By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most celebrated music festivals in the Bay Area and the nation, the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass brings a free three-day celebration of music to Golden Gate Park this weekend. Now in its 16th year, Hardly Strictly was founded and financed in 2001 by venture capitalist Warren Hellman. The free public concert was held on a single day and initially focused strictly on traditional acoustic bluegrass, but over time, the wide diversity of music the festival encompassed — including punk, world music, New Orleans funk, rock and soul — led organizers to add “Hardly” to the name by 2004.
The festival would expand during the decade that followed, growing to extend over a full three days and include a special children’s program for San Francisco elementary school students every year. While the festival’s benefactor passed away in December of 2011, he left an endowment that would ensure that Hardly Strictly would continue for at least ten years following his death. San Francisco’s Rec and Parks Department named the site of the festival Hellman’s Hollow in his honor.
Perennial guests at the festival include country songbird Emmylou Harris, political firebrand Steve Earle, Texas tunesmiths Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Handcock (who frequently perform together with their reunited early ’70s band the Flatlanders), guitar wizards Bill Kirchen and Buddy Miller, British troubadour Robyn Hitchcock, outlaw country great Kris Kristofferson,local hero Jonathan Richman and many others.
A sprawling line-up of over 100 acts will perform on the festival’s six stages between Friday and Sunday (not including a number of paid nighttime concerts happening at various venues around San Francisco). In addition to headliners like iconic gospel-soul singer Mavis Staples, local garage-rock favorites Shannon and the Clams, indie-rock songwriters Conor Oberst (who once again hosts the Rooster Stage line-up on Friday), Jim James and M. Ward, Boston punk upstarts Dropkick Murphys, LA punk great John Doe playing songs from his latest acclaimed album, Sacramento alt-rockers Cake and ’80s vocalist Cyndi Lauper, HSBG 2016 will pay tribute to recently departed festival participants including Guy Clark (with Terry and Jo Harvey Allen, Jack Ingram, Ely and Earle taking the Swan Stage billed as Hardly Strictly Guy) and Bakersfield legend Merle Haggard (who gets the spotlight with Dave Alvin’s Swan Stage set Friday).
This year, HSBG welcomes back another attraction that was introduced last year with the second edition of the Hardly Strictly Silent Disco, a full three-day schedule of DJs playing a variety of music for fans grooving along with wireless headphones that are provided for free by Silent Disco staff. Highlights include Motion Potion playing the music of Prince, Ren the Vinyl Archeologist saluting the proto disco sounds of NYC DJ Larry Levan, Gordo Cabeza playing classic Mussel Shoals productions and numerous other spotlight sets. For more detailed schedule information and more, please visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2016 website.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
Friday-Sunday, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. FREE
Golden Gate Park