Stevie Wonder at BottleRock 2016. Photo by Mitchell Glotzer

BottleRock CEO Dave Graham, typically a practitioner of MBA-speak, was in his office last week waxing metaphorical about the 2013 inaugural festival under the previous founders. “I would liken it to a birth,” he said. “A birth is amazing, it’s beautiful. At the same time, it’s not pretty.

“It did go off the rails as a business venture, but that does not take away from the birth itself. I give a ton of credit and respect for their taking that idea and making it a reality. The fact that they were able to bring it to life in Napa, of all places, was amazing. I was there as an attendee, I was proud to be from Napa and really happy it was happening.”

On the eve of BottleRock’s fifth year, Graham described how he and his partners, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins, leaned in, as he put it, to revive a festival that much of the community felt was beyond repair. “I was leaving a company that I had co-founded to take a little bit of a hiatus for the first time in my life,” he said. “One of my partners in that firm kind of planted the seed for me to take a look at what was going on with BottleRock.”

Getting started

“It started to resonate with me,” Graham said. “‘Well, a lot of things are going wrong with it right now. I don’t really know, but wow, what an experience it was, and there’s a lot of potential there.’ So I texted Jason out of the blue, ‘Hey, do you want to buy BottleRock?’ Literally, verbatim. And he said, ‘Interesting, let’s chat.’

“It didn’t take long for us to want to have Justin on board as an equal partner because, well, he’s Justin. He’s extremely talented and very smart and we have a pre-existing relationship and so we all know each other really well.”

The trio, each from Napa and successful in business, began an intense process of due diligence and subsequent negotiation with Napa Valley Expo that culminated in settlement of the debt from the 2013 festival and a lease agreement for a resurrected BottleRock in 2014. Their new company was Latitude 38 Entertainment.

Graham left metaphor behind and dissected the rationale for their commitment. “Because of our background in business,” he said, “having run successful companies and also things that didn’t work, you can see certain patterns — opportunities and attributes that are key to a business’s ultimate success — brand differentiation, experience differentiation, the site itself, the pre-existing demand for customers. We saw those things just staring at us.”

2014 – a rescue, but ‘Is this even a business?’

After a successful round of fundraising with investors, they went to work on the content of the 2014 festival. “It was intimidating at times,” Graham said, “because you knew that you did not know what you did not know. But coming into this business with complete humility relative to our knowledge of the music space, we knew right away that we were going to need to talk to people who knew a lot more than we did. And that’s exactly what we did, as fast as we could.”

Graham emphasized that one of their early surprises was just how expensive major bands are, and further, that even if you have the money, that doesn’t mean that you can book the band. “The complexities that dictate whether or not you can book a band,” he said, “we could spend the next week talking about that. That was a big roadblock for 2014 that we almost did not make it through.”

Well, they made it through. “After the festival, we were relieved to have not only pulled it off, but we pulled it off in a way that was safe,” Graham said. “Everyone was paid and we felt like everyone had a good experience. We were able to improve upon the previous year’s experience in a variety of ways. There was kind of just a sigh of relief. But we sold fewer tickets than they did the previous year, and it was not profitable. We were kind of like, ‘Well, is this even a business?’

“The community, fortunately, turned for us right after the festival and people were happy that we pulled it off, and the industry was shocked that we pulled it off. Locally, folks went from, ‘OK, who are these guys and can we trust them?’ to ‘Good job, we can trust them.’ That gave us a little bit of confidence that we could have a better shot at doing some of the things that we wanted to do in 2015, booking the bands that we would have liked to book. So we said, ‘Let’s do this, let’s lean in.’”

2015, 2016 – Identity, growth, ‘We have a business.’

“So we started down that path,” Graham said. “It was a slog to book bands like Imagine Dragons. It just about killed us to convince them to take our money. But we were able to do that and we were able to put together a plan for a VIP experience that we felt would differentiate our festival from others. Finally, we were able to re-brand the company in a way that we felt it needed to be re-branded.

“We aligned every single piece of marketing material with the Napa Valley and food and wine and weather and fun and ‘the first taste of summer.’ We felt like, ‘Let’s give this a shot and do it the way that we think it should be done before we really say there’s a business here or not.’

“We ended up not only becoming profitable in 2015 but beating our estimates. The brand pulled to focus and some of the things that Justin wanted to do in VIP, he was able to do. Some of the things that Jason wanted to do in terms of sponsorship, he was able to do. We ended up coming out of the 2015 festival saying to ourselves, “We have a business, no question, and we’ve found our groove. We know what we’re about.”

