FESTIVAL REVIEW: BottleRock Napa – Napa Valley California

What is the best festival experience you’ve ever had? This could mean a lot of things to a lot of people and I have had a lot of festivals under my belt as a reviewer and a fan to pull from. However, you have to just stand back in awe when a festival gets almost everything right and exceeds every potential expectation. This has happened to me one other time – at Roadburn. Having just moved to Northern California this year BottleRock Napa was definitely on my radar. When I arrived at the festival for the first day little did I know what it had in store for me.


From a media standpoint, festival coverage can be very challenging. Every single thing on the jouro side and the fan side was absolutely sublime. Nearly all of the media things, security points, vaccine checks, ID for drinks: all flawless. I also noticed the tremendous spirit of cooperation and friendliness of all the staff, our bravest heroes in the California Fire Department who were there the entire weekend, not just to participate in the festival, but to keep us all safe with the looming wildfires not too far away, and in the back of our minds.

All festivals are kind of spread out in a way and BottleRock Napa was no different. The main core stages and the culinary stage were all within striking distance of each other. After getting the lay of the land, I plotted my festival with their amazing App and my pocket schedule too, and caught a little bit of Lily Meola and Crimson Apple, who was especially impressed me with their awesome originals and their excellent Tears for Fears cover of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Next, I caught the positively inspirational set from MUNA on the Verizon stage. They were so much fun to watch them perform and really connected deeply with their fans. A great find for me. I also caught synthy pop-Rock band HOKO on the Truly Stage and they seem to take over the entire space of the smaller stage and almost invaded the crowd with their presence. Another good one!


Back on the JAM Cellars stage I got to cross off a major major bucket list artist for myself as a fan and writer. At 83 years old Mavis Staples is a goddamn treasure. She worked the stage like the veteran she is only sitting down a few times in the blistering, cloudless heat of Napa Valley. Her voice was raw and silky as ever, pulling in some grit when she needed it to deliver a line with feeling. She shamed most of the other acts at this festival with her incredible skills. Her band was also incredible. Other mid-afternoon sets of note included Black Joe Lewis, Chromeo, the excellent Maren Morris, and Finneas. Then it was time for the big hitters, the closing few bands. I got a great spot for Brandi Carlisle, right alongside the VIP area, slightly shaded from the setting sun as Brandi took the stage.

Captivating the crowd on the strength of her many legit hits, clever covers, and songs from her new album, Brandi proved to be a tour de force both as a performer and as a vocalist. There were heavy moments of emotion, funny personal stories, and her band jammed a Black Sabbath cover, which was great! This set was one of the highlights of the weekend and I greatly look forward to her new album In These Silent Days (Low Country Sound/Elektra Records) due out on October 1st, 2021.

With Chris Stapleton a late scratch due to illness and BottleRock needing their 3rd replacement headliner for Friday, we were treated to an incredible performance from The Highwomen. This late addition to the festival with Maren and Brandi already performing back-to-back on the same stage created a once in a lifetime opportunity for fans. Natalie Hemby showed up, as well as noted vocalist Brittany Spencer, filling in for co-founder Amanda Shires, who had a medical emergency. They were amazing, considering this came together in less than 24 hours with just a few hours to rehearse. I caught half a set of originals and wondrous covers.

Running over to the other main stage to watch Bay Area native G-Eazy close out night one with a big ol party! It was a set full of bangers, big hooks, deft flows, panty droppers, cool features, and even a new song or two. His new album, These Things Happen was announced for September 24th via 2021. He also Facetimed his mom, which was positively adorable, so if even an Oaktown dude from the streets still loves his mom, all’s right with the world.



Rolling in with my trusty assistant Rebecca the rest of the weekend, kicking things off was the super fun tunes from JJ Wilde and Molly Moore, which welcomed our ears as we entered the fest with sunny jams. Next we saw the thrash metal jams of OTTTO. The band of late teens includes bonafide future star Tye Trujillo, son of Robert Trujillo of Metallica, but everyone in the group played well. Not only was Trujillo Sr. onstage helping the band get set up and introducing them to the crowd, but he checked their mix and seemed intent on making sure they had a good show! They played some spirited grooving originals, had a lot of stage presence, closing with a cool cover of “Raining Blood” by Slayer. I did end up missing Mondo Cozmo which bummed me out. Saint Electric on the other stage following OTTTO and they were very solid. The plaza stage seemed to be the tough one to make the rest of the weekend. I ended up missing North Mississippi All-Stars, Digable Planets as well as Full Moon Alice, all who I would have liked to have seen. I caught bits of sets from Young The Giant and Reignwolf, who both played big songs that went over big with the fans.

One of the pivotal sets for me of the weekend was going to be Meg Myers. I had never seen her live before. Arriving right on time to the stage the band was not on or playing with a lot of very confused fans. I’m not sure what happened following the Reignwolf set, but the band was on stage unable to soundcheck or get anything close to live sound. People started to leave which made me sad. I decided to stick it out and see if they would end up playing. Thirty minutes later the band finally got to play, and proceeded to kick everybody’s ass for the next 40 minutes. Despite battling technical issues the entire time where the sound mix was straight up awful and unflattering, they put on an amazing show. After being joined by a friend for a duet, she read off the last 6 songs of the setlist and asked the fans to choose what they should close with. The superfans in the audience were many, including one dressed as Meg in full body suit she had bought off eBay! They chose the Kate Bush cover “Running Up That Hill” – which was magnificent. You will not always get an ideal situation at a show that is not your own, but a professional band goes out and plays anyway to the best of their abilities.

