|Hardly Strictly Bluegrass / One of the premiere music festivals|
in the country -- and it's free, too!
The first weekend of October holds a special significance for my wife and me because it's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass weekend. What has become one of the premier music festivals in the country over the past 15 years has become an annual highlight of our San Francisco cultural calendar.
Oh, by the way, did I mention Hardly Strictly is free, too?
There's no place better to be in San Francisco on a gorgeous, beautiful autumn weekend than in Golden Gate Park at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the late Warren Hellman's gift to The City. Although the Bay Area billionaire investment banker and benefactor -- himself a spirited banjo player and a lover of bluegrass music -- died in 2011, he left an endowment to ensure its existence for many years to come. There are no corporate sponsors.
|Larger than life / Likeness of Warren Hellman|
looks out over the Banjo Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
Last weekend, the 15th edition of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass returned to the western half of Golden Gate Park spread out over seven stages with its usual eclectic mix of talent -- over 100 live acts -- including Punch Brothers, Gillian Welch, Ry Cooder, Boz Scaggs, Joe Jackson, T Bone Burnett, Los Lobos, Neko Case, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Steve Earle and perennial closer Emmylou Harris.
|Americana singer Lera Lynn / Her music has been|
featured in the HBO series "True Detective".
My wife and I ventured out from our East Bay home across the Bay via BART and rode the N Judah Muni Metro train out to 19th Avenue and walked a mile or so to the Park for the first two days of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass -- and we were thrilled by what we heard. On Friday, we arrived early afternoon in time to camp out on the Marx Meadow grounds in front of the Rooster Stage to enjoy the pleasing sounds of the Felice Brothers and Laura Marling.
|Chris Thile of Punch Brothers / Spirited and spontaneous.|
I later learned that there's a wonderful story behind the band's name. It comes from a critical line of an earworm jingle in the Mark Twain short story "A Literary Nightmare." In it, the chorus of the jingle consists of two lines, "Punch, brother, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passenjare," that are said to be the mantra of railroad conductors.
|An American rocker / T Bone Burnett sang protect songs.|
On Saturday, we eagerly returned and camped out on the far end of Lindley Meadow at the Towers of Gold Stage, the western-most stage on the festival grounds for much of the afternoon, listening to Lera Lynn, whose work has been featured on HBO's True Detective crime drama series while awaiting for Joe Jackson and Boz Scaggs to take the stage. Toting a picnic basket full of food and beverages, we unfurled a large beach towel on the Lindley Meadow grounds and soaked up some sunshine and good sounds.
|Fast forward / Joe Jackson still steppin' out in song.|
"We're soldiering on. We learned 40 songs for this tour. If I f*ck up the words, blame the sun!" the ever-restless Jackson joked.
In his defense, Jackson was blinded by the bright sun, despite wearing shades, and his ability to rely upon an iPad that contained song lyrics propped up on his grand piano was all but stymied. Still, the dapper Jackson remained a good sport through it all, and his 50-minute, 10-song set was much enjoyed and appreciated by all.
|Boz Scaggs / Having a lot of fun with music, more than ever.|
On our way out of the festival, we paused for a few minutes on the periphery of the Banjo Stage grounds to catch a few songs by iconic roots rockers Steve Earle & the Dukes.
As much as we would have liked coming back for a third day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Sunday, we were both musically and physically spent. But it felt good. Instead, from the comforts of home, we caught portions of sets by Neko Case, Los Lobos and DeVotchKa via the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass live stream to whet our music appetite.
|Paul Weller / His ever-changing moods.|
We look forward to returning next year and doing it all over again.
To see a complete list of artists who performed at the 2015 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival as well as to link to the webcast archive of selected performances:
All photographs © Michael Dickens, 2015.