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 Saturday in Golden Gate Park.
Saturday, Oct. 5
Jon Langford and the Skull Orchard Welsh Male Voice Choir (Towers of Gold Stage 11am-11:45am)
Yet another project of the prolific Welsh songwriter and member of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers (and too many other collaborative groups to details in this small space), Jon Langford goes big for this year’s appearance. Fronting an expanded version of his group Skull Orchard, the songwriter will be backed by a sprawling Welsh voice choir, marking the first time he’s staged such a performance at HSB in over a decade. Langford will likely be joined by some of his Mekons bandmates at his annual appearance in Golden Gate Park
The Budos Band (Swan Stage 11:45am-12:30pm)
Over the past 15 years, Staten Island-based crew the Budos Band has been refining its unique style of opiated instrumental grooves, interweaving Fela Kuti’s propulsive Afrobeat rhythms and Mulatu Astatke’s atmospheric Ethiopian jazz with strands of Latin, ’70s cop show themes, and psychedelia. For their 2014 Daptone Records release Burnt Offering, the collective detoured into decidedly heavier territory. Turning the volume and distortion to 11, the band injected heavy elements of Black Sabbath into their sound, crafting what could be described as Afrobeat doom. The band showcases tunes from its latest propulsive release Budos Band V when it plays Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
Mercury Rev and Beth Orton Perform Bobbie Gentry’s Delta Sweete (Towers of Gold Stage 12:30pm-1:20pm)
New York indie-psych outfit Mercury Rev is best known for the expansive psychedelic pop heard on the band’s ’90s cult albums Yerself Is Steam and See You On the Other Side. But for their HSB appearance they will offer up their atmospheric and bewitching full-album tribute to The Delta Sweete, the stunning 1968 effort by singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry. The new album released earlier this year features a variety of singers including Hope Sandoval and Norah Jones providing lead vocals, but this performance will feature British folk artist Beth Orton fronting the album’s mix of Gentry originals and blues standards like “Tobacco Road” and “Big Boss Man.”
The Flatlanders (Banjo Stage 2:15pm-3:05pm)
The Flatlanders formed in 1972 when friends and aspiring songwriters Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore found themselves back in Lubbock, Texas, after having lived in various parts of the world. The collaborative group would not find much success during their initial early ’70s stint together, but once the three songwriters established their respective solo careers in the decade that followed, interest stirred about the Flatlanders and the abortive album they had recorded. Released by Rounder Records in 1990 titled More a Legend Than a Band. The group has been reuniting regularly to perform and record ever since, making appearances at 11 out of 19 HSB festivals.
Calexico & Iron and Wine (Towers of Gold Stage 3:50pm-5pm)
Tuscon, AZ-based band Calexico has been crafting its unique cinematic mix of Americana, Tex-Mex, spaghetti western soundtracks and post-rock since the mid-1990s. Principle songwriters Joey Burns and John Convertino were both members of Los Angeles rock band Giant Sand when the group relocated to Arizona. The musicians would also help found instrumental outfit Friends of Dean Martin before branching off to start Calexico. Releasing a string of acclaimed efforts including 1998’s transporting Black Light and Hot Rail in 2000, the group established a sound that some critics referred to as “desert noir.” In 2005, the band teamed up with Sam Bream — aka noted indie-folk singer Iron & Wine — for their acclaimed collaborative EP In the Reins. The artists recently reconvened to release the follow-up full length album for Sub Pop Records Years to Burn 14 years after originally working together.
Margo Price (Banjo Stage 3:55pm- 4:55pm)
A rising country talent who moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music when she was 20, Price became a fixture of the city’s more traditional, less pop-minded country scene after she and guitarist (and Price’s future husband) Jeremy Ivey founded the bands Secret Handshake and Buffalo Clover. Her own backing band the Pricetags has featured such luminaries as Sturgill Simpson and longtime Marty Stuart Band guitarist Kenny Vaughan. The release of her proper solo debut album Midwest Farmers Daughter on Jack White’s Third Man Records established Price as a songwriter to watch. Subsequent appearances on Saturday Night Live and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and work with country icon Willie Nelson (they’ve recorded a duet and she is set to have her own strain of Nelson’s marijuana brand) have only solidified her reputation.
New Pornographers (Swan Stage 5pm-5:50pm)
A collective of Canadian singer/songwriters and musicians that came together in 1997, New Pornographers was founded in Vancouver, B.C., by a number of established musicians and solo artists including singer/guitarist Carl “A.C.” Newman (formerly with Superconductor and Zumpano), vocalist Neko Case and singer/guitarist Dan Behar (of the band Destroyer, who left New Pornographers to concentrate on that group a couple of years ago). Playing an intricate, muscular style of power pop, the all-star band has released eight albums over the course of 20+ years, including this year’s In the Morse Code of Brake Lights.
Robert Plant (Towers of Gold Stage 4pm-5pm)
Though best known as the voice and main lyricist behind a myriad of Led Zeppelin’s rock radio standards like “Kashmir,” “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Rain Song,” Plant has also had the most successful solo career of the band’s core members. His early albums Pictures at Eleven and The Principle of Moments established a moodier sound less steeped in the blues and hard rock of his music with Zeppelin.
Plant also explored his love for early rock on the surprise hit EP The Honeydrippers: Volume One that featured Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page as well as Page’s onetime Yardbirds bandmate and fellow six-string giant Jeff Beck. Plant would eventually re-team with Page during the ’90s for a couple of albums and tours, but the singer had his biggest commercial success since the ’70s with Raising Sand, the 2007 collaboration with bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss that became a huge hit and dominated the 2009 Grammy Awards. Since then, Plant has performed with a couple of noted backing groups, the roots-minded Band of Joy that included regular HSB performer Buddy Miller on guitar and Plant’s then girlfriend Patty Griffin on vocals which performed at Hardly Strictly in 2011, and his current more worldbeat-oriented group, the Sensational Space Shifters.