My favorite weekend of the year once again held up as such. Despite the extreme heat, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I attended Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. I’ll forever be grateful to Warren Hellman for leaving this amazing event to the city of San Francisco as his legacy.
I’m also grateful to my friends from my “internet music nerd” forum who truly make it a memorable weekend, especially those who get up at the crack of dawn to put down tarps and are generous enough to share them. The wonderful people both local and from around the world that I get the privilege of spending the weekend with, make it even more awesome.
To skip the prose and boil it all into a list. My top five acts of the weekend were:
Now onto the recap…
Friday certainly ended up being the chillest day for me. Met up with my friends Chris & Sandheep at the Rooster Stage for Waxahatchee. Enjoyed Cerulean Salt immensely, and was glad that my friends appreciated this recommendation. Dig her voice and quiet guitar, but I’d definitely love to see her in a more intimate setting. Popped up to the tarp for The Good Life, before popping over to the back of the Star Stage for a song or two of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Neither of these were particularly memorable.
Got to Arrow a little early for HFTRR and was surprised to find so much room there! We didn’t have an official tarp, but spotted the gang at a good spot nearish the front fence. I can’t believe I hadn’t made more of an effort to see this band. No theatrics, just absolutely rock solid music making for the entire set. Definitely the one show where I was 100% wrapped up in the experience for the whole show. Revisiting the new album and back catalog first thing at the office this morning. So yeah, to any one out there who are like “Well, I do like this album, but maybe I’ll catch them live sometime…” I say make next time that sometime!
Drifted back to Rooster for Sharon Van Etten. Her voice gets stronger each time I see her. She certainly dominated the stage and I’m excited for her growing popularity. That said, I prefer curling up in a ball and listening to her music. “Save Yourself” and “Your Love is Killing Me” were standouts from this set.
We packed up at this point and caught part of Lucinda Williams (from the far back). She wasn’t really doing it for us though and we meandered over to Ryan Adams. I’m glad we picked him because it sounds like Yo La Tengo (who were playing at the same time) were terrible (bummer, as they’re one of my faves). Heard a lot of Ryan’s rambling and a couple songs (including Sweet Carolina). By this point we were fairly pooped (it was SO HOT HERE) and decided to beat the crowd before the end of the set.
Since I pretty much passed out as soon as I got home on Friday (no night shows for me…my apartment is 1/2 mile out of the park and impossible to resist after a day in the sun), I made it up and out early on Saturday. Glad to catch a bit of The Mastersons at the tiny Porch Stage on the way in. Lovely singer-songwriter duets. Nice to have a mellow start to the morning, as the day quickly evolved into a dance party.
Red Baraat started off the dance party for me at the Towers of Gold Stage. My second time seeing them (last year at Stern Grove) and I probably won’t see them out of a fest/free setting, but they really are a fun band. By this point it was already getting super crowded, so after the set I decided to chill with some of friends of friends at the tarp while waiting for Deltron 3030, which I knew would draw a crowd. I’m not the biggest hip hop person, but these guys are ABSOLUTELY WORTH SEEING. Probably a 12 piece string section, four horns, back up singers, a full band, including one of the most joyful drummers I’ve ever seen. This is nerd hip hop all about some sort of dystopian future, so it draws quite a diverse crowd (plus the decade between albums made for an interesting age gap). They closed out with an insane version of the Gorillaz’s (Del the Funky Homosapien was part of that collective too) “Clint Eastwood.” I was never that big of a Gorillaz fan, but 40,000 people singing this in the sunshine is something to behold. If you went to this show and didn’t walk away with a giant smile, I can’t help you.
Decided not to venture away before Built to Spill as the crowds just kept growing. Tarp filled up with our crew for BTS. As usual, Doug Martsch’s guitar playing took me to my happy place. When they kicked off with “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, I was worried that we may only get 4 songs during the 50 minute set. They did end up going a big over, but it was a solid mix of new and old. Glad to hear a couple of the recent albums, since they had an older set the night I caught them at Slim’s in August. But honestly, they could just dick around on the instrumentals for 50 minutes and I wouldn’t care. I heart BTS so much. And I’ll never get sick of “Carry the Zero” live.
By this point I’d been on my feet for about four hours and needed a break from the sunshine (and food!). Headed to the far back of the Star Stage for Mavis Staples and realized I needed to go home after “I’ll Take You There”, as the idea of trying to combat the crowds for Social Distortion gave me massive anxiety. Plus I drank about 10 gallons of water and the portapotty lines were getting worse. The glorious thing about a free festival…you don’t feel badly cutting out early. Thank you, Warren!
Opted not to rush getting into the park on Sunday. Would’ve liked to have caught Robbie Fulks, but knew it was going to be another long, hot day. Arrived a bit after noon and stopped at Banjo to catch a little bit of Hot Rize on the way in (figured I should add some Bluegrass to my Hardly Strictly), while scoping out where the tarp would be for Tweedy. Cut out after a few songs (the banjo and guitar playing were super impressive), to get over to Rooster for Sun Kil Moon. Found local friends Mike and Mike at the tarp. My first time seeing SKM/Mark Kozelek, so no comparison for me to past performances. Nice to get the duet with Will Oldham, so I didn’t feel bad about rushing over to see that show. Solid set, though one of the Mikes pointing out how literal the songs are, with the sample lyric: “I went to Walgreens, and wanted a bag, but it cost ten cents,” meant I heard that lyric for most of the rest of the act.
One of these years I will get to the night show at Make Out Room, but happy to finally see Chuck Prophet at HSB. Just like Deltron on Saturday, an orchestra on stage definitely adds to the experience. Fun show and enjoyed the “Shake Some Action” cover.
Everyone caravaned over to Tweedy pretty easily, and surprisingly it wasn’t too packed over there either. Didn’t quite know what to expect with the Sukirae album out, so was really pleasantly surprised to get the Jeff Tweedy solo set added into the performance (with all respect to Spencer). Happy to close out my HSB with “California Stars.”
All in all, always one of my favorite weekends of good friends, great music and sunshine!