Ben and Celeste Take on BottleRock

4 mins read

On Friday, May 24, we drove North for the annual BottleRock Napa Valley music festival. We were excited to spend the day on festival grounds in hopes of hearing great music, enjoying some delicious eats, and people-watching the diverse and entertaining crowd.

When doors opened at 11:30 a.m., we quickly made our way to the Prudential Stage. Tucked away behind a merchandise tent, Oakland-based high schooler Naima Nascimiento impressed us with her calm, folksy songs.

We took the next hour to get acclimated to the festival grounds as crowds began to pour in. With 40,000 in attendance each day, the festival was large and explorable but still more intimate than most other big festivals. Hoping to find some new artists to add to our playlists, we visited Sanho at the Truly Stage, The Takes at the Verizon Stage, and DJ Ren at The Club.

Similar to EDM areas at other festivals—like Outside Lands’ SOMA—The Club was home to techno music and strobe lighting for the partiers of the festival. The small room imitated a real club, with a full bar and security guards at the door.

We headed to the JaM Cellars Stage to watch 17-year-old guitarist Grace Bowers perform with her band Grace Bowers & The Hodge Podge. The band’s lead singer Esther Okai-Tetteh radiated joy as she belted out upbeat blues tunes. Though we were at first disappointed that a VIP section separated the stage from the general admission (GA) section, we soon realized that the VIP section tapered off halfway through the audience while the left side of the GA section offered a close-up view.

Being in the heart of wine country, BottleRock is branded as not only a music festival but also three days of great food and wine sponsored by Williams Sonoma. A large field between the two main stages was home to many local vendors selling pricey meals and treats including a $42 caviar hot dog. For lunch, we ended up choosing ahi tuna poké bowls from Ok and the Fox, which were solid but not as flavorful as what you might find at local Bay Area spots.

After lunch, we visited TikTok sensation Jessie Murph at JaM Cellars. Her live vocals sounded just like her studio recordings, but we weren’t particularly impressed with the set’s cheesy cowboy aesthetics.

As we continued to walk around, we found ourselves at an entertaining and unexpected set: Cameron Diaz in double denim on the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage cooking burgers and drinking wine with Katherine Power, whom she co-founded Avaline Wine with. The fun cooking show is something that most other music festivals are unlikely to offer, and the audience was full of excited families.

After spending some time looking at the festival map trying to figure out the difference between JaMPad and JaM Cellars, we were able to locate Brooklyn-based girl group Say She She at JaM Cellars for some quick three-part harmonies.

We then went over to the Verizon Deck, where we were happy to get free phone chargers. We found dinner nearby—vegetable noodle bowls from Asian Bowls—but were disappointed when the vendor ran out of noodles and made our dishes with mushy rice instead. Still, we enjoyed the vegetables while listening to Miike Snow’s performance on the Verizon Stage.

After finishing our meal, it was time to head over to the main stage, where we would stay for the evening. As we waited for St. Vincent, the screens displayed a QR code that audience members could scan and display themselves on the screen—a creative idea to keep the audience excited while waiting between sets. Just a few seconds after scanning the code, we looked up and saw ourselves on the big screen.

St. Vincent put on a spectacularly intense, theatrical, and on-brand set as one of the first shows on her All Born Screaming tour. We found ourselves only a few rows back from the barricade—on the left side of the audience, of course. St. Vincent played tracks from her new record like “Big Time Nothing” and “Broken Man” as well as past hits like “New York,” for which she hopped off of the stage to walk along the barricade and sing face-to-face with fans.

After the set ended, we had about 45 minutes before headliner Stevie Nicks—an M-A alum—took the stage. We stayed put and attempted to inch closer to the barricade, as witchy hats and flowy back dresses began to pop up around us.

Nicks lit up the stage with Fleetwood Mac hits like “The Chain” solo tracks like “Edge of Seventeen.” She also brought out her vocal coach to duet “Leather and Lace.” At almost 76 years old, Nicks’ onstage energy was vibrant—you could tell she was having fun. During one song, she danced from one end of the stage to the other while shaking her tambourine, a long-time tradition for Nicks shows.

Nicks returned to the crowd’s delight with a two-song encore, playing Fleetwood Mac’s hits “Rhiannon” and “Landslide,” using the latter to honor Christine McVie.

One of the most fascinating parts of Nicks’ performance was the crowd’s diversity in age: the front row of the audience included people in their 20s and people in their 70s, with all ages singing along to every word. Young fans held up a sign wishing her a happy early birthday while older fans held each other and swayed to “Landslide.” The performance made it obvious how Nicks’ timeless music continues to bring people together decades after her rise to fame. As we were walking out after the show, one woman told us, “I hope you two are friends with each other forever.”

After Nicks’ set ended at 9:45 p.m., the festival—which appeals to a largely older audience—only had 15 minutes left before closing for the day at the early time of 10:00 p.m. We returned to the Truly Stage for a silent disco battle between Tommy Lee & DJ Aero and DJ Umami, which was the only activity still open at the end of the night. After repeatedly changing channels and listening to everything from Taylor Swift to EDM, we decided that DJ Umami’s DJing was the best.

Our BottleRock experience was full of all kinds of artists and experiences. Although the food did not live up to our expectations, the festival’s music and laid-back atmosphere left nothing to be desired.

Ben Siegel is a junior at M-A and in his second year of journalism. He is an Editor-in-Chief and manages Bear Tracks, the M-A Chronicle’s weekly newsletter. His opinion piece calling for improved Holocaust education was recognized by CSPA as the best personal opinion about an on-campus issue in 2023. You can find more of Ben’s music journalism at Riff Magazine.

Celeste is a junior in her second year of journalism. She is the co-writer of the weekly column Bears Doing Big Things, featuring alumni. She enjoys covering issues affecting the M-A community through features and writing about student culture. Her story on La Biscotteria was recognized as a top-10 NSPA Blog Post of 2023.

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