Other late Saturday bands of note including Portugal The Man’s awesome and fun set which included a Nirvana cover and dad jokes about festival culture and Napa. Run The Jewels was also tight, for the little bit I saw them.

Finally, it was time for the main event, Guns N Roses! The band drew the biggest crowd of the weekend and while they didn’t have their customary big show effects besides cool videos and lights, they put on a hell of a show! The entire band performed masterfully, especially Slash, being the legend he is who killed every solo and every riff. Axl Rose sang great, ran around a lot, hit all the important notes. They played mostly the hits, a few choice covers, some choice songs from the Axl led Chinese Democracy LP, and generally were as great as I remember them from a few years ago.

Then the unthinkable happened. I knew about the infamous curfew of Napa, as did the band. After 9:30 PM they started to play the very long cover “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and I was perplexed. A festival show is always a wildcard in the midst of your headline tour. I was worried they were gonna get cut off, and they did. Still, the band pulled out all the stops, with Pink coming out to help finish “Patience” before bowing to Axl in prayer, and Dave Grohl coming on to sing and riff as a backup for “Paradise City.” Sure enough at 10 PM on the dot, the sound was cut from PA. Fans jeered and were pissed, The band played on in a surreal scene, since they heard each other on stage. The road crew had nothing to do with this so don’t blame them. GNR is still a little too punk to care or be upset by the 1% since they run over time just about every night.



The Alive kicked things off on Sunday and were pretty damn metal. Younger than OTTTO even, the band has been opening for Jimmy Eat World on the west coast and they showed a lot of moxie with their set. Some very good originals and two covers: Tool and Black Sabbath. Both were welcome and showed off a hint of what is to come from this group. Donna Missal, Atlas Genius, JesseR, and The Village People, Walk Off The Earth were other sets that went over well.

The pride of Mesa, Arizona, Jimmy Eat World was in the house on the JAM Cellars stage and had a ton of fans in the crowd, hype for their set. The band has been on a tour and their west coast dates overlapped with the fest, meaning superfans were in the house. The band rocked as the ebulent fans sang along, danced, and generally spread a happy vibe. One of the best bands of the weekend, they not only played a high energy setlist with iconic hits like “The Middle” that everyone knows, they switched it up with cuts like “555,” “Lucky Denver Mint,” “Always Be,” “Bleed American” and more!

It wasn’t just a weekend of music and sunshine, Napa is the culinary epicenter of the west coast, so the Williams and Sonoma stage was rocking all weekend with rockers, chefs, and celebrities. Some of the highlights included Warren G and Chef Michael Horn making Barbeque Brisket, G-Easy and Ayesha Curry making steak and potatoes, Guy Fieri getting sprayed with dry ice and being pissed off, and Dave Grohl playing a drum set and bass made of pots and pans, and making a hangover cure breakfast scramble with prosciutto, eggs, and caviar. It was a lot of fun and a good break from the sounds of the day. Other fun spots we hit included The Spa, The Club, and some of the cool but not overly selly brand integrations.

The food was also epic at BottleRock! Between the vendors, Food Trucks, and tons of options locally sourced, organic, and representing every cuisine imaginable, this fest was a foodie’s dream. In the spirit of trying to “catch them all” we tried never to repeat a dish all weekend. I gotta give some high marks to the Pulled Pork Sandwich and frickles, Tri-tip Sammie, Gerard’s Paella (the best I have ever had), amazing dumplings, incredible Baklava, flourless cupcakes, and more. If none of those drool inducing foods sounds like your jam, you could have better quality than typical festival fair.

The Jam Pad stage was bustling all weekend with mini-sets and interviews from cool acts. Some of the highlights was the absolute joy that was Big Freedia! Big Freedia ruled, and made asses drop and shake! She also gave some dap to the fest for flying them out from New Orleans to Napa on a private jet due to Hurricane Ida. Rocking two sets at BottleRock was Kosha Dillz, who just slayed it on the strength of his recent single “Yabba Dabba Doo.” Warren G brought the 213 area code vibes to the 916, funked with the crowd playing his many hits, and gave a loving shout out to Bay Area Hip-Hop legends such as Shock G (RIP), Too $hort, and E-40. The Alive also played on the JamPad to end the weekend.

Bringing the weekend to a close, at least for us, was Cage the Elephant, Turkuaz w/Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Future Islands, and Foo Fighters. Like Miley the night before, there was no way to catch a part of Megan Thee Stalion’s set without missing the Foos. Ah well.

Starting with the whisper to a scream version of “Times Like These” a song for the 2020/2021 pandemicronapocalypse if there ever was one, the expanded Foo Fighters band rocked and reaffirmed life in a long set. Joking the entire way about “needing to keep it moving unless we want to get cut off” Dave Grohl kept it fun. The band was loose teased covers like “Hocus Pokus” by Focus, and an incredible full band cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love!” They also kept the hype train turned on with their recent Bee Gees cover, “You Should Be Dancing” complete with a mirror ball.

But the band brings the heavy and the hits more than anything else. Celebrating their 25th anniversary, which should have happened during the lockdown year Closing with “Everlong” with every fan standing or laying down singing at the top of their lungs, it was a great way to end a weekend!


BottleRock Napa will return in May of 2022!