NAPA — As a nearly full moon set Sunday night, the man of the hour—or the weekend—took the stage on the final day of BottleRock Napa Valley. Bruno Mars had been the buzzed-about headliner at BottleRock from the moment the festival lineup was announced months ago. Every major festival in the country would kill to have him, and his appearance at BottleRock further cemented the Napa fest’s status as one of the big boys in the summer festival scene.
As a giant white veil over the stage was lifted, Bruno Mars and his bandmates made their entrance clad in different sports jerseys and matching shorts. While Mars has been photographed wearing Oakland A’s gear in the past, on this night, he repped the Pittsburgh Pirates, while the majority of the rest of the band opted for basketball jerseys from NBA teams not in the Bay Area.
The group (while Mars handled most of the vocals, the others had star turns on instruments and dancing) opened the show with “Finesse,” with Mars’ trademark swagger to a stage bathed with spotlights of every color of the rainbow. Mars’ vocal prowess is impressive, especially considering the continuous flow of energy and choreography he and his bandmates exerted throughout the show.
It’s easy to forget that Mars is also a musician, but he had the opportunity to show off his soulful guitar playing. He left little time to rest, mixing in dance breakdowns between his own vocal lines. His performance was akin to that of a modern day Prince or Michael Jackson leading a young Earth, Wind & Fire. The mix sets Mars apart from his modern pop and R&B contemporaries. And Mars brought the fire indeed, breaking out deafening pyrotechnics multiple times during the set.
“I’m at BottleRock; you know, the fancy Coachella!” Mars exclaimed midway through his 90-minute set, again recognizing the festival’s status along with the biggest festivals in the country. This also left us wondering how SoCal music lovers would counter.
Mars’ setlist consisted of a cross-section of material from throughout his career, but the majority focused on his most recent album, 24K Magic.
Mars and his band kicked it up on all cylinders for the show-stopping “Runaway Baby” before closing out the show with his most recognizable hits. Mars got a little help from the massive crowd as it sang along with “Just the Way You Are” and the undeniably danceable “Uptown Funk.”
The Brooklyn pop songwriter and singer preceded Bruno Mars at the main stage with a nearly hourlong set of lesser-known tracks and her radio hits, which she said she split evenly down the middle to gauge how many of her fans she had in the packed crowd. She opened with “Eyes Closed,” off 2017 LP Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, appearing in a swirling cloud of fog atop a wide set of stairs that lit up like the LED screens behind her.
Halsey followed that up with “Hold Me Down” and “Castle,” from 2015’s Badlands. Air cannons exploded behind her, sending streams of fog a story into the air behind her. More 2017 cuts, such as “Heaven In Hiding” and “Alone,” followed before Halsey switched from the lesserknown material to the hits portion of her set, including “Closer,” her song with The Chainsmokers, and dang-near everyone in the vicinity of the stage sang along to that one. She followed that up with “Now Or Never” and “Hurricane,” on which she sings of her home.
Fresh off her appearance at San Francisco’s Noise Pop, Australia’s Amy Shark returned to Northern California for her debut appearance at BottleRock. Prepping for the summer release of her debut LP, “Love Monster,” Shark is a star on the verge of breaking out, and she showed off her star power Sunday, performing songs from her past EPs as well as her phenomenal new single, the instantly catchy “I Said Hi.” Other standouts included “Home,” early career success “Spits On Girls,” soulful jam “Blood Brothers,” love ballad “Deleted Scenes” and the break-up tearjerker “Middle of the Night.”
“This song is sad, and if you’ve just been through a break-up, it’s not for you,” she said. “Might be time to go get a drink.”
Shark even mixed in a cover of Eminem’s “Superman,” with an arrangement that was so naturally Shark, it may as well have been her own song. She finished with the two songs best-known to U.S. fans: “Weekends” and “Adore.”
Sure, they may have been dressed like hippies or thrift store enthusiasts, and their ratio of men to man buns was a bit high at two out of four, but SoCal group Magic Giant impressed many people who likely didn’t know what they were in store for early at the main stage with frenetic pop tracks like “Celebrate The Reckless,” “Hideaway” and “Shake Me Up.” Viola player Zambricki Li showed just why there should be more viola solos in pop music (and he juggled a handful of other instruments).
Vocalist-guitarist Austin Bisnow repeatedly made his way to be close to fans, first running down the pit that separated the general admission and VIP areas, and then climbing into the fan areas to give hugs and hi-fives. Bisnow, Li and guitarist Brian Zaghi also performed some choreographed jumping and spin moves, all while playing their instruments.
Huett, a protege of Taylor Swift, opened the final day of BottleRock with a 30-minute set of thoughtful ballads including “Okay”; folkie mid-tempo tunes, such as piano tune “Damn It,” which she wrote for Nashville artist-actress Jana Kramer, kiss-off pop anthems like “STFU and Hold Me” and “H8U,” and a chill-inducing cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.”
