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 18th 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 regular guests at the festival include legendary vocalist and annual HSB closer Emmylou Harris, political firebrand Steve Earle, Texas tunesmiths Jimmie Dale GilmoreJoe Ely and Butch Handcock (once again performing together with their reunited early ’70s band, the Flatlanders), bluegrass icon Del McCoury, roots-rock revivalist and Blasters founder Dave Alvin (who performs songs from a recent collaborative album with the above mentioned Gilmore, guitar wizard Buddy Miller, British neo-psych troubadour Robyn Hitchcock, noted U.K. songwriters Jon Langford and Nick Lowe, country-folk songbirds Alison Krause and Patty Griffin.

A sprawling line-up of over 80 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 starting Thursday night). Some of the headliners include contemporary bluegrass act Trampled By Turtles, alt-folk heroine Ani DiFranco, Wilco leader and noted producer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy, alt-rock pranksters Ween, psychedelic garage-rock legend Roky Erickson, folk-rock icon Graham Nash, gospel-soul great Mavis Staples, veteran LA-based Latin-rock giants Los Lobos and rising honky-tonk favorite Dale Watson.

HSB 18 will offer up sets from a stunningly diverse range of acts covering everything from Latin hip hop (Ana Tijoux)  to hard-grooving jazz funk (Greyboy All Stars) to British indie rock (Gomez) to psychedelic folk (local favorites Vetiver). One new addition this year will be mandolin virtuoso and former Nickle Creek member Chris Thiele recording an edition of his NPR show “Live From Here” that took over the spot of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” at the Towers of Gold Stage line-up on Friday afternoon. The show is set to include appearances by former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, New Orleans indie-rockers Hurray for the Riff Raff and songwriter Erin Foley). For more detailed schedule information and more, please visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 18 website.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 18
Friday-Sunday, Oct. 5-7, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. FREE
Golden Gate Park

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