Graham said that while the 2015 festival was profitable, he considered 2016 to be their breakout year. “That’s when we took the leap to the next level,” he said, “not only for our festival, but in the festival business. What was done at the VIP level in particular, with the four different levels, whether it be VIP, VIP Skydeck, the Suites, and then Platinum, it’s not done in other festivals like that. It’s the year that we really put ourselves on the map.”

2017 – Upgrades for everyone

Not resting on their laurels, Graham and the BottleRock team have targeted investments for 2017 at nearly every element of the festival “We’re taking from 2016 and literally improving upon that in a very profound way,” Graham said. “While VIP levels will continue to be enhanced, the majority of investment for 2017 is in upgrades for GA (general admission).

Graham sang the praises of GA at BottleRock compared with other festivals, where, as he put it, “…there’s waffle cones and waffle fries. GA for our festival is really like VIP at other festivals.”

The list of GA enhancements for 2017 includes a $600,000 investment in a plush lawn for the entire massive area in front of the main stage; significant improvement in main stage sight lines through relocation of spotlight towers and the re-design of the front-of-house sound structure; and additional video screens and audio in multiple locations.

The list continues with an enhanced Wine Garden, where wines from the individual tasting rooms can be purchased in a centralized location; many more acoustic musical performances by major artists at wine tasting locations, and on Saturday night, the largest silent disco ever held in the U.S., with 5,000 headsets available.

For VIP pass holders at the various levels, there will now be double-decker structures on both sides of the Main Green, an expansion of the VIP Village and the Platinum Lounge, and for the first time a VIP structure at the second stage.

If all that isn’t enough, there will be, no kidding, a spa with a Champagne bar, massage, manicure/pedicure, hair care and a DJ, available to everyone from GA to Platinum.


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Stanley Jordan at Blue Note Napa, 2017. Photo: Mitchell Glotzer

Since his 1985 breakout album, “Magic Touch,” Stanley Jordan has been regarded as one of the premier jazz guitarists in the world. Playing across multiple genres, the four-time Grammy nominee employs a unique approach to his instrument, a technique that creates layers of music played simultaneously across the neck of his guitar.

At Blue Note Napa, Jordan, along with bassist Charnett Moffet and drummer Chris Wabich, dazzled a full house with a set of mostly progressive jazz, but with doses of Mozart, pop, rock and something called “A Place in Space,” which the guitarist, quite accurately, introduced as “out there.”

Jordan capped the performance with a glittering, inventive interpretation of “Stairway to Heaven,” which brought the jazz audience to its feet. I believe that Jimmy Page would have approved.

On the phone from Washington, D.C. a month earlier, Jordan talked about how being a pianist first, beginning at age 6, dramatically influenced how he would eventually create the “touch technique,” or two-handed “tapping,” that would distinguish his guitar-playing.

“My first instrument was piano,” Jordan said. “We went through a time when we had some difficulties with finances and we didn’t have a piano. That was when I started playing guitar. After a few years, I knew that guitar was my favorite instrument, but I started to miss some of the possibilities of the piano.

“I remember when I was like 13, I had this image in my mind. I saw myself playing with both hands flying all around the neck in both directions, and with all this music just spilling out of the guitar. It was sort of a piano way of thinking that was already implanted in my brain.”

Instead of playing the guitar conventionally — picking or strumming with the right hand while forming notes or chords on the neck with the left hand – Jordan does something else entirely. He taps with the fingers of both hands on the neck of the guitar, the way that a pianist would press or tap on the keys of a piano. The result is his extraordinary agility at fusing combinations of melody and harmony and bass and rhythm, not as trickery but in service of the music.

Over the past three decades, Jordan has recorded 14 studio albums, appeared as a sideman with a who’s who of other artists, toured worldwide, including an array of jazz festivals, and made his share of appearances with jam bands including The Dave Matthews Band, The String Cheese Incident and Phil Lesh. His most recent album is 2015’s “Duets,” a collaboration with Kevin Eubanks.

For many years, Princeton-educated Jordan has had a serious interest in the therapeutic potential of music “When I was younger,” he said, “I had a couple of experiences with the healing power of music. I was always interested in health and healing. We each have different callings and I think one of mine is to be in the health field. I was looking for ways to use music to kind of help people, not just with healing, but with growth and evolution.

“I had no idea that there was a profession, that there was sophisticated research behind it. And then one day, right before a show, I met a music therapist who sent me a big stack of scientific studies. I was really impressed with the quantity and quality of the research.

Long term, Jordan is serious about an alternative path in music therapy. He has attended courses and conferences conducted by the American Music Therapy Association, accrued hours toward a master’s degree in the field and serves as an advocate and spokesperson for the organization.

