Rockin’ Bottles and Bottle Rockin’ in Napa Valley: Bands, Booze, and Backstage with Fitz & The Tantrums, gnash, Arizona, and Michael Franti

Time to outgrow your typical music festival tendencies and enhance your experience with the premium edition — better known as Northern California’s five-year-old BottleRock Festival, featuring fine wine, hoppy beer, culinary arts, and great tunes at the Napa Valley Expo Center.
This year’s headliners included Maroon 5, Foo Fighters, and Tom Petty along with performances by AlunaGeorge, Fitz and the Tantrums, Gnash, Macklemore with Ryan Lewis, Michael Franti and (deep breath) Spearhead, Arizona, The Roots, St. Lucia, Modest Mouse, and The Naked and Famous, just to name a few.

There was even a culinary stage featuring superstar chefs alongside musicians, entertainers, and celebrities for culinary-infused shenanigans. Martha Stewart, Ayesha and Steph Curry, and chefs José Andrés and Ken Frank cooked up a frenzy at the Williams-Sonoma stage.

From general admission to backstage to the VIP Sky Deck and suites, attendees had a variety of ticket options. Alaska Air VIP SkyDeck even gave away free trips daily for social media posts with #DestinationChill.

Staying at the Marriott Napa Valley was an ultimate treat as well. Delightful room service, lovely amenities, and a warm staff made the weekend that much more memorable. The first night we got there, was immediately welcomed with a goodie bag full of essentials for the festival from Mario Badresco face spray to a cocktail making kit to a portable phone charger to Clinique lip moisturizer. Its rooms were spacious and conveniently located near the festival grounds. Not to mention, the beds were super comfy which allowed me to get all the rest I needed in preparation for the festivities!

With all the madness and collaborations of big names in music and cooking, there was indeed major grubbing time in between. Whether you’re a vegan, pescatarian, sugar fiend, cheese connoisseur, or meat eater, there was something to everyone’s liking: Strictly Vegan, Morimoto, La Toque, Bouchon Bakery, Eiko’s, Gerard’s Paella, and Nick’s Cove all had stands on the BottleRock grounds. Of course where there is great food there is great wine — Chandon, Rutherford Hills, JaM Cellars, Stags’ Leap, Starmont, Meiomi, and Coppola all marked their territory as well.

I had the opportunity to interview: Michelin-starred chef Ken Frank of La Toque at the SPG Amex VIP Viewing Suite, singer songwriter Gnash, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Arizona share their favorite foods at the festival and beyond. Oh and going backstage with Michael Franti was the ultimate plus too.

How has your experience with BottleRock been so far?

Chef Ken Frank
: This is our fifth BottleRock, and every year we do something a little different — because the festival changes and grows, so you learn to do different thing every time. So every year, Friday is dress rehearsal night and Saturday gets a lot easier and then Sunday, we usually have gotten enough prep done and have it down. On Sundays we’re tired, but it’s the easy day. I’ve done all five years. It gets better every year. First of all, the entertainment is always great, but it’s much better organized every year. They even changed the layout so it’s smoother and they’ve removed the bottlenecks — no pun intended. The crowd can move around more easily, and they’ve super-enhanced the VIP experience. Now it’s easy for the ones with the VIP access who paid for it to move around in their area. They’ve upgraded the lawn and kicked up the quality of the tents too. I’m sure we’ll sit down and critique it on what ideas, changes, and improvements to make for next year.

What inspires the curation of the food?

Chef Ken Frank: The goal here was to get people fun, tasty bar snacks all afternoon so we did our signature spicy harissa chips and made two flavors of popcorn. The most popular was the lobster butter and I knew it would be. We cooked lobster heads in butter until it tasted like lobster and drizzled that on top of the popcorn. The other one had dried powdered shiitake. We also had root vegetable chips like taro, beets, and golden yams, and those are pretty popular too. We also did a really savory cheese cracker twist. So all afternoon we did snacks and we did heavy appetizers like sandwiches and did Cubanos because it’s one of the world’s greatest sandwiches. It’s practical and travels well. You have to choose things that travel well because given the outdoor setting, cooking outside, and running around back and forth — we’re on the go.

How do you incorporate healthy eating into the mix?

Chef Ken Frank: Whether we’re here or in the Michelin-starred kitchen, we make virtually everything from scratch. It’s all fresh, and we use the same great quality ingredients at La Toque.

What’s next for you and La Toque?

Chef Ken Frank: We are going to expand at the Westin and have a very small exclusive restaurant on the roof. It is about a year and half away and the working title is Table 14. Back in the original location for La Toque in Los Angeles, the 14th table was the hardest to get back there. There were two seats that were around the corner where no one can see, and that’s where the famous people and everyone wanted to sit. It will be tasting menu with only 25 to 30 seats. We’re in the design phase right now.

Next up, all five members of Fitz and the Tantrums to chat about their eating habits:

You have so much energy, how do you guys prep for shows?
Fitz and The Tantrums
: You’d be shocked. During our pre-show ritual, everyone is on their phones and they’re all quiet, but all of a sudden an uncorked Champagne bottle has been shaken too hard and we get on stage emerged with bubbles!

How do you think social media has changed the game with the audience’s engagement with the band?
Now you see people standing there with their backs to you because they’re taking a selfie video with the band and doing Instagram live and want to feel like they’re part of the show.

Have you tried any of the food at BottleRock yet?
The chorizo sandwich from the Farmer’s Village was really amazing. It had sauerkraut and chimichurri. Ugh it was so good. Like it was with this cheesy bread that’s grilled. Also, there was paella — oh my god, it was really good!

How do you stay healthy on the road?
The entire focus of your day is to try to be healthy. You have 23 hours to try to not eat bad. It doesn’t mean that we succeed but it is takes a lot of effort to find the good food and restaurants. Noelle finds the really awesome restaurants for us to eat and our drummer, John Wicks, finds the coffee. We wake up to emails with where to go. I also try not to eat a lot before a show but then it’s bad because after the show, there are always cookies in the dressing room and I’m the cookie monster.

And Arizona, who had a joint interview:

How’d you like the Samsung Stage?
: It was great. It was ridiculous. I think it was the biggest stage we’ve ever played.

Food-wise, where are your favorite spots?
When we’re on tour, San Diego because my parents make us food when we go there. When we go home to Jersey, we make it a point to go visit John’s Boy Pizza, a small pizza shop in our town, and our best friends run that place. It’s just some of the best pizza in the entire world. It’s a slice of home, so to speak.

Do you prefer festivals to venues?
They’re both very different flavors but they’re both so much fun to do.

Would you play at BottleRock again?
Would we come back? Yes, definitely.

Paella was clearly the winner in festival food. Go Gerard’s Paella!

With a combination of the music, the food, the drinks, and everything in between, BottleRock has more than enough to offer — whether you’re a vegan who loves Warren G or a wine lover who can’t enough of Maroon 5. Welcome to the place where the culinary arts and musical phenomena sync to formulate the ultimate recipe, better known as BottleRock Napa Valley.

Missed out on this year’s BottleRock Festival? Have no fear, the plans for the 2018 festival are already in the works! Stay tuned for May 25 to May 27, 2018.

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