This weekend, Dave and I attended Live in the Vineyard: A weekend of fine wine, amazing live music and great food in Napa.
We enjoyed two full days of picture-perfect experiences and came away as new fans of several popular and up-and-coming bands.
Dave received an invite on behalf of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and luckily, I was able to tag along as his guest to enjoy the itinerary and provide commentary after-the-fact.
We arrived in Napa early Friday, and were instantly pleased to find a huge swag bag welcoming us to our luxury suite at The Westin Verasa Napa including Bare Escentuals products, KitchenAid tools, a KitchenAid cookbook, CDs, a travel wine glass and more all housed in a big Samsonite duffle bag.
As a former copywriter for Starwood hotels, I know the official smell, signage and look of a Westin hotel so well, but had never actually stayed in one. The Westin in Napa is beautiful, almost had a lodge-like vibe and provided the ideal setting for guests to feel a sense of wellness and renewal while on vacation in wine country — two important Westin brand pillars that were certainly not lost on this guest.
After meeting our friendly hosts from Starwood in the lobby, we piled into a big SUV and attended our first event of the weekend: A wine pairing at Napa Style in the charming little town of Yountville. During this event, the owner of Whetstone Cellars introduced some of his wines to us and talked about the wine-country lifestyle and the growth of his business. (His Whetstone Russian River Pinot Noir was by far our favorite wine of the day, and just might be good enough to elicit a return trip to Napa to see the opening of his new place.)
During the tasting around a table on the back patio of Napa Style, with vineyards in the vistas, we had a surprise appearance by Jackopierce, a two-man band who each played guitar and belted out folksy/country/soft rock songs for our small group of eight. Although every experience part of Live in the Vineyard is designed to be memorable, this was the most “intimate” of the live music settings and even provided us a chance to chat with the artists over wine to learn about their inspirations and everyday lives.
I was instantly a fan of the Jackopierce music, because they reminded me of one of my favorite bands that I was able to see live a couple of times during college, Pat Green. Pat Green is a country singer from Texas who has a very clean voice and simple guitar melodies that are easy to sing along with. Jackopierce was so similar, and I came to find out after chatting with both singers that they not only have been inspired by Pat Green but know him very well. How about that? As a great takeaway, the band’s manager gave us USB bracelets with the entire Jackopierce album loaded up for our listening pleasure.
Friday afternoon continued with tastings from local wineries back at The Westin Verasa on the back patio. I sampled mostly the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from various wineries, but also sprung for Rosés and sparkling wines when offered. Is it possible to like nearly every single kind of wine you try? I think it is …
After a change into some night-time attire (featuring my new-ish pleather pants), we took shuttles from the hotel to Uptown Theatre in downtown Napa for a line-up of performances by Vicci Martinez, ZZ Ward, The Wild Feathers, Youngblood Hawke and Tegan & Sara (and a surprise appearance by Plain White T’s, who we saw the next day as well for a full show). Vicci Martinez’s soulful and powerful voice was a standout of the evening, and so were the complimentary mini cupcakes given to every guest to celebrate one of the event founder’s birthdays. I didn’t stuff a few extra in my purse to take on the ride home. That’s just not my style …
On Saturday morning, the shuttles took us to Sutter Home Winery for food, wine and the very first acoustic performance by the New Kids on the Block in the band’s history. The members of New Kids on the Block have all had various levels of success in music and acting since the band was at the height of its popularity in the late 80s and early 90s. I was a fan when I was younger, but certainly not an obsessed fan like some girls … I didn’t have the NKOTB sleeping bag, and I didn’t drag my parents to any of their concerts. Since then, the band members have all grown up, and they all looked good. Everyone was well-dressed, had great stage presence and seemed to have better ownership over their individual personalities than they had in their youth. NKOTB performed all of their popular hits like “Hangin’ Tough”, “The Right Stuff” and even “Step by Step” in completely acoustic guitar versions. They remained seated for most of the performance, but did delight the small crowd with a few moves from the past when most appropriate. At one point they even asked us to wave our hands in the air. You bet I joined!
After the band performed they took pictures with guests. Dave and I got in line, and once it was our turn I found myself in between two band members -– that’s when a highlight of the weekend occurred. John Knight, one of the most fashionable of the group, complimented me not only on my brown leather boots, but also said my outfit was “just so NAPA”. Why thank you, John. It was selected just for that reason.
