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 17th 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.
Returning perennial guests at the festival include legendary vocalist Emmylou Harris, political firebrand Steve Earle, Texas tunesmiths Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Handcock (once again performing together with their reunited early ’70s band, the Flatlanders), guitar wizard Buddy Miller, British neo-psych troubadour Robyn Hitchcock, Welsh songwriter Jon Langford, country-folk songbirds Gillian Welch and Patty Griffin and many others.
A sprawling line-up of over 100 acts will perform on the festival’s seven stages between Friday and Sunday (not including a number of paid nighttime concerts happening at various venues around San Francisco). In addition to headliners including folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile, noted producer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett, indie-rock songwriter Conor Oberst (who once again hosts the Rooster Stage line-up on Friday), alt-rock favorite Dan Aurbach of the Black Keys, country greats Sturgill Simpson, Lucinda Williams and Junior Brown, the new powerhouse country-folk duo of Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne, and classic rock power-pop heroes Cheap Trick, HSB 17 will offer up sets from a stunningly diverse range of acts covering everything from punk-rock royalty (the Bob Mould Band, led by the Husker Du mainstay and current SF resident, as well as hardcore icons Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins doing spoken word) to propulsive Afrobeat (Seun Kuti and Egypt 80) to avant-garde jazz (a reunion of the late free-jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time Band with original members Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Al MacDowell, Charlie Ellerbe, Badal Roy and Denardo Coleman along with special guests David Murray, Wallace Roney and Marc Ribot).
This year, HSBG once again welcomes back the third edition of the Hardly Strictly Silent Disco with a two-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 as well as a reprise of his epic three-hour psychedelic rock remix set, Tom Thump paying tribute to the music of Brian Eno, Gordo Cabeza playing the music of Outkast and numerous other spotlight sets. For more detailed schedule information and more, please visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 17 website.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 17
Friday-Sunday, Oct. 6-8, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. FREE
Golden Gate Park