Captivating the Essence of Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023

Sign that says, "Blue Note Jazz Festival"

Journey into Sound and Sunshine: Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023 Recap

In the heart of California, where the sun is golden and plentiful—WE WAS OUTSIDE!! It was a necessary and unbelievable four day excursion to the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023.

As an Illinois native now living on the West Coast, I’ve always been immersed in all things food, art, love, and noir. Chilling in the foothills of wine country, this festival was destined to be a unique chapter in my 2023 Excursions. 

While California boasts its share of amazing food and music festivals like Outside Lands, Northern Nights, and Bottlerock, there’s an undeniable attraction in boutique curated events that cater to the culture while still having diversity in the music, culture, and atmosphere. The Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023 encapsulated this spirit flawlessly, transcending boundaries to unite diverse cultures, generations, and genres of Black Music, with a special focus on the foundational hip-hop that has shaped me. Happy 50th Anniversary Hip-Hop!

food, art, love & noir

Despite its larger footprint, the festival retained an endearing sense of intimacy, a delightful contrast to the grandeur of BottleRock Napa. With just three stages, the heart of the event resided at the Black Radio stage, where musical magic unfolded. Surprisingly, there was little overlap with the two smaller Footprints and Blue Note stages, the latter of which became a nurturing ground for emerging talents.

And oh, the food! It was a feast for the senses, with great options—and a few misses. From the barbecue of Stateline Road Smokehouse to the culinary wizardry of Chef D By The Bay, who charmed palates with fish and oysters.. And let’s not forget the bars; they were like liquid symphonies, concocting cocktails infused with the finest wines and spirits, including the likes of D’ussé Cognac, and the illustrious Wade Cellars. Cheers to a festival where every facet, from music to cuisine, was a testament to excellence!


The super jam sessions, masterfully hosted by  Dave Chappelle brought together icons like De La Soul and Rakim, igniting a nostalgia that resonated with fans across generations. Rakim, De La and Nas took us there with feel-good, nostalgic, and God like rhymes. It was a display of artistry, unity, and love—for culture, one another, and music. 

Yet, what truly set this festival apart was the spirit of collaboration that soared higher than any note. In the Wine Garden, Weedie Braimah & The Hands of Time and Nicholas Payton’s performances. Bilal and  Meshell Ndegeocello’s meditative soul runs Terrace Martin and Keyon Harold’s fusion, and PJ Morton with straight up anointing! He left nothing and everything on that stage.


Nourishing the Senses and Soul Through Music

The festival’s heart beat to the rhythm of Black Music & Culture was palpable. Jazz blanketed the stages and the grass with Robert Glasper at the helm of it all. 


The highlight was seeing all of my Chicago folks outside in Napa. 

I met this beautiful sister Lashawnda, who came to sit with me and chatted it up at the hotel before the festival. She let me know that her tribe wasn’t able to make their flight so she asked if she could roll with me for the three days. I said, “OF COURSE!” I asked who was her people. No cross-over, which was a first. There’s usually a degree of separation, kin or friend somewhere. 

It was the first time at the festival for both of us. No expectations, just fun in that unforgivable, hot ass sun. 

On the first day, we went to get the lay of the land to be better prepared the next two days. I decided to go later in the day because of my sensitivity to the sun—I soon learned that didn’t matter. The next two days I came with my big hat and lots of sunscreen. By then we knew where the best spots to sit, eat, drink and COOL DOWN. 

By day three we were well versed in all things NAPA. 


My cousin, Angie—with her fine self and her girls arrived earlier and had the perfect spot to get all of the festival without having to leave their seats. We found space in the same area—YAY!! 

I rented a chair for the three days(I’d do it all over again). I didn’t know what the ground and grass situation would be like, but it wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t in the mood to climb off the ground all day long. I do wish I had brought a blanket for a lil nappy nap—next time. 

I ran into J Ivy and Maurice Mo’ Betta Brown. I had no idea either of them would be there. And from there it was like SummertimeChi!! I was liiiiike, “Heyyy Chicago” and yelled at every ChicagoanTillChicagoEnds, “CHICAGO IS HERE!!” in my best Jeremiah Frazier voice. 

Vic Mensa hit the stage during a freestyle hip hop celebration medley with Talib, Rakim, Chance and other dope MCs and singers like Chante’ Moore an Bilal. On the stage directly behind us, where all we had to do was turn our seats around, because the location was that good, was BJ the Chicago Kid.

I ran into Dwyane Wade and his beautiful cool ass wife Gabby, pushing that Wade Cellars. I asked him if he tasted Mary J.’s wine and he said, YES AND IT WAS GOOD and told me to try it. I told him I’d take his word for it. 

Soulful Journeys and Unforgettable Moments

As the days unfolded, the festival showcased the finest in hip-hop, jazz, soul, and funk. Each act was a musical masterpiece, from Nas and Rakim’s poetic journey through the decades to the electrifying energy of Digable Planets and De La Soul—BUDDY!!! The beautiful stage presence of Thee Chante Moore and the contemporary artistry of PJ Morton and Bilal fell right in line with sounds from the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire.

It was the FINALE for us!  True story: the sun was setting and Chicago’s own, Chance the Rapper set the stage for a surprise collaboration with the legendary Yasiin Bey. It was a culmination that felt like a harmonious symphony of soul, nostalgia, and creative energy, leaving us all in awe.

In retrospect, the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023 was not merely a festival; it was a transformative experience that united artists, musicians, and fans in celebrating music’s power to touch hearts and transcend boundaries. 

The journey from city to nature, coast to coast and from the ordinary to the extraordinary, was a perfect prelude to the joyous weekend that unfolded, leaving memories and melodies etched in the hearts of all who attended. This fusion of food, music, art, and nature was a testament to the enduring power of culture and the enduring spirit of creativity.

Until we meet again 🤎.

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