When I was a teenager in the Napa Valley in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, the local live-music scene consisted of a couple of bars where country-western bands might occasionally play, or school dances at which a cover band would belt out songs from groups such as Journey and Boston, while teenagers swayed back and forth self-consciously. Fast-forward to 2017 and now the Napa Valley is rife with a rich live-music vibe that is poised to grow in the coming years.
“The local music scene in Napa Valley is really active at the moment, with tons of venues and lots of local musicians who are playing a wide range of styles,” said Big Rick Stuart, DJ at 99.3 KVYN, The Vine. “Because of this we started “The Napa Homegrown Music Show” that airs on Mondays at 7 p.m. The show focuses on playing only local bands.”
Three factors seem to have contributed to the recent growth of the Napa music scene: changes in local rules governing the playing of live music, a strong talent pool and BottleRock, a three-day music festival that started in 2013.
Changes in the rules
“Back in the late 1970s, Napa enacted a series of overly restrictive rules for where and when music could be played,” said Dalton Piercey, a local musician and director of the Napa Musicians Performance Guild. “In 1977, the city of Napa had 18 businesses that were providing live music, but by 1991 there was only one.”
Piercey went on to explain that he and a coalition of like- minded people helped usher through new, more musician-friendly zoning rules that went into effect in the 2012 Downtown Specific Plan, which includes a designated entertainment district.
However, for bands to succeed they need more than places to play — they also need talent, training and community support.
A strong talent pool
“My husband and I started the Napa School of Music (NSM) 12 years ago,” said Victoria Sykes, who is also the host of “The Napa Homegrown Music Show.” “We started the school because the Napa Valley seems to attract some really talented musicians, but there wasn’t a place for all of them to learn or express their musical talents.”
“Our Garage Band 101 is our claim to fame,” Sykes said. “We have both a kids’ version and an adult version where people can come in and work with our professional musicians to start their own bands. Four of the bands that started at NSM have stayed together and are still playing out there in the world. Two of our former students, Anthony Cappeto and Ari Eisenberg are in Secure the Sun, a band that is really taking off right now.”
“Anthony took guitar and piano lessons from the Napa School of Music, and I’ve taken guitar and voice from them,” said Eisenberg, lead singer and a Napa High School senior. “Members in our band have also been trained locally by, among others, Vintage and Napa High Band and choir programs, the Napa Valley Youth Symphony and Napa Suzuki teachers.”
With the strong talent pool and increased ease of obtaining permits, the number of places where live music can be played has expanded.
“There are also many places for these local bands to play in Napa — Silo’s, Blue Note Napa, Uptown Theatre, Billco’s, Uncorked at Oxbow, Ca’ Momi,” said KVYN General Manager Larry Sharp. “We are also starting a live-music concert series, with bands playing right here at the station. The concerts will tie in nicely with our ‘Napa Homegrown Music Show.’”
Another key driver of Napa’s live-music renaissance includes BottleRock, the three-day music festival that debuted in 2013.
“BottleRock certainly puts Napa on the map for world-class music, right alongside incredible food and wine,” said BottleRock’s presenting sponsor John Truchard, owner of JaM Cellars. “JaM Cellars is thrilled to be a part of this cultural revitalization, and we love the BottleRock tradition of opening the festival with a local band.”
This year’s opening BottleRock band is Secure the Sun.
“We are thrilled, surprised and thankful for the support that BottleRock is showing toward young local bands this year,” said Eisenberg. “In particular, we have immense gratitude to Kimi Baracco and Micah Malan of BottleRock, and Bob St. Laurent of KVYN, who believed in us enough to recommend our band to play.”
“Secure the Sun is one of my very favorite local bands, hands down,” St. Laurent said. “I saw Ari as a BottleRock soloist in 2015, and I knew this kid had what it takes.”
St. Laurent knows what it takes because besides being the DJ for the “Good Morning Bob” show on KVYN, he is also the bass player for the local rock band The Deadlies, the local band that opened for BottleRock 2016.
“A local band could not hope for more press and exposure than BottleRock, including local Napa and San Francisco news coverage and worldwide press, seeing that BottleRock is now rated one of the 10 best concert events in the U.S.,” St. Laurent said. “Beyond the exposure, seeing these big bands onstage or playing alongside them also has a lasting impact, especially on young bands that are just getting started.”
“Seeing bands at BottleRock such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers reinforced their stylistic influence on us,” said Eisenberg. “News of Secure the Sun playing BottleRock has already helped us obtain more and better gigs, including a residency in May and June at the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco, which includes four separate shows during that period.”
With plenty of support, fewer restrictions and plenty of venues to hear live music, expect the local music scene to continue its expansion.
“We like the direction things are headed,” Sharp said. “In the future we imagine even more opportunities for live music in Napa with more local bands featured. As a part of that effort we have preliminary plans to create a CD compilation of local groups.”
“If you want new, fresh music, it starts with your hometown crowd and support.” St. Laurent said. “And here in Napa we are really seeing something cool happening, which I think will only continue to get better.”
Originally published in the Napa Register, May 2017