Eclectic Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Unites Emmylou Harris, Richie Havens in San Francisco

October 5th, 2009 by Josh Eells Leave a reply »

Photograph by Jay Blakesberg

Warren Hellman is the kind of billionaire investment banker who makes it hard to hate billionaire investment bankers. Every year, Hellman — a successful venture capitalist and an amateur banjo player — organizes something called the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, a three-day celebration of picking and strumming in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It’s open to all and 100 percent free — and every year, Hellman picks up the tab. Since its inception eight years ago, with two stages and nine bands, HSB has grown into perhaps the largest free festival in the country: Over the weekend an estimated 500,000 fans crammed into this year’s installment, more than Coachella, Lollapalooza and All Points West combined.

Tom Morello, Emmylou Harris with Robert Plant and more: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in photos.

Emmylou Harris was the fest’s very first headliner back in 2001, and Hellman named the thing Strictly Bluegrass hoping to guilt her into playing some. (She didn’t, so they had to add the “Hardly” later.) Now the lineup is a cross-section of almost every kind of American roots music — from R&B legends like Booker T. and Allen Touissant to NPR folkies like Steve Earle and Aimee Mann to young indie-rock Turks like Okkervil River and Dr. Dog. And, of course, banjos, banjos, banjos.

The weekend began with MC Hammer performing “U Can’t Touch This” for a bunch of schoolkids and ended, as is now customary, with Emmylou Harris. In between were even more highlights: the neo-old-schooler Gillian Welch turning the Band’s “The Weight” into a Kentucky hoedown; the actor Steve Martin, in his moonlighting gig as a banjo picker, cracking wise throughout his set; revered British proto-punk Nick Lowe breaking out the acoustic guitar for...

Article Source: Rolling Stone : Rock and Roll Daily


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