For the past 10 years, Live In the Vineyard has united music fans and wine aficionados in Napa Valley, California. In 2018, the unique concert series launched its first-ever country festival, fittingly called Live In the Vineyard Goes Country. Held May 15-17 throughout picturesque wineries in Northern California, the intimate music festival presents country artists and their fans with some of the best wine, food and scenery the area has to offer.
While each concert takes place in a memorable setting often overlooking acres of grapevines, tickets to Live In the Vineyard Goes Country are invitation only. Those hoping to gain access to the festival can do so by entering local radio station contests for their chance to win. The three-day festival gave country lovers a once-in-a-lifetime experience with some of the genre’s biggest artists performing on stages set on many of California’s stunning wineries.
For three days, Carrie Underwood, Old Dominion, Jerrod Niemann and Eric Paslay, among others, performed for the 400 people lucky enough to win access into the inaugural Live In the Vineyard Goes Country event. What first began as a way to help artists create an additional marketing platform for their music, LITV has become a mainstay in Northern California for a decade now.
Bobbii Jacobs, CEO of LITV Entertainment Group, explains that each Live In the Vineyard (LITV) concert series is held mid-week as a way to help promote tourism in Northern California. While the weekends are bustling with visitors, hotels and wineries often have trouble filling reservations during the week, which is where LITV comes in.
“It really helps tourism and Napa Valley, the hotels and the wineries,” Jacobs tells Sounds Like Nashville of the Tuesday through Thursday festival dates while at Liana Estates, the final winery visit of the week. “I’m always of the objective to help our partners. Because weekends are always busy, it’s better to do something mid-week so it helps them.”
In addition to partnering with local wineries and Southwest Airlines, this year Jacobs teamed up with the Academy of Country Music. Located in Los Angeles, the ACM’s objective is to build the presence of country music on the West Coast, so Jacobs says it was a natural relationship. She further explains that while expanding partnerships within the country genre is important, it’s also a goal of hers to keep the LITV series intimate. As a result, only 400 people are invited.
“It’s quality over quantity. The more intimate it gets, it really helps the artists,” she adds. “The acoustics, it being acoustic not plugged in, it gives the audience a different experience with the music and I think the artist feels so comfortable because it’s more inviting to them, more personal.”
Lindsay Ell, who performed at Liana Estates on May 17 during the festival’s send-off brunch, appreciated the intimacy of LITV Goes Country.
“I love playing festivals like this because it really gets to the more intimate side of a performance,” Ell explains while standing beside barrels of wine ahead of her set. “I’m by myself today. I don’t have a band. I have loop pedals and I’m going to do something really special musically. I’m going to play some things that we don’t always get to in a full band set and keep it special.”
Ell was happy to be asked to perform at the inaugural country festival and was mesmerized by the view. “The stage we’re playing this morning is on a hill — the crest of a hill — and all you can look out and see is miles and miles of grapevines. It’s pretty perfect,” she gushes.
She wasn’t the only artist in awe of the beautiful setting. During his performance on Wednesday afternoon atop a beautiful mountain at Rugusci Winery, Eric Paslay marveled at his luck to take part in a guitar pull at the festival.
“I haven’t seen heaven, but I hope it’s at least this pretty,” he tells the audience, who were seated on bales of hay in front of him. “I sure love doing this. I moved to Nashville 15 years ago to sing songs, write songs, however they let me in just ’cause I love music. I love the effect of what a song does to you: makes you smile, gives you hope, breaks your heart enough to let you love again, whatever it does for you. A kid from central Texas, I never thought I’d get to sit here right now and sing some songs you might have heard.”
He then dedicated “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” his No. 1 with Eli Young Band, to “all those crazy dreamers…from wine makers, to songwriters, to whatever you dream about. I hope you don’t forget how to.”
Paslay was part of a guitar pull alongside Niemann, Cale Dodds and Maddie & Tae, who were visiting Napa for the first time. The duo tell Sounds Like Nashville they’re excited to sip some wine and enjoy the sunshine while playing for country fans during their stay.
“Wine and country music, does it get much better than that?” Maddie asks us with a big smile.
Meanwhile, Tae admired the view at the family-run Rugusci Winery. Well-known for making wine, animals also roam the property at Rugusci. During an interview, two of the owner’s dogs wandered near the duo while horses, donkeys and chickens were also spotted on the premises.
“It’s breathtaking. It’s going to be interesting to play a show and not get distracted by how beautiful it is,” Tae adds. “I think for shows like this we can really count on the listener listening so that definitely sways our set list on whether we talk more or we talk less. I think this will be an environment where we get to tell the stories behind the songs and that’s always fun for us.”
