Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

BottleRock Napa Valley 2022 Gets Back to Where It Must Belong

BottleRock 2022 has proven to be one of the US’ most pleasing festivals, with its diverse musical lineup, fabulous weather, and eclectic food and beverages.

The BottleRock music festival in Napa Valley has grown into one of California’s premier events over the past decade, so it’s refreshing to see the 2022 edition return to its proper place over Memorial Day weekend. BottleRock pulled a necessary audible last year to dance around the COVID-19 pandemic by moving to Labor Day weekend, headlined by the Foo Fighters and Guns N’ Roses, for what had to be a splendid weekend. But for a festival long billed as “the first taste of summer”, the last weekend of May is where it feels like everything’s right.

BottleRock has grown into a national-caliber festival, typically featuring at least one big-time rock ‘n’ roll headliner along with a diverse lineup across pop, blues, alternative, Americana, hip-hop, and jamgrass. BottleRock has ingeniously figured out how to thread the needle in offering a large-scale festival that somehow retains something of an intimate vibe, perhaps thanks to featuring a number of bands that draw smaller yet still enthusiastic crowds on multiple stages. BottleRock has also surpassed San Francisco’s Outside Lands in the rock ‘n’ roll category, with Outside Lands feeling like it’s been trending toward a northern version of Coachella.

This year’s festival is headlined by no less than Metallica on Friday night, no doubt the heaviest band ever to play BottleRock. But there is, as usual, a wide variety of groups in the lineup to provide something for just about everyone. BottleRock is also known for its eclectic array of regional food, wine, brew, and California sunshine, all of which are in strong supply here.

Friday, May 27

There’s some heavy traffic traveling up from Marin County, meaning some fans aren’t able to make it on-site until after the 3:00 pm set from bluesy guitar slinger Marcus King has already started on the main Jam Cellars stage. King and his band are rocking out with strong blues power, drawing a good crowd despite the early mid-afternoon time slot. Many local music fans first saw King when he was serving as lead guitarist for Chris Robinson’s As the Crow Flies tour in 2018, where King tore it up on Black Crowes’ repertoire (who incidentally will play this same stage on Saturday.) 

It’s great to see King leading his band through a fiery set here, with a new album Young Blood on the way in August (produced by Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys.) If the first single, “Rescue Me”, is any indication, the new album will be a barnburner. King delivers an extra festival treat to close his set when he pulls recent touring partner Hannah Wicklund from the wings to front the band on a rip-rocking rendition of Heart’s classic “Barracuda”. That provides a fabulous flashback for some fans to a classic BottleRock moment when Heart opened their stellar set at the 2014 edition of the festival with “Barracuda”.

Bottlerock 2022 Marcus King
MARCUS KING / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

Austin, Texas-based indie rockers Spoon rock the main stage solidly in the 4:00 pm hour, but there are thousands of fans who have taken the opportunity to take a load off and chill out on blankets in the back half of the field. It feels like the main stage is maybe not quite where Spoon belongs for maximum impact, though programming the afternoon sets at a big festival is often tricky that way.

The late afternoon is an excellent time to visit the Monkey Shoulder “Port-a-Party” speakeasy, a semi-secretive cabana of sorts accessible through an orange port-a-potty door near one of the side stages. Here festivalgoers find a whiskey lounge and a small but booming dance club. Some people might think they don’t care for single malt whiskies, which tend to have a smokey character like scotch that isn’t for everybody. But the Monkey Shoulder bartenders demonstrate just how tasty their malt whiskey cocktails can be with the “Chi Chi”. Served on the rocks with gold-dusted hibiscus, dipped dried pineapple, coconut cream, and lime, the Chi Chi is quite a tasty beverage.

