11 Under-the-radar acts to catch at BottleRock Napa Valley

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BottleRock, BottleRock Napa Valley

Courtesy: BottleRock Napa Valley

With a lineup ranging from The Killers and Bruno Mars to Snoop Dogg and Earth, Wind & Fire, few festivals can match BottleRock’s crossover appeal. Looking beyond the headliners reveals a diverse array of up-and-comers waiting to break big. At BottleRock, Napa becomes the perfect place for dozens of lesser-known bands and artists to reach larger audiences and leave a career-defining impact, making for hectic afternoons filled to the brim with urgent performances.

From synth-pop sad boys to punk rock thrashers, BottleRock seems as ready as ever to provide a flavor for every attendee’s musical palate. For overwhelmed music lovers wanting to make the most of their weekend, RIFF has combed through this year’s lineup to make your festival memorable.

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1. Dani Bell & the Tarantist — Saturday, 12 to 12:40 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

This San Diego quintette revitalizes the familiar soft rock template with an attention-grabbing visual aesthetic and singer Dani Bell’s intimate melodies. Tipping a hat to the British invasion legends and the reverb-washed trends in West Coast lo-fi pop, this band bounces in their currents while maintaining a natural drift. Their mysterious aura goes hand-and-hand with their distinctive masks, creating a compelling experience within a familiar musical template.

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2. LANY — Friday, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. — Midway Stage

In the recent resurgence of synth pop, embracing the inherent cheesiness of the music separates the champs from the chumps. There’s certainly a retro undercurrent to what this L.A. trio does, but it uses it as a tool for genuine expression instead of a trend to exploit. LANY’s matter-of-fact lyrics and impossibly catchy melodies would fit snuggly into any top-40 playlist, but its indie sensibility shines through with relatable proximity. LANY’s confidence, style and songwriting will surely make its set a highlight.

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3. The Aces — Saturday, 1 to 1:30 p.m. — JaM Cellars Stage

Utah’s college town all-girl quartet blends luminous electronics with soaring alt-pop in one euphoric bop after another. The Aces’ jubilant output stems from the lifelong friendship members Cristal Ramirez, McKenna Petty, Katie Henderson and Alisa Ramirez have enjoyed even before they began making music together. Their inviting stage presence and anthemic choruses are hard to resist by themselves, genuine place it stems from makes it impossible refuse joining in with their combination of new-wave flair and modernized exuberance.

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4. Moonalice  — Friday, 8:45 to 10 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

Anyone who has followed BottleRock should be at least partly familiar with these Bay Area natives since they’ve been playing the festival since it started. With a myriad of influences ranging from Bob Dylan to Frank Zappa, these guys wear their love for old-fashioned rock and roll on their sleeve. They may not have the same brazen energy or contemporary sonics of some of the acts with whom they’ll be sharing the stage, but every festival needs an act to reign everything back to catchy guitar riffs and steadfast grooves.

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5. Durand Jones & The Indications — Sunday, 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

Hailing from Bloomington, Illinois, this quintet combines the elegance of soul with the swagger of R&B and a bit of the bluesy grit. Durand Jones may not be a church chorister anymore, but his voice always reaches for the heavens. Add to that the heavy groove of drummer Aaron Frazer and bassist Kyle Houpt, the less-is-more guitar-work of Blake Rhein and the shimmering organ of Justin Hubler, and you have a jazz-rock dream team. Breaking down their sound to acoustics hardly detours their vibe, but putting them on stage will let them run with more powerful attributes. They have “cool” down to a science, leaving no listener unaffected.

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6. The Knitts — Friday, 1 to 1:40 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

Get ready to slam dance L.A.-style as this garage punk quintet injects some much-needed testosterone into BottleRock weekend. Theirs is hardly a complicated approach, taking influence from the Burger Records circuit as much as ‘80s hardcore mainstays, but it’s more than enough to wake up anyone wanting to catch their second wind or spend a set thrashing. Fans of the White Stripes, Ty Segal or The Misfits will find a pleasant surprise when The Knitts hit the stage.

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 7. RIVVRS — Friday, 12 to 12:30 p.m. — JaM Cellars Stage

At once expansive and stripped-down, Napa singer-songwriter Brandon Zahursky has brought the authenticity of Americana to the L.A. scene with his unique voice and homely sentiments. His mobile childhood, which at one point involved staying at a halfway house with his parents, has informed not only his compelling stage presence, but the “placeable” nature of his lyrics. As individualistic as his music might seem, his true joy lies in playing his songs with people who share his love of music—not a bad outlook going into a festival performance.

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8. Ayokay — Saturday, 8:45 to 10 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

It’s not every day an EDM producer reaches 30 million Spotify streams overnight on just one song, and for Detroit’s Alex O’Neill, it’s been a long time coming. His initial exposure came from producing two EPs for pop artist Quinn XCII, but the music he now creates under the monicker Ayokay speaks for itself. Energetic beats and lush arrangements simply beg to be played as at maximum volume as crowds feed off of his infectious vein of spring-to-summer bangers.

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9. Pokey LaFarge — Saturday, 7:15 to 8:15 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

“It’s about getting people to feel something. Other than anger,” LaFarge says about his lively combination of rockabilly and blues. His chosen aesthetic is far from a gimmick, as it informs the essence of his music and persona. His spontaneous spunk rattles at the heart of the Western soul, yet the personal investment he has in his music reaches far beyond the surface-level swing dance hoedowns. Repping his hometown of South City St. Louis to the fullest, it’s hard to think of a better summation for America’s musical heart.

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10. Hamish Anderson — Saturday, 12:15 to 1 p.m. — Midway Stage

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this Australian upstart works with the likes of Brian Lucey from the Black Keys, as his brand of blues rock unabashedly flies the flag of slick riffs, yarled singing and thudding beats. His album Trouble is still making waves worldwide, two years after it dropped—and for good reason. He has enough technical flair to take his earthy grooves above countless like-minded acts and into a realm to call his own. His delivery will please any fan of the Zeppelin-inspired rock, keeping the style relevant in the changing musical climate.

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11. The Districts — Saturday, 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. — Lagunitas Stage

Striking a balance between the size of Fleet Foxes with the electro-acoustics of newer Mumford & Sons, Pennsylvania trio the Districts resurrect uplifting call-to-arms indie rock left behind during its lo-fi tangent. Having been friends since childhood, vocalist-guitarist Rob Grote, bassist Connor Jacobus and drummer Braden Lawrence maintain a personal component as their sweeping chords carry songs above the usual singer-songwriter formula. Far from a mere callback to early 2000s road trip soundtracks, their chemistry remains centered around accessible melodies. They’d work just as well on stage as they would around a campfire, imparting arena-worthy bigness to a style known for its compact charm.

Follow writer Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.

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