“Right now, because of my touring schedule, I’m not actively in the program,” he said, “but I do continue to do independent study. I do want to finish my Master’s, you know, get certified and all that. We’ll see where it goes, but right now, I’m still involved in different ways.”

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Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Photo: Mitchell Glotzer

Folk music was the main course at Blue Note Napa last Saturday night. The headliners were 17-time Grammy winner Béla Fleck, widely considered the finest banjo player in the world, and his singing, clogging, banjo-picking wife, Abigail Washburn. Armed with seven banjos, their scene-stealing three-and-a-half year-old son Juno, and a packed house including a few musical celebrities, they lit up the Main Street venue.

As Fleck explained about halfway through the show, he plays the banjo “Scruggs-style,” with picks on his thumb and first two fingers, while Washburn plays “old-time” or “clawhammer,” all downstrokes with no picks, an older technique born in Africa. Together, they are a remarkable instrumental blend, his playing heavy with intricate melodic runs and syncopation, hers with rhythm and percussion.

Their individual stage personas are as different as their playing styles. Washburn is bursting with energy, outgoing and joyful, while Fleck is quiet and self-contained, but sneaky funny, generally by way of a quizzical facial expression toward his partner or the audience, or a well-chosen laconic comment.

With power, vibrato and range up to the soprano register, she digs into an early American repertoire, heavy on blues and gospel, including songs by Clarence “Tom” Ashley (“My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains”), George Washington Phillips (“What Are They Doing in Heaven Right Now?”) and Sarah Ogan Gunning (Come All You Coal Miners”).

Washburn progressively surprises as they move through the set, one moment speaking and joking and singing in Mandarin, the next up and clogging as she sings “Harlan,” a modern-day Appalachian original composition.

Late in the performance, Washburn and Fleck took advantage of a delighted audience by bringing out their adorable curly-headed son to clog with mom and nicely execute a group bow with mom and dad. We ate up the shtick like it was Ben & Jerry’s.

This was a wonderful show, a likeable couple displaying epic talent in an intimate venue with great sound that, though featuring mostly jazz, is perfect for folk music as well. This fan hopes that Blue Note will continue to expand its bookings beyond the boundaries of jazz, particularly to the rich reservoir of American folk artists.

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Foo FIghters

Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Maroon 5 are headlining the fifth annual BottleRock Napa Valley festival, Latitude 38 Entertainment announced Tuesday.

The deep, star-studded lineup continues with a powerful roster of major artists that includes Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Modest Mouse, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, The Roots, Band of Horses, Fitz & The Tantrums, The Devil Makes Three, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Gavin DeGraw, Mavis Staples, Ani DiFranco and over 60 more.

“We’re continuing the approach that we’ve taken before,” said Latitude 38 CEO Dave Graham, “which is to have an eclectic lineup where there is literally something for everyone, from a 9-year-old to a 90-year-old.

“We also wanted to make sure that the lineup was on brand with the Napa Valley and the expectation that people have relative to the valley in terms of its beauty, its world class wine, its worldclass food. The lineup itself has to be world-class.”

“We stepped it up this year,” he said. “While last year they were incredible and well-received, this year we have arguably the biggest headliner lineup in the country.”

With 11 Grammy wins and a huge fan base, Foo Fighters is among the most sought-after rock bands in the world. “A lot of things had to come together in order for Foo Fighters to play Napa Valley,” Graham said.

“Dave Grohl was here in 2013 for the festival and he had a chance to experience it. We ended up connecting with Taylor Hawkins, their drummer, last year. We had him on the Culinary Stage and ended up befriending him and his wife, who loved BottleRock.”

“Their main agent was also at the festival last year and had a chance to experience it,” he added. “He became very comfortable with it, what it’s about, how it’s run. The Foo Fighters are in the studio all next year recording a new album and BottleRock may be their only show in 2017 in North America.”

Tom Petty

Tom Petty

Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty, like Stevie Wonder last year and Robert Plant the year before, is the legend at the top of the lineup. “When you look at Tom Petty, he’s celebrating his 40th year,” Graham said. “He’ll be touring a lot in 2017. People are rumoring that it could be the last big tour for the band (the Heartbreakers). We’re honored to have him. He’s the man.

“We went to Maroon 5 because they are big and we feel we have the demographic that will definitely love to see them. This will be the first time they’ve ever played a U.S. festival. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt did really well at BottleRock. This is another high-quality, high-profile pop band. This is part of ‘something for everyone.’”

