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Crowds growing at BottleRock

The packed crowd cheers as Alabama Shakes performs on the Willpower Stage on Friday during BottleRock in Napa.

Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 7:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 7:40 p.m.

As fans poured in for Day 2 of the inaugural BottleRock Napa Valley music festival at the Napa Expo, everybody had their top picks.

Irma Long, 50, drove down from Chico to see Alabama Shakes. “That woman singer (Brittany Howard) rocks — in a genre usually dominated by males.”

Catonya Johnson, 23, came up from Oakland to work the festival as a guard for Landmark Security, but she was making sure she would be positioned in “the right place to see the Black Keys.”

Brothers Lorenzo and Jon Koidis flew in from Toronto to see The Flaming Lips.

And many fans were still talking about the shows from the day before: “The band that surprised us the most was the Black Crowes,” said Shawna White, 24, who drove down from Mendocino with her friend Natalie Harpe, 21. “We'd heard of them, but we really had no idea. I think I'm in love with (singer) Chris Robinson.”

Inman Family Winery owner Kathleen Inman's top picks for Thursday were Delta Spirit and The Violent Femmes. “At the Violent Femmes, I was pogo-ing like I was 18 again.”

The biggest difference between Day 1 and Day 2, aside from more high-profile bands like the Black Keys, was a massive crowd that mushroomed from around 10,000 on Thursday to more than 30,000 on Friday, BottleRock talent buyer Sheila Groves-Tracey said.

Occasionally the sound bled from stage to stage. Early in his set on the Miner Family Winery stage, Justin Townes Earle paused between songs to cock his head and listen to the Dirty Projectors on the nearby Citi stage. “Hey, they're loud — I guess we'll battle.”

It was an unfortunate mismatch — Earle's low-key poetic vocals versus the cinematic shimmering guitar and harmonies of the Dirty Projectors.

As crowds began to swell in the late afternoon, two of biggest draws of the day were Alabama Shakes and The Shins. Fronting Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard's old-soul raspy vocals wavered effortlessly between guttural and soothing. And after kicking it off with “Rifle's Spiral,” the Shins' singer James Mercer looked out on the packed grassy field and kept it simple: “Damn, it's beautiful.”

Winner for best visuals went to The Flaming Lips as singer Wayne Coyne took the stage perched atop a mound of giant silver balls, while hugging a baby doll, dwarfed by a backdrop of strobes and lasers.

“Whoever invited us here, thank you,” he said.

Well before the Lips set was over, fans started fleeing for the WillPower Stage and the full-on garage rock and blues attack of the Black Keys. It took one song — “Howlin'” — to get the crowd of tens of thousands singing along, “Nah Nah Nah Nah.”

But one of the most revealing moments of the day happened on the other side of the stage. Blurring the line between musician and fan, Geyserville bluesman Charlie Musselwhite pulled out his color-coded BottleRock schedule midway through the day to survey the must-see bands he'd circled: Alabama Shakes, Justin Townes Earle, The Flaming Lips and the Black Keys.

A smiling blond woman approached and asked, “Can I take a picture with you? You're one of the reasons I came to this festival from Colorado.”

After posing for a few photos, he explained why he happened to be at BottleRock a day before he actually takes the stage: “I've never wanted to be one of those guys who just stays backstage and never gets out to check out the festival. I'm really hoping they can pull this off.”

(Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014 or and follow BottleRock on Twitter @becksay.)

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