Golden Gate Park will play host to the 8th edition of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend. This festival features dozens of the world’s finest acoustic musicians across five different stages, and best of all, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is totally, completely FREE. It’s underwritten by rich dude Warren Hellman, who makes these three days of music his gift to the people of the Bay Area. [Thanks Warren!]
As a rule, I avoid shows in GG Park, because they’re oversold, poorly organized, and generally a drag. The one exception I make is Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, which is exceedingly well-organized, with plenty of porta-potties and beer (alas, the beer isn’t free). And while it can get crowded (regularly drawing more than 100,000 people over its three day run), the admission price provides the built-in option of walking away at no cost if you start feeling claustrophobic.
The P and I have been drooling over the schedule the last few days. Here are just a few of the acts that we’re interested in seeing:
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss with T-Bone Burnett [Banjo Stage – 5:15pm FRI] – Well worth the trouble of leaving work early on a Friday (darn it!), this show could be the highlight of the whole festival. Plant & Krauss are in the middle of an extensive [Zeppelin-busting] tour that’s seen them play throughout Europe and the US. Their show at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley in late June was an impossibly hot ticket, so this is a real treat.
Listen: Rich Woman
Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women [Rooster Stage – 4:05pm SAT] – Alvin is a commanding performer and showman who always surrounds himself with top-notch musicians. He knows how to fill up the space between songs with a well-told anecdote or joke, and has a knack for connecting with an audience. This incarnation of his group includes Christy McWilson, Laurie Lewis, and Nina Gerber.
Listen: King Of California
Steve Earle & The Bluegrass Dukes [Banjo Stage – 6pm SAT] – I’ve seen Earle many times, but none since catching his performance as AA wiseman Walon in HBO’s excellent series The Wire. He’s never afraid to speak his mind from the pulpit – er, stage – so he’ll undoubtedly have some things to say about what’s going on in Washington and on Wall St. Not to be missed…
Listen: South Nashville Blues
Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys [Banjo Stage – 1:45pm SUN] – The P and I have seen Ralph Stanley a number of times, and two things are guaranteed to happen when he gets together with the Clinch Mountain Boys: 1) He’s going to try to sell you one of his banjos, and 2) He’s going to mourn his late brother Carter, who died approximately 83 years ago. But Stanley is one of the living lions of bluegrass music, and he still knows how to pick a banjo and sing a little.
Listen: O Death
Greg Brown [Rooster Stage – 2:20pm SUN] – This big, strapping folk singer from Iowa has a voice that could melt the butter on your waffles. His songs have lots of dark, strange characters who say and think brilliant things, but more-or-less behave like real people. I’ve never seen Brown before, so this is a show I’m really looking forward to.
Listen: Billy From The Hills
Iron & Wine [Rooster Stage – 3:25pm SUN] – Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) broke through to a larger audience with last year’s terrific album The Shepherd’s Dog. It was full of enough lush orchestration and cryptic wordplay to rival the finest psych-folk albums of the 60’s, and it will be interesting to see how those songs translate to an acoustic setting.
Listen: Boy With A Coin
See you in the park this weekend!
Read the SF Chronicle’s preview of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass lineup.
Check out the official Hardly Strictly Bluegrass site.