By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Music festivals will often throw attendees into a quandary by scheduling multiple must-see acts at the exact same time, and this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 19 is no exception. Below is a highly subjective tip sheet on some of the recommended acts and hidden gems playing Friday in Golden Gate Park.
Friday, Oct. 4
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (Banjo Stage 1:20pm-2:05pm)
Austin-based blues/soul artist Black Joe Lewis has been refining its pugilistic mix of horn-heavy soul and vintage garage-rock since he first picked up a guitar in the pawn shop where he worked in the early 2000s. The gruff-voiced guitar-slinger nodded more to the Otis Redding/James Brown school of retro-soul on early independent albums, but those recordings led to a deal with Lost Highway/Universal Motown for his debut album Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! in 2009, co-billed with longtime backing band the Honeybears. While his 2013 effort Electric Slave embraced a more primitive psych-blues style reminiscent of late ’60s Chess Records releases, Lewis and his group have since returned to their earlier horn-driven, bluesy garage-funk style. They are currently on tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!
Bill Frisell Harmony with Petra Haden, Hank Roberts & Luke Bergman (Rooster Stage 1:35pm-2:25pm)
One of the most eclectic guitarists to emerge since the early ’80s, Bill Frisell has traversed a vast terrain of music during his remarkable career. From his early days as go-to session recruit for atmospheric jazz label ECM, through his time as an important avant-garde player among New York’s downtown deconstructionists, to his later wide-ranging exploration of pastoral Americana, Frisell’s unmistakable tone, ear for melody, and prodigious gifts as an improviser have cemented his reputation as a modern guitar giant. His Harmony project finds him delving into country, folk and bluegrass standards with the exceptional vocal/instrumental trio of Petra Haden (daughter of the late jazz bass great Charlie Haden, who also plays in the band That Dog), Hank Roberts and Luke Bergman.
Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express (Swan Stage 1:35pm-2:25pm)
Mixing modern lo-fi sensibilities with storytelling songs and swampy roots influences, former member of ’80s country/neo-psych group Green on Red Chuck Prophet released a string of celebrated albums during the 1990s, including the semi-autobiographical Homemade Blood and the clanking, Tom Waits-tinged The Hurting Business. Prophet has issued a number of acclaimed efforts since then, including the historical San Francisco travelogue Temple Beautiful in 2012. His latest, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins on Yep Roc Records in 2017, earning another round of ecstatic reviews. Self-described by Prophet as “California noir,” the songs on the collection ruminate on mortality, whether lamenting SFPD officer-involved shooting victim “Alex Nieto” or paying respects to David Bowie and other passed legends on “Bad Year For Rock And Roll.” In addition to his early afternoon set Friday, Prophet and his band will hold court Friday and Saturday night at the Make-Out Room in the Mission District, headlining two shows that will also feature an array of surprise all-star guests who also performed at HSB.
Kronos Quartet’s Music For Change: Pete Seeger @100 (Banjo Stage 2:45pm-3:35pm)
A San Francisco institution for over four decades, the contemporary classical Kronos Quartet has become one of the most renowned string quartets on the planet. While they often play commissioned works by such notable avant-garde and minimalist composers as Arvo Pärt, Henryk Górecki, John Zorn, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley, the quartet also branches out into the world of popular music, playing songs by Jimi Hendrix, Television, Sigur Ros and Bob Dylan. For Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the group reprises it’s salute to iconic folk singer Pete Seeger that was performed during the Kronos Festival at the SFJAZZ Center earlier this year.
Shooter Jennings (Rooster Stage 1:35pm-2:25pm)
While he wouldn’t be blamed if he simply picked up the outlaw country mantle inherited from his legendary parents Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings has had a wildly varied music career since he first got started in the early 2000s. Initially playing in the southern tinged LA glam/trash punk band Stargunn, by 2004 Jennings had kicked off a solo career. Though mostly sticking to traditional country, Jennings has detoured into electronic rock (his concept album Black Ribbons and Countach (For Giorgio), a tribute to Italian producer Giorgio Moroder) and hard rock. His latest recording Shooter is a straight forward honky-tonk effort.
Tanya Tucker (Banjo Stage 4:15pm-5:05pm)
Playing before big state fair crowds before she was in her teens and scoring her first hit single “Delta Dawn” in 1972 when she was only 13, country star Tanya Tucker has spent most of her life in the limelight. Her string of hits would continue through the decade, including the sudden image and sound shift of her rock-oriented 1978 album TNT with its provocative cover of the former teen star in tight black jeans. While the ’80s were marked more by Tucker’s celebrity relationships (Waylon Jennings, Glen Campbell, Andy Gibb and Don Johnson were among her paramours) and her substance abuse struggles, she would come back to establish herself as one of modern country’s great singers. Her new album While I’m Livin’ was produced by fellow HSB performer Shooter Jennings and Brandi Carlile (who co-wrote seven of the ten songs).
Bettye LaVette (Rooster Stage 4:20pm-5:20pm)
One of the great surviving soul singers to first make a mark during the 1960s, Bettye LaVette scored several hit singles ( “My Man — He’s a Lovin’ Man,” “Let Me Down Easy”) while still in her teens before hitting a serious drought that lasted until she notched the disco hit “Doin’ The Best That I Can” in 1978. Despite a Motown contract in the early ’80s, LaVette would abandon her recording career for years of stage work. It wasn’t until she released a string of comeback albums for Anti- Records including the classic I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise and the first of several reissues of her lost 1972 Atco album Child of the Seventies in the 2000s that the singer began to get the respect as one of soul music’s finest song interpreters that she long deserved. Her more recent efforts like Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook and her collection of Dylan covers Things Have Changed have only solidified her reputation.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones (Banjo Stage 5:55pm-7pm)
In the space of just a few short years. Birmingham, Ala.-based soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones has risen from total obscurity to national acclaim thanks to the transcendent, gospel-tinged tracks heard on their stellar 2014 debut Half the City. Carried by the powerhouse vocals of frontman Paul Janeway, the group quickly rose from club engagements to selling out major theaters and getting invited to perform at music festivals (including Outside Lands a couple of years ago). The band plays songs from its latest more modern R&B-influenced recording Young Sick Camillia.