Maddie & Tae peppered several new songs into their set including their latest single, “Friends Don’t,” which Maddie explained was inspired by a situation her sister was going through with a male friend. Set highlights included their No. 1 hit “Girl In a Country Song,” and the poignant “Fly,” which Niemann called “angelic” following their performance.
Ahead of the guitar pull, Niemann said the relaxed nature of LITV Goes Country allows the artists to be at ease together on stage, something that he demonstrated with the country duo as well as Paslay and Dodds.
“I think when you get on stage with the other entertainers, because you’re sharing the stage together, everybody kind of gels. Somebody else plays a song and it may make something click in your mind,” he explains. “It’s really cool because you get in these settings and everyone can relax. They don’t have all their walls up, their guards up, and you just get to enjoy God’s greatest gifts to our country. I’m glad my friends and everybody else in country music gets to come out here and experience it as well.”
On Tuesday (May 15), Old Dominion and Mitchell Tenpenny kicked off the festivities at Peju Province Winery. Having already spent a day taking a tour at a local winery, Old Dominion were relaxed by the time they took the stage for their acoustic set.
“We love being out here. We love California in general. It’s a beautiful part of the country,” Trevor Rosen admits ahead of their performance. “There’s not much you need to do to prepare. You come out here and it’s beautiful and you enjoy it and have fun. We always love playing music in any form so the fact we get to play music for any people is just a bonus.”
Frontman Matthew Ramsey admits that the band prepares less for festivals than other concerts because the nature of the event is more laidback. This was the case with their 35-minute set as they arrived to the stage located in the middle of the vineyard with full glasses of wine. They even offered some of their wine bottle to fans in attendance.
“Well, we’ve been drinking,” Ramsey tells the crowd as he walks on stage. “We’re gonna keep on drinking.”
Old Dominion began their set with their first No. 1 hit, “Break Up with Him.” “You guys aren’t going anywhere so we can play the big hit first,” Brad Tursi reasons.
Their set spanned their numerous No. 1 hits, including “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart,” “Song For Another Time,” and Kenny Chesney’s “Save It For a Rainy Day,” as well as a brand new song called “Make It Sweet.”
“We used to say beach shows are the best shows but I don’t know. This is so fun,” Ramsey concedes. “We appreciate so much the opportunity to play music for you.”
Several artists attending LITV Goes Country took an extended vacation in wine country, including Underwood who headlined Wednesday evening’s set at Blue Note Napa. Performing a 50-minute set that included a slew of her hits that ranged from sassy songs to revenge songs and heartfelt ballads, the American Idol alum impressed with her vocal power.
“I was just on American Idol. It’s been 13 years since I was on that show,” she tells the packed venue mid-concert. “Shortly after all of that craziness, I heard this new song and that was it for me. If I did nothing else in my career, I knew I wanted to sing this next song, ‘Jesus Take the Wheel.'”
Following a powerful performance of “Jesus Take the Wheel,” Underwood sang “Two Black Cadillacs” and “Church Bells,” noting, “One of the reasons I love country music is we can sing a song about cheating and we can sing a song about Jesus,” she observes. “To be a part of the very first Live In the Vineyard Goes Country is such an honor. Two things I love are wine country and singing.”
Additional performers at Blue Note Napa included Jillian Jacqueline, Ashley McBryde, Parmalee and Hunter Hayes, who debuted several new songs. One song, titled “My Song Too,” he wrote after his previous trip to Napa. He told the audience that it was inspired from his three-day visit in wine country when he and his ex-girlfriend decided that they were meant to be best friends.
“I wrote this song about those three days,” he says of their visit to Napa Valley. “It’s been in my heart for a while and I feel like I should play it in Napa for the first time.”
LITV Goes Country offers Northern Californians the opportunity to see some of their favorite country acts right in their backyard. It’s an event that California native Cam says is welcomed in the area.
“There’s not enough country music coming close. All the Californians and Coloradans and everybody are all complaining, ‘Why aren’t you guys here more often?'” she explains ahead of her rooftop performance at Archer Hotel Napa. “I am excited that the whole country music community gets to be a part of what I got to grow up with and see how beautiful it is in Northern California, how wonderful it is here in Napa. It’s a really amazing practice, viticulture, and the way you’re making wine. It’s an art form. It’s time and effort and a lot of failure and then a lot of really great moments of winning. It’s a lot like music.”
A festival that merges country music, wine and breathtaking views in an intimate setting, Live In the Vineyard Goes Country had a successful launch and promises to return to Napa Valley next year.