Huett is a pop artist, more or less, but the SoCal native’s time in Nashville rubbed off in a bit of twang in her voice. That went away on “Riverside,” a mid-tempo indie rock ode to her hometown.
The Canadian-German-English singer-songwriter, who’s rising on the charts thanks to her lack of roots avoided disaster—a 15-minute delay caused by technical difficulties—by skipping the small talk and getting straight to her catchy tunes. Merton opened with the aptly titled “Hit The Ground Running” before transitioning to the disco-infused rhythms of “Keeps Me Awake.”
The Frankfurt-born Merton was a dynamo on stage, bouncing along with upbeat jams like “Lash Out.” Merton’s sound emphasized upbeat pop grooves with a Franz Ferdinand-like staccato guitar attack. Merton joked that she had little time for the amount of talking she’d normally do between songs, before diving into the instant crowdpleaser radio smash “No Roots.”
The Springsteen-loving songwriter was “All Systems Go” in an adrenaline-filled set that needed no build-up. Mondo followed his space launch intro with “Chemical Dream” and “Higher.” The refrain from the latter, “higher and higher for me,” couldn’t be more true of the energy he and his band pushed into their performance.
“You’re in the right place,” he said as the song transitioned into into intense tune. He would follow that up with his best-known song, “Plastic Soul.”
Manchester Orchestra brought a heavy dose of prog-influenced indie rock to the Midway stage Sunday. Opening with “Pride” and “April Fools,” the Atlanta quartet played a lean set of big, bold guitar with pounding percussion. The songs were brought to life by Andy Hull’s edgy, razor-sharp vocals. On a day pop ruled the festival from the first acts to the headliners, Manchester Orchestra kept fans of rock bands happy. The band finished with “I Can Barely Breathe” and “The Gold.”
J Roddy Walston and the Business
As many awaited the arrival of Bruno Mars, J Roddy Walston and the Business threw a party of their own on the Lagunitas stage. Walston was a dynamo on stage, blasting through a high-energy set while jumping naturally between playing keys and guitar. The band tore through its set, playing a blend of classic and indie rock. Guitarist Billy Gordon provided some of the loudest and fiercest guitar work of the weekend.
Lake Street Dive
After playing a gig at The Fillmore on Friday night, Lake Street Dive drove just up the road for a midday BottleRock appearance. The band brought its trademark take on jazz and soulful retro pop, courtesy of vocalist Rachael Price and co. Price’s breezy and smooth vocals cut through the warm air. This created a pleasant break between many acts with thudding bass and squelching synths.
Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra
The Sonoma-born, Santa Cruz-based singer-songwriter and his band were supposed to play BottleRock in 2017 but got bumped due to scheduling issues. Then they nearly missed Sunday’s make-up performance after getting stranded at the Denver airport the night before after a gig.
Road-weary but happy to be closing out an extended tour on its home turf, the band blended folk and Americana with post-rock and jamming—not the most common combination. While the band’s on-stage style may have shifted a bit, their appreciated characteristics, O’Reilly’s gravelly voice layered atop his resonator guitar, stand-up bass and violin remained true to form.
Rayman was likely the day’s premiere avant-garde artist. Like O’Reilly, his voice was textured, at times gravelly or indiscernibly cartoon-like. But his bluesy rock was closer to the rap or electronica spectrum, as the beats and rhythm his guitarist and DJ produced were definitely not standard singer-songwriter fare. At the same time, it was atmospheric and moody. And whether it was the music or Rayman’s washboard abs, which were out on display, it was awfully sexy.
Oh, and Allan Rayman was prone to laugh like an evil villain, perform while making devil horns with his fingers above his head, hopping around on one foot with his arms spread like airplane wings, and repeatedly requesting wine—just not a red, because that would make him sleepy‚which he drank straight from the bottle once it arrived.
Rayman’s set included jumping’ cuts like “Lucy the Tease” and “Tennessee.” Between songs, he would ad-lib made-up lyrics about whatever he happened to be thinking about.
The Bay Area’s poet-rapper, George Watsky, played his first local festival stage since performing at Outside Lands a few years ago. While we didn’t catch much of his set at the Miner Family Winery stage, his fiery delivery and crisp enunciation were on full on with opening tracks “Seizure Boy” and “Brave New World.” Watsky performed with a crisp band and a talented vocalist smoothed our his rhymes with her melodies.
Dean Lewis kicked off the final day of BottleRock on the Lagunitas stage. The Australian singer-songwriter took the stage with only a piano and an acoustic guitar. Performing solo on a major festival stage could seem like a daunting task, but Lewis was up for the challenge, singing soulful ballads with a Chris Martin-esque vulnerability. Lewis filled his set with a lot of new material, including the introspective “7 Minutes” and his hit “Waves.”
Americana and roots rock newcomers Mt. Joy lit up the Miner stage with set of traditional folk with a hint of jam band. The five-piece would be right at home with contemporaries like The Head & the Heart. Their introspective songwriting and rich melodies made for a strong set.