Hardly Strictly Bluegrass brings 80 bands to Golden Gate Park for free

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

If You Go

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass takes place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: Friday, Oct. 4, noon to 7 p.m., and Saturday/Sunday, Oct. 5-6, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The festival is held in Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadow).

A perimeter fence will encircle the festival and there will be only four entry points: at John F. Kennedy and Transverse drives, Fulton Street and 30th Avenue, JFK Drive and 26th Avenue, and at the South Polo Field.

“As the world changes, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass feels the need to respond, prioritizing safety over convenience,” states an HSB press release.

Given the number of people attending, this could lead to long lines at the entry points, so allow time to get in. Entrances open at 9 a.m.

Bring a blanket or low chairs whose seat is no more than 9 inches off the ground. Use public transit, ridesharing or a bicycle to get to the festival if possible; parking is difficult. There’s bicycle parking just below the Porch Stage on JFK Drive.

Bring earplugs especially for kids whose hearing is more sensitive.

You can bring food, but there are lots of food vendors worth supporting. No alcohol is sold. You can bring beer and wine, but no glass containers. No hard alcohol is allowed into the festival.

Coolers are no longer allowed and bags or backpacks must be clear plastic and measure less than 16 by 16 by 8 inches.

Water is available, and you can refill bottles.

For more information, maps, entry points, schedules and Out of the Park concert listings, see: www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com

There’s an ineffable magic about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the free music festival that brings more than 80 bands to six stages in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park the first weekend of October.

That magic should endure during this year’s Oct. 4-6 festival, organizers say, despite the implementation of new safety restrictions triggered by the recent spate of mass shootings.

With a perimeter fence and expanded limits on what you can bring into the festival — no coolers, only clear backpacks; — HSB may not have the free-flowing feeling of past years.

Founded in 2001, the event began as Strictly Bluegrass, the brainchild of investment banker Warren Hellman, with a roster of old-timey bluegrass favorites, such as Hazel Dickens.

After two years the Hellman family decided to include all types of roots and Americana music, changing the name to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Hellman’s son, Mick Hellman, said the family has gone “all in” on the festival, which has continued to gain popularity since Warren Hellman’s death in 2011, drawing an estimated 750,000 people over three days.

“The early years of HSB shaped what we listened to,” Mick Hellman said of his family, “and we look forward to HSB the way most people look forward to their favorite annual holiday.”

Last year, after longtime talent booker Dawn Holliday moved on, the festival brought in Chris Porter, best known for selecting the bands at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival.

His task isn’t easy: satisfy the traditionalists while infusing Hardly Strictly with emerging acts to keep the festival fresh and inclusive.

“I want to keep Hardly Strictly Bluegrass authentic to how it has been historically,” Porter said during a phone interview.

“It has a certain vibe with a handful of legacy acts who meant a lot to Warren,” he said, musicians who have become “the fabric of the festival,” such as Steve Earle.

Yet Porter wants to give new acts a chance and notes that last year, the first HSB he booked, had lots of fresh talent.

Hardly Strictly “could be 12 days and I still wouldn’t be able to book everybody who’s worthy,” Porter said. “That’s a nice problem to have.”

Though he booked 18 Bumbershoot festivals, Porter said, “I don’t think anything was more magical for me than Hardly Strictly last year.”

Among the Hardly Strictly standard bearers appearing this year are Emmylou Harris and Robert Earl Keen. Other legends include Robert Plant, Judy Collins and Bettye Lavette.

There’s plenty of local talent as well, with North Bay singer Ismay and jam bands Poor Man’s Whiskey, Moonalice and Hot Buttered Rum. Hailing from the East Bay are Fantastic Negrito and Whiskerman.

Ismay, the stage name of Avery Hellman, is the Petaluma-raised granddaughter of Warren Hellman. She’ll be performing a set entitled “Songs and Stories from Sonoma Mountain” inspired by her years working on the family ranch.

Poor Man’s Whiskey co-founder Jason Beard recalled that his band began playing HSB at the third festival (2003), being hired to do a show for San Francisco junior high students.

The band, which will play HSB for the 11th time, announced last spring they’d take an “indefinite hiatus” at the end of this year, and Beard said “it means a lot” to play Hardly Strictly on the eve of their break.

If You Go

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass takes place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: Friday, Oct. 4, noon to 7 p.m., and Saturday/Sunday, Oct. 5-6, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The festival is held in Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadow).

A perimeter fence will encircle the festival and there will be only four entry points: at John F. Kennedy and Transverse drives, Fulton Street and 30th Avenue, JFK Drive and 26th Avenue, and at the South Polo Field.

“As the world changes, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass feels the need to respond, prioritizing safety over convenience,” states an HSB press release.

Given the number of people attending, this could lead to long lines at the entry points, so allow time to get in. Entrances open at 9 a.m.

Bring a blanket or low chairs whose seat is no more than 9 inches off the ground. Use public transit, ridesharing or a bicycle to get to the festival if possible; parking is difficult. There’s bicycle parking just below the Porch Stage on JFK Drive.

Bring earplugs especially for kids whose hearing is more sensitive.

You can bring food, but there are lots of food vendors worth supporting. No alcohol is sold. You can bring beer and wine, but no glass containers. No hard alcohol is allowed into the festival.

Coolers are no longer allowed and bags or backpacks must be clear plastic and measure less than 16 by 16 by 8 inches.

Water is available, and you can refill bottles.

For more information, maps, entry points, schedules and Out of the Park concert listings, see: www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com

“We have such a history there,” he said, calling HSB “one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to.”

For festivalgoers, perhaps the biggest challenge is choosing among so many terrific bands.

On Porter’s can’t-miss list is the Mercury Rev and Beth Orton tribute to Bobbie Gentry, the Mississippi singer who rose to prominence in the 1960s and blazed a trail for female songwriters.

This tribute is “only going to happen a handful of times anywhere in the world,” Porter said. “And Hardly Strictly is one of those places.”

Don’t miss older artists, advises Porter, such as Tanya Tucker, Steppenwolf’s John Kay and the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith, who may cut down on touring soon.

And if you liked the late soul singers Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, see the Budos Band, whose members backed those remarkable artists.

Though the fencing and police presence may alter the feel on the ground, this year’s Hardly Strictly doesn’t overlap with Fleet Week.

So festivalgoers “will be able to enjoy the intimacy of acoustic sets,” by artists such as Joan Shelley, states a Hardly Strictly press release, “without noisy jets overhead.”

The music in the park wraps up at 7 p.m. each day, but the party keeps rolling with HSB’s Out of the Park concerts in San Francisco and beyond.

These are benefit shows, with $1 from each ticket being donated to Music in Schools Today, which provides music education.

Out of the Park shows include Robert Earl Keen at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma on Oct. 4, Hayes Carll at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley on Oct. 5 and Mandolin Orange at The Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District on Oct. 6.

Ultimately this year’s festival may not have the innocence of years past, but it should remain beloved by musicians and fans alike.

“It’s my favorite place to play,” said Keen, the alt-country troubadour. “There are no sponsorships, no signage; it’s like going to heaven.”

Michael Shapiro is author of the forthcoming book, “The Creative Spark,” a collection of interviews with musicians, writers and other artists. He covers travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine