Napa, CA

Good times transcend some weird weather

Clay Kallam

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It's easy to relax at the Carneros Resort & Spa.(Ariel Black)

“It’s never like this.”

The grey sky tumbled with clouds, clouds clearly full of drops just waiting for the right moment to fall.

But the wind. The wind tore through the Napa Valley as though it were late for a date with Beyoncé, dropping the temperature from mild to downright cold, and adding new meaning to the phrase “chilling by the pool.”

The woman from Washington, D.C., had hoped for better for her time at Carneros Resort & Spa, and even the free champagne – and quite nice champagne – from Moët and Chandon couldn’t quite make up for the unexpected weather.

“It’s never like this.”

Mavis Staples is from Chicago, and a few hours later she faced the crowd at the Oxbow RiverStage in downtown Napa, buffeted by the same wind – and even the 83-year-old singer had to acknowledge that this was no soft summer breeze. “It’s a windy city,” she said.

When Bonnie Raitt came on the stage later, she too was incredulous. “It was 118 in Ukiah a week ago,” she said, before putting on a coat. “It’s nice not to be stinking hot, though.”

And clouds or no clouds, wind or no wind, it was more than nice to spend a September Saturday enjoying the best that Napa has to offer. (And note that “the best Napa has to offer” does not include overpriced wine tastings that can only be sampled with prior reservations. In Livermore or Lodi, if a winery looks inviting, just park the car and go on in. And no need to max out the credit card to buy a couple bottles.)

Let’s start at the Carneros Resort & Spa, with its spectacular views of the hills and surrounding vineyards. Yes it’s expensive, but the 18-year-old resort delivers with 28 acres of separate cabins, roaming cattle and rustic luxury. Of course, it has restaurants that feature local produce – the woman from D.C. was dazzled – and top-end chefs, and on a normal September day, the pool on the hill would have been just perfect.

Even with the wind and clouds, it was a pleasant prolog to enjoying Staples and Raitt at the Oxbow RiverStage. The pair of veteran performers rose above the elements and delivered two polished, professional and dynamic sets that brought back memories of my two decades reviewing rock and roll for the Contra Costa Times.

Staples defied her age: “I’m not tired yet,” she said during the Staples Singers’ classic “I’ll Take You There,” which concluded her 45 minutes. “Y’all ain’t seen the last of me.”

We can only hope that’s true, as she showed her versatility and musical mastery by seamlessly shifting from genre to genre. She delved into rock with maybe my favorite Talking Heads song, “Burning Down the House,” funked it up with the Funkadelics’ “Can You Get to That,” touched her gospel roots with “Far Celestial Shore,” and of course brought back that ‘70s soul sound with “Come Go With Me.”

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Bonnie Raitt overcame the wind at the Oxbow RiverStage.(Ariel Black)

Raitt too can cover a lot of musical ground, and along with hitting the high notes of her career, showcased her latest album, “Just Like That.” But Raitt also showed off her outstanding band, her own solid guitar work and of course, a voice that is at the same time weathered and clear. Her heartfelt tribute to John Prine – who died in 2020 – led in to one of the several highlights of the show, “Angel from Montgomery,” and of course her first encore was another mournful ballad, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

But Raitt can’t be categorized as a blues’ musician who sings ballads. The show finished with a Chaka Khan cover, “You Got the Love,” and along the way delivered a reggae-tinged “Have a Heart” and a version of John Hiatt’s “No Business” straight out of the rock-and-roll pocket.

Of course she dealt with the weather on the open stage, trying, like the crowd, to stay warm, but it in the end, the cold wind wasn’t a factor. It was a wonderful day in Northern California, and even that chilly September wind couldn’t spoil it.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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