- CHANGING KEYS Patrick Carney of the Black Keys plays at Bottlerock 2013. New producers have announced a smaller scale for this year's festival
Bottlerock, the largest festival Napa has ever seen, is back for a second year—but this time with new owners and producers, a shorter schedule, fewer bands and, hopefully, fewer outstanding debts left to pay at the end of it all.
Last year's festival was a hit with music fans, but left vendors singing the blues, with first-time festival producers Bob Vogt and Gabe Meyers eventually filing for bankruptcy after owing nearly $10 million to several business that provided services to the event. This year's producer, Latitude 38 (formerly known as GSF Entertainment LLC) is also made up of local investors hosting a major music festival for the first time. But they promise it will be different.
The group includes David Graham, Jason Scoggins, Joe Fischer and Justin Dragoo. Fischer has worked with Copia, the defunct wine museum and tasting center that now serves as will-call ticket pickup for Bottlerock. Graham is involved with tech startups, Scoggins cofounded an automotive media group and Dragoo is president of a Napa winery. The festival director is Steve Macfadyen, who was most recently entertainment director of a 2,000-seat concert center at an Indian casino in Central California.
According to the L38's website, "The company is completely separate and in no way connected with BR Festivals, the producer of the 2013 Bottlerock festival. No one from BR Festivals is a part of the management team at L38." It also states that L38 has purchased the name, some festival equipment and the deposits with the Napa Valley Expo, but not the debt.
"L38 is not assuming BR Festivals' obligations, and does not control how BR Festivals handles its debts," says the site. One paragraph later it adds, "Through a combination of negotiated agreements and future work arrangements with vendors that are critical to future festivals, L38 is reducing the overall pool of claims awaiting payment." The company has "worked to eliminate over half of the debt on the records," the purchasers say, but do not explain how or in what way L38 was involved in the debt restructuring.
The stagehands' union, Local 16, is still owed $300,000, but is back on board for this year's festival. L38 has paid the $300,000 owed to the Expo Center and over $100,000 owed to the city from last year's event. They've promised to pay the $800,000 Expo Center rental fee for this year's festival, as well as estimated costs to the city for traffic management, police and other expenses before the festival takes place.
Officials from L38 were not available to comment on questions regarding finances before press deadline, but spokesperson Gwen McGill says there will be over 40 bands on four stages at this year's event. "There are a lot of things still falling into place in terms of schedules, stages and artists."
About $20 million was spent to host the first-time festival—with about $7 million reportedly going to bands like the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Zac Brown Band, Jane's Addiction and others (there were over 60 bands). Most of them required up-front deposits. "It's insane that they were so reckless," says concert promoter Rick Bartalini, who currently books talent at the Green Music Center, among other venues. The focus in 2013 wasn't entirely on music, with dozens of wineries featured in popup tasting rooms and even standup comedy in the main expo hall.
The ambitious project is now being scaled down. Bottlerock 2014 will run three days instead of last year's five, and there will not be any standup comedy. Food and wine will still be a large draw, but the bands remain the focus of the event, say the producers.
Napa's Uptown Theatre, a partner in last year's event, will not be involved this year, says McGill. BR Festivals lost $500,000 after a deal last year to buy it for $12 million fell through. The theater also lost its booking agent, Sheila Groves-Tracey, who was also owed a substantial amount of money in the wake of Bottlerock 2013. She now owns the Twin Oaks Tavern in Penngrove and has significantly raised the profile of live music at the historic venue thus far.
Details are scant about this year's Bottlerock, with the lineup announcement coming Friday. But some information has been trickling out from the L38 camp. Presale tickets for Napa residents only went on sale for three days on March 7, at a discounted rate of $129 for single day, $229 for three-day and $529 for VIP three-day passes. Tickets purchased last year for Bottlerock 2014, which went on sale in the rock and roll afterglow of 2013's festival, will be refunded or honored at the gate, since the date has changed since then. The dates of the festival are May 30–June 1.