The Summer to be Entertained!
by Lisa Adams Walter
It does not seem that long ago that entertainment in the Napa Valley consisted of a singular annual winery summer music festival at Robert Mondavi Winery, occasional symphony concerts, a drive-in movie park on Foster Road, two movie houses located in River Park and another, now the Uptown Theatre live event venue, right next to First Presbyterian Church.
Fast forward to the past sixteen months, truly not that long ago, and it could be argued that there was NO entertainment in the Napa Valley. Another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic: theaters, museums and performance venues were locked up and sat dark.
When I was asked what I missed most during shutdowns, other than spending time with friends and family, my number one answer was this: live entertainment.
Sure, I streamed some concerts, binged Netflix, and Zoomed with friends. In reality, though, there is nothing like being there in person, experiencing the personality, dedication and emotion of an artist baring their talent, and even their soul. Add to that, entertainment is one of the final fitting pieces of the puzzle, that completes the wine and food experience, and therefore the wine country lifestyle, that can be found only in the Napa Valley.
“Live arts and entertainment are flashes of soul and inspiration in which we can congregate, reflect and participate,” said Lisa Saunders, a Napa wine industry professional and trained actress who has shared stages with artists such as Rita Moreno and Jill Eikenberry.
“Applauding works of art, dancing to the music, laughing together, it all rebalances our shared humanity, reminds us we are not in this alone and gives us strength to come together, work well and play well. It is maintenance for the heart and soul. Just like coming together at the dinner table with food and wine for nourishment, and to share the day. When Napa comes together for live music or performances, sharing those experiences is just a super cool thing,” she added.
Thankfully, with creativity and gumption, and with safety precautions and guidelines in place, live entertainment and art venues have now opened up. The Blue Note Napa partnered with Charles Krug Winery to present an outdoor concert series, marking the return of live entertainment in May.
Napa journalist Paul Franson who publishes the weekly insider newsletter NapaLife, keeps his finger on the pulse of our community, and has been tracking the wine, culinary and entertainment scenes for 25 years. He remembers that the Napa Valley was all about wine when he first moved here, but reports that it has changed.
“Over time, food became a major part of Napa’s appeal to visitors and another source of our fame. When I started NapaLife 16 years ago, the focus was on food and restaurants, with little about the arts, whether performing or visual, since they were not a big factor in our life or an appeal to outsiders,” Franson recalled, “Napa Valley developed more and more in all arts, but especially music and other entertainment.”
While long on the worldwide stage in terms of wine and cuisine, Napa has certainly hit the global stage in terms of the arts.
“Though the Mondavi Concert Series was a pioneer, it was the classical festivals — Festival del Sole, now Festival Napa Valley, Music in the Vineyards and John Kongsgaard’s chamber music festival that solidified our position. Then Napa Valley Film Festival broadened our appeal and BottleRock was the breakthrough,” Franson added, “It made Napa Valley as big a phenomenon as South by Southwest or Coachella, and concurrently, the Uptown, the Blue Note, JaM Cellars at the Opera House and Lincoln Theater attracted top acts while new series like The Oxbow RiverStage, Live in the Vineyard
and The Jazz Getaway also increased the appeal.”
Franson has also noticed the explosion of music at restaurants, wineries and other venues, all added to attract patrons, not as paid concerts, and publishes perpetual and constantly updated lists of acts, artists, venues and happy hours available at NapaLife.com.
The summer of 2021 really is the summer to be entertained. This current decade is anticipated to be akin to the Roaring ‘20s of a century ago, and summertime entertainment has roared back into town!
“It has come roaring back, with people almost desperate to get out and return to a normal life,” said Franson, “The pandemic has made most of us appreciate what is available, in fact, and all venues are thriving.”
Anxious fans have naturally created high demand. Tickets for paid events go on sale early, so do not delay. Check out the websites for venues and full schedules. Get out and enjoy!
Several of the smaller venues that offer live music include hotels, urban tasting rooms and restaurants. The Andaz and Archer hotels, as well as the Napa River Inn in Napa, and Hotel Villagio in Yountville all have live music options either as part of their bar scene, or in the lobby. JaM Cellars in Napa has long presented live music, which has become so popular that they now take reservations. Be Bubbly, also in downtown Napa, too offers live music, sometimes on Sunday afternoons to wrap the weekend.
Towns throughout the valley are also back to presenting live events. The Town of Yountville hosts free summertime Sunday evening concerts at the town’s Veterans Park with artists and bands such as Roem Baur, Fog City Swampers, Buck Nickels & Loose Change, Steel Jam and Monica & Chad scheduled, along with a rotating food truck for hungry concert goers each week.
The St. Helena Summer Concert Series is set for the last four Thursdays of this month up valley at Lyman Park, and they too are free.
Cameo Cinema, the darling, antique movie house which is also in St. Helena, has reopened, as well as created a drive-in theater movie experience at Charles Krug Winery — and here’s to that winery for so nicely partnering with small, intimate venues to make entertainment available and accessible for so many outdoors.
A new form of entertainment for locals that surprisingly opened during the pandemic, is Ace & Vine, a luxury dining and gaming location on the Napa River. An expansive outdoor deck is ideal for safely socializing, several large screens are placed throughout the venue to track sporting events, and a lively card room is positioned at one end of the establishment. Other than players intent upon winning in that one room, it does not feel like a casino at all.
Uptown Theatre recently announced new and rescheduled shows beginning in August including Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, John Hiatt & The Jerry Douglas Band, Nikki Glaser, Felipe Esparza, Buddy Guy with Ally Venable, Michael W. Smith, The Beach Boys and Judy Collins.
The Oxbow RiverStage concert series, related to Blue Note Entertainment, also begins in August, with acts including Mt. Joy and Trampled by Turtles, Billy Idol, Brett Dennen, Widespread Panic, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Death Cab for Cutie, Gary Clark Jr., Herbie Hancock and STS9.
Blue Note Napa at Charles Krug, as earlier mentioned, lists Tony! Toni! Toné!, Kenny G., Mama Said, KT Tunstall, Taj Mahal, Dave Koz and Friends and Jimmy Eat World as scheduled upcoming events.
Finally, the granddaddy, or perhaps the grandchild of all live events in Napa, BottleRock, returns for a Labor Day Weekend run in September. In the future, this festival known as the “First Taste of Summer” will again be held on Memorial Day Weekend. Headliners this year include Stevie Nicks, Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Miley Cyrus and Megan Thee Stallion.
I cannot wait to get a taste of summer at every one of these nearby events and venues. Like me, you too may be looking forward to having your heart and soul revived through seeing each other, while supporting the arts through live music and entertainment.
“I am looking forward to all of the outdoor activities that allow our community to reconnect, celebrate and renew, especially live music as it is incredibly restorative and healing,” Saunders concluded,
“Add to that, reconnecting with friends and neighbors that have been sheltering in place, means that these in-person experiences strengthen and heal ourselves and our extended family of the Napa community. A smile, a high-five, a toast of Sauvignon Blanc, we’ve all been through a lot in the last year and now we can reconnect and celebrate.”