder; they live long lives…so our mission is to help families and individuals on the autism spectrum.”
Willpower has also staged several benefit concerts for Bryan Stow, the Giants fan who was several beaten at a baseball game several years ago. The company has raised about $120,000 for Stow to-date.
BottleRock is a for-profit venture, but WillPower is teaming up with numerous charities and foundations to do good for the community. The three biggest nonprofit partners are the Napa Land Trust, Downtown Merchants Association, and Napa’s Foundation for Recreation, a scholarship fund for underprivileged youth.
Roughly 20 other organizations will benefit by giving out information and by drink sale profit-sharing through the “Bacchus Fund” at the festival.
“Bacchus, of course, is the Roman god of wine and abundance and partying,” Meyers said. “A dollar from every beverage sold – water, coffee, tea, soda and of course, wine – will be distributed. The more we consume, the more money we raise for our partners.”
Los Angeles duo Best Coast plan to partake in the revelry, singer-guitarist Bethany Cosentino said, but they will probably try to avoid imbibing more than they can handle.
The last time Best Coast played at a winery, they arrived early in the morning to set up and rehearse, and began drinking early.
“I am obsessed with wine, so I was drinking a lot on little sleep,” she said. “I think after we played our set, I fell asleep in the van for, like, four hours. (I) woke up very confused.”
MUSIC WITH A VIEW
Vogt and Meyers initially envisioned BottleRock as a festival similar to Austin City Limits or MusicFest Northwest in Portland.
“Napa is on a river just like Austin, Texas, just like Portland, Oregon,” Meyers said.
A few years ago a local merchant organized a small festival with musicians playing on front porches of historic Napa buildings, with attendees walking through downtown to reach each one. As the two BottleRock organizers were looking for nearly 20 locations to host stages, they decided the Expo presented a better set-up.
“It’s this great gift we have right in the heart of town, one half block from Main Street,” Meyers said. “Every night at 10 o’clock, when the outdoor amplified music has to stop, we turn people loose onto downtown Napa. We’ll have indoor late-night dancing as well as numerous after-parties. The town will be alive with music lovers.”
Best Coast has never been to the Napa Valley before and hopes to experience some of the beautiful scenery and quaint downtown.
“I like to play outdoors, but sometimes when you play outdoors you’re just playing on a stage built on top of concrete or a pile of dirt,” Cosentino said. “I have a feeling this one is going to be really beautiful.”
Meyers and Vogt hand-selected the majority of the line-up themselves, while the headliners recommended a few others.
“My dad is a major Deadhead, so I booked Furthur, for my father, and I booked Mavis Staples for my mother, for Mother’s Day,” Meyers said. “Coming up in the ‘80s, I was a punk-rock kid, so I’m just as excited about Bad Religion playing the show as I am about Ben Harper.
“We wanted a rock show. We felt like Napa Valley and the food and wine doesn’t lend itself so much to electronic dance music or hip-hop. When you’re comparing it to other festivals around the country, it’s distinct in that it’s primarily rock.”
Another of this festival’s selling points is not only the variety of wine and food options, but also the opportunity to mingle with chefs and winemakers.
“You’ll be tasting their wine and talking to them,” Meyers said. “Napa’s got the density of almost 600 established winemakers. That’s pretty amazing when you consider there’s only 120,000 people living in the entire county.”
In addition to the food, wine and music, there is comedy. While VIP ticketholders will have priority seating in the “comedy cellar,” the room will seat 1,000 so others will have a chance to see the likes of Demetri Martin, Jim Gaffigan, Tig Notaro and Jim Breuer.
AN INDEPENDENT VOICE
Through the whole planning process, Vogt and Meyers have gone at it largely by themselves, without the help of the Bay Area’s big players in concert promotion, such as Live Nation, Another Planet and GoldenVoice. That may change, Meyers said, but as long as they don’t need anyone’s help, the festival will stay independent.
“We’ve talked to them all (and) we’re still talking to them,” he said. “There’s real interest (from the big promoters), and there’s positives and negatives to it. If the offer is great, and it makes sense, we’ll consider partnering.”
Meyers may talk a big game, but that doesn’t mean he’s not nervous about undertaking WillPower’s biggest event to-date. When he and Vogt were figuring out how large to make BottleRock in its first year, some advised they should start small, with a one-day event and a handful of acts. But others said they should make a statement by going as big as possible and establishing a brand immediately.
After they decided on a direction, there was no going back.
“There’s nerves, but it’s not really nervousness; it’s excitement,” Meyers said.
“At half the size…of Outside Lands, it will feel big, but it’s also pretty darn small if you think about it,” he said.