You there! What have you been up to the last year and a half? Have you kept your mind fresh and your body trained? I ask because BottleRock Napa Valley is coming up in less than a week, and I’ve spent more time at my desk and on the couch over that period than outside or at the gym. (No one at the gym would even recognize me at this point, sadly.) I went to a concert last week, and my feet still hurt from that — and all I did was walk from the parking lot to my seat and back. Multi-day music festivals aren’t exactly known for rest and relaxation. Yeah, this is bad.
Fortunately, BottleRock takes place at the Napa Valley Expo, a relatively compact site. It’s not Outside Lands with its 30-minute one-way treks from one stage to another. Even if you know which of the big acts you want to catch at BottleRock — Chris Stapleton or G-Eazy (or James Murphy or Z-Trip for the dance crowd); Guns N’ Roses or Miley Cyrus; and Foo Fighters or Megan Thee Stallion (or the Village People!)— you’ll be making important choices all day long.
Once again, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure experience. But if you’re unsure, let RIFF curate your music experience with this hour-by-hour guide. Don’t forget your COVID-19 vaccination card (or photo of one), or negative test results taken a couple of days before each day of the set to get into the grounds, and bring a mask, just in case.
12 to 2 p.m.
You should actually know this ahead of time, but there are two stages apart from the four main ones (or the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage): the Jampad and the VIP Village. There’s quite a few artists splitting time between those two, and if you can reach them (and have the proper access), it will increase the odds of you catching more artists that you want to see. But for the purposes of this column, we won’t mention those here. The culinary stage, as of this writing, hasn’t released its schedule yet. So while watching Dave Grohl flambé shrimp (or whatever) could be interesting, I can’t tell you when he’ll be there. Let’s stick to the four main stages.
Arrive by 11:40 a.m. to make sure you allow time for getting stuck at the entrance (presenting COVID-19 negative test results and vaccination proof has created delays at other concerts) and then head on over to the JaM Cellars Stage for the sweet, emotional pop of Lily Meola. Then either scoot up to get closer, or get some lunch and return to the same stage for the dark pop of Hawaiian sister quartet Crimson Apple. Or, if that isn’t your thing, you can cut out early and catch the latter half of earthy singer-songwriter Oliver Riot‘s set over at the Verizon Stage.
That was a nice, easy way to start, right? Let’s pick up the pace.
2 to 4:30 p.m.
Actress/singer and general multi-hyphenate Suki Waterhouse goes on at the Plaza stage at 1:45 p.m. If you’re a Lykke Li fan, don’t miss her. But you’ll need to move on after about 20 to 30 minutes to get back to the JaM Cellars stage for the retro pop stylings of Gracie and Clyde Lawrence and their band. And as good as they are, L.A. sleek alt-pop trio MUNA is one of the highlights of the day, over at the Verizon stage. MUNA plays until 3:30. At 3 p.m., you’ll need to split yourself in half and send your more tender-hearted half to catch Gracie Abrams at the Plaza stage.
Abrams has been crafting raw, stripped-bare songs for several years now, and even counts Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo and Lorde among her fans. The problem is that if you’re catching the latter half of her set, you’re missing the first part of supremely talented soul singer Mavis Staples‘ set. So hurry on over as quickly as possible, and stay ’til the end.
4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Here’s an easy choice. Do you love acoustic folk-rock or high-energy plugged-in rawk? You have your choice of DeVotchKa (acoustic, melodic ballads and jams) at the Plaza stage or thump-thump-thump of Chromeo over at the Verizon stage. Both are already well into their sets by the time you wander away in amazement at Staples’ talent. Cut out after 30 to 40 minutes and make your way back to the JaM Cellars stage for the country pop of Maren Morris. When you’ve had your fill (or after she’s done), saunter back to the Verizon stage for the ambient soul of Finneas (Eilish’s brother and musical partner).
6:30 to 10 p.m.
As far as we see it, you can take it easy Friday night and stick to the big guns. Over at JaM Cellars, alt-country artist Brandi Carlile is kicking off her set right now. Hang around here for 30 to 45 minutes and then hop back to Verizon for rising (risen?) Chicago rapper Polo G, one of the best MCs in the game right now. We loved his new album. After Polo is done, you can split the rest of the time between country superstar Chris Stapleton (filling in for Stevie Nicks) at JaM Cellars or Bay Area rapper G-Eazy at Verizon. If you’d rather dance the rest of the night away, you can pick between a DJ set from James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) or mashup master Z-Trip with Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation.
12 to 3 p.m.