Bottlerock 2022 Spoon
SPOON / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

Japanese psychedelic rock band Kikagaku Moyo sets BottleRock on fire at 5:00 pm at the smaller Allianz stage, coming out hot with the exploratory “Gatherings” from their 2018 album Masana Temples. “Dancing Blue” from their latest album, 2022’s Kumoyo Island, keeps things going in a groovy manner as it becomes clear that this set will be one of the weekend’s top treats. “Smoke and Mirrors” from 2014’s Forest of Lost Children is another winner, as psychedelic guitar and sitar melodies weave around the beat before an ambient break that builds back strong for a sweet jam. 

“Streets of Calcutta” cranks up the dance party vibe by mixing Eastern melodies with Western grooves, making it feel like BottleRockers are being transported to a zen ninja dance party in an exotic land. Napa can indeed be an exotic terrain, making this set an all-time BottleRock highlight. It’s only too bad that Kikagaku Moyo have already announced that 2022 will be their last year on tour before breaking up after a ten-year run.

Bottlerock 2022 Chvrches
CHVRCHES / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

The dreaded major festival schedule conflict problem pops up at 6:00 pm when youthful retro-rockers Greta Van Fleet are opposed on the main stage by siren Lauren Mayberry and her vibrant synthpop band Chvrches on the Verizon stage (the festival’s second-largest). Chvrches have been known to dazzle big crowds at major festivals with their infectious songs and Mayberry’s charismatic presence (as they did at Coachella in 2016), and it’s no different here as the band’s pulsing sound draws a big audience. But with Metallica coming up as Friday’s headliner, it feels like heading back to the main stage for some guitar-oriented rock is the move.

Greta Van Fleet draw a big crowd, even if many seem to be Metallica fans just waiting for the main event. Some critics have dismissed the band as Led Zeppelin copycats, yet their classic rock-inspired sound clearly still holds much appeal. Songs like “Black Smoke Rising” and “Highway Tune” flat out rock with singer Josh Kiszka’s dynamic vocals and brother Jake Kiszka’s heady riffs. The question remains as to whether Greta Van Fleet can use their early success as a springboard to a long-term career, or will they flame out like previous Zep-inspired rockers such as Kingdom Come? The latter band incidentally wound up preceding Metallica on the 1988 Monsters of Rock stadium tour (headlined by Van Halen and the Scorpions), which was not an advantageous position with Metallica blowing everyone away each night. 

Bottlerock 2022 Greta Van Fleet
GRETA VAN FLEET / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

There’s a bonus during the set break when The Alive rock the intimate Jam Pad stage at the back of the main field. Eighteen-year-old drummer Kai Neukermans powers the alt-rock trio through an incendiary performance, much as he did two weeks earlier as a pinch-hit drummer with Pearl Jam at Oakland Arena (after Matt Cameron had been sidelined by the interminable COVID-19 pandemic.) Bassist Manoa Neukermans holds down a heavy low end, while guitarist Bastian Evans sings with a gritty vibe demonstrating that he’s studied the grunge gods well. The band crushes the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Geek USA”, and it’s always nice to get an unexpected dose of old-school grunge rock here in the 2020s.

Bottlerock 2022 Metallica full band
METALLICA / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

When Metallica hits the stage around 7:45 pm, the energy level surges for a thrilling two-hour set. It’s a credit to Metallica that they’ve been able to popularize heavy metal to such a degree that they can fit in at more of a mainstream festival like BottleRock. The band members have become such icons that they also appeared three nights earlier at the San Francisco Giants’ now annual Metallica Night, where guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett played the national anthem, drummer Lars Ulrich read the opening lineups, and bassist Robert Trujillo delivered the lineup cards. The Giants also scored a thrilling 13-12 win over the New York Mets, which now seems to have foreshadowed the thrills being experienced here at BottleRock. 

There are plenty of longtime Metallica fans in attendance, with many band t-shirts in the crowd. But what’s really interesting is the number of younger fans that keep getting inspired to move up closer during the set, clearly mesmerized by the unique sonic power of Metallica. “Wherever I May Roam” and “Seek and Destroy” are early highlights, as Metallica rocks the night with their incendiary metal mayhem. The vibe continues to grow throughout the set, with Metallica winning over the festival audience, where perhaps up to half the crowd is seeing the band for the first time. Their infectious cover of “Whiskey in the Jar” is a superb choice for a festival renowned for its libation offerings, while “For Whom the Bell Tolls” rings out with a timely resonance in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

A Metallica show provides a sustained energy level that could conceivably test a festival audience. But the crowd energy only seems to grow more intense as the set continues. A sensational “Master of Puppets” set closer precedes a furious “Battery” to open the encore sequence before an electrifying “Enter Sandman” closes the night in style.

