Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival :: 09.30.11-10.02.11 :: Golden Gate Park :: San Francisco, CA
A full gallery of James’ photos from HSBF 2011 begins at the end of this review!
With the weather being near perfect for October in San Francisco it brought out over 600,000 people to Golden Gate Park over a three-day span. The festival has evolved from a strictly bluegrass lineup to a more eclectic lineup that has featured anyone from Earl Scruggs to Buckethead. This is one of those festivals where you have every intention of going from stage to stage to see your favorite artists but find yourself at one stage for the day soaking up the sunshine and a lineup varying from big names to musicians you might not have heard before.
Friday, September 30
When David Bromberg and his Quartet began, David stated that he had been wanting to play the festival for 11 years and finally had that wish come true. Bromberg came on strong with his blend of blues and folk with songs like “Nobody Knows How I Feel,” the acoustic “Dark Hollow,” and ended with David explaining he was “Nobody’s Fool.”
One pairing that was true to the Hardly Strictly theme was the bluegrass sound of The Del McCoury Band and the New Orleans jazz sound of Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This talented group of musicians recently recorded an album together in San Francisco and will be opening Preservation Hall West sometime next year. Throughout their set they wove bluegrass and Dixieland jazz, and had the crowd on their feet dancing along with the traditional “I’ll Fly Away.”
Speaking of legends, when you go back to the early 60s and 70s there’s one major rock ‘n’ roll band that most think of – Led Zeppelin. These days frontman Robert Plant is not doing heavy rock songs but is in more of a different kind of band with The Band of Joy, which features a super-group of musicians with Buddy Miller on guitar, Patty Griffin on vocals and guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott. His set started off with the classic Zeppelin song “Black Dog,” though a slower, in-your-face rendition of the tune. During the set, which was not only Zeppelin covers but original Band of Joy numbers, Plant and his band wowed the extremely large crowd. When their set ended with another Zeppelin classic, “Ramble On,” Plant and the Band of Joy were called out for an encore, which are rare at this festival, and finished the night with “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and “Gallows Pole.”
Saturday, October 1
The The Alison Brown Quartet played a style of bluegrass that leans towards the jazz side of the genre. Within her set, her two children sang “Old Dan Tucker,” which brought out the sunshine. Hardly Strictly veterans Gillian Welch and David Rawlings gave a spectacular performance, including both classics and songs from Gillian’s most recent endeavor The Harrow & the Harvest. In a nod to the Bay Area rock scene, the duo brought their set to a close with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”
Before the festival lineup is announced you know one artist that will close the Banjo Stage on Saturday night, namely the one and only Steve Earle. This year, Earle brought back his band The Dukes and Duchesses, which includes his wife Alison Moore. Earle, who recently had a role in the highly acclaimed HBO series Treme, came off with his hardcore troubadour style of music. Earle played both acoustic and electric during his set, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band sat-in with him on the New Orleans-inspired “This City.” One song in particular that really stood out during the set was Allison Moore belting out Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” over a hushed crowd of thousands. Earle talked about how the people keep coming and coming to this festival and how it will continue to grow. He finished his set with The Animal’s “Warm San Franciscan Nights,” and proceeded to the merchandise booth to sign autographs and pose for photos with his fans.
Sunday, October 2
The Devil Makes Three took the stage next, taking it up a notch with their high energy, bluegrass-fueled rock. The crowd returned that energy with dancing and eventually a mosh pit – unexpected at a festival like Hardly Strictly but not unusual for this Santa Cruz-based band. Their set featured classics like “The Tow” and the infamous “Old Number 7” with the crowd singing along to most tunes. The Arrow Stage became thick with fans gearing up for an afternoon filled with jam band favorites Hot Buttered Rum, The Mother Hips and Dark Star Orchestra.
As the festival was coming to a close, Warren Hellman thanked the crowd and everyone involved with the festival. He also announced the annual Sunday Banjo Stage closer, Emmylou Harris. Emmylou was her usual happy self and sang like an angel as she covered Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl.” Harris simply radiates the sound of Americana music.
The 11th Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was another huge success. A big thank you goes out to all involved with the festival, especially Warren Hellman for putting it on. For the large crowd that turns out every year it’s amazing how few incidents arise – a testament to the positive vibe that is spread throughout the weekend by the musicians and fans alike. It’s less than a year away until the next Hardly Strictly and one can only fathom what’s in store next.
Continue reading for pics from Saturday…
Continue reading for pics from Sunday…
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