The test runs are over. With a full year to plan, this year’s BottleRock Napa Valley is finally expected to reach the level producers – both current and original – had envisioned: Not only a creative win, but a financial one.
“We’ve got to execute, but things are polar opposite this year to where they were last year, and overall, we expect to make money this year,” said Davis Graham of Latitude 38, the Napa investing firm that is producing BottleRock for the second consecutive year.
BottleRock’s short history is tumultuous. The 2013 festival was a hit for music fans, but financially, producers BR Festivals landed in bankruptcy, with losses nearing $10 million, and dozens of unpaid vendors and workers. The producers dreamed and delivered big, but in the end, could not afford the festival. Latitude 38 picked up the broken pieces and brought it back from the dead in less than three months for a second go-around in 2014.
Latitude 38 is three local investors: Graham, a tech start-up investor; Jason Scoggins, an advertiser; and Justin Dragoo, who previously ran a Napa winery. The group bought the festival’s assets and took on some of its debt. The first year, the group also included bankruptcy expert Joe Fischer.
Putting the finishing touches on the conclusion of that first chapter, in March, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court ordered one of the festival’s first investors to return $3 million to the bankruptcy estate, which will distribute it to creditors, who are now owned $4.5 million. The court ruled that the festival was doomed from the start because of the “lack of experience of the managers,” the Napa Valley Register reported.
“Typically a bankruptcy would have recovery to creditors somewhere (between) 10 to 20 percent,” Graham said. “We eliminated approximately $5 million of their debt….The recovery is going to be so good given such a bad, bad situation.
“The brand is clean.”
With only six weeks to book bands in 2014, Latitude 38 was still able to secure The Cure, Eric Church and Outkast to headline, making the festival a success. This year they had a full year, allowing for more flexibility and creativity.
“It’s fun to curate the lineup when there are bands available … and agents were willing to work with us,” said Graham, noting that last year, the festival’s reputation dissuaded some acts. “Having credibility and trust, and believing that we knew what fit in terms of a lineup; that was fun.”
That’s how they were able to land Robert Plant, No Doubt, Imagine Dragons, Snoop Dogg, and about 70 other acts.
“There’s already this expectation that the weather’s going to be nice, the food will be great and the wine will be great,” Graham said. “The conversations that we’ll have with managers are along the lines of ‘Where the band might want to do a private tasting at a winery,’ or, ‘What restaurants should they visit while they’re in town.’”
In a year when other festivals are struggling with building unique lineups, BottleRock has managed to build one using a fair share of creativity.
“Our demographic is different and so we have to deliver on what our customers want, and what our customers want isn’t necessarily what Outside Lands books, or Coachella,” Graham said. “Their demographic is much younger and the lineup’s much edgier. That’s why we can have Gypsy Kings. Show me another major festival in the country that’s booked Gypsy Kings. We’re ecstatic to have the Gypsy Kings, and so too are our fans.”
The two biggest complaints festivalgoers had at last year’s incarnation were long food lines and slow egress from the festival grounds at the end of the night.
The line issue will be fixed by allowing more types of payment. In additional to cash and cards, they’ll be able to accept almost every other kind of electronic payments using the BottleRock app, such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet. There will also be more food and beverage stands located throughout the newly redesigned festival grounds.
Three buildings at the Expo were removed prior to the festival, creating more open space and more space in which to move around and funnel crowds.
“The flow is simple and intuitive, and that there’s more for everyone in every area of the festival,” Graham said. “We’re definitely going to be able to handle the crowd – an increased crowd at that.”
Having a full year to plan gave producers an opportunity not only to alleviate problems, but to improve other facets of audience experience. The stages will have higher-caliber production, such as more video walls. The festival is also getting some fresh public art by bringing in muralists and structural artists. Latitude 38 wants to make art a bigger component of the experience.
VIP ticketholders will be able to take advantage of a private corridor that connects the VIP areas between the two biggest stages. Those areas will have more bars and food offerings. And those with a “Platinum” ticket will be able to watch main stage performances from “suites” built at least two stories high alongside the action. The suites come with food and drink service.
The wine program has been enhanced, or, at least, been brought back to the first year level. After the first festival, many wineries refused to return. Now, many of them, such as Silver Oak and Trinchero, are not only back, but back with multiple tents.
This year’s festival also sees the inception of a culinary stage, with video walls, an emcee and all sorts of guests, including musicians, celebrity chefs and master sommeliers. This stage should not be confused with the comedy-centric foodie stage at Outside Lands, nor a cooking demonstration booth. Expect visits from Snoop Dogg, Flavor Flav and Iron Chefs like Marc Forgione and Masaharu Morimoto.
“The idea is to bring that unique connection that already exists between artists, chefs and master sommeliers and celebs, but do it in a format that’s very irreverent, that is not pretentious in any way,” Graham said. “There are many artists that have their own wine labels, there are many artists that have…a love for food and anything gastronomically-related.”
Expect to get to the festival a different way this year. While shuttles will still be ferrying festivalgoers from San Francisco and the East Bay, people making the drive, at least those who come early, should be able to find closer parking. Lots will be located around the Expo, with general admission ticket holders walking about one half-mile, VIP ticket holders a few blocks, and Platinum ticket holders being greeted with valet service and a glass of champagne on-site.
The final big change this year will be the attendance, which was bumped from a cap of 30,000-per-day to 40,000. (Ed. note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the per-day attendance number and the increase.) Latitude 38 believes that’s acceptable because of the buildings that have been removed, and the increased emphasis on people flow. Festivalgoers should still be able to walk from stage to stage in three minutes, and see all stages within 10 minutes, Graham said.
“We can fit 120,000 people. Is that the right number? Should we have fewer and if so will that help provide a better experience?” he said. “We don’t know, and so we’re kind of doing a bit of sensitivity analysis in real-time. At the end of the day it’s a business, and you’ve got to sell tickets in order to make money.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.