In an interview in his office in downtown Napa, Graham riffed at random on the rest of the lineup. “We’ve got one of the greatest indie rock bands of our generation, six studio albums, and that’s Modest Mouse … In the Americana and roots genre, there’s probably no bigger band right now than The Devil Makes Three … We could not be bigger fans of Michael Franti, his personality and his music. He is the unofficial ambassador of BottleRock.

“… Being able to have Charles Bradley is extraordinary, he’s an icon … Of course, Mavis Staples … and Andra Day, the potential to be the next generation Mavis Staples … some of the unexpected, funnest shows that you’ll see this year will be a mix between Saint Motel and Saint Lucia … Oh, and Fitz and the Tantrums, that one’s going to be crazy.”

At BottleRock 2016, the young British rockers, The Struts, was the relatively unknown band that caused the biggest sensation. Graham speculated on the 2017 equivalent. “I would say it’s going to be a mix between The Strumbellas and Judah and the Lion.”

As for the 2017 festival lineup, Graham said he and his Latitude 38 partners, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins, “don’t book what we like, we book what we think is on brand and will entertain the most, given what’s available in the market.

“We knew what was going to happen with Florence and the Machine last year. We knew that a lot of people were seeing her for the first time and we knew there was a high likelihood that something magical was going to happen, and it did. But you can’t sell it, you can’t say ‘you’re gonna love it.’ It doesn’t matter.

“I’m most excited about those kinds of situations, where I know, for example, that there are a lot of people in Napa, say an older crowd, that may not be familiar with Foo Fighters, and they may listen to their music and say ‘Wow, these guys are loud.’

“But Dave Grohl gives it all, he leaves nothing on the table. Even if someone isn’t into their music or has never heard of them, they’re going to look at this guy and go ‘Wow, that’s a rock star.’

“That’s what Justin, Jason and I really enjoy the most. It’s watching people experience it.”

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Cover photo: Frank Stefanko

Cover photo: Frank Stefanko

Bruce Springsteen’s long and lyrical autobiography, seven years in the writing, is unsurprisingly titled “Born to Run,” after his career-making 1975 album and perennial signature song. That makes sense, artistically and certainly commercially. Reading it, though, a different song kept coming to mind, 1987’s “Brilliant Disguise”:

So when you look at me,

you better look hard and look twice.

Is that me, baby,

or just a brilliant disguise?

The book’s 508 pages are panoramic and detailed, broad and deep. The author escorts the reader on two interwoven journeys: the musical rocket-ride, from start to present, of a rock ‘n’ roll überstar; and his internal odyssey, mostly shielded from the public, ridden with anxiety, self-deprecation, impermanence in relationships and, well after his establishment as a major artist, the onset of crippling episodes of depression.

He could have easily been one more tragic rocker, another Presley or Hendrix or Morrison or Joplin. He was likely saved by his adamant life-long avoidance of drugs, the loyalty of friends, his immersion in psychotherapy and, after a rocky romantic life from which he was routinely in flight, the commitment to a successful continuing marriage.

Springsteen’s prose is fluent and, no surprise, musical, with satisfying rhythm and harmony in the word choices and phrasing. His voice is personal, undefended, confessional. Several times along the way he addresses the reader as “friend.” His storytelling is evidence of an examined life, keenly intelligent, often funny, occasionally soaring in its language, and likeable. The cumulative effect is intimate, the superstar off his pedestal, just talking to you.

A quibble about the prose. There are, from time to time, untethered references to characters or phrases from his songs. Fans will get them, others will not. For example, he mentions without explanation “the Magic Rat.” Bruce devotees know that the young man with that nickname is a character in “Jungleland,” the epic, operatic finale to the “Born to Run” album. The uninitiated will likely be thinking, “Huh?”

There are no surprises in Springsteen’s effusive praise for his most important musical influences – first, Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show. “Americans that night were exposed to this hip-shaking human earthquake,” he writes. “It was all there in his eyes, his face, the face of a Saturday night jukebox Dionysus, the shimmering eyebrows and rocking band. A riot ensued.”

The Sullivan Show again – “It didn’t take me long to figure it out: I didn’t want to meet the Beatles, I wanted to BE the Beatles.”

“Bob Dylan is the father of my country,” Springsteen writes. “Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived. The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside.”

Late in the book, Springsteen, the long-established superstar, sounds like an excited teenager as he is about to share the stage with the Rolling Stones. “These are the guys who INVENTED my job!” he shouts, “THE GREATEST GARAGE BAND IN THE WORLD!”

