By Alli Cruz
Halsey and Giada De Laurentiis hardly seem as though they belong in the same sentence, let alone on the same stage. Yet, at BottleRock 2018 on Sunday, May 27, on the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage they stood, drinking prosecco and cooking pasta in the sizzling 80 degree weather.
This is the peculiarity and excitement of Bottle Rock, a music and food-infused festival which began in 2013 in Napa, California — a fitting location, as Napa, in the heart of California wine country, is nearly synonymous with plentiful food and drink.
The mere spectacle of that Halsey and Giada De Laurentiis collaboration is, perhaps, emblematic of BottleRock’s established fusion of music and art. When I first saw their names, in the BottleRock program, lined up next to each other, I knew I had to witness this fascinating artistic crossover. BottleRock is, put simply, as full of food as it is of artistic value — which is to say that there is a high degree of both elements. BottleRock, perhaps in line with its distinctive name, undoubtedly unique in its staging of events such as this.
During the Halsey/De Laurentiis event — which was essentially a collaborative cooking session plus Q & A — Halsey, true to her well-known edgy-pop image, donned cutoff jean shorts, with her hair thrown half up-half down, in a green Oakland Athletics t-shirt and cat-eye sunglasses. De Laurentiis, on the other hand, as a revered chef and TV personality, wore a red and white polka dot, collared maxi dress and old-style Hollywood sunglasses. The outfits of these powerful women drew precise attention to the marked difference, the peculiar yet fascinating juxtaposition, of their specific personalities.
Halsey brought a more playful note to the stage, spending most of the pasta-making process cracking rather unexpected jokes that seemed to shake — not stir — up De Laurentiis’ focused culinary process. At the start of the show, Halsey cracked a half-smile and asked De Laurentiis, “Are you gonna sing while I cook?”, engendering little chuckles from the audience members who, I am sure, like me, were at first unsure of what exactly the event was going to entail. In other words, Halsey, right from the beginning, brought a sense of youthful ease, which made the already-unusual collaboration all the more comical and entertaining.
De Laurentiis, in contrast, brought a poised sort of energy, moving about the kitchen with precision and grace. She was not, however, without her own palpable sense of humor and ease, smiling wide as Halsey joked, “I know how to drink,” as they sipped prosecco or laughing as Halsey told her, “I’m gonna tell my boyfriend that you taught me how to use a knife,” as they cut up some vegetables. The differences in their demeanors allowed for an exciting show on a small, intimate stage that felt rather like a live Food Network special — featuring special musical guest Halsey.
Halsey’s humor also translated to the main stage later on in the day before she sang “Bad at Love,” wherein she asked all the couples in the audience to give their adult, consenting partners a big kiss. As my photographer, Devon Zander, and I stood in the crowd, watching the people around us start embracing, I started laughing at how visible the single men and women were in the crowd. We all started making eye contact, even shrugging at one another. Then, Halsey boldly declared that the next song, “Bad at Love,” were for those of us in the audience without significant others.
Halsey is certainly a performer — in all senses of the word. During her show, she urged fans to sing louder and louder, taunting with phrases like, “Come on, BottleRock, I thought you were a fun festival!”, which truly brought upon wider participation from the audience. She began her set with lesser known songs, such as “Gasoline” and “Colors” from her first album, “Badlands,” which came out in 2015, and finished with her more recent hits like “Now or Never.” At times, Halsey sat on the edge of the stage, feet dangling above the audience. For context, all the stages at BottleRock are outdoors, which allowed moments, such as this, to feel all the more free, intimate, and uncontained, allowing for a certain sense of excitement to pervade the audience.
The entire setup of BottleRock — with outdoor booths and food stands — feels like a clean and bourgeois version of a county fair. Instead of extra large chicken legs and bacon-wrapped ice cream, there were Kind Bar booths and cute, quaint places like Bulldog Burgery and Home Slice Wood Fired Pizza. I myself was impressed by the wide variety of food at the festival, and I found myself thinking a lot about the experiential qualities of food and music, especially because food, unlike music, is generally overlooked as an art form. Sure, we have words for “culinary arts,” but we don’t generally seem to categorize food as artistic in the same way we do music.
And yet, as the scent of burgers, sandwiches, fries and more wafted around me, I began thinking more about how beautiful a festival like BottleRock truly is. In its hodgepodge of artistic elements, it truly draws in its own artistic community. As we eat our food, we are also savoring the sounds of wonderful live artists. The result is beautiful. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like BottleRock — in the best of ways.
The festival grounds themselves were brimming with artistry. As you enter the festival, you come across a giant wooden sculpture of a hot air balloon. Near it, four giant lollipops stand playfully tilted in a line. Near that, there are giant bronze letters which spell the word “LOVE.” Even some of the photo areas, which feature some distinctly Instagrammable, painted backgrounds, were being retouched by artists — yet another live aspect of artmaking.
While Halsey was among one of the most prolific headliners, I would like to take the time to note some very notable performers, one of them being the band The Wrecks. I hadn’t heard of them nor their music before the festival, but I found their angsty, alternative style very reminiscent of the type of music I listened to about five years ago. This is not to diminish the validity of their music, but to say that their sounds definitely brought me back to a more youthful time, and thereby, a more emotionally powerful time. It certainly made for a fun dancing/fist-pumping session, especially with lines like “Someone’s gotta tell me how to figure this out.”
In contrast, Mount Joy — one of the performing bands — provided the festival with more relaxed, chill vibes on the Miner Family Winery Stage, which was a small and intimate space with a decorative banner comprised of tiny squares following various faded color gradients: pink, blue, orange and red. The small space really lent itself well to their indie sounds, complete with electric guitar, ukulele and drums. Most audience members, like me, found themselves lying down on the ground, some with sunhats propped on their stomachs, just soaking in the sun and the music. The lyrics, with images like angels smoking cigarettes on rooftops, were intensely poetic and very fitting for the calm atmosphere.
Overall, BottleRock was an intensely unique and relaxed experience. The festival goers, much like the types of art, were certainly an interesting hodgepodge mix — some looked as though they were dressed for StageCoach with their cowboy hats and boots, while others looked ready for Coachella with their long skirts and flower crowns, while some others looked as though they were ready for a day at the beach. I myself didn’t know how to dress for the occasion, and I love that. I think that’s telling of the fact that BottleRock cannot be contained into one single stereotyped category of performers or of audience members. BottleRock is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience.
Contact Alli Cruz at allicruz ‘at’ stanford.edu.