WHAT A WEEKEND: RIFF’s BottleRock in review

Each year BottleRock Napa Valley is the unofficial beginning of summer for Bay Area music fans. Now in its sixth year, the festival has brought fantastic musicians to Napa Valley, created iconic pairs at its culinary stage, and created news both for its rocky start and how the new production team at Latitude 38 was able to recover from a financially disastrous first year to turn BottleRock into a fest that can rival the nation’s big ones.

On Sunday’s closing night, Bruno Mars made it official, when he called BottleRock the “fancy Coachella.” RIFF has sent someone to the fest each year, and last weekend was no exception, with editors Roman Gokhman, Alessio Neri and Chloe Catajan, as well as writer Mike DeWald and photographer Martin Lacey pitching in to bring the most comprehensive coverage of BottleRock’s music entertainment. RIFF also profiled a handful of up-and-coming artists we thought you’d enjoy seeing on stage.

Here’s a full recap of those artist profiles, the best of our music coverage and photos and a YouTube playlist that will transport you back to last weekend.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

As a giant white veil over the stage was lifted, Bruno Mars and his bandmates made their entrance clad in different sports jerseys and matching shorts. While Mars has been photographed wearing Oakland A’s gear in the past, on this night, he repped the Pittsburgh Pirates, while the majority of the rest of the band opted for basketball jerseys from NBA teams not in the Bay Area.

The group (while Mars handled most of the vocals, the others had star turns on instruments and dancing) opened the show with “Finesse,” with Mars’ trademark swagger to a stage bathed with spotlights of every color of the rainbow. Mars’ vocal prowess is impressive, especially considering the continuous flow of energy and choreography he and his bandmates exerted throughout the show.



Halsey. Photo: Roman Gokhman.

Halsey opened with “Eyes Closed,” off 2017 LP Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, appearing in a swirling cloud of fog atop a wide set of stairs that lit up like the LED screens behind her. She followed that up with “Hold Me Down” and “Castle,” from 2015’s Badlands. Air cannons exploded behind her, sending streams of fog a story into the air. More 2017 cuts, such as “Heaven In Hiding” and “Alone,” followed before Halsey switched from the lesser-known material to the hits portion of her set, including “Closer,” her song with The Chainsmokers, and dang-near everyone in the vicinity of the stage sang along to that one.

Amy Shark

Amy Shark

Amy Shark. Photo: Roman Gokhman.

Shark is a star on the verge of breaking out, and she showed off her star power Sunday, performing songs from her past EPs as well as her phenomenal new single, the instantly catchy “I Said Hi.” Other standouts included “Home,” early career success “Spits On Girls,” soulful jam “Blood Brothers,” love ballad “Deleted Scenes” and the break-up tearjerker “Middle of the Night.” “This song is sad, and if you’ve just been through a break-up, it’s not for you,” she said. “Might be time to go get a drink.” Shark even mixed in a cover of Eminem’s “Superman,” with an arrangement that was so naturally Shark, it may as well have been her own song.

The Killers

The Killers, Brandon Flowers

The Killers.

The Killers kept up a breakneck pace for much of their show, mixing danceable pop rock with their roots-based mid-career tunes. Brandon Flowers was the consummate frontman, working both sides of the stage like a rock and roll Sinatra. His stage presence was suave and confident as he sashayed around on hits like “Human” and “Read My Mind.”

“The Warriors are still alive,” Flowers informed the crowd—as the band took the stage just after the Oakland team finished off its improbable comeback against the Houston Rockets—“and so are The Killers.”

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg.

In the first 10 minutes of his set, D-O-Double-G covered DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” invited Warren G onstage to duet with his guest on “This DJ” and brought in five barely clad pole dancers to, uhh, perform as someone in a dog costume threw dollar bills at them. Again: This was all in the first 10 minutes, and the West Coast’s rap king was just getting started.

