The twelfth edition of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, from October 5th-7th in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, will prove to be a bittersweet occasion. Founder & 100% funder of this free festival Warren Hellman passed away this past December after a battle with leukemia. Hellman built his wealth as a co-founder of the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, but always had a passion for music. Hellman called his festival a “selfish gift,” one that he, the musicians and the community could all enjoy. In 2006, Hellman said, “How could you have more fun than that? What the hell is money for if it isn’t for something like that?” Hellman set up an endowment to make sure Hardly Strictly continues long past his death. The city of San Francisco honored Hellman after his passing by renaming Speedway Meadow “Hellman Hollow.”
So this will be the first year Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival takes place in Hellman Hollow. Coincidentally or by design, the artist select is going back to it’s roots before they added “Hardly” to the festival name. The first three years were ‘Strictly Bluegrass.’ Last year Buckethead performed. This year, most acts playing the festival are in some way countrified.
Here are 10 shows to consider attending:
Tribute to the Fouding Fathers: Warren Hellman, Earl Scruggs & Doc Watson
The world has also lost two legends in the past year that were fixtures at Hardly Strictly. Earl Scruggs & Doc Watson will only be with us in spirit, and the first set that pops off the artist list is this tribute to Hellman, Scruggs, Watson. Expect this set to end Saturday or Sunday on the Banjo Stage. Expect a superjam that will include Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, Buddy Millar, and every performer that was close with trio being celebrated. Expect plenty of tears.
The Head & The Heart
This group from Seattle Washington was formed in 2009, have put out one self-titled album, and keep filling bigger venues by the month. In June they sold out a three show run at the Fillmore San Francisco. The Head & the Heart is popular for a good reason – they are a must see live act.
Rubblebucket is an American indie-dance band from Brooklyn, NY. They are captivating to watch, they put out a wall of sound, and they make you want to dance. There are eight musicians in the group, and they are lead by musical couple Alex Toth and Kalmia Traver.
Keller Williams, Steve Kimock & Kyle Hollingsworth featuring Bernie Worell, Wally Ingram & Andy Hess
This set looks like a Bonnaroo super-jam. Keller Williams has plenty of experience in this type of roll leading String Cheese Incident at many one-off shows. Steve Kimock is one of the best electric guitarists in the world. Seriously. And Kyle Hollingsworth is the keyboardist from String Cheese Incident. This should be a jam-filled fun time.
Much like The Head & The Heart, The Lumineers have put out one hugely successful album and their star is rising. The three main components to the group ooze with charisma. The core of the band consists of Wesley Schultz on guitar and lead vocals, Jeremiah Fraites on drums, percussion, mandolin and vocals, and Neyla Pekarek on cello, mandolin, piano, and vocals. The songs from their self titled album are ridiculously catchy. This group from Denver, Colorado are a must see live act.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Do you like Chris Robinson’s voice and the music of the Grateful Dead? Yes? Than this is the show for you. Chris Robinson toured with Phil Lesh and friends for a couple years, and it clearly rubbed off on him. He ended the Black Crows and fully committed to this jam band. Neal Casal is a filthy guitarist who is right up there with Steve Kimock. It would not be surprising to see Phil Lesh or Bob Weir join the group for some Grateful Dead numbers.
Conor Brings Friends for Friday
For the first time in 2011, Conor Oberst was invited to curate his own stage on Friday, and Golden Gate Park was witness to Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Kurt Vile and other great acts. Conor has been invited back this year, and he’s bringing Jenny Lewis, Ben Kweller, Beachwood Sparks, Chuck Prophet & Mission Express, & Simone Felice. Conor should be performing his solo material on the Rooster Stage. Put in for a vacation day at work, get there early, and park your ass in Marx Meadow for a lovely afternoon.
The Civil Wars
The album “Barton Hollow” from The Civil Wars was released in early 2011 to massive critical success. The band won the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album in 2012. The duo, singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White, craft emotional songs that build with beautiful harmony, and should fit the tone of the weekend.
As their website states, Red Baraat puts out “…a sound so powerful it has left the band in its own utterly unique and enviable class. These days you are as likely to ﬁnd Red Baraat throwing down at an overheated and unannounced warehouse party in their Brooklyn neighborhood as you are at the Barbican or the Montreal Jazz Festival, or Lincoln Center.” NPR called Red Baraat one of their favorite live shows of 2011. These upbeat party-starters will get butts shaking.
Steve Earle & the Dukes (and Duchesses)
TV oriented people might know Steve Earle as Harley Watt, the actor who plays a musician on Treme. TV oriented people are wrong. Steve Earle is a musician who can also act. Earle is a political lefty from Texas, and he has the ability to entertain just as much with stage banter as he does with his songs. He performed a solo set at the Warren Hellman celebration concert in February, which included a song he wrote for Warren Hellman. We should hear that one again at 2012 Hardly Strictly.
10 More Shows Not to Miss:
Claypool Duo de Twang
Elvis Costelo Solo
The New Orleans Bingo! Show
Subscribe to our “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival” playlist on Spotify.
Night Shows in San Francisco
Friday October 5th:
Dead Winter Carpenters – Brick & Mortar
Break Science – Mighty
Reckless Kelly – Slim’s
Dry the River – The Independent
Shpongle – The Warfield
Saturday October 6th:
Jenny Lewis – Great American Music Hall
The Soul Rebels – Boom Boom Room
John Talabot – Public Works
Big Gigantic – The Regency Ballroom
Glen Hansard – The Fillmore
Sunday October 7th:
Conor Oberst – The Fillmore
Michael Kiwanuka – The Independent
What sets are you looking forward to?