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Big Sound, Big Biz?

Columnist: Christina Julian
July, 2015 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

Where BottleRock brings strength in numbers (and acts), Live in the Vineyard has taken a different tack.

When I moved to Napa Valley by way of New York and Los Angeles, one of the things I pined for the most was a real music scene. But then BottleRock busted onto the block three years ago and actualized those dreams, despite the fact that the locals’ temperature toward the event has changed as many times as Mick Jagger’s outfit during a concert. After the year one, post-fest fiasco, it felt like all the naysayers would get exactly what they prayed for—the end of the festival. But the advocates had some prayers of their own answered in year two, when the fest returned, bringing the bigger, better mantra to life. Thanks to the local collective, Latitude 38 Entertainment, which not only stepped in to ensure the fat lady of BottleRock would never sing her last song, the group cleaned up the fest’s tarnished image, including a hefty chunk of the original fest founders’ debt. All of this got me wondering if rock music is poised to become the next perfect pairing to our Napa Valley wines.

Skyrockets in flight

Like any good superstar who shoots to stardom overnight (or festival that skyrockets out of bankruptcy), there are those who prefer slow burn status, maturing over time. One such case is Live in the Vineyard (LITV). Festival creators Bobbii Hach-Jacobs and Claire Parr, music industry veterans for the past 30 years, explain the evolution. “Not to be egotistical in any way, but our event led the way eight years ago for pop and contemporary music to come into Napa Valley. The wine and food world were evolving into ‘rockstar’ settings and contemporary music matched the mood,” says Parr.



Where BottleRock brings strength in numbers (and acts), with 80,000 attendees in 2014 and more than 100,000 for this year's sold out festival, LITV has taken a different tack. “We distinguish ourselves by creating events that are luxurious, intimate, one-of-a-kind,” says Hach-Jacobs. The twice-annual event caters to only 1,000 attendees and opts for a unique approach to entry. As if countering my complaint against the lack of affordable everyman/woman events, LITV takes the fat wallet syndrome out of the equation and replaces it with an element of chance. “We wanted everyone to have a chance to come no matter where they came from, what their circumstances were or whether they’d traveled before—we just wanted super fans. So we created a concert and music experience and based it on Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, with winners having the ultimate access to something totally private and special,” says Parr. She feels the format encourages attendees to support local restaurants, wineries and shops during their stay, and leaves them inspired to come back for more. “People want that ‘golden ticket’ to get up close and personal with recording artists, top-tier winemakers, and world-renowned chefs in the beautiful Napa Valley setting,” adds Hach-Jacobs.

Unlike a larger festival, LITV opts for more of an “unplugged” experience, where performers are asked to strip down their production to a basic and, at times, acoustic level. “Everything about LITV is up close and personal, so when you leave at the end of the weekend, you really feel like you’ve connected and been a part of something rather than just attending a put-together event,” says Hach-Jacobs.

The duo also curated the music behind the first-ever Yountville Live, where attendees pay for a pass to attend. The event piggybacked onto LITV (held the weekend prior), so the über lucky and monied could attend both.
This year’s BottleRock actualized the Napa Valley trifecta of music, wine and food, with the addition of the Williams-Sonoma stage, which, among many other culinary devices, included food and music mash-ups that paired celebrity chefs with unlikely musical counterparts like Snoop Dogg and Flavor Flav.



All of this merry music making might be well timed, given the picture that was painted in a 2012 economic impact study that revealed the following distribution of visitor spending: 35.4 percent on retail purchases (including wine); 21.6 on restaurants; and a mere 5.8 percent for entertainment and sightseeing. Tourist activity and attractions sang a similar song with wine tasting room visits at 82.2 percent, dining at 77 percent and only 8.6 percent of visitors attending a festival or event. One can assume that powerhouse events like BottleRock and a steady diet of class acts like LITV could change that. But while Napa Valley’s music scene feels like the hottest ticket around, there’s a way to go before rock ‘n’ roll garners a hefty hunk of the Napa Valley pie.


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