Our next event took place at the incredibly beautiful Far Niente Winery, which is not open to the public, but only available for private tourings and events. The winery was surrounded by gardens, greens and immaculate outdoor manicuring, which made it seem just perfect for weddings or photoshoots. I was already in awe of the setting, and then we were shown a spread of some of the tastiest food of the weekend served in front of an outdoor brick oven in a courtyard. The menu included shooters of soup, fresh veggies, flatbread pizzas, quinoa, the best brie cheese I have ever enjoyed in my entire life, cookies, macarons, bread pudding and of course, plenty of wine. During the initial reception, we had a couple of hours outside to socialize with our fellow guests before being asked to move along for the music portion of the day in the winery’s carriage house. Far Niente’s carriage house featured the owner’s collection of antique cars and had a small stage where the Plain White T’s performed. I was very impressed by this band. Every member had a great voice, and as a group they sounded even better live than they do on the radio. They debuted their new song “Should’ve Just Gone to Bed” (it was officially their first time singing it in front of a live audience), and performed many of their more popular songs, all of which have helped them find the success they have today.
Once again, Dave and I got in line to take a picture with the band and ended up with a great shot, shown below.
After a disco nap, in the evening we went back to the Uptown Theatre to see Gin Wigmore, Alpha Rev, Matt Hires, and Goo Goo Dolls. Unfortunately we missed Bronze Radio Return, the first performance of the night. The highlight of this event was by far Gin Wigmore. This New Zealand rocker was so raw and real. She has a very distinctive voice and provided some dancing and commentary that really drew us in. The Goo Goo Dolls also put on a great show, and I quite enjoyed the band’s new tunes.
Live in the Vineyard also offers two nights of after-parties back at The Westin Verasa Napa for those who can stay up past midnight, where the lobby is transformed into an Aloft hotel scene complete with a “step and repeat”, a pinkish red carpet and a stage for another performance. Many of the weekend’s performers came to this event to get their official pictures taken and chat with guests. We were hoping to spot Gin Wigmore there on Saturday night, but sadly she was not in attendance.
From various discussions, I found out that Live in the Vineyard is the brainchild of two women who used to work in the music business and now focus solely on this event. With a passion for live music and fine wine, several years ago they came up with an idea to host a weekend-long festival a few times a year in the beautiful setting of wine country designed just for those who share their interests or would like to be introduced to their interests. The two founders welcomed guests to the large concerts both nights so we could see them in the flesh, and they seemed full of personality. Their successful event has grown significantly over the years, but is still not open to the public, which means attendees are invited by a business or have the opportunity to win passes as part of radio station promotions.
Successful it is. In fact, I overheard a member of the Plain White T’s telling a guest that the band owes much of its initial popularity to this particular event. Perhaps that is why several of the bands attended this weekend, in order to debut new songs and encourage music lovers to listen. We heard new music from New Kids on the Block, Goo Goo Dolls and Plain White T’s (some of the more popular names), and were introduced to many other bands who we now plan to follow.
As someone in the communications field, I enjoy spotting a good brand experience, and Live in the Vineyard does that for two of its big partners: Starwood Hotels and Southwest Airlines. Have you ever heard of Live at 35? It’s surprise live music performed 35,000 feet in the air on a Southwest flight, showing the airline is a good fit for music lovers as the official airline sponsor of Live in the Vineyard. Although I’ve never experienced a Live at 35, I can see why it would make people brand loyal in hopes of one day being a lucky flyer. We were able to see few recaps of Live at 35 performances during breaks of the concert at Uptown Theatre and it made me hope I am one day on a plane when it happens. (There’s always a chance for that since Dave and I have to fly across the country to visit friends and family in Florida now, and have signed up as Rapid Rewards members with Southwest Airlines. Fingers crossed!)
After Saturday night’s after-party, the event was officially over for us. We grabbed a quick brunch and drove the hour drive back to the city.
Post event, I’ve already “Liked” all the new bands Facebook Fan pages and will keep an eye out for their new albums and tour schedules for the chance to catch them all live again.
Next up, Dave and I are going to visit the Aloft Hotel at the San Francisco airport, which is the closest Aloft to us to really see what these fun destinations are like in person. Hopefully we can even catch another great show, since most Aloft Hotels host concerts regularly.
We’re now more than six months into living in San Francisco, and I can state with all honestly that we have never seen more beautiful places or had cooler experiences than we have had here on the West Coast. Live in the Vineyard is just one of those great experiences, and we sure hope to be invited again.
Music, wine, food and swag is an unbeatable combination in my book. How about you? What’s your ideal weekend line-up?