BY HELEN LAME’ AND DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The seventh annual BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival concluded Sunday night with headlining sets by Mumford & Sons, Santana and Pharrell Williams bringing the Memorial Day weekend event to a utopian close with over 120,000 fans attending the three day event. With temperatures consistently milder than previous festivals, and intermittent rain on Sunday, the diverse mix of music, wine and culinary delicacies seemingly had something to offer for everyone.
Playing his first Bay Area show since the final Bridge School benefit in 2016, Neil Young + Promise of the Real played a transcendent set, joining The Cure and Foo Fighters as recent headliners to have the plug pulled on their performances for exceeding the strict BottleRock curfew of the event set in residential Napa.
The 73 year old Canadian Rock ‘N’ Roll of Famer continues to do things his way, taking the stage 15 minutes late at the start of his tightly regulated performance window only to quickly launch into a feedback induced 15 minute jam of “Love and Only Love,” from 1990’s Ragged Glory, quickly eating up a large amount of his allocated set time.
From there the remaining 75 minutes of the hour and a half performance was a nostalgic trip through Young’s five decade long career. Fan favorites including “Like A Hurricane,” “Heart of Gold” and “Harvest Moon” mixed brilliantly with Crazy Horse staples such as “Mansion on the Hill” and “Rockin’ in the Free World,” the evening’s final song that would ultimately see the crowd continue to sing along with the grandfather of grunge even after the speakers and video monitors had been turned off once the clock struck 10(pm).
Earlier, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats delivered one of their signature lively and upbeat brands of Roots-Rock Americana that they’ve come to specialize in, with the infectious “S.O.B.,” the first single from their debut effort joining more recent cuts such as “Hey Mama” and the title track of their most recent, “Tearing at the Seams.”
The bands summer tour is highlighted by a pair of headlining gigs at Red Rocks starting August 21st before returning to the Festival circuit in September for a series of shows where they’ll be appearing besides artists ranging from Robert Plant to John Fogerty, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters.
Gary Clark Jr., the 35 year old guitar wizard from Austin, demonstrated his prowess with a fusion of rock, soul and the blues that weighed heavily on his recently released album This Land, which dropped just three months ago. Having shared the stage with the likes of Eric Clapton, Foo Fighters, Jeff Beck and Dave Matthews, Clark’s set-closing rendition of The Beatles “Come Together” had the crowd fully engaged.
East Bay native and soul rocker Michael Franti, fresh off of appearances at The Fillmore to begin the year in support of Stay Human Vol.II, which had been released just days earlier, was a recurring presence over the weekend. Performing three separate times over the weekend on different platforms ranging from the intimate canopied VIP tent to the main stage, the always joyous Franti is well positioned for his summer tour that starts Friday in Seattle before returning to the Bay Area June 11th for a pair of shows at the the Saratoga Mountain Winery.
The legendary Carlos Santana’s Sunday set provided a magical overview of the guitar icon’s half century on the stage. With their new album Africa Speaks set to release next Friday, the fact that the band completely eschewed it in favor of older material and fan favorites failed to disappoint in the least.
Opening with “Soul Sacrifice,” followed shortly by performances of “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye como va,” Santana and his band left little doubt that the upcoming 50th anniversary of Woodstock would be more influential on their setlist than their upcoming release.
A drummer fronted version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that evolved into a screeching solo by the frontman was an unexpected surprise, as was Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” which followed Santana’s commercial comeback “Smooth” from 1999’s Supernatural. The Chambers Brothers “Love, Peace and Happiness” would conclude the show.
On Friday, it seemed like Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds was in need of a geography lesson. Reynolds seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the Napa Valley isn’t a part of Los Angeles, but the Las Vegas native stepped up his game in time to warrant a headlining slot, a mortifying cover of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” not withstanding. Rebounding with some of their hits including “Thunder,” “Natural” and “Radioactive,” the Dragons were still able to display what enabled them to earn headliner status in the first place.
Earlier in the day, Jenny Lewis, wearing a full length pink sequined dress with appropriately similar sunglasses on a 70° afternoon, performed a 12 song set featuring cuts from her newly released album On The Line. In addition to a pair of tracks from her collaboration with The Watson Twins and “Silver Lining,” from her halcyon days as front woman for Rilo Kiley, the former indie singer-songwriter and child actress entertained the crowd with her guitar and keyboard talents along with always melodic vocals.
Vintage Trouble, the stylish Hollywood based rhythm & blues band fronted by Ty Taylor, might not have been known to many in the early arriving crowd, but their upbeat style and retro rocking energy quickly won them over. Touring shortly after the release of Chapter II – EP II, the completion of a set that first arrived in November, tracks such as “Knock Me Out,” “Run Like the River” and a cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” were quick to make lasting impressions.
Another attraction throughout the weekend was the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage, which featured cooking demonstrations which paired many well-know chefs with several musicians and celebrities, including Ken Griffey Jr., Alice Cooper, Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Rice and Trisha Yearwood.
With crowds approaching 40,000 people per day, there were hardly any signs of altercations outside of a few brief instances where immaturity or inability to handle one’s alcohol consumption got in the way. The overwhelming sense of a positive atmosphere with great vibes in the air throughout the weekend remained intact.
Once again, BottleRock pulled off one of the finest festival line-ups of the year in just it’s seventh year of operation. 2020’s BottleRock Festival is already set to take place May 22-24 on the same Memorial Day holiday weekend.