This year's "Holler Down the Hollow" tribute boasts a lineup this weekend that Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival founder Warren Hellman would have loved. It's strictly bluegrass music.
"He'd be on the side of the stage just grinning," says Compass Records co-founder Garry West, who put together the tribute set: "Holler Down the Hollow: A Hardly Strictly Salute to the Masters."
"I had an abundance of riches to choose from," West said, rattling off the bluegrass all-star band that will include Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale and Jerry Douglas.
"It starts with everyone loving and respecting Warren and realizing why we're there in that hollow (now named Hellman Hollow, formerly Speedway Meadow) on that weekend, doing what we're doing."
Last year, to commemorate the first festival after Hellman died, organizers mounted the "Tribute to the Founding Fathers: Warren Hellman, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs."
"This year, it's really just a continuation on that theme," West said.
For well-traveled bluegrass and roots musician Jim Lauderdale, who has played the festival countless times, it's the least he can do.
"I'm real indebted to Warren," he said. "This festival is such an act of love on his part that any way he can be remembered is such a fraction of what we can do."
Along with a back-up band that includes West and his wife and Compass co-founder Alison Brown, they'll focus on several of Hellman's bluegrass heroes — like Hazel Dickens (his inspiration for the festival), Mike Aldridge and icons Scruggs and Watson.
It's a way of shining a light "on what we've lost and demonstrating how it continues," West said. "When you think about the agrarian society, which bluegrass sprang from, when all of those folks are gone, the music will be different. It won't be able to be the same. Even if folks in rural communities continue to play bluegrass, it's not going to be the same because they're shopping at Wal-Mart. They're not growing and raising their food from the hoof up anymore."
But Lauderdale is encouraged by the latest crop of musicians to embrace what revered bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley liked to call "mountain music."
"I'm real optimistic about the generations to come," he said. "I see younger bands that are just terrific at such a young age and they're mastering their art. It's also encouraging to see a young audience being receptive to that music and loving it and supporting it. It's not a dying breed. I think it's just going to keep growing because it's real. You can't deny that."
<i>Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @becksay.</i>