Bottlerock 2022 Metallica Kirk Hammett
METALLICA / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

Saturday, May 28

The local “wine country cowboys” known as The Silverado Pickups hit the smaller Allianz stage at 2:30 pm for a fun set that gets the day going in a laid-back yet spirited manner. A glass of the Jam Cab (Jam Cellars Cabernet) goes down nicely here, with the band blending blues, rock, country, and Americana. Well-played covers of The Monkeys‘ “I’m a Believer” and Little Feat’s “Willin” hit the sweet spot, as does an upbeat tune about “two more bottles of wine”.

Bottlerock 2022 Silversun Pickups
THE SILVERADO PICKUPS / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

Jamgrass rockers Greensky Bluegrass were originally scheduled to play an evening set on a smaller stage where their jammy style would have seemed to benefit from the opportunity to employ their psychedelic light show. But the band winds up moving into a 3:15 set on the main stage in the warm sunshine. The string quartet plays to a bigger audience, but some of their vibe is lost in translation in the larger setting. A cover of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” serves as a crowd-pleaser, segueing into a hot jam that shows what the band can do when they stretch out. They also have a new album with Stress Dreams that features a thoughtful and socially conscious vibe which fits 2022’s chaos quite well.

Bottlerock 2022 Greensky Bluegrass
GREENSKY BLUEGRASS / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

The back of the main stage field features some of the region’s top wine producers, including the Stag’s Leap Winery, whose cabernet stands out with a sublimely pleasing quality. The Stag’s Leap cabana stands out further with a “Take the Leap” augmented reality campaign and Instagram photo contest to win a VIP experience at the winery. The 4:00 pm hour also turns out to be an excellent time to visit The Hendrick’s Gin 3-Story Bar, where bartenders are mixing up unique craft cocktails to accompany the summer vibe. The Neptunia Fizz is a refreshing citrusy beverage featuring Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin (“inspired by the magic of the sea”), lime juice, simple syrup, and soda with a cucumber garnish. An artsy backdrop featuring a mermaid with lush plants and flowers lends a surreal vibe to the scene.

Bottlerock 2022 Silversun Pickups
SILVERSUN PICKUPS / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

Silversun Pickups electrify the 5:00 pm hour at the Verizon stage, where a large crowd indicates Northern California still has a strong taste for the LA rockers’ grungey sound. Bassist Nikki Moninger brings a rockstar vibe to the stage with a shimmery dress and cherry red Gibson Thunderbird bass, pumping up the crowd with her charismatic energy. Opening with the hard-rocking “Well Thought Out Twinkles” from 2006’s breakthrough album Carnavas generates a wave of sonic power that the band rides throughout the set. “Panic Switch” is another crowd-pleaser, with guitarist Brian Aubert and drummer Christopher Guanlao rocking furiously while keyboardist Joe Lester adds extra psychedelia. 

A peak moment of BottleRock synergy occurs when the audience claps in time on their own initiative during the song’s breakdown, inspiring the band as they crank it back up for a big climax. “Kissing Families” is another winner, with a mid-tempo melodic vibe enhanced by Monninger’s vocals that always seem to warm hearts and minds. When Aubert sings, “Keep looking forward on paths sideways, It’s everything that is connected and beautiful,” there’s a sense that watching the Silversun Pickups on a warm breezy day in Napa creates a vibe of exactly that. The jam on “Nightlight” even appears to alter the weather, as an overcast sky gives way and the sun shines through again before the band closes their triumphant set with the ever-anthemic hit “Lazy Eye”.

