The Good, The Bad Religion and the BottleRock

From circle jerks to Perry Farrell's Rombauer addiction

This weekend — and this may be difficult for the Napa Vintners to reconcile — more people descended on Napa Valley than ever before. And — this may be harder still for the Auction’s organizers to reconcile — they likely spent more than any other group that ever came before them. And they spent it not on cases of one-of-a-kind Napa cab but on Capri-Sun-like foil bladders full of non-vintage “California” wine with names like ReverbRed and White Noise.

The one most amazing thing we learned about Northern California at BottleRock is that vampires live here. Or at least people who are pathologically afraid of sunshine and stay 30-40 yards away from the main lawn during a concert in the shade of redwoods to avoid it:

"The sun! It burns!"

“The sun! It burns!”

BottleRock Napa Valley certainly lived up to expectations though, with the marauders storming the Napa Fairgrounds — a facility that the week before hosted the JLAC Barn Dance and the week after will host a Home and Garden expo — in record numbers. But the inaugural year of the event was among the most well-organized and articulated such festivals you’re likely to see anywhere. From parking to food service it was a mass undertaking — and many rooted for dismal failure. But the event would disappoint them, because it ran not like a disheveled rock festival — Northern California’s many aging hippies foretold of a Yasgur’s-like disaster that would overrun Napa — but like corporate clockwork you could set your watch to.

Revolution, brought to you by Bud Light

Revolution, brought to you by Bud Light

And perhaps little did more to illustrate this dichotomy than Bad Religion’s set. Bad Religion, the storied punk band with its roots in 1980s’ San Fernando Valley, was among, according to event cofounder Gabe Meyers, the first one or two bands to sign up for BottleRock. And quite clearly, Bad Religion had no idea what they were getting into at the time. The first bands might not have realized the wankfest of sponsorships BottleRock would become, and thought they were signing on to support a friend — not opening for Train.

“It took 30 years for us to get to get to Napa, California,” declared frontman Greg Gaffin from the giant BottleRock Will Power stage — what many called the main stage — looking dismissively at the wings of the stage in front of the jumbotrons (which Gaffin assured the crowd the “rock stars” would use later). “It’s our first — and last — time,” he said.

“We don’t know how it happened,” added bassist Jay Benttley.

It was a fitting way for a punk band to begin its set in genteel wine country and still sleep at night. The band then ripped into a set that by all rights should have been played by much younger men, if only 20 year olds could earn this degree of cynicism.

Bad Religion

“You will never, ever pass this class.”

Yes, Gaffin looks like a high school math teacher at this point (he comes by the professorial stoop naturally — in case you have been sleeping under one, he has PhD in rocks) and Bentley constantly intrudes like “cool” dad making Thin Lizzy-air guitar faces.

But the crowd did not care. They demonstrated that uncomfortable moment when youthful indiscretion gives way to middle-age anxiety ably. It looks something like this:


Speaking of middle age: Holy shit, Jane’s Addiction! These boys look like they have been drinking the blood of Kurt Cobain to guarantee eternal youthfulness.

"Jane Says" is the "Free Bird" of our age.

“Jane Says” is the “Free Bird” of our age.

Perry Farrell only looked slightly deflated and Dave Navarro, original Jane’s axman and erstwhile member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, charged out onto the stage like some sort of wildebeest escaped from the mid-90s Sunset Strip that has been living on nothing but heroin, groupies and LA sunshine for 20 years (admittedly not much of a stretch).

Navarro lit up a Camel and shredded like it was the only job he’s ever known — in fact, it is — from the moment the band entered to a low-frequency bass pulsing from Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” to Farrell’s insane ramblings on the Cleveland kidnappings (a largely uncomfortable riff on “Ted Just Admit It”) until the end of the career-spanning set.

This tour marks the 20th anniversary of “Nothing’s Shocking, ” and frontman Farrell was as looped as ever, even if he served as an unwitting shill. Farrell is nothing if not a consummate performer.

Let’s just call him a ham.

And he seized the day, so to speak, walking onstage with a bottle of wine. Because it was BottleRock. In Napa Valley. “I like to drink wine,” he cooed from the stage. “I’m going to drink some wine after the show. And I’m going to drink some wine during the show.”

"Drink Rombauer!"

“Drink Rombauer!”

With that he whipped out the bottle of red wine he’d brought out. With his set of gleaming white teeth and pitchman-perfect smile (ironically?) in place, Farrell held aloft a bottle before he swigged. Somebody had handed him a bottle of Rombauer, easily the most Republican of all wines. After Farrell’s repeated gratuitous hoisting of the bottle (there was no mistaking he made a point of doing this during the first three songs that were allowed to be photographed by the press so as to maximize exposure) the one apparent thing was that if there’s one concept upon which both Ronald Reagan and Perry Farrell could agree, it is Rombauer.