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Insider's guide to Napa's Uptown Theatre

Many top performers such as Dwight Yoakam play the Uptown in Napa.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

The Uptown Theatre in downtown Napa is the leading year-round live music venue in Napa Valley. You can see some pretty big names in music and comedy performing in a pretty small house. Here is an insider’s guide to the Uptown and getting the most out of your experience when you go:

Best seats in the house

Because of the Uptown’s relatively small size (864 seating capacity), every seat is a good seat. Naturally the best seats are on the lower level directly in front of the stage. But even seats at the back of the hall or off to the side provide excellent views of the stage. The upper level balcony seats, while still very good, can sometimes present distractions due to the movement of people in the aisles below you.

Drink up

There are two bars on either side of the lobby and you can also buy a drink and grab a bite to eat in the Courtyard Café inside the theatre. You can bring your drink to your seat and the lobby bars stay open during the show so you can go back for a second (or third) round if you get thirsty. There are restaurants and bars in the neighborhood but buying drinks and food at the Uptown helps support its ability to bring in good acts. So, drink up.

Drink up—in a bigger glass

As one would expect the Uptown serves a variety of Napa and Sonoma wines and craft beers. My wife brought a glass of Duckhorn Decoy Chardonnay ($12) to her seat, which I immediately knocked over. While we were ordering a replacement, a couple in the lobby gave us this tip: Ask for your wine to be served in the larger plastic cup used for beer, rather than the smaller wine cup. It will then be less likely to be knocked over by an errant elbow or anything else.

Step outside

When you enter the theatre, an usher places a wristband on you to show that you’ve paid and that you’re old enough to drink legally. This also enables you to step outside for a smoke or a breath of fresh air between acts. You cannot, however, take your drink with you when you go.

Take a photo—but not of the show

It is fun to take a photo of the Uptown’s marquee with the name of the performer you’re seeing on it. Post it on Facebook or Twitter and get some likes. The Uptown does not allow recording or filming during the show, however. We saw one person filming with her smart phone and an usher moved in pretty quickly to ask her to stop.

Sit in for the opening act

Uptown’s musical shows typically feature a short set by an opening act that is sometimes local and usually not well known. We recommend taking your seat and giving a listen to this group because who knows? Maybe someday they’ll be the headline act and you can say you heard them way back when.

See the stars in the lobby

Walk around the lobby and see the photographs on the walls of some of the musical and comedy performers who have appeared at the Uptown: Gregg Allman, Dwight Yoakam, B.B. King, Lilly Tomlin, Roseanne Cash, Joe Satriani, Lenny Kravitz, Ron White, David Grisman. The names alone give you a sense of the theatre’s varied booking policy.

Dance in the aisles

The Uptown’s seats are comfortable and have drink holders. Every row has a seat and there is no standing room section. Nor are you allowed to stand up at your seat because you will block the view of the people behind you. But the Uptown does allow people to move to the aisles along the side walls and dance and shake your body there. At the end of the show or during the encore the no-standing rule is somewhat relaxed because the music is coming to a climax and people can’t help but stand and boogie. That is expected and certainly encouraged by the performers on stage.

Where to park

There is street parking near the Uptown after 6 p.m., although on a happening Napa night an empty space may be hard to find. You will find a parking garage a block away from the theatre on 2nd St. between Coombs and Brown streets, next to a parking lot. Our favorite place to park is the Clay Street Garage on 1401 West Clay, which is three short blocks to the theatre.

See a good band, for less

Big-name performers can cost as much as $105 per ticket and are reserved seating only. The price for lesser-known acts can drop to as low as $35. General admission tickets in the rear balcony are offered for some acts and open up on a first come, first served basis. Once you have your tickets, claim your seat at 7 p.m. when the doors open. This can be a pretty affordable way to hear quality live music. The Uptown Theatre, 1350 3rd St., Napa. 707-259-0123.

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