BottleRock 2021 Day 1: G-Eazy, Highwomen and 13 other sets we loved on Friday

The Highwomen, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile

The Highwomen perform at BottleRock Napa Valley at the Napa Valley Expo on Sept. 3, 2021. Adam Pardee/STAFF.

NAPA — After country star Chris Stapleton, himself a replacement to Stevie Nicks, suddenly became ill the day before BottleRock Napa Valley was to start, the festival’s producers acted quickly. They realized that they had Maren Morris and Brandi Carlile on the lineup. That’s half of their all-star country band, the Highwomen. The only problem was that neither Natalie Hemby nor Amanda Shires (the other half of the band) were around. Shires, in fact, had recently undergone emergency surgery. Still, the call went out to Hemby and friend Brittany Spencer. Within hours, both were on a plane to the Bay Area.

The Highwomen, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile

The Highwomen.

It should be noted that the Highwomen, despite the individual artists’ personal successes, have played no more than three total shows together.

“We’ve been practicing all night and all day,” Carlile said midway through the band’s hourlong set, adding that her wardrobe was so unplanned that her pants were lacking belt loops.

How’d they do? The Highwomen absolutely killed with a set consisting mostly from songs from their 2019 debut album, featuring tight harmonies, the guitar leads of Carlile and a strong five-member backing band. Spencer completely held her own on Shires’ vocal parts.

The strategy was quickly set with opener “Redesigning Women,” during which all four singers took turns singing lead, just like on the album. Title track “Highwomen” followed, as well as “Loose Change.” There was never any shakiness, even though, as Morris pointed out, their last show together was at Newport Folk Festival in 2019.

“I think this is our second show, and we’re headlining BottleRock!” Carlile said, almost pondering to herself. She then added that the four were going to play pretty much every song from the record. Then they kicked into “Wheels of Laredo.” The set included the meandering “Heaven Is A Honky Tonk,” the bluegrass-tinged “My Name Can’t Be Mama,” and the ballads “If She Ever Leaves Me, It Won’t Be for You” and “Old Soul.”

“I just want this to keep on going forever, and I want you guys to know you are a blessing to us,” Carlile said.


Oakland rapper G-Eazy just had to drive a little ways up the road for his set. He stalked the stage, flanked by a drummer and a DJ. The rapper wasted little time moving through his set and keeping the momentum going.

“Look at this, we’re back fucking outdoors!” he said to a roar of approval.



Strobes flashed, lasers lit up the sky, and smoke cannons filled the air. The rapper proclaimed multiple times that “Gerald is back” and also performed a tribute to the late Mac Dre. G-Eazy also took the opportunity to debut new material from his forthcoming album, These Things Happen To. Guest Kossisko helped him debut new track “Running Wild.”

G-Eazy made an earlier appearance on Friday, with Ayesha Curry at the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage. The two talked about steak and coffee, two of Curry’s passions, before making coffee-rubbed steak. G-Eazy made a few Top Ramen jokes (he doesn’t consider himself much of a cook) before going to town rubbing the thick slab of meat.

“Do you like garlic mashed potatoes?” Curry asked the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, to cheers. Her mom was then pulled up on stage, who flashed a cell phone with Stephen Curry on a video call.

Polo G

Perhaps the most anticipated set on Friday belonged to rising rapper Polo G. Wearing multiple large chains and a sparkly black shirt, the young MC entered the stage through a cloud of smoke to the screaming masses who would match him word for word for most of his set.

Polo G

Polo G.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Polo G busted through tracks from his new album, Hall of Fame. Track by track, the excitement grew as he powered through powerful yet melodic tracks like “Flex,” “Epidemic,” “Hate the Other Side,” “Rapstar,” “Martin & Gina,” “Toxic,” “I Know” and more. The only thing that slowed the momentum was the break he took about 35 minutes in.  The fans clearly wanted him to stay on stage.