On tour, 2016. Photo: Sharon Latham

On tour, 2016. Photo: Sharon Latham

Springsteen’s ace-in-the-hole has, from the start, been his live performances. It’s where he does, as he calls it, his “magic trick,” the transformation of an audience to something more. “I am here to provide proof of life,” he writes,” to that ever elusive, never completely believable ‘us.’ That is my magic trick.

“There is something about walking onstage in front of seventy-five thousand screaming fans with the oldest friends of your life, playing music that is ingrained in you, that’s hard to replace. If you had it for one – just one – evening, you’d never forget it. To go there night after night, over a lifetime, is an unimaginable, immeasurable pleasure and privilege.” Continue reading

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From my 2007 novel, “Standard of Care” –

They parked near the Bryn Mawr station and took the el to Wrigley, the home of the Cubs. The Bears played there too, but they were more like guests.

In Chicago, baseball was a matter of geography—and race. If you lived on the North Side, you were a Cub fan. Period. The White Sox played on the South Side in Comiskey Park. If you made that trip, it was usually to see the Yankees and their great stars. Morrie didn’t like to go there. “Too many schvartzes,” he’d say. Rose, Danny’s mother, would shoosh him. “Morrie, don’t talk like that. I hate that. Daniel, don’t listen to your father.” In fact, Wrigley was Chicago’s white ball park. Comiskey was at 35th and Shields, the poor, black near-South Side. Danny felt foolish when his father would take his hand, walking as though they were late, from the parked car until they were through the Comiskey turnstiles. He’d otherwise stopped doing that since kindergarten.

Wrigley was safe. Jack Brickhouse, the first voice of the Cubs—Harry Caray was originally a St. Louis Cardinal—talked about the “friendly confines.” This was a neighborhood ball park you could miss from a half a block away. No parking lot, no light towers, tucked tightly into one working class block of apartment buildings and storefronts. And unless it was a sunny Sunday doubleheader or they were playing a team like the Dodgers, no crowds. Sure, Ernie Banks was special. He was steady cheerful excellence, and an All-Star, but he never lit up the town the way Michael and Sammy would. He wasn’t a phenom and neither, goodness, was the team.

The Cubs didn’t just fail to contend. They displayed the kind of stable mediocrity, season after season, that emancipated the fans from hopefulness. And like a Zen paradox, Wrigley was a remarkably happy place. Nothing that happened on the field was particularly consequential. The Bleacher Bums made a fuss, but that was mostly the beer. Fans, with their backs to the players, chatted with friends. People strolled. They came late, they left early. Men in their business suits would show up for a few innings if the weather was good. Brickhouse’s marketing pitch was “Come to Wrigley Field for an afternoon picnic.”

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Mick Fleetwood at work. Photo: Jonathan Todd

Mick Fleetwood at work. Photo: Jonathan Todd

If you’ve seen Fleetwood Mac in any of its incarnations over the last five decades, the chatty, very tall and occasionally bug-eyed fellow permanently behind the drum kit has been Mick Fleetwood. These days, he is immersed in his first and abiding musical love, the blues.

On the phone from his upcountry home in Maui last week, Fleetwood talked about his commitment to the blues as a teenage drummer in London in the 1960s. “There was a huge, powerful renaissance of creativity, fashion, music,” he said. “Blues was the most boutique element probably, that was buried in amongst all of that.

“Early Fleetwood Mac was entirely a blues band. If you listen to the first album, three of us came out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — Peter Green, John McVie and myself. The three of us were in that band together. We came out of that whole, we had done our boot camp. We were blues players. That was the world we lived in.”

Fleetwood spoke at length about the influence of black American blues pioneers on young white musicians in Europe. “It was John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, all of the men from that generation,” he said. “Later on it would be the B.B. Kings and Freddie Kings and that whole bunch.

“All of those guys happily came over to Europe. They weren’t really taken care of in the United States, which was ironic to us in England. Happily, all of these guys, including earlier on, way back in the ‘20s with ragtime and jazz, the black musician community gravitated especially to Paris and Spain. There was a reason. They were treated like heroes. A lot of the musicians stayed because they were treated right, quite frankly, on a sociological level.

“We benefited. A strong musical underground current was flowing freely. Even the Rolling Stones, let’s face it, was a blues band. This is the stuff we loved. I was part of that wave that ended up with bands like the Animals, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones way at the top of the list, and then early Fleetwood Mac. Looking back on it, it really had a lot to do with saving an American art form. I don’t think that’s an overblown statement.

“B.B., who we got to know really well through the years, was very open to repeating a mantra, which was, ‘if it wasn’t for Eric Clapton and all of them, us guys would never have gotten the amount of notoriety that we ended up having.’ It was a glorious accident that one way or another, a bunch of English guys grabbed onto an art form that they were able to identify with.”

