June 18, 2013
BottleRock festival singing the financial blues

20130509_PK_ BOTTLEROCK_2336.jpg

All looked smooth from the outset: Thousands of music lovers grooving to such bands as The Black Keys and Cake while noshing on fine Napa food and sipping world class wine.

But recently, reports have emerged that Napa's BottleRock festival, which was held May 9 - 12, is facing some financial issues that could prevent this event from happening again. According the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, BottleRock organizers still owe $630,000 to 140 stage technicians. That amounts to $4,000 owed to some individually. Claims have since been filed to the California Department of Industrial Relations to receive payments plus penalties.

Meanwhile, a veritable food fight has broken out between BottleRock organizers and a catering company headed by Cindy Pawlcyn, the celebrated Napa chef and restaurateur, which managed food and beverage sales at BottleRock. Organizers say they haven't received their share of food and beverage sales.

In short, it's looking like a big mess in BottleRock country. The Napa Valley Register is now asking "Is this the End of BottleRock?" in a recent editorial.

Having previously covered music at The Bee for nearly a decade, these BottleRock developments are unfortunate but not entirely surprising. Massive music festivals are tremendously difficult to co-ordinate, and contain so many moving parts that even veteran promoters will always be kept on their toes. BottleRock was the first festival for co-founders Bob Vogt and Gabe Meyers, and the learning curve was certainly steep. I've seen it before: untested promoters over-promising for their music festival, then getting hammered financially.

One fairly recent example that comes to mind is the Jukebox Music Festival near Redding, which promised such top country acts as Alan Jackson, but was abruptly cancelled mid-festival when the promoter couldn't pay his bills. Vendors and musicians went unpaid, and ticketholders were furious at the festival being shut down by the third day.

BottleRock organziers remain confident in news reports that a second festival will happen. In fact, tickets are already on sale for BottleRock 2014. For this music and wine lover, I'll keep my fingers crossed that the finances of BottleRock get worked out, even if this sounds more hopeful than realistic. BottleRock certainly delivered in terms of its musical line-up and easygoing vibe. But like many wineries, it sometimes takes many vintages to create a good bottle - and many unfortunately don't make enough profit to last in the long run.


* Napa's BottleRock festival draws 120,000 in north state's answer to Coachella

* Napa to BottleRock with May music-food-wine festival

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