Caitlyn Smith

Caitlyn Smith

Caitlyn Smith. Photo: Martin Lacey

Caitlyn Smith showed the range and charisma that should see her follow a path similar to Maren Morris or Margo Price (maybe Chris Stapleton?). It was just her and her reverb-laden guitar on stage, aided only by the wind and a few raindrops setting the tone. Smith alternated between wailing and softly delivering her lines, showing she could both hold a note and deliver on emotion. In between terrific tunes, such as “Before You Called Me Baby,” she told the stories behind the songs, as a songwriter does. Smith spoke of pulling a story of heartbreak from a roommate.


Muse, Matt Bellamy

Muse. Photo: Alessio Neri

Muse defined what it means to be a modern stadium rock band, mixing complex riffs, solos and rhythms with giant singable choruses to which the BottleRock crowd sang along. The band opened with its latest release, “Thought Contagion,” before picking kicking into the full-throttle jam “Psycho.” Frontman Matt Bellamy showcased not only his formidable fretwork but his impressive vocal range as well, from the soaring chorus of “Hysteria” to the tender falsetto of “Madness.”

The previews!

Sounds, sights and culinary delights of BottleRock 2018: The Rock’n Vino podcast, hosted by Coco Sterzenbach and Mike DeWald, sat down to talk all things BottleRock: the artists to see, how best to tackle the festival and some of the culinary highlights of this year’s festival.

11 Under-the-radar acts to catch at BottleRock Napa Valley: Looking beyond the headliners reveals a diverse array of up-and-comers waiting to break big. At BottleRock, Napa becomes the perfect place for dozens of lesser-known bands and artists to reach larger audiences and leave a career-defining impact, making for hectic afternoons filled to the brim with urgent performances.

The Wrecks are the go-getters rock music needs: A band’s success requires skill, work ethic and a couple of lucky breaks. All three propelled The Wrecks into festival circuits with only two EPs under their belts in as many years. Frontman Nick Anderson, bassist Aaron Kelley, guitarists Nick Schmidt and Westen Weis and drummer Billy Ninety never predicted they’d end up playing BottleRock when they attended the festival back in 2016.

Australian Dean Lewis out to make ‘Waves’ in the U.S.: Being the next big thing in the Australian pop music machine comes with expectations and pressures. The country has been spitting out singer-songwriters with regularity seemingly month-over-month, from breakout major label success stories like Vance Joy, artists like Amy Shark, Tash Sultana, Mallrat and countless others waiting to break big not only in their native country—which they all have—but in the U.S. as well. That makes Lewis a bit of an oddity.

The Helmets reanimated as The Alive: Early-arriving BottleRock fans have, over the past couple of years, become accustomed to getting their faces melted off—not from overcooked quiche and other brunch menu items, but by a group of head-banging kids called The Helmets who were equally as good covering the likes of Metallica as they were composing their own thrash metal tunes. The band has reformed as The Alive.

Amy Shark gets revenge against the big fish: Shark grew up with her parents and brother, listening to their music collection that included Guns N’ Roses and Smashing Pumpkins. Her first love wasn’t music but acting, and then directing and editing video. When her grandparents offered to buy her and her brother guitars if they took lessons, she balked until she saw her brother play a Blink-182 cover. After three formal guitar lessons, she was hooked, quit the lessons and began teaching herself.

The Brevet stand at attention to new direction: The band’s ability to connect with others is strengthened by its lyricism: stories of encouragement, overcoming obstacles and faith.

Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner keeping the ‘roll’ in rock: Why is it important? In Adam Weiner’s opinion, there’s a big difference between the two. “Rock lost the boogie part of it; the dance part of it—that it had to have a beat you could move your body to.” Chuck Berry, Little Richard, James Brown; those guys you can dance to, so it’s rock and roll.

Jukebox the Ghost never ‘lonely’ passing time at truck stops: From more humble beginnings in dorm room shows at George Washington University, to near constant tours that crisscross the country, singer-pianist Ben Thornewill, guitarist Tommy Siegel and drummer Jesse Kristin continue to find ways to spice up their identity with each new album they create.


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