It’s good to hear Conor Oberst happy

Conor-Oberst-@-Fillmore_postPhotos by Mike Rosati // Written by Brooks Rocco //

Conor Oberst with Jonathan Wilson, The Good Life //
The Fillmore – San Francisco
October 4th, 2014 //

“Crank Gillian in my monitor. Guitar and vocals, all the way”, the frontman requested with an impish grin.

With hundreds of songs written and nearly two dozen records tucked under his belt, it would be easy to forgive Conor Oberst were he to appear burnt out from an already bountiful and robust career, a seemingly never-ending touring schedule and a notably difficult year. But during moments like the final All-Star ‘family’ jam at the end of Saturday’s inspiriting show at The Fillmore, punctuated by jubilant appearances by country legend Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and the fantastic Felice Brothers, the singer never seemed more alive.

Buoyed by a band comprised of long-term collaborators along with members of opening act Jonathan Wilson’s own touring ensemble, Oberst deftly led the audience on a scenic journey through some of his best work, both vintage and virginal. Opening with “Hundreds of Ways”, the lead single from his excellent and underrated new record Upside Down Mountain, he enraptured the audience from the beginning with his earnest crooning, smart melodies and a refreshing lack of artifice.

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Perhaps on a high from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (read our review here), which has immersed the city in an overflowing bubble bath of good vibes (Conor’s Family Band played on Friday), the crowd swayed along to Oberst’s occasionally guarded, but authentic and revealing verses. And indeed, as a well-seasoned artist, the show never seemed to drag or let up, from the sweetness of Bright Eyes’ “Bowl of Oranges” to the glorious highlights of “Desert Island Questionnaire”. This is a thoroughly enlivening rock ‘n’ roll band that knows exactly what it’s doing.

Jonathan Wilson for his part, also knows what he’s doing (having co-produced the aforementioned Upside Down Mountain), though at times seemed much more confident playing as a member of Conor’s band rather than fronting his own. Sporting a backwards ball cap and a scraggly, street-kid trench coat, Wilson with his band seemed less sure of his place in the folk-rock canon. As he experiments with his own style, he shines as a collaborator and producer of the excellent musicians he surrounds himself with, especially on this tour.

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All of which culminated in an exultory trio of encores filled with Hardly Strictly heroes. As Dave Rawlings slithered out masterful, melodious country twang over the John Prine tune “Pretty Good”, Conor could be seen soaking in deeply the sublime voice of Gillian Welch (which, indeed, the sound guy eventually cranked up loud enough) and his good fortune to be sharing the stage not only with legends, but with an audience that has grown along with him to the heights he now visibly enjoys. It’s good to hear Conor Oberst happy.

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Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7149

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014 proving to be as diverse as ever

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Written by Mike Frash // Photos by Shawn Reiss //

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

The 14th incarnation of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is shaping up to be one of the finest offerings yet, especially if the four rounds of medley preview clues are any indication.

Adept at balancing legends, local Bay Area acts and fast-rising talent, the curation team for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass never disappoints the hundreds of thousands of music lovers that show up for the free event.

The HSB website has shared the traditional four medleys that preview many of the acts that will play, and variety is the key word (listen below). Returning legends include Emmylou Harris, Chris Isaak, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin, Dave Rawlings Machine and Buddy Miller.

But take a look at the standout indie, rock and neo-soul acts announced so far, including a dash of hip-hop and punk:

•Ryan Adams
•Sun Kil Moon
•Deltron 3030 with The 3030 Orchestra
•Social Distortion
•Yo La Tengo
•Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
•Jonathan Wilson
•St. Paul & The Broken Bones
•The Sam Chase
•Cibo Matto
•Malawi Mouse Boys

History tells us the complete lineup will be announced after the four rounds of medleys — it could come as early as next week!

Watch webcasts, read our survival guide and view our photos from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

Outside Lands 2014 daily lineup highlights


Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
August 8th-10th, 2014 //

So, three-day tickets for Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival sold out in record time. Now’s your chance to snag single-day passes for SF’s premier music festival. Get ready: tickets go on sale Thursday, April 17th at 10 a.m.