Singer-songwriter Finneas came out in a white suit and pink shades, strumming an acoustic guitar, and in about an hour, demonstrated why he shouldn’t be thought of only as Billie Eilish’s brother. His set consisted of softer tunes, as well as pop bangers and soulful upbeat melodies. He kicked things off with the somber, “A Concert Six Months From Now,” backed by a drummer and keyboardist-guitarist. The musicians enriched his sound, but it was clear from the shrieks of the young fans who the star was.

For “I Don’t Miss You At All,” he set down his guitar and started walking around the stage. The energy kept building during the upbeat “American Cliché.” Midway through, he sat down at a keyboard and added a rollicking touch.

“I’m gonna grin through all of this. I’ve missed this,” Finneas said. Piano Ballad “I Lost a Friend” followed. Midway through that song he rose from his stool, and the song took a more dramatic turn.

Uptempo rocker “Shelter” was followed by “Can’t Wait to Be Dead” and “New Girl.” He also dedicated the ballad, “That’s What They’ll Say About Us,” to the late actor Nick Cordero, who died from complications of COVID-19 last year.

Maren Morris

Maren Morris expertly paced her set, mixing in a little rock and roll, a little country, blues and some anthemic pop.

“I’ve heard legends about this festival,” she said to the late afternoon crowd.

As with just about all the performers, Morris spoke to the joy of being back on stage, but took it a step further to relate her music and the meaning behind it to the isolation felt by so many during the pandemic.

“We were all forced to be reflective,” she said.

She opened with “Girl” and “80s Mercedes,” bringing a little extra rock edge to the tracks, even strapping on a guitar for a handful of songs. Morris spoke to starting out her career as a songwriter and how that guided her path to where she is now. She also mixed in a version of her Zedd collaboration, “The Middle.”

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile’s set was headline-worthy for a laundry list of reasons. Carlile said she had been playing with her band for two decades (though this performance included Shooter Jennings on keys!), and that level of musical familiarity showed throughout the set.

“I’m a West Coast girl from Seattle, and I missed this with every little bit of my heart,” Carlile said.

Her banter moved from witty to funny to poignant, never losing the attention of the crowd. Songs like “The Story” and “The Eye” brought captivating performances from both the band and her. Carlile was even self-deprecating at points in the set, joking after her band mixed a snippet of “War Pigs” into an instrumental interlude.

“You thought I was going to sing all of War Pigs didn’t you?” she joked. “Maybe next time I’ll do that.”

She also mixed in some covers, playing a Joni Mitchell track and a roots rock version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Things hit overdrive when Carlile delivered a flawless vocal performance of “The Joke.”


Electro-funk duo Chromeo ignited its crowd with an upbeat and danceable set. Singer-guitarist David Macklovitch noted early on in the set that the pandemic isolation was getting him a little stir crazy.

“I was stuck with this guy,” Macklovitch said, gesturing at keyboardist Patrick Gemayel. “I think we ran out of things to say to each other.”

The musical conversation with the crowd certainly never ended. Macklovitch attacked all sides of the stage from start to finish. Chromeo was one of the groups most often mentioned by fans. The band has a little bit of Daft Punk energy, though the presentation is certainly quite a bit different.

Mavis Staples

Perhaps legend Mavis Staples’ voice was a bit more gravelly than it was on her last stops through the Bay Area—she performed at Outside Lands in 2019—but her exuberance was just as palpable as ever. Staples, her band and backup singers barreled through a set of gospel-tinged, bluesy and gruff songs, starting with “I’ll Take You There” and “Take Us Back.” “I’m working on me/ I’ve got friends and I’ve got family/ I have help from people who love me,” she growled on the latter.

“We’ve missed you; we’ve missed you so much,” she exclaimed after concluding “Brothers and Sisters.” Staples’ set included “Build a Bridge,” “Can You Get to That” and a fun rendition of the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People,” on which she did some scatting. Throughout, she interacted with and teased fans who yelled to her.

“Do you feel all right!? I feel pretty good myself!” she yelled.


