By Michael D. Evans
In the long tradition of free music at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival has become an annual institution and a must-attend pilgrimage for music fans up and down the West Coast. Another lineup of outstanding talent is onboard for this year’s Oct. 5–7 festivities¾three full days of music on multiple stages.
Founded in 2001 by Warren Hellman, a private equity pioneer, the festival was originally called Strictly Bluegrass. As the range of acts quickly expanded beyond bluegrass, at the suggestion of Americana legend Jimmie Dale Gilmore the name was changed to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in 2004. Hellman called the festival a “selfish gift” and regularly performed at the event until he passed away in 2011. Hellman said of the festival: “How could you have more fun than that? What the hell is money for if it isn’t for something like that?”
Many artists play the festival almost every year including Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Buddy Miller (who in recent years has showcased a cavalcade of stars), Emmylou Harris, the Flatlanders and Alison Brown. Local stars such as Chris Isaak and Boz Scaggs are also frequent performers at the event.
The performing artists are announced through a series of medley teasers on the HSB18 app in the weeks leading up to the event. Among those scheduled so far this year are Steve Forbert, Los Lobos, Rodney Crowell, Ani DiFranco, Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco), Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Roky Erickson (of the 13th Floor Elevators and a pioneer of the psychedelic rock genre), Deer Tick, Patty Griffin and the Del McCoury Band.
The festival draws about 750,000 people to the park over the three days of the festival. That dynamic makes it different from other festivals in that it can be difficult to move from stage to stage and catch every artist you want to see, particularly on the weekend. To secure space close to the stage, you will need to set up early. Also, download and study the schedule in advance to plan your day. There are ample food vendors, and the pricing is reasonable. And plenty of public transportation is available to get you to the park.
Updates and complete information on the lineup, the schedule, artist photos and bios, a map of the various stages, and festival FAQs can be obtained via the HSB18 app or by visiting www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com/.
Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at email@example.com.