Fleetwood said he believes that his passion and his presence, rather than his skill as a drummer, have been responsible for his success and longevity. “I’m not a huge technician as a player,” he said. “I play entirely from my gut. It’s almost a little frightening because I don’t really know what I’m doing. But in terms of emotional content and vulnerability, that was a very good place for me to be. Blues music requests that. It requests that you live in the moment.

“I felt that I could really contribute because I felt so passionate and fulfilled when I played blues. That’s the world that I walked into when I was fifteen and a half going on sixteen in London, and I never stopped.”

The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band is Rick Vito on guitar and lead vocals, Lenny Castellanos on bass, Mark Johnstone on keyboards and background vocals and Fleetwood on drums.

Read it in the Napa Valley Register.

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Art Garfunkel performing in Tel-Aviv, June 2015. Photo credit: Gil Cohen

Art Garfunkel performing in 2015. Photo credit: Gil Cohen

Art Garfunkel is among the legendary artists who gave us the soundtrack of the 1960s. His angelic tenor lead on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is as iconic and indelible as Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be” or Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

On the phone last week from Martha’s Vineyard, Garfunkel talked about the heyday of his work with Paul Simon (1964-1970), years that tracked closely to the life span of the Beatles.

“It was fascinating to be at my vantage point,” he said, “with a college education in the middle of rock and roll, to be a partner of the Beatles and look out at the scene in the ‘60s and see everything open up and to have your own intelligence as your location in the middle of it. It was an amazing, charmed life.”

Garfunkel credits the Beatles as the principal ground-breakers in record-making. “You’re talking to one half of Simon & Garfunkel,” he said, “and I’ll tell you this: We chased after the Beatles. They served as leadership for anybody making rock and roll records. They taught us that making an album can be as open-ended creatively as you cared to make it.

“With George Martin as producer, the lads’ albums got more arty each time. ‘All right, boys, let’s turn the dials and give our ears the maximum treat for the kiddies’ sake, the audience.’ That’s what I felt the Beatles were spearheading as album-makers, and Simon & Garfunkel were right behind them as students.”

When it came to the Simon & Garfunkel vocal sound, Don and Phil Everly were important role models. “The Everly Brothers were so brilliant,” Garfunkel said, “that, for me as a harmonist, that’s a personal piece of nourishment that was very important. That was a genius blend, those two guys, the magic of those two brothers, how they vibrated. You can’t say enough. They weren’t great, they were super-great. They’re such a national treasure, Don and Phil.”

Garfunkel’s description of his personal experience of singing bordered on the metaphysical. “At the fundamental bottom of it,” he said, “when you sing, you let that joy and that bubbling thing happen from heart to vocal cords. I think about this a lot. If you try and analyze how this works, you’re stumped, you’re stymied.

“It’s like looking at joy. What does joy taste like if you analyze it? Well, you can’t. If you’re joyous, you’re within something. You can’t get outside of it to look at it and describe it because you’re within it. That’s what singing is. When you’re singing and you’re using the voice, you’re experiencing joy. You can’t talk about it.”

Garfunkel’s joyful singing experience came to a crashing halt six years ago with the onset of a weakened vocal cord. “I lost it in 2010,” he said. “I was touring with Paul Simon in the Far East. We played arenas, and we played them loud, too damn loud. I came home overworked in the vocal cords. I believe it’s a good guess for what happened to the loss of my chops.

“It was fucking traumatic. I use wild language because it’s an extreme experience. It’s tragic. It killed me. I am a singer. You can’t take my identity away from me. Then who am I? Walter? What kind of guy am I walking through life without the identity I always had? It’s soulless. It’s murder.

“I never accepted that I was really going to not have a voice, and I kept working at it. I kept practicing, using my iPod and singing on my own, and looking for rooms with good reverb, and bringing this crappy voice to bookings with some very small attendance, and trying to work it up again. I succeeded with patience, working at it in small rooms. I got the voice back.

“I can sing 100 percent now, but I can’t sing loud and dramatic, and that makes up only about 5 percent of my repertoire. To be high and loud is rare for all my singing. I almost never go there. For example, I cannot do the loud, high finish of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ I can’t quite do that. So I rewrote the ending.”

Alongside his musical life, Garfunkel has been writing poetry for decades, samples of which are integrated into his live performances.

“For 30-something years, I have been writing little prose poems to myself or to whomever,” he said. “I just wrote them and collected them. They are poetic bits, little half-pagers or one-pagers. They were describing what I was going through my tours with Paul, in the loss of my voice, in my life, in my children, in show business, in private life.