From the moment L.A. band MUNA took the stage, the three members were kinetic balls of energy, running past and into each other, hopping, dancing and using the entire stage to their advantage. Recently signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ new label, Saddest Factory, and with a new album reportedly on the way, MUNA mostly stuck to older material, which many fans have connected with over the past few years.



MUNA’s uplifting brand of guitar rock and synth pop attracted one of the larger crowds earlier in the day as the band blasted through “Number One Fan” and “Stairway,” off 2019’s Saves the World. The latter featured beautiful three-part harmonies and a crowd singalong. Material off of the band’s 2017 debut, About U, included the driving “Crying On the Bathroom Floor” and “Around U.”

The joyous “Never” featured a killer guitar solo by Josette Maskin, who’s really coming into her own as a performer. The second half of the set was highlighted by “Taken,” on which vocalist Katie Gavin played an acoustic guitar. She said the song was the band’s “country moment.” “When we wrote this, we were thinking of Kacey Musgrave, and now we’re going on tour with her,” she said. Then, sandwiched between fan favorites “Loudspeaker” and “I Know a Place,” was a new song called “Silk Chiffon,” which Gavin was written for “the gays.”

“The assignment is to do gay kissing when this song comes out [on Sept. 7],” she said.

Gracie Abrams

While singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams may have informed the crowd early on in her mid-day set that her BottleRock appearance was just her second-ever live show, it didn’t show. Abrams was a compelling performer, nuanced and understated.

“So if the pedal doesn’t work quite right or I forget the words, that’s just what we’re all going to get,” Abrams joked.

The influence of Lorde in Abrams’ vocal stylings was noticeable, though her performance stood on its own. Her tracks resonated with the festivalgoers sitting on blankets, soaking up the late summer heat. Abrams introduced songs like “Friend” to the BottleRock crowd.

Suki Waterhouse

Actress and musician Suki Waterhouse combined folk and alt-rock during her early afternoon set at the Plaza Stage. Her nasally drawl and dry delivery created a mood of its own, which was held up by the rest of her band on mid-tempo guitar and piano-led songs like “Brutally” and “Good Looking,” which was a crunchy, cascading waltz. At times, her music reached shoegaze-like walls of sound, recalling the dreamy soundscapes of Mazzy Star.




Music festivals can often be great for finding that hidden gem to which you may not have otherwise been exposed. New York sibling duo Lawrence was one such gem. Gracie and Clyde Lawrence took the BottleRock stage flanked by a six-member band, including a horn section with funk rhythms you’d think were straight out of New Orleans. Both Lawrences have tremendous vocal prowess, including on the funky “Shot.” The band looked so unassuming, which made the powerhouse performance all the more worthwhile.

Crimson Apple

The Hawaiian-born band of sisters delivered a too-early (they deserved more people watching them) set of sleek and dramatic pop with punchy bass and pop-punk percussion. After opening with “Shower,” Crimson Apple blasted into “Who Knows” with a ringing lead guitar riff and full-throated vocals from Colby Benson.

A menacing emo/pop version of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” came next, followed by “Sorry Now,” which slowly built, reaching numerous crescendos. The vocalist left the stage while the rest of the band played an extended jam.

Crimson Apple stuck to mostly bangers like “Can’t Get Out of Bed,” which had a guitar part that sounded like bells ringing, but the band threw in a heartfelt ballad in “Time Changes Everything.”

Lily Meola

Singer-songwriter Lily Meola officially opened the festival playing hazy and atmospheric pop songs, many of which are from a forthcoming album. Several times she pointed out that the songs were getting their on-stage debut. Meola and her three bandmates were matching navy blue jumpsuits; hers with clouds on it.

Meola sang with jazzy intonation, breezily passing from new single “Daydream” to “Following Me,” “The High” and unreleased single “Smallest Things.” She said ‘The High” was about living your best life in the midst of loss over the last couple of years. She and her band also covered Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” to honor Stevie Nicks. Nicks had recently canceled her tour, including her planned BottleRock Napa performance, several weeks ago, citing concerns about her own risk amongst the rising number of Covid cases.

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