This day is the opposite of Friday, with the bigger decisions coming at the end. You should kick off this day at JaM Cellars with the grungy pop of Canadian JJ Wilde or the sleeker pop of Angeleno Molly Moore at the Truly stage. They’re close enough together for you to get a taste of both, if you so choose. At 1 p.m., find the Verizon stage for the riffage of OTTTO, which includes bassist Tye Trujillo (the son of Metallica’s bassist). If that’s your thing, stick around. But if you’d like some snark and power pop instead, get back to Truly to catch Pacific Radio, who impressed at BottleRock a few years back. After they’re done, grab a late lunch and catch the first bit of New Zealand alt-rock band Six60 (also at the Truly stage).
3 to 5 p.m.
Here you have your choice between alt-rock band Milky Chance at JaM Cellars and self-made singer-rapper Hobo Johnson at Verizon. This is a bit of a lull in the schedule, so if neither act appeals to you, your best bet is to just stick around and finish off your time with Six60 (see above). At 3:45 p.m., you’ll have your choice of groovy band Ripe or up-and-coming rocker Reignwolf, who may walk away from BottleRock as a highlight for many new fans.
At this point, if you’re a rock fan you’ll find yourself watching Young the Giant at JaM Cellars, and if you prefer slick pop you’ll be catching Olivia O’Brien at Verizon. You can’t really go wrong with either one.
5 to 7 p.m.
At 5 p.m. sharp, you’d better be at the Truly stage, watching Meg Myers rock through some emotionally heavy songs. But by 5:30, if you spend a lot of time on TikTok, you can wander over to Verizon where skyrocketing singer-songwriter Dominic Fike will be kicking off his hourlong set. This is a rock-heavy block, and at 5:45 p.m. or later, you can catch Portugal. The Man at JaM Cellars. After 30 minutes or so, you can head over to the Truly stage for the first half of alt-rock band White Reaper‘s set. No more than 30 minutes, because at 7 p.m…
7 to 10 p.m.
…Hip-hop duo Run The Jewels takes the stage at Verizon. RTJ had our favorite album of 2020. ‘Nuff said. They play until 8 p.m., so you’ve got a decision to make at 7:30 p.m., when the night’s headliners, Guns N’ Roses, take to JaM Cellars stage. But that’s not your last decision to make, because GNR overlaps with the multitalented Miley Cyrus (we can’t even call her a pop star anymore, can we? She does so much well). The funky Digable Planets play during this time as well and may become a dark horse festival highlight. Of course, there’s a good chance you bought your Saturday ticket because you want to catch either Cyrus or GNR, so that will tell you whom to see.
12 to 3 p.m.
Sunday poses the most choices, so let’s go! Start your day at either JaM Cellars with hard-rocking BottleRock vet The Alive (still in their teens) or at Truly with soulful pop singer Sam Johnson, then follow that up with two more budding pop stars in Donna Missal (JaM Cellars) or MAX (Verizon). Then work your way over to Truly for the hip-hop of 99 Neighbors at 2:15 p.m., watch for about 30 minutes and head back to Verizon for Canadians Walk Off The Earth, who are sure to bring the party with fun covers performed in unique ways and originals from a just-released album.
3:15 to 5:30 p.m.
You can catch most of Jimmy Eat World‘s hourlong set starting now at JaM Cellars, then make your way back to Verizon for Latina singer-rapper Jessie Reyez, who’ll get your blood boiling with a high-octane set. Stick around until near the end, then walk back to the main stage to see soulful blues rockers Black Pumas, who were the breakout stars of the most recent Grammy Awards broadcast. But at 5:30 p.m., you should…
5:30 to 10 p.m.
Here’s the home stretch, and it’s intense. At 5:30 p.m., Jack Harlow (even if you don’t know him, chances are you’ve heard his music on social media) takes to the Verizon stage. Fifteen minutes later, Grammy- and Oscar-winning pianist Jon Batiste goes on at the Plaza Stage. You can split them, but hopefully you know what kind of music you prefer and just stick to one to appreciate the full hour. Cage The Elephant is on at 6:15 p.m. at JaM Cellars, but I don’t even plan to attempt making their set because rising artist Mod Sun is on at 6:45 p.m. at the Truly stage. If you’re a Cage fan… you may still want to catch Mod Sun. Rough, right?
Mod Sun also overlaps with Baltimore alt-rock band Future Islands, and the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and guitarist extraordinaire Adrian Belew, recreating iconic album Remain In Light with funk band Turkuaz.
Harrison, Belew and Turkuaz are up against none other than headliners Foo Fighters, who themselves are up against Megan Thee Stallion. And both are competing against the Village People. I won’t even attempt to make those choices for you. Sorry, you’re on your own!
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.