BottleRock Napa Valley serves up music and more to opening day fans

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Hot music, spicy food and temperatures in the 80s got the fourth annual BottleRock Napa Valley music, food, wine and brew festival off to a strong start Friday, with opening-day attendance estimated at 40,000 people

By the time the day closed with star turns first by Lenny Kravitz and then Stevie Wonder, fans had soaked up more than 10 hours of sounds and tastes.

Kravitz hit the stage at suppertime, flanked by backup singers and a horn section, with a powerful performance of his single “Where Are We Runnin’” followed by his rendition of the Guess Who classic “American Woman,” that had the crowd swaying.

Wonder walked onstage chanting “Hello, hello, I love you,” and soon had a milling mass of fans, packed shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip, singing along with him on “Higher Ground” and “Sir Duke (You Can Feel It All Over).”

It was full day for music fans. Attending BottleRock for the first time, Tina Hodzic, 18, of Pleasanton and her friend Kate Berringan, 19, found they liked an eight-piece dance band from Oakland called La Misa Negra.

“It’s the music, not just the headliners but all the little bands that you don’t know about. You can find some new favorites,” Hodzic said.

Berringan, also of Pleasanton, added, laughing: “We were puttin’ on some moves.”

The beverage options went well beyond the usual festival brews and wine, although there was plenty of both, to such choices as Hendrick’s Gin and Henry’s Hard Soda.

And there were plenty of menus to keep food fans happy.

“The food is very tasty,” said Katie Larsen, 44, of Lafayette, lunching on a curb near the center of Napa Expo Fairgrounds. “The seasoning on the fries is very good. I love the Mediterranean food. This the best shrimp shawarma I’ve ever had.”

Napa rock band The Deadlies kicked off the day for early arrivals at the festival with a set that included the The Rivieras’ ’50s hit “California Sun” and the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire.”

Within an hour, Heartwatch from San Francisco, fronted by lead singer Claire George, had started to draw a crowd with peppy pop-style music at another of the festival’s five stages. During the three days of the festival, nearly 80 bands will perform, including headliners Florence and the Machine on Saturday and the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Sunday.

After a difficult first year under previous management, BottleRock has built a reputation over the past three years under the leadership of Dave Graham’s Latitude 38 Entertainment for staying on schedule, with one act after another going onstage on time, or very close to it.

“My first impression is that this festival is so organized,” said first-time attendee Jack Sichterman, 50, who divides his time between West Village near Los Angeles and Iceland, where is he founder and beermaster of the Einstok brewery. He and his wife Katie were on hand Friday to see Kaleo, a band from Iceland.

“We support them and give them beer,” Sichterman said.

Kaleo performed a short while later, sounding very much like a traditional rhythm and blues band of the American South.

The festival offers music fans plenty, but it has its benefits for musicians, singer-songwriter Andy Grammer, best-known for “Honey, I’m Good,” said during a brief press conference.

“I’m deep into writing my third album right now, and my head is in the studio,” Grammer said, “so now and then I come out and remember what it’s like to play for people.”

Rapper, poet and singer-songwriter Michael Franti made the most of his chance to mix with the crowd, leaving his band Spearhead onstage to go down to play and sing his love-of-life anthem “Once a Day” while winding his way through his fans.

The BottleRock schedule also features a busy culinary stage, mixing celebrities with star musicians and comedians.

BottleRock tickets sold out in April this year, the first time they’ve gone so early, said festival spokesman Tom Fuller. The festival drew 108,000 fans last year, and may do even better this year, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

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