Q&A: BottleRock CEO Dave Graham On Building The Tenth Anniversary Lineup With Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lizzo And More

The BottleRock festival will celebrate its tenth anniversary this May 26 – 28 with an incredibly stacked lineup mixing both legends and contemporary pop stars. Rock And Roll Hall of Famers The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Duran Duran, along with The Smashing Pumpkins, will lead the classic side of the bill, while Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Post Malone headline the younger acts.

As usual, however, it’s the total combination and eclecticism of the artists over the three days that make this year’s bill so exceptional. Looking through the roster of over 75 acts some of the standouts include The National, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Wu-Tang Clan, Sheryl Crow, Billy Strings, Leon Bridges, KennyHoopla, Taj Mahal, Caamp, Lupe Fiasco, Tom Odell, Los Lobos, Danielle Ponder, The Struts, The Airborne Toxic Event, Japanese Breakfast, Paris Jackson, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Bastille, Lucius, Ashe and countless more.

Of course the festival, held in the Napa Valley, famous for its wineries, will again feature a wide array of food and wines, as well as culinary demonstrations and more.

I spoke with BottleRock CEO Dave Graham about how this year’s lineup was put together, some of his personal highlights and how building a festival bill 10 years in comes with different perks and challenges.

Steve Baltin: This is the tenth anniversary, so I’m sure that you were trying to really go all out. Was there one band early on that sort of became the linchpin of the anniversary bill?

Dave Graham: We really didn’t have the anniversary in mind when putting this lineup together. Hitting 10 years is an accomplishment, but what we’re always most proud of is basically the improvements that we make each year to the festival, relative to the experience. And then that includes of course, the diverse lineup. And so when we were putting this together, I guess in the back of our mind we wanted it to be extra special, and it ended up being just that. But we didn’t come at this lineup to say, “Okay, it’s our tenth year anniversary, we need to knock it out of the park.” But instead, let’s make sure that we continue to be able to say, “This year is our biggest and best lineup yet.” And so I think we got there. Our headliners really reflect what we strive to offer, some of the biggest and hottest acts on the planet. But while including a variety of genres and at the same time we’re priding ourselves on being able to present some of the biggest up-and-coming names in music, acts like Nicky Youre, Half Alive, Alvaro Diaz, Joey Valens and Bray and “Kingfish” (Christone Ingram). We’re super happy across the board.

Baltin: I see Danielle Ponder. As always there’s a huge mix of stuff. I’m a big KennyHoopla fan. Is there a sense of pride that this bill really reflects 10 years of BottleRock in that it is so across the board musically?

Graham: Yeah, I would agree. Our customer base is very diverse across the board. And especially as it relates to demographic areas. So there has to be something for everyone and this lineup has that. So whether you’re looking at let’s say, Lizzo and Lil Nas in the lineup, you can go from two of the biggest acts out there and walk over to the next stage at the same time and see, for example, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame bands like the Chili Peppers and Duran Duran. So that has always been something that we’ve aimed to do, to be able to offer that kind of diversification. But at the same time, make whoever we have that’s performing at the festival be approachable. It’s just approachable who you are as a music fan. We think most acts on the lineup do that this year and have done that in the past.

Baltin: It does feel like BottleRock felt like a slightly older festival when it started. I love the fact that you have Taj Mahal, War, Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers. So that’s all still represented. But like you say, it’s now an incredibly diverse demographic. Do you feel like as it’s gotten more established, it’s definitely starting to skew slightly younger as well?

Graham: I don’t know if it’s skewed older. I think that anyone can see what they want to in the lineup. Yeah, there are some older bands in the lineup and there always have been older bands in every one of the lineups that we’ve had. But we’ve also every single year have had some of the newest and biggest acts on the planet performing at BottleRock. I really think that we’ve done that every single year to some extent, whether you’re talking about even going back to 2015 and having Imagine Dragons as a headliner. So we’ve always kind of tried to do that. And I think we did it again this year. So again, you’ve got the Lizzos of the world and the Lil Nas X’s of the world. At the same time, you’ve got ’80s, ’90s with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Duran Duran. And then you come into some of the, the younger acts like Jax and Half Alive and Sudan Archives. I bet if you go back and look at all the other lineups, you’ll see similarities.

Baltin: Who are those acts for you this year that you feel like are, whether it’s because of the sense of discovery or because you feel like they represent what BottleRock has always been, that you’re particularly excited to have on the bill?

Graham: I could probably list almost every band in the lineup. Getting the Chili Peppers back, for me, is huge and I think for us is huge. They were supposed to play the festival in 2020. And of course COVID happened and now they’re coming back to BottleRock with John Frusciante. Two new albums, fantastic by the way, incredible music. Unlimited Love I just listened to over and over again. When I forecast what the experience will be at the festival, I always fast forward and think of the dance party that will be at the Lizzo performance. With this mainstream success and the release of her third studio album and the fantastic music that comes with that, but then the music that she released a while ago, it’s just gonna be a dance party and I can’t wait to see that. I’m 50 years old and so the idea of being able to hear and see Duran Duran in Napa, thinking back to when I was much, much, much younger, the idea of that band playing at our festival and in my hometown is just incredible.

Baltin: As you forecast the festival I always love the idea of younger people seeing Rodgers and realizing just how many classic songs he has been part of.

Graham: In our customer base, you always have people that really do understand the depth of talent and music and background and history of some of the artists that are performing. And when our customer base sees that Nile Rodgers is gonna be in the lineup you can only imagine how excited those real music fans will be and how they’ll be evangelizing the deep history and impact that Nile has had on the music industry. And letting people know that all these songs that they love, they listen to, they know by heart, that’s because of him, that knowledge will be evangelized, I’m sure by many of our fan base.

Baltin: How was booking this year’s lineup compared to other years?

Graham: I think that we’re just very excited to be launching the lineup this year. It never is easy. And last year negotiating for this year was one of the most challenging years to negotiate and to find and to book bands, because coming out of COVID everyone wanted to play and wants to play and is playing. And with competition and radius clauses and crowded markets and this, that, and the other, it was challenging to be able to book a lineup that is on par with the expectations that our customers have. And I’m super happy that we were able to meet that level of expectation.

Baltin: Obviously that’s the plus and the minus of 10 years is that the plus is that it’s incredible to last 10 years. The minus is of course that now, like you say, there are expectations.

Graham: Very much so. And fans don’t care that this band already played the market nine times or is going to play for some other promoter in September and then we’re precluded from booking them. They don’t know, don’t care. They just want that diverse lineup of massive, massive bands and up-and-coming green bananas in the lineup. And so we do whatever we can. We start 16 months ahead in booking these lineups sometimes to make it happen. So no, we’re happy with where we landed and happy that you are happy with where it landed.

Three-Day General Admission tickets begin at $389/pp, 3-day VIP tickets are $979/pp, 3-Day Skydeck tickets are $1799/pp, 3-Day Marriott Bonvoy® American Express VIP Viewing Suite tickets are $1899/pp, and 3-Day Platinum tickets are $5495/pp. Three-day festival tickets go on sale at NOON/12pm PT on Tuesday, January 10, 2023

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Read More   Perishers - 16th March 2021

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