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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival: San Francisco at it’s best

San Francisco had a lot going on last weekend. The Blue Angels were blasting their way from the Marin Headlands to San Francisco in a split second. Boat racers in America’s cup challenged each other to qualify for the big race in 2013. Street fairs & heritage parades dominated The Castro & North Beach. The bottom line was if you didn’t want to get stuck in traffic purgatory, get to your event early.

The wisest of the bay area and beyond got to Golden Gate Park’s newly named Hellman Hallow early last Friday, Saturday and Sunday for one of San Francisco’s newest and best traditions, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. The best strategy for Hardly Strictly is to pick a spot, home-base it there, and go for a couple excursions to one of the 5 other stages. Traveling around the festival this year, there were reminders that this was a bittersweet year. Sole benefactor Warren Hellman passed away last December, and Warren was on the minds of many artists and music aficionados based on the amount of shout-outs and fanfare throughout the three-day musical delight.

SF was treated to three days of pretty excellent weather as well, especially since it’s been densely foggy during this supposed Indian Summer. The pristine weather framed hundreds of thousands of people in one of the cities’ most scenic areas, listening to A-list music for free. What could be better?

One thing that was quite obvious about the crowd is how freaky and/or tolerant everyone is, from children to grandparents. The festival can be oppressively crowded at times; there is no ticketing, perimeter fences or control on the influx of people really. But the crowd takes care of each other and at the same time celebrates the idea of being different. This microcosm that takes place in San Francisco the first weekend of October yearly signifies something that is wonderfully refreshing about SF compared to other major metropolises, where following trends and conforming are keys to fitting in at times. Enough babble about how fun and exciting this festival is – SF music fans enjoyed some inspiring musical performances as well.






Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis tours with “The Twins,” who appear to be twice as big as the diminutive Lewis.


Conor Oberst brings friends for Friday
For the second year, Conor Oberst was granted the honor of curating the Rooster stage. Conor Oberst played a majority of his set with his solo band, then invited Jenny Lewis & the twins for a couple songs, and finally invited all the friends from friday on stage for the finale. Many Bright Eyes songs were played, including the breathtaking duet “Lua” with Jenny Lewis.


Red Baraat

Saturday kicked off with a bang with the instand dance-party from “Red Baraat.” On Facebook they called their 11:40am set a “Reverse Headlining set,” which was actually appropriate. They had the crowd letting loose before noon. All the members of Red Baraat are super animated and have an infections presence.


The Lumineers

The Lumineers’ show in narrow Marx Meadow was perhaps the most packed set of the weekend. You wouldn’t know it from this picture. The excursion to the Rooster Stage revealed an unholy amount of people present. The only spot available was a little spot smushed up against a fence. But it was close to the stage and The Lumineers sounded great. This group is getting more popular by the day; As of today they have the 3rd most listened to album on Spotify in the US. My only regret was not being able to stand up and dance.


The Head & the Heart


The Head & the Heart’s set was highly anticipated, and it will be a lasting memory from the weekend for most. Their sound is incredibly inspiring live, even more so than their only album. This is a Must See Live band, even though they performed the exact same festival set they usually play. It didn’t matter. The Golden Gate Park setting was made for this group. This set was heavenly.


Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Chris Robinson apparently had come out earlier with Claypool Du Twang, Les Claypool’s new outfit. Later on during the final set of the day on the Star Stage, Chris Robinson Brotherhood played all their best songs, and melted faces like it was 1968 in Speedway Meadow. Speedway meadow is where the Grateful Dead played their free shows in San Francisco, and this helped SF become a hub of the counter-culture movement. Speedway meadow is now officially & appropriately named Hellman Hallow after Warren Hellman. Chris Robinson has been channeling the Grateful dead with CRB since he ended the Black Crows and started this jamband. Good choice Chris.


Soul Rebels


One of NOLA’s finest brass groups Soul Rebels got things going again on Sunday at the Towers of Gold stage. They incorporated many catchy cover songs into the repertoire like “Sweet Dreams,” which made the early show fun and upbeat.


The Knitters
The original punk-folk group turned in a mostly alternative country set.


The Del McCoury Band

A concerted effort was made to watch some legends in action this year after witnessing Buckethead, yes that Buckethead, show up 45 minutes late and then hand out merchandise in 2011. Maybe this was the wrong legend – a Nick Lowe excursion might have done the trick.


Patti Smith and her band


Patti Smith was a pleasant surprise. As the sun fully emerged Patti Smith emerged and owned her stage. She had positive, progressive advise to hand out throughout the show, but she did’t come off pushy. This living legend delivered completely.


Keller Williams, Steve Kimock & Kyle Hollingsworth featuring Bernie Worrell, Wally Ingram & Andy Hess


This set seemed like it would be a String Cheese Incident type one-off, and it was. They played five or six songs over the hour. Translation: Songs were 10-14 minutes song. The super-group covered the Talking Head’s song “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” which seemed especially appropriate, and is a consistant SCI cover over the years. They also played the Keller Williams song “Freaker by the Speaker,” which also seemed absolutely relevant in Golden Gate park this afternoon.


Conor Oberst – Late Night at The Fillmore


If you’re bummed the shows end at 7pm, there’s always the night shows in San Francisco nearby…There’s nothing wrong with bookending a truly awesome weekend Conor Oberst.


Until next year…

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Comments

  1. Pretty! This was a really wonderful article.
    Thanks for providing these details.

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