Gray ponytails and granny dresses, tie-dyed barefoot spinners, trancy dancers grooving to Bob Weir and his band jamming Grateful Dead-like for the faithful. It could have been Golden Gate Park in the 1960s, but it was two weeks ago in Napa’s newest music venue, the Oxbow RiverStage.
Set in Oxbow Commons between McKinstry Street and the Wine Train overpass, the outdoor venue is the joint creation of the Blue Note Entertainment Group headquartered in New York City and the Bay Area’s Another Planet Entertainment. It is the vision of, and under the direct management, of Ken Tesler, who is also the managing partner of Blue Note Napa.
The Weir concert (officially Bob Weir & the Wolf Brothers) followed the venue’s debut performance three weeks earlier by the Steve Miller Band and Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. Tesler said each show was attended by more than 2,000 fans. Last week, he discussed the experience of the RiverStage’s two opening events and about the future.
“It’s going phenomenally well,” Tesler said, giving immediate credit to the city of Napa Parks and Recreation Services Department. “The parks department and their planning people have really worked very closely with us. The most important thing in this type of venture is the operations. Their help for us logistically has made our life really easy.”
Tesler emphasized the importance of low impact on the surrounding community. “We try to keep McKinstry Street open as long as we can,” he said. “We’ve done tremendous things to mitigate sound travel past the venue. I don’t want to jinx us, but we’ve gotten no complaints. We’re extremely happy about that. It was really important for us to bring something that is nothing but positive to the community.”
He described a significant customer service problem at the opening concert, long waits at the bars. “The internet kept going down,” he said. “When people would swipe a credit card, you’d see the ‘the spinning wheel of death,’ or it would crash all together. It was taking forever to process credit cards.”
The problem was technically solved at the second show by bringing in a separate battery backup for the system. “We also increased the linear footage of the bars and increased the number of bartenders just to make sure,” he said. “It clearly worked. There were almost no lines at the second show. And there were no lines at the Portajohns for either of the shows.”
The physical layout of RiverStage is singularly “Napa,” with the stage directly in front of the Wine Train overpass, and the wine train itself intermittently behind the musicians. The technical aspects, sound and light, are state of the art. The audience area is an all-grass slightly downhill slope bordered on the back and sides by food concessions, including hot dogs, frozen desserts, pizza, burgers and Mexican food; multiple bars; merchandise tables and two large arrays of Portajohns. There is a picnic table area near the food vendors.
Tesler is delighted that the feedback from fans and artists has been positive. “People have been enjoying themselves,” he said. “The events are incident free. The head of Steve Miller’s agency told the owner of Another Planet that it was Miller’s favorite stop on his entire tour. That’s a pretty good review. Bob Weir told us the same thing. He thinks it’s a phenomenal venue and he’ll spread the word. Within the industry, that’s very important to us.”
Next up at Oxbow RiverStage are The Roots and Royal Jelly Jive on Friday, Oct. 11, and the B-52s and The English Beat on Saturday, Oct. 26. There will also be a free “Sunday on the Green” afternoon concert featuring Sean Hayes on Oct. 13. A second free concert with artists to be announced will be held on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 27. See OxbowRiverStage.com for complete details.