Latitude 38 Entertainment announced the 2018 BottleRock Napa Valley lineup in early Janusry. As usual, it is bountiful, with over 80 bands, spread across a variety of genres and topped by three popular headliners – Bruno Mars, The Killers and Muse.
The festival will be held May 25-27 at Napa Valley Expo, with three-day passes going on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday at BottleRockNapaValley.com. Daily lineups and single-day sales will be announced later.
Bruno Mars is currently the highest annual grossing pop star in the world, statistics show, and will be arguably the most entertaining showman to play BottleRock to date. Part James Brown, part Michael Jackson, part Sammy Davis, Jr. (have you seen Bruno play the drums?), this five-time Grammy winner and his band, The Hooligans, put on a stadium-worthy show.
The Killers, despite their name and some of their inexplicably morose photographs, are not a brooding punk band. Hailing from Las Vegas, they are buoyant, high-energy rock and rollers, as popular in the UK and Europe as in the United States, with enormous record sales, including a run of five consecutive No. 1 albums in the U.K.. Lead singer/keyboardist Brandon Flowers is one of the most talented and compelling rock vocalists of his generation.
Of the three headliners, Muse is the artiest, the most alternative with influences ranging from Depeche Mode to Queen to Radiohead. Around for almost two decades, the progressive British rock trio, fronted by Matt Bellamy, has sold over 20 million records and accrued a gaudy number of major awards – 47 wins out of 136 nominations—including Grammys for best rock album for both “The Resistance” and “Drones.”
The aggregate of bands “beneath” the headliners is as rich and varied as ever. A small sample includes major acts in their own right—The Chainsmokers, Halsey, Snoop Dogg, Earth, Wind and Fire, Incubus, The Head and the Heart, Billy Idol, The Revivalists, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Michael Franti & Spearhead, E-40, Shakey Graves, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Lake Street Dive, The Struts, Allen Stone and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.
Building a rock festival lineup
At Latitude 38 Entertainment, each of the three partners – Dave Graham, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins—has major areas of leadership responsibility for the festival. Graham, in addition to being CEO, has the hands-on task each year of creating BottleRock’s musical lineup. He spoke at length in December about his process.
“It begins by understanding who your fans are and what their demographic is,” he said. “At the end of the day, just like any business, what you’re trying to do is deliver on what it is that your customer wants.
“So the first thing that you have to do is get over what you personally like, and figure out whether or not any music that you’re listening to is in line with what your fans will want, and whether or not it’s in line with our brand.”
Graham emphasized that the representatives of artists and bands are a rich resource for developing a menu of choices for the lineup. “They’re the ones who are able to find the better acts,” he said. “They’re the ones who understand where things are trending in terms of music and genre and talent.
“You build relationships with these agents and managers, and they begin to push opportunities to you that you otherwise would not have heard of. That’s an advantage that you have the longer you’re in this business, those relationships.”
“You’re reading a lot,” he added, “whether it’s Billboard, whether it’s Rolling Stone, whether it’s different blogs, to understand what’s happening, what’s going to be taking place.”
Early last year, Latitude 38 Entertainment partnered with industry giant Live Nation, an important source of reliable information about the universe of touring musicians. “We work with them to understand who’s touring,” Graham said “We can know that maybe there’s a possibility there, or just as important, that there’s not a possibility, so we don’t waste our time trying to work with bands that aren’t even going to be able to play.”
“And then you listen,” he said. This, it turns out, is relentless. “Whether working on other responsibilities that I have in the company or not, I’m listening to music. When I’m at home playing with my son, or at dinner with the family, we’re listening to music.
“I’m constantly listening to music, but the music’s focused. I’m not necessarily putting on music that I tend to enjoy. I’m not going to put Frank Sinatra on, just because I would have loved to have him at BottleRock. I’ve got a finite amount of time, so let’s enjoy listening, but at the same time make it productive.”
Graham likens the process to a funnel, with an ever-narrowing roster of candidates for the lineup. “I listen to what has been given to me, to what I’ve put in this funnel,” he said. “It’s just like a sales cycle, right? When a salesperson is building their pipeline of potential prospects, it starts wide and it narrows. I’m constantly doing that.”
The BottleRock CEO reeled off a list of other important considerations in the decision-making process – what a band charges for performing and the ticket prices that they have generated, the mix of genres that are created as bands are hired, counter-programming issues (what bands are playing in the same time slots as other bands and how that affects crowd distribution), the quest for variety, “something for everyone.”
“It’s more of an art than a science,” Graham said. “But there’s a scientific piece to it, a data-centric piece, for example where a band is at in sales, what they’ve done in sales in a given market the last time they played, our market in particular, the San Francisco Bay Area.”
“I’m always bouncing things off of my partners, especially when we’re about to make a big financial commitment. Check me, is there any bias in this decision? They’re throwing ideas out all the time. And I’ve got Tom Hoppa (BottleRock’s director of artist integration), who’s forgotten more about music than I know.
“Can I say that I can escape bias, personal bias, 100 percent of the time? Absolutely not. But do I book bands that I don’t like listening to? Absolutely.”
Asked if he enjoys listening to as much music as his job demands, Graham was circumspect. “Look,” he said, “I grew up picking walnuts and berries in the fields, and then I was a bagger at Lucky’s, even school was not the greatest at times. I went through lots of different jobs. You’re never gonna hear me say ‘woe is me’ because I have to listen to a bunch of music.”