Warren Hellmans' Hardly Strictly Bluegrass live at Golden Gate Park
Updated: May 9
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a San Francisco institution thanks to the late, Warren Hellman. A successful businessman with an intense love for live music. Hellman also loved played the banjo and was the primary sponsor providing funding for this event, to this day, even eight years after his death. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival is held every October in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Thousands of music lovers show up in droves, some know why its free, some do not. I think the man behind this event should be celebrated more, and have gratitude felt by all who enjoy it. I am very grateful to the Hellman Foundation for continuing to share Warrens' love for music with the people.
This year, the weekend of October 4, 5, and 6th was the nineteenth year of the three day music festival. In 2011, Speedway Meadow in the park, was renamed Hellman Hollow to honor Warren Hellmans' history of philanthropy and civic involvement in San Francisco, and leaving a wonderful musical legacy of his own. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, has six stages and numerous acts from 11am till 7pm each of the three days every year. It is surely a beautiful weekend for music lovers of all kinds. The feel of the festival was calm, chill and postive vibes all round. The security this year, had to be tightened (sadly) due to all the terrible senseless violent random happening in the world today. But the attendees seemed to follow the new rules, bringing in transparent bags containing their food and drinks. And everyone, including the security, seemed to be enjoying the weekend to the fullest.
It all began with the Bluegrass genre in mind, but, when people pointed out that not all the music at the festival was pure bluegrass... the anwswer to music goers pointing this out, was repeadtedly, "it's hardly, strictly Bluegrass", so the name stuck. And nineteen years later we continue to have a wonderful music event even years after the founder, Warren Hellman has passed. Generously, he set up a foundation before his passing to continue this festival.
This year the lineup was jam packed with an assortment of genres including much Bluegrass, with sprinklings of Rock, Folk, and even a bit of Blues. With acts such as Robert Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters, Fantastic Negrito, Emmy Lou Harris, Judy Collins, Black Joe Lewis, The Infamous StringDusters, Betty Lavette, The New Pornographers, and Chuck Prophet to name but a few.
Attendees cannot possibly go to all the stages and all the performances, so before attending, its best to decide which acts to watch. We did this, suggested by dear friends who were attending the festival for their nineteenth year. We carried a print out of our highlighted choices, managing to get to nearly all of them. For my partner and I, the weekend consisted of more than sixteen miles walked. By Sunday night we were knackered, complete with aching feet, but it was totally worth the exhaustion!
We attended performances by Fantastic Negrito, Jackie Greene, Chuck Prophet and the rock god himself, Robert Plant! Also attending other shows to see what all the talk is about. Like, St Paul and the Broken Bones, Stringdusters, Will Kimbrough and others. St Paul and the Broken Bones simply blew my mind. I've been told to see them for about a year...the friends who told me they are a 'must see' were correct! WOW! They are kind of indescribable so I highley suggest seeing them if you can. As for the Stringdusters...they attracted a huge and very excited audience. Although I am not keen on their music, as its a tad too twangy for my taste, I can see why others love them. The Waterboys, Will Kimbrough and Jackie Greene were also stand out as far as excellent sets we got to attend and one of my favourites, Fantastic Negrito was indeed fantastic on that Sunday at the festival.
There are many artists that I saw and more that I didnt get to see. Just touching on a couple that were very impressive aside from St Paul...As for Fantastic Negrito - he got his music out to many more people than his normal size shows, which are usually a tad smaller. His performance at HSB was early in the day on Sunday, and attracted a huge audience, as it should. He is so talented. I'm already a huge Negrito fan. If youre curious about this artist..Look at my previous Negrito blog to see more about this dynamic performer. And see him! I would bet money that soon he will be headlining stadiums. Why? He has that certain something like The Stones have, or Springsteen or any of the headlining dynamos over the years. I also loved Jackie Greenes' set, as well as the rock god himself, Robert Plant and his band, The Sensational Space Shifters. The Waterboys and Will Kimbrough overlapped at different stages. The Waterboys were great and I had terrible trouble leaving their set to catch Kimbrough. I managed to catch the last song of Will Kimbrough wishing I had seen more because the one song was excellent! Friends we went with, are more Bluegrass/country/folk fans and we are more into the rock bands, so our pals choices for the weekend were very different. All good, all very much enjoyed, and everyone we know, had a wonderful weekend. Thank you again, to the generous Warren Hellman foundation, for providing this beautiful gift to all us music lovers.