After the very first BottleRock in 2013, the Napa Valley festival found itself severely in debt. Three of the attendees of the inaugural event, Dave Graham and his two business partners Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins, found there was absolutely something worth salvaging in the music and culinary festival.
“We looked at it as someone would look at a startup and we saw some things that we liked,” Graham told Amplify. “There was demand for the product and there was a competitive advantage in that there were already four million people coming to Napa Valley on a yearly basis regardless of BottleRock.”
Following their appraisal, the three childhood friends made a decision to enter into the live entertainment, a first for all of them. In early 2014, they purchased the festival’s assets and had to put together an event in just a few months.
“It is no small feat to deliver on people’s expectations when coming to the Napa Valley,” Graham said.
Graham believed that as a native of Napa Valley he had the advantage of knowing what decades worth of visitors wanted out of their wine valley vacation and knew he could help provide it through BottleRock.
Since its resurrection, BottleRock has continued to impress and Graham’s Latitude 38 has gone on to put on smaller events throughout the area with great success. Amplify caught up with Graham to talk about his foray into live entertainment with BottleRock, this year’s lineup, and how the California wildfires impacted the his hometown.
Why did you believe purchasing BottleRock was a good idea?
We came into this from a business perspective. Of course we love music and we love watching people experience something fun. When you start a company, you don’t have the ability to know if people are going to buy what you are selling. We saw that 100,000 people were already coming to the event. We saw that there were already millions of people coming to the Napa Valley. We saw that they lined up to buy wine. From a business perspective, we wanted to jump in.
If the name was tainted, why keep the brand?
When we got into this, we said that though we did not create the debt and are therefore not responsible for any of the obligations that the previous promoters had, we will do our best to help make a very bad situation less bad. We eliminated roughly five million of the ten million dollars that was owed. In taking that more altruistic approach, why hide? Why give the impression that you’re going to do a work around when we were not? We were literally saying we’re going to help. There is something special here. Some people were left holding the bag and we’re going to make that situation less bad, but we’re going to own this thing. Plus we liked the BottleRock name. And truth be told, we bought the assets of the company in January of 2014 and our festival was in May. We had to build a lineup and build a team so we didn’t have the luxury of rebranding. It made sense to grab a lot of the previous marketing material because that was one less thing we would need to do.
What were you doing prior to launching Latitude 38?
I have two partners. One had recently sold a business and was looking for something to do. My other partner was running a very high-end winery and I co-founded a software development company focused on startups. We helped build these companies from a software development perspective, but also give strategic advice on those business models. From time to time, we would also invest in those companies. I sold that company in 2013 at the same time that we were doing the asset purchase for BottleRock.
What was growing up in Napa like for you?
You grow up in a culture that is surrounded by food and wine. When you brand around food and wine, you know when something is happening at your festival or you’re doing an activation for example is on brand with the Napa Valley. What we try to do is offer a very authentic Napa Valley experience at all levels.
Were you interested in music growing up?
I was. My dad was a much older father. He was a WWII vet and so I grew up listening to Glenn Miller and Elvis Presley. I really started to get into music when I was about six or seven with KISS. I would carry my KISS records to school. I still have every KISS record known to man. KISS was the first band that hit me.
What are you listening to now?
On a regular basis I’m listening to LCD Soundsystem, Sylvan Esso, Thievery Corporation, Foo Fighters, and Tom Petty. If you had me on an island locked with three or four bands, I’d probably choose Bob Marley, Grateful Dead, and maybe Beethoven or Mozart.
If you could see any show at any time in history, who would you go see?
I would have loved to have seen Janis Joplin perform and I would have loved to have seen The Doors. There are so many but those two come to mind.
The 2018 BottleRock lineup is also pretty eclectic. Can you talk about that?
Our demo is somewhere in the nine-year-old to seventy year-old realm. We own that and love it. You have to do everything to address that customer, that demographic. Some of that applies to the food, wine, alcohol, the four levels of VIP experience. That also applies to the music. If you look at it, Bruno Mars is probably the best example of an artist that appeals to a nine year-old all the way to a seventy year-old. That’s why he was arguably the biggest touring act of 2017. Then you look at The Killers and a lot of our customers come from San Francisco, Silicon Valley and having two of the top alternative artists in the 2000s is a smart move on our part. You have some younger people coming in that are very much into Halsey and Chainsmokers. Then you have that 45-year-old group that loves Snoop Dogg. Then there is the event demo that is 45 and up and that’s where Billy Idol comes in. That’s kind of the design behind it. It’s got to be appealing to everyone. This is the deepest lineup we’ve had, especially when you look at the third line down.
Did the Northern California wildfires impact your operation?
It did, but in different ways. We had one team member lose his home. We had many friends that lost their homes. It’s a small community so everyone knows everyone. I was evacuated for ten days from my house. The expo where we have our festival was used as a staging area for hundreds of firetrucks and thousands of fire firefighters to stay and sleep and get food. There are repairs that we will have to make as a result of that, but no complaints what so ever. Because we’ve set the festival up a certain way on those grounds, it ended up being so conducive to helping that situation. We were impacted in the sense that we felt an obligation for our community and Sonoma County. We put on three fundraising benefit concerts with Train, Counting Crows, and a lot of other bands. We also helped with the Band Together event in San Francisco at AT&T Park. The area is still recovering and it will be recovering for a long time.