Words by David Monnich
WHAT: 13th Annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
WHEN: Fri, Oct 4th (Noon – 7pm, plus kids program 10:30am – Noon), Sat Oct 5th (11am – 7pm) & Sun Oct 6th, 2013 (11am – 7pm)
WHERE: Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadows), Lindley & Marx meadows in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
While ticket prices for music festivals have steadily increased over the past decade, San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival remains an anomaly. Nowhere else in the United States can you catch three days of music with over eighty bands and six stages for free. Thanks to the generosity of the festival’s late founder Warren Hellman, it has remained free of charge and free of commercial sponsorships since 2001. Moreover, attendees may also bring food and alcoholic beverages (no hard alcohol & no glass containers). Although Hellman passed away a little over two years ago, he left an endowment ensuring that the festival will continue in its current state for years to come. This year marks the festival’s thirteenth anniversary, and the lineup is as strong and diverse as ever.
Friday’s performances will only be held on three out of the six stages and feature a heavy emphasis on indie-folk artists, including Conor Oberst, who will be curating and headlining the Rooster Stage, The Felice Brothers, The Cave Singers, and First Aid Kit. The Southwest desert ensemble Calexico will headline the Arrow Stage. Noteworthy bluegrass acts during the day include progressive innovators Seldom Scene and the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band featuring Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo. Bonnie Raitt compliments the sunset with a performance on the Banjo Stage.
Hardly Strictly gets into full swing on Saturday with headlining sets by Texas artists Steve Earle & The Dukes, The Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock), Robert Earl Keen, and East LA Chicano rockers Los Lobos in celebration of their 40th anniversary. Other highlights from the day include folk rock innovators Mike Scott & Steve Wickham of The Waterboys, Nick Lowe, and Paul Kelly. Bluegrass aficionados can get their fix with Tim O’Brien featuring Bryan Sutton & Mike Bub, The Jerry Douglas Band, Spirit Family Reunion, and Holler Down the Hollow: A Hardly Strictly Salute to the Masters.
If you can only make it to one day of Hardly Strictly, respect the Sabbath and come on out Sunday. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring vocalist Edie Brickell bring their humor and virtuosity to the Banjo Stage for a mid-day show. Other bluegrass performers include The Brothers Comatose, Trampled By Turtles, and the legendary Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys. Gogol Bordello, The String Cheese Incident, and Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell close out the festival. Also, be sure to check out The Devil Makes Three, Justin Townes Earle, and Allah-las in the early afternoon.