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BottleRock Napa Valley attendees thrilled to see live music after a long stretch without

The temperature was north of 90 degrees on the infield at the Jam Cellars stage, but that didn’t stop Antonio Gregor, a guitarist for the band Milky Chance, from rocking out in a varsity letter jacket with long, fuchsia sleeves. Sometimes you can’t let oppressive heat keep you from having a blast, or making a bold fashion statement.

Taking the stage at 2:45 Saturday afternoon, on the second day of the hugely popular but long-delayed BottleRock Napa Valley rockfest, the German band turned in a highly energetic set, from its just-released “Colorado” to the 2013 hit that put them on the map, “Stolen Dance.”

Taking their cue from high top Converse-clad lead vocalist Clemens Rehbein — who spent his hour on stage lunging, pogoing and unleashing an impressive array of roundhouse kicks — the youthful crowd hopped and danced and sang along, sweltering heat be damned.

Milky Chance was just one of 27 acts appearing Saturday on the festival’s four main stages. A few hours after they finished, a distinctly older crowd would gather in front of the same Jam Cellars stage for Guns N’ Roses.

Prowling the stage in ripped jeans and a backwards red ballcap, 59-year-old lead singer Axl Rose had no trouble turning back the clock. When he bade the crowd to “Let me hear ya scream!” during “Welcome To The Jungle,” it obliged with gusto.

Rose, virtuoso guitarist Slash and their fellow GNR band members ran afoul of BottleRock’s curfew, as organizers pulled the plug on the band as they were performing with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. The band members reportedly kept on rocking without electricity.

An hour after GNR opened with “It’s So Easy,” Miley Cyrus kicked off her set before a vast, adoring Verizon Stage crowd with whom she seemed to share a particularly intimate rapport.

“I think music was one thing that kept us together,” she said, during those shut down months “when we had to be apart.”

While co-headliners GNR and Cyrus delighted their audiences, no band was more frenetic, or more fun, it seemed, than Milky Chance.

“They just killed it,” said Kelsi, who along with her friend Allison had driven up from San Francisco for the show. The longish drive and toasty conditions weren’t nearly enough to keep the two women, who declined to give their last names, from enjoying the rush of their first live music since 2019.

This edition of BottleRock was delayed three times by COVID-19, the respiratory illness whose long shadow the festival still hasn’t escaped. Those in attendance were required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for the disease. While masks were recommended outdoors, and mandatory in indoor spaces like The Spa, The Club and The Platinum Lounge, the vast majority of faces outside were uncovered, with a few notable exceptions, such as Cody Dickinson, drummer for the southern blues and rock band the North Mississippi Allstars, who played, exceedingly well, while breathing through an N95 mask.

Asked if she was worried about the delta variant of the coronavirus, 25-year-old Allison pointed out that she was vaccinated, then added, “I’m young, too, and I guess I’m like, just ready to be back on the scene.”

That captured the attitude of most of Saturday’s BottleRocketeers: they were overjoyed to have live music back in their lives.

“Oh my God, this is like my therapy,” said Susan Northen of Santa Rosa. “I’ve really missed being able to just dance and get all that bad juju out.”

A veteran of three BottleRock festivals, Northen foiled the sun with a tasteful green parasol she was happy to share with her friend, Tanya Acken, while they swayed to the beat of Mondo Cozmo, whose lead singer, Josh Ostrander, they admired very much.

“He’s got this jazz vibe to his music,” said Northen.

“A different twist,” added Acken, whose son Dmitri was at the show with his girlfriend, Camille Cavey.

“We met at BottleRock in 2019,” she said, “and have been wanting to get back ever since.”

Her cheekbones adorned with glitter that sparkled in the sun, Kim Moore of San Francisco said she was “thrilled, THRILLED” to be back at a concert. In this she was aligned with her companion Manolo Gonzalez, who had missed live music shows “so, so, so deeply, for a year and a half.”

Gonzalez, a native of Madrid, Spain, was clad in a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt. He saw the band three years ago in Austin, Texas, and “couldn’t believe how tight they were.”

Top-hatted lead guitarist Slash “looked exactly the same,” recalled Gonzalez. “Axl had put on a few pounds, but he still hits the notes, man. They crushed it.”

Not everyone was in such high spirits. Lori Vincent, who’d made the journey from Huntington Beach in Orange County, was still rolling her eyes after security guards confiscated her family’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before allowing them into the venue.

“We paid a lot of money for these tickets and were trying to save a little money,” she said. “What, are they worried I’m going to smuggle some LSD inside a PB&J?”

Vincent also noted that it was a long walk to find shade — a hardship on a warm day like Saturday — and that it would be nice if there a few more water refill stations.

The blazing sun could not keep Connor, a Napa local, from draping himself in a kind of black, sequined cape. “It is warm, now that you mention it,” he said. But he was delighted to be back at a music festival, after a long stretch of doing without, and wanted to wear something appropriately festive.

“Also, when he’s wearing that, he’s very easy to find in a crowd,” noted his friend, Chris. The two men declined to give their last names.

Even though nearly everyone in the crowd was vaccinated, Connor had misgivings about how few masks he was seeing.

“I had a friend recently pass from the delta variant,” he said. “We’re not out of this thing yet.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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