Still choosing which day might be best for you? Here’s our take on the headliner options, along with choice picks and reasons to get there early this August in Golden Gate Park.


Friday, August 8th

HEADLINER OPTIONS: Kanye West Vs. Arctic Monkeys (or Disclosure)

Yeezus himself will handle headlining duties on day one, but the real question is whether or not Arctic Monkeys or Disclosure will helm Twin Peaks come nightfall. Both acts are worthy of a headlining slot — time will tell.


Run the Jewels: El-P + Killer Mike , “Rap’s most dangerous Duo”, are returning to SF after their game changing shows last year at the Independent. Expect top notch beats over future-forward production. In a perfect world they would open for West.

Phosphorescent: Matthew Houck’s understated, twisted take on indie rock is refreshingly breathtaking, exemplified most strikingly by the majestic “Song for Zula”:

Holy Ghost!: Ready for a disco-dance party fed by instrumentals? Yes you are. One of our favorite acts from the last year will set Golden Gate park ablaze.

DIGGING DEEP: (reasons to get there early)

• Mikal Cronin
• Greensky Bluegrass
• Typhoon
• Bear Hands

THE VERDICT: Eclectic with as many rap options as dance choices.


Saturday, August 9th

HEADLINER OPTIONS: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers vs. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one’s going to be a pretty simple choice for most folks — the classic rock singalongs versus the contemporary pop-rap anthems. These headliners starkly contrast from one another.


SBTRKT: Known to perform with iconic tribal masks, Aaron Jerome fuses innovative electronic production with drums, synth, keys & live singing, usually with help from touring partner Sampha. SBTRKT’s new EP Transitions delves into icy-instrumental territory.

Atmosphere: Slug and Ant are back this year, and they’ve got a new song entitled “Kanye West”, which doesn’t go after the Day 1 headliner, but it does address hip-hop crowd interactions in a playful, positive way.

Tycho: Scott Hansen is as much a visual artist as he is a musician — his projected imagery melds simple geometry and super slow-mo romanticism and works in hand with his newly cemented band’s ambient, yet driving beats. This one deserves a night time slot, say closing down the Panhandle Stage?

DIGGING DEEP: (reasons to get there early)

• Woods
• Jagwar Ma
• Valerie June
• Trails and Ways

THE VERDICT: Save for a handful of rowdy spots (Macklemore, Duck Sauce, Capital Cities), the offerings are relatively mellow.


Sunday, August 10th

HEADLINER OPTIONS: The Killers vs. Tiësto (or The Flaming Lips)

These two options to end the weekend are, once again, clear cut. But here’s hoping Ranger Dave harkens back to the early years and offers a third headliner option in The Flaming Lips. Their drone-psyche spectacle of a freak out deserves darkness and would offer an incredible third option.


Cut Copy: Every time these electronic-oriented Australians swing through the Bay Area, we’ll be there. Dan Whitford & Co. will make you dance and reach for the sky.

Lykke Li: The Swedish Songstress is returning to the touring circuit this year, and her first offerings from her forthcoming LP I Never Learn are more sedated than swirling. Li’s ownership of the stage and visceral passion request your attendance.

Flume: Skyrocketing electronic-music amalgamator Harley Streten creates big, bold beats centered by a chill tone. Since releasing his self-titled LP to worldwide acclaim in 2012, he’s brought in a host of top level rhymers to give the music new meaning and fresh life (listen below). We’re excited to see how this influences his live show.

DIGGING DEEP: (reasons to get there early)

• Gold Panda
• Courtney Barnett
• Jonathan Wilson
• Tumbleweed Wanderers

OVERALL VIBE: Sunday has a lot of high-decibel acts. A good day for dance enthusiasts.

Check out our Outside Lands 2014 playlist:

OL 2014 Daily Lineups