BottleRock Uncorked

A month after glowing reviews of the May 8-12 BottleRock Napa Valley festival in Calfornia’s wine country, a storm is brewing over unpaid bills including a reported $630,000 owed to more than 140 union stagehands and more than $500,000 to a transportation company that filed suit at press time.

San Francisco’s International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 16 filed a grievance requesting payment of wages and benefits for its members, according to the Napa Valley Register.  Local president Jim Beaumonte told the paper the workers should have been paid no later than May 24 through a company called Island Creative Management.

And they’re not the only ones waiting for checks. Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, which provided bus services for BottleRock, filed suit June 17 in Napa Superior Court claiming breach of contract and breach of personal guarantees against organizers Bob Vogt, Gabe Meyers and BR Festivals LLC.

The suit claims Bauer’s was to provide parking lot, campground, hotel and VIP shuttles for the festival. The contract for those services totaled $1.26 million, of which $524,239 has yet to be paid, according to the Register.

Other vendors, including those providing security and staging, are expected to follow suit, according to several sources who spoke to Pollstar on condition their names weren’t used. 

And there are unconfirmed reports that at least two artists have yet to be paid, despite the best efforts of talent buyer Sheila Graves of Notable Talent, who was hired by BR Festivals to book BottleRock. Sources uniformly praised Graves for putting together a stellar lineup and shielding artists as much as possible from the post-festival fallout.

Delicate Productions of San Francisco provided staging, lights and sound for BottleRock. It also awaits final payment but, according to the company’s George Edwards, BottleRock is still “within terms” of their contract, though a deadline for payment looms.

Edwards is taking a “wait and see” position on the payment. With reports that Vogt and Meyers are trying to acquire further outside investment to help pay outstanding bills, he remains hopeful of getting paid.

There are other reports of bounced checks, missed payments and unpaid charities amassing as patience wears thin among the vendors and others who helped make “Northern California’s Coachella” happen.

Headliners The Black KeysKings of LeonZac Brown BandThe Avett Brothers, and Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, some 60 other artists and scores of top-end restaurants and wineries turned the five-day event into what seemed like a smash, first-year success.

But an apparent financial dispute between BottleRock organizers – including Vogt and Meyers – and restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn, whose catering company managed F&B service, threatens to overshadow what was otherwise a successful event – at least from a fan perspective.

More than 100,000 attended BottleRock, according to the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.  Regular festival passes sold for north of $300, with VIP tickets much more, and many of Napa Valley’s top restaurateurs and wineries were on hand to make BottleRock as much a food festival as a music one. But something went sideways.

Vogt blames restaurant group CP Cooks LLC for the holdup. Food and beverage gross revenue are said to have totaled from $7 million to $8 million, and the festival claims it hasn’t received its portion of the proceeds.
“That was the money we needed to pay the union labor and other expenses such as sound and audio equipment,” Vogt told the Register. Also unpaid is the money promised to local charities. CP Cooks, for its part, says it has already paid what it owed.

DeVille Enterprises of nearby Vacaville, Calif., was a major investor in BottleRock. The company is in the process of refurbishing the Vacaville Theatre, which is expected to reopen later this year as Theatre DeVille.

Sources told Pollstar that the investors were repaid in full, plus interest, before the festival took place, leading to cash-flow troubles as the curtain raised on BottleRock. Neither Vogt nor DeVille Enterprises could be reached at press time.
BottleRock was a unique event for the region, taking place on the 27-acre Napa Valley Expo fairground site in the small wine country town. Hotels were booked solid, and multi-day passes reportedly sold for as much as $600. 

The local economy received a multimillion-dollar economic boost from money spent by festivalgoers and, despite crowds and choked city streets near the Expo, many in Napa were pleasantly surprised by the lack of negative impacts on nearby residents.

Yet there were many reports of first-year problems, which is a given for any festival of that scale, but some were unique and likely costly – only adding to the festival’s financial woes.

Reports of $700 cases of wine being given away behind the scenes probably wouldn’t be heard at Coachella, for instance. One source told Pollstar there was a complaint of a “security guard” collecting VIP tickets in a parking lot. Another cited “thousands” of comps being distributed.

But that can’t account for the discrepancies being reported. The comments sections of local newspapers and Facebook pages indicate there’s a lot of angry people out there besides the 142 IATSE crew members still waiting to be paid. And Vogt and CP Cook’s Sean Knight are taking jabs at each other in the press.

But despite the public black eye, it’s believed organizers and vendors are still talking in hopes of reaching settlements on still-owed payments and hoping feathers can be smoothed over in order to allow the festival to return. Vogt and Meyers are believed to be seeking not just investors, but a buyer for the festival.

In the meantime, it’s been announced there will be a BottleRock 2014 in Napa Valley. The festival website and Ticketfly, which handles ticketing for the event, have $329 ticket packages already on sale.

It is not unusual for ticket onsales to begin long before permits are issued. A spokesman for Ticketfly told Pollstar that tickets are refunded if an event is canceled.

A staff member at the Napa Valley Expo told Pollstar that “a contract has yet to be worked out” for next year and no permits are issued until the contract is signed. NVE executive director Joseph Anderson was out of the office for at least a week and unavailable to provide details or confirm if the 2013 Expo rental fee was paid.