Bottlerock 2022 Black Crowes
THE BLACK CROWES / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

There’s no break in the action now as The Black Crowes are already rocking the main stage when the Silversun Pickups’ set concludes. The Robinson brothers made a big comeback in 2021 with a reunion tour for the 30th anniversary of their debut album, demonstrating that demand for the band’s classic rock sound remains strong. “Twice as Hard” has an infectious vibe that turns the clock back three decades for those who have been following the band all along, while also ringing out with the timeless quality of the great rock ‘n’ roll song that it is. Chris Robinson introduces “Soul Singing” as “a song about where music and love collide”, an apt description for the soaring melodic gem from 2000’s Lions album that always conjures higher spiritual vibrations. 

The title track from 1998’s By Your Side serves as a welcome deep cut of sorts, with last year’s tour having focused on the band’s first three albums. Rich Robinson rocks out with hot licks on a gorgeous white guitar with mother of pearl inlays, while Chris connects with the crowd as he sings, “If you feel your heart is breaking, I will be by your side”. The set continues to surge with an exploratory jam on the fan fave “Wiser Time”, before Chris introduces another hit as a number that was Otis Redding’s song. “Then it was our song… it’s really your song,” he says as an intro to “Hard to Handle”, which conjures an ever-reliable dance party. It’s been a treat to see the Robinson brothers together again, and even better to hear they’re working on new music.

Bottlerock2022 Brothers Comatose
THE BROTHERS COMATOSE / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

BottleRock delivers a regional sonic treat at 7:00 pm at the more intimate Truly stage with The Brothers Comatose, an Americana-oriented band from the Bay Area that mixes rock, jamgrass, and country. The band draws a strong contingent of their own devoted fans here, making for a well-received set. “The Way the West Was Won” strikes a chord with its upbeat tale of the region’s past, which gets the crowd grooving. “Tops of the Trees” is a bluesier number that has even inspired its own west coast IPA in the band’s ongoing collaborations with Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley. The band’s friends in The T Sisters also assist with some gorgeous harmonies that really shine here in the twilight hour.

Bottlerock 2022 Mount Westmore
MOUNT WESTMORE / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

The closing slots at 8:00 pm feature pop stars 21 Pilots on the Jam Cellars stage, hip-hop supergroup Mount Westmore on the Verizon stage, regional jam-rockers Moonalice on the Allianz stage, and a Silent Disco at the Truly stage. Those who failed to do their research might not even have realized that Mount Westmore would feature Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, E-40, and Too $hort, delivering a raucous set recalling the festive performance that Snoop Dogg threw down here on the same stage in 2018.

Bottlerock 2022 Moonalice
MOONALICE / Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38

Moonalice have historically played an early set on the main stage at BottleRock, but here bring their “Full Moonalice” production to the evening slot with a dazzling psychedelic light show. There are also great harmonies from The T Sisters again, whose voices seem like alchemy in turning everything they touch to sonic gold. 1960s legend Lester Chambers and his son Dylan Chambers are also Moonalice band members now, adding some vibrant extra soul. With Pete Sears on bass, John Molo on drums, Barry Sless on guitar, and Jason Crosby on keyboards, Roger McNamee’s crew excel at dishing out classic rock gems such as the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”, which rocks here into a Grateful Dead-style “Turn on Your Lovelight” jam. The Chambers men star with a vibrant take on Alan Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” and the whole set features an uplifting vibe that makes it feel like the dream of the ’60s carries on.

Those who can make it back on Sunday are no doubt treated to a fabulous afternoon set from Michael Franti & Spearhead (who delivered one of the weekend’s most memorable sets at BottleRock in 2018), and headlining sets from the one and only Pink, country star Luke Combs, and reggae stalwarts The Wailers (featuring Julian Marley.) BottleRock 2022 has once again proven to be one of America’s most pleasing festivals, with its diverse musical lineup, fabulous weather, and eclectic food and beverages of the Napa region.

Bottlerock 2022 LOVE installation
Photo: BottleRock Napa Valley/Latitude 38