BottleRock 2015 Preview: Third Time Is a Charm for Napa Valley Music, Food & Wine Festival

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BottleRock Music Festival Atmosphere, wine, beer and great food were all a part of the BottleRock Music Festival in Napa Valley, CA.  Many different restaurants served up different types of gourmet food and wine in the festival. 

California’s Napa Valley is known for its exquisite wineries and restaurants -- and the organizers of this year’s BottleRock Napa Valley are aiming to mix the best of both those worlds at the festival’s third installment.

“People have an expectation when they come to Napa Valley of what the food and wine are going to be,” says David Graham, CEO of Latitude 38, which produces BottleRock. “We’ve got to deliver on that.”

With nearly 30 wineries and numerous top restaurants on site, BottleRock 2015 -- to be held May 29-31 at the Napa Valley Expo -- will feature performances by more than 70 musical acts, including Imagine Dragons, No Doubt, Robert Plant, Snoop Dogg, Foster the People and Passion Pit. The three-day fest is expected to draw about 100,000 people, Graham says, noting that about 65,000 glasses of wine will be consumed during the event.

For the first time, BottleRock will boast a Culinary Stage (sponsored by Williams-Sonoma) where festival-goers can watch top chefs, vintners and master sommeliers team up with artists like Snoop Dogg, Flavor Flav and members of Imagine Dragons for entertaining food demos and other memorable “mash-up” moments. Participating A-list chefs include Masaharu Morimoto, Mei Lin and Michael Voltaggio.

In the days leading up to BottleRock 2015, Billboard spoke to Graham about the challenges of recovering from a financially disastrous first year, how the 2014 earthquake in Napa Valley impacted this year’s festival, what to expect from the mash-up moments between chefs and artists, the Napa Valley-related perks for acts on the bill, and much more.

Billboard: How do you describe BottleRock to people who’ve never attended before?

David Graham: It’s a food and wine festival within a world-class music festival. We saw the opportunity to do something different, in terms of providing a unique experience to festival-goers and that revolved around building the brand promise that comes with the Napa Valley. Three million people come into Napa per year with a high expectation of having a food and wine experience. We really respect what our competitors do, particularly in Northern and Southern California. But we didn’t want to be what they are in any way, shape or form. If we hadn’t seen an opportunity to be something different … we wouldn’t have jumped in.

The inaugural BottleRock in 2013 (produced by BR Festivals) was a financial disaster, leaving many artists and vendors unpaid. How did your company Latitude 38 overcome the negative stigma left behind from that first year?

Our commitment to Napa Valley was that we would pull off BottleRock 2014 despite having very little time to do so. We took over the BottleRock brand and rights to the festival on Jan. 27, 2014, announced our lineup up on March 14 and produced our first festival on May 30. We also committed to helping eliminate debt brought on by the previous promoters, BR Festivals. We eliminated about $5 million of their debt.

Our commitment to the music industry was that we would pull off the festival despite not having enough time to do so … and that all vendors would be paid, regardless of how well or not well the festival performed, financially speaking.

We were very transparent with just about everyone we met with within the music industry. The three Latitude 38 partners (Jason Scoggins, Justin Dragoo and myself) either met in person or had phone calls with many of the key decision-makers in the music industry. We informed them of our intentions regarding the festival and that we were well capitalized. We even walked one large agency through some of our financial assumptions regarding both revenue and costs for our festival in 2014.

Was it difficult to gain the trust of artist managers and booking agents after that disappointing first year?

Of course. We knew there were going to be hurdles to overcome in order for us to distinguish ourselves from the previous owners. When gaining the trust of booking agents and managers, they wanted the assurance that we had the intelligence, determination and commitment level to make it through what was surely going to be the most difficult work-related challenge of our lives.

North American is packed with music festivals of various sizes. Do you feel it would be challenging to start a new music fest without some sort of food or alcohol-themed component to lure in ticket buyers?

If you’re going to start a business, whether it’s in the music industry or outside, you have to be able to differentiate. If we were just going to compete on lineup, that would be a poor business model. Our per-cap on food and beverage is higher than any music festival out there. That’s the case because people are already coming to Napa to experience world-class food and wine. Half of our demographic is roughly 21 to 35, mostly from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. The other half is 35 and up. You don’t see that at other festivals of this size.

Napa Valley experienced a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in August 2014. Did that have any impact on this year’s BottleRock?

In an odd kind of way, it ended up helping us. The venue itself, relatively speaking, is small. It’s 26 acres. There are multiple buildings on those grounds. What ended up happening was that three large buildings were essentially destroyed. When we were asked what we’d like to see done, we told them not to rebuild if they don’t have to. The removal of those three buildings, and the grandstands that were removed this year, have entirely opened up that venue. It’s increased capacity for us across the board. This year you’re going to see a food court that’s double in size and two different stages where we were able to collectively add capacity between 10,000 and 14,000.

Something new at this year’s BottleRock is the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage, where musicians will join celebrity chefs on stage for what you’re calling “memorable mash-up moments.” Can you elaborate on what festival-goers can expect?

Celebrity chefs are the stars out there right now, so to speak. We have an abundant number of artists who are performing at BottleRock, many of whom have experience in the culinary space or really appreciate food and wine. So instead of having a boring culinary set where people teach how to cook, why not pair someone like Snoop Dogg with Iron Chef Morimoto? Morimoto is known for rolling sushi and Snoop is known for rolling other things. We timed it so that their sets are about 20 minutes. They don’t happen during the main stage performances. It takes place on a stage that’s very well produced, just like any other stage that we have. It’ll be first class and it takes place within the food garden.

Are there any Napa Valley-related perks for artists performing at BottleRock?

We hired two of the best restaurants in Napa Valley -- Oenotri and Zuzu -- to do the artist catering. The menu is three different types of paella, wood fired Napoletana pizza, duck served three ways, roasted porchetta, and all kinds of farm and table, vegan, and gluten free meals. We also arrange for requests that any artist has relative to private tastings in the valley. Artists here will also get some wine in their tent. We want artists and their team to feel very special when they’re here and when they leave.

Has BottleRock ever thought of teaming up in some way with musicians who produce their own wine, like Tool’s Maynard James Keenan or Dave Koz?

We can use this platform to help artists who are into wine move forward with that, whether it’s a hobby or profession. For example, Brett Dennen has his a wine company (Dennen Wines). He’s performing this year and you’re going to be able to find out about his wine on the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage. That’s the kind of partnership we offer; we don’t charge for it. His spot will be with ZZ Ward and Chef Robert Curry. Curry is going to make Ward’s favorite meal and it’s going to be paired with Dennen’s wine.

Complete lineup and ticket details can be found at bottlerocknapavalley.com