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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014: Three hot days of treating SF

HSB-October-03,-2014-5Photos by Pedro Paredes, Tom Dellinger & Benjamin Wallen // Written by Mike Frash //

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014 //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
October 3rd-5th, 2014 //

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is the best free music festival in the world. There are no security checkpoints, yet a quarter million people get along like old friends each day. You get to choose from seven different stages (a new one was added this year). And you can count on the sun to shine brightly come early October just about every year in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It’s just one of those SF laissez-faire weekends that works.

Warren Hellman’s event and ongoing gift is a real-life Choose Your Own Adventure for music heads while also setting the scene for a weekend-long picnic in the park.

The hottest day of the year in SF was on HSB Friday, so finding shade and a spot in close proximity to a stage was like getting a half-decent apartment rental price in this City — it was basically impossible.

Headliner choices to end the first day were a toss-up, and you really can’t go wrong when choosing between Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst, Yo La Tengo and Lucinda Williams.

Ryan Adams headlining The Banjo Stage on Friday

Ryan Adams headlining The Banjo Stage on Friday.

The Banjo Stage was packed, yet restrained for Ryan Adams, who impressed with a set full of cuts from his remarkable self-titled album from this year. The over-heated audience finally let loose when the sun went down, and Adams, plus his band, delivered a goofy-fun, impromptu song (watch it here) that was made up on the spot. Hellman Hallow erupted in celebration of three (“No, it’s not three. It’s four fucking balloons.”) in the back of the park.

Conor Oberst once again curated the Rooster Stage for Friday, with Waxahatchee and Jonathan Wilson both showing early on why they keep growing more popular. Wilson offered one of the most eye-opening sets of the weekend — the segmented sections of energy connected like a mystery train heading toward infinity.

RELATED: View photos from Conor Oberst’s show at The Fillmore after Hardly Strictly.

If you like music, then you'll probably like Jonathan Wilson

If you like music, then you’ll probably like Jonathan Wilson. Marx Meadow perfectly matched the feel of his show.

Sharon Van Etten suffered from some early technical issues, and the sound output was less than half as strong as other shows in Marx Meadow throughout the weekend. But with every slow-building crescendo, the crowd would stop talking and take heed of one of the most powerful performers around.

The heat effected Van Etten's sound output and between-song banter, but there were still plenty of affecting moments

The staggering heat may have affected Van Etten’s between-song banter, but she still affected us.

Dawes has become that festival set I usually walk by on the way to another, but I’m completely in favor of making “When My Time Comes” the new National Anthem for the United States.

Mini-Boss Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes carries on the energy of Bruce Springsteen.

Mini-Boss Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes carries on the energy of Bruce Springsteen.

The Towers of Gold Stage on Saturday was a classic example of the “Hardly Strictly” side of this bluegrass-based fest. Red Baraat had us dancing, Deltron 3030 with the 3030 Orchestra (and Dan The Automator orchestrating) had us rhyming along, Built to Spill got collective head-bopping going and Social Distortion drew out the punk rock rage in many.

Then, capping the day by seeing Robert Earl Keen hold down Saturday evening duties at the Rooster Stage once again just felt right.

Year after year, the energy at Robert Earl Keen to end Saturday is undeniable.

Year after year, the energy at Robert Earl Keen’s set to end Saturday is undeniable.

SF-based singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek has had quite the year, creating one of the best albums of 2014 while making waves as of late. He bullies his audiences, and he’s directed his ire at The War on Drugs the past few weeks since WOD, one of the best live acts of 2014, overpowered Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon set during the Ottawa Folk Festival.

There was no sound-bleed during Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon set on Sunday, and he had a four-piece supporting him to rework some of his recent work. Songs were slowed down and vocals were turned up with extra echo, placing greater significance on words and phrasing. “Michelene” seemed more tragic, and “Gustavo” lingered in the air.

Kozelek seemed gracious and positive throughout, professing his love for San Francisco by saying “I’m gonna live here and die here”, and based on his 2014 record Benji, I believe him.

Chuck Prophet delivered a full sound with a supporting orchestra on Sunday.

Chuck Prophet during his part on Saturday at the “Holler Down the Hollow” set at the Banjo Stage.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express put on a delightful set with orchestral backing, Tweedy played a handful of Wilco songs solo acoustic (including “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”) and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead finished off the Arrow Stage on Sunday in usual jammy fashion, performing classic Grateful Dead tunes much better than anyone out there today, including Furthur.

What were your favorite sets of the weekend?

Steve Earle, Peter Rowan...

Steve Earle, Peter Rowan…

David Rawlings

David Rawlings

It was fucking hot (for SF)

It was fucking hot (for SF)

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones

A park legend

A park legend

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Timeless couple

Timeless couple

HSB fills in nicely.

HSB fills in nicely.

The Mastersons

The Mastersons

Paul Janeway

Paul Janeway

Good times.

Good times.

Beer.

Beer.

Until next year...

Until next year…

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Comments

  1. Jason Isbell’s Sunday night set was my favorite. Also, loved T-Bone Burnett.

  2. Lone bellow was one of my favs 🙂

let's hear it!

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