“They began to add up to an autobiography. I shopped it around with an agent, and I got a really good response. I will put out an autobiography in the autumn of 2017. I am truly excited by it. It’s a big deal when you reveal your life. I have my fingers crossed that I know what I’m doing. It will be published by Albert Knopf.”

At 74, Garfunkel remains a fascinated and engaged performer. “I have passion for it,” he said. “At this age, I still am in love with my work, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I have money in the bank. You only do this if it’s alive and well. For me, reading my poems, these autobiographical pieces, between the singing and having a voice back that still works and being a lucky man who can sing and use it in front of attentive audiences is entrancing. It’s a great work life.”

In the Napa Valley Register.

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Judy Collins performing in 2012. Photo Michelle V. Agins

Judy Collins performing in 2012.  Photo: Michelle V. Agins

In her 2012 memoir, “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music,” Judy Collins whimsically refers to the era of her emergence as “the great folk scare.” In the 1960s, on the heels of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and The Weavers, a flood of folk artists broke into the musical mainstream. A partial list includes Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Peter Paul and Mary, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Collins joined the folk music wave at age 22 with the 1961 release of her debut album, “Maid of Constant Sorrow.” Her success was amplified with her Grammy-winning performance of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” in 1967. In all, she has recorded 36 studio albums, seven live performances and 11 compilations. Her most recent album is the just-released “Silver Skies Blue,” a collection of duets with singer-songwriter Ari Hest.

On the phone from her home in New York City earlier this month, Collins talked about the popularity of folk music and its relation to the events and culture of the 1960s. “It was a breakout on a musical level and a social level and a creative and intellectual level,” she said. “I tuned in last night to this folk thing on PBS where they’re selling this 400-song folk music set. I said, oh, that’s interesting.

“Then I heard my own voice talking about it, about the ‘60s and about the music. The last thing that I said was that the songs were literate. There was literature coming through. It wasn’t just emotions, they were short stories, they were metaphors, they were portraits within the context of some guy playing the guitar in some coffee house. It didn’t take 400 people and an orchestra to get something done.

“We became the news of the day. People were coming to hear us because they were going to hear about the heart, the head, the government, the war. They were going to hear about all the things that were on their minds that they were talking about around the kitchen table.

“It ran the entire gambit of human experience. I don’t know why we had to call it folk music except that we were playing guitars, we were not singing with orchestras, and our songs delved deeply into the human experience. That’s what made it so remarkably poignant and powerful. As a part of it, in the middle of it, I knew the power of the songs that were going on around me.”

While Baez was widely regarded as the most political of the successful female folk artists, Collins was an activist in her own right.

“I was in a hot bed of liberals in my high school and in my life,” she said. “My father was a hot-headed liberal radio man who was willing to talk about everything on the radio. We were coming out of the fog in the country. We were learning about the world. We were learning about ourselves. In part it was the war. And Kennedy had been killed. That blew it open, I think. It was political, it was social.

“The background for all of this is the broadside sheet and the troubadour, the person who is the public advocate, the advocacy poet from the English countryside who goes out with the news and who stands in the middle of the square, just like they still do in speaker’s corner in Hyde Park.

“They’re telling the news about what’s going on in the country, in the culture, in the political situation. We could hear that, and I think people just took to the streets and to the guitar shops and bought themselves guitars and learned to play like I did.”

In her sixth decade as a performing artist, Collins is still going strong.

“I do 120 shows a year,” she said. “I’m writing, performing, making TV specials, running a record label (Wildflower), writing books. I go all over the world singing to wonderful audiences. I have an incredible life as an artist. That’s where the hard work has taken me and that’s where I belong, in the center of this great folk scare.”

Read it in the Napa Valley Register.

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BottleRock 2016, the fourth year of the festival, was its most successful. Sold out well in advance, 120,000 fans attended over three days on Memorial Day weekend. Over 70 bands performed, headlined by Stevie Wonder, Florence + the Machine and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Here’s my coverage, eight pieces in the Napa Valley Register in chronological order. Hope you enjoy!

Latitude 38 partners - form the left, Justin Dragoo, Jason Scoggins, Dave Graham

Latitude 38 partners – form the left, Justin Dragoo, Jason Scoggins, Dave Graham

If you ask BottleRock’s chief executive what he’s most excited about for this year’s festival, he will talk for a long time. Dave Graham sat down last week for our annual pre-BottleRock chat. He began, not surprisingly, with music.

“What I’m really excited about,” Graham said, “is the idea that at every stage this year we have bands that could become the next big thing. That wasn’t always the case when we were talking about, say, the fourth stage in 2014 or even 2015. This year, the fourth stage in many ways rivals the third or second, and even the main stage in some respects.”

He zeroed in on three lesser-known bands. “One would be Nothing But Thieves,” he said, “the second would be The Struts, both of which are from Great Britain. And Black Pistol Fire, a two-man band out of Toronto, you think White Stripes, Black Keys, guitar and drums, and man do they give it their all.”

It’s not that Graham doesn’t care about the headliners, about Stevie Wonder or the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Florence + the Machine. He does, but they’re a given, it seems. We know about them. What he loves talking about are the gems down the lineup. As the Latitude 38 partner primarily choosing the artists, he’s become a bit of a band geek. He’s enthusiastic, and he’s reliable.

Graham is quick to credit his Latitude 38 partners for BottleRock’s success in booking major musical acts. “It’s not solely my skill that allows us to book the bands we’re able to book,” he said. “It’s because Justin (Dragoo) and Jason (Scoggins) and their team are able to put together an experience that people love while watching those bands. If that kind of experience didn’t happen, the bands wouldn’t want to play at the festival.”

According to Graham, the Culinary Stage will be more exciting this year, more irreverent and more fun than in 2015. “I think we raised the bar in terms of the lineup,” he said. “Consider what’s planned for Michael Mina and Dwight Clark. We’re bringing in the fish mongers from the Pike Street Market in Seattle. They’re going to be throwing salmon from the crowd up to Dwight Clark to see if he can make the catch. We’re having fun, stepping outside the traditional cooking demonstration.”

“The food selection this year has been ramped up quite a bit,” Graham said. “We have even more local restaurants preparing food, and we will have pop-ups happening from some of the best restaurants in Napa Valley. So you’ll see Angele come out of nowhere with some sliders that you weren’t expecting. They won’t have a fixed tent all three days, they’ll just show up with platters. Morimoto and others will be doing that as well.”

Graham continued his inventory of festival upgrades. The VIP program has dramatically expanded, both in physical scale and in terms of special acoustic performances and meet and greets with festival artists. For the first time, general admission pass holders will have similar opportunities.

The main stage will be considerably larger and supported by an entirely new sound system. “We’ve added steroids this year,” Graham said, “and we’ll have much larger video walls. No matter where you’re at, your going to be able to find out if Anthony Kiedis has shaved that day.”

One of BottleRock’s biggest expansions is in its sponsorship of after-shows. “We’re doing about 20 after-shows,” the Latitude 38 CEO said. “We’re excited about them because, first and foremost, they bring people from the festival into downtown. They can begin to see the renaissance that’s taking place rather than just driving in and going to the festival and driving out. And for the businesses to get more business is really important. We want the city to benefit from BottleRock and thrive.

“Secondly, they’re conducive to an overall better experience for people because the more people that you take off of the road at the end of the festival day, the better. If you can bring 5,000 people or more into Napa, versus having those people get on the road, it makes for less traffic for those people who are not coming into town.

“And No. three, they’re just fun. The notion that someone could go see a band like Gogol Bordello play at the Uptown, that doesn’t happen anywhere. Wow, I wish I could go.”

Despite the array of festival upgrades, Graham is circumspect about the arc of Latitude 38’s success. “We’re not anywhere near where we want to be from a fan experience standpoint,” he said. “People this year will see a huge leap. The bar has been raised big time from last year to this year, but in 2017 that leap will be just as big, and with that will come big challenges. We’ve got a long way to go to be able to hit the benchmark that we’ve set for ourselves.”

Graham is a bit more willing to let his pride emerge if you ask him about BottleRock the brand. “Our brand has definitely grown exponentially,” he said. “If you ask people who have gone to BottleRock about the festival, you’ll generally hear some very positive feedback, and the feedback about their experience is very different from what you might hear, were you asking about other festivals. So we’re very happy with the brand association, whether it is awesome food, awesome wine, incredible weather, great lineup, you don’t have to walk miles from stage to stage, more intimate, nice people, it’s family-friendly.”

Still, always reluctant to pop the Champagne corks, Graham added his cautious benediction. “But you’re only as good as your last festival,” he said. “While we’re genuinely excited about what people will experience this year, they’ve yet to experience it. We still have to deliver. There’s a lot that has to happen between now and Sunday night. There are no high-fives going on, there is no celebration, nor is there any sort of arrogance relative to what we’re providing this year versus what we’ve done in the past two years. The book hasn’t ended yet.”

In the Napa Valley Register

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