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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2023 brings three days of music to Golden Gate Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- One of the most celebrated music festivals in the Bay Area and the nation, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass makes a welcome return to Golden Gate Park for three days of eclectic sounds this weekend. 

Founded and financed in 2001 by venture capitalist Warren Hellman, the free public concert was initially held on a single day and initially focused strictly on traditional acoustic bluegrass. Over time, the wide diversity of music the festival encompassed -- including punk, world music, New Orleans funk, rock and soul -- led organizers to add "Hardly" to the name by 2004. In addition to three packed days of free music in the park, the festival also holds a number of paid nighttime shows in San Francisco, the North Bay and elsewhere. Some of the headliners for the evening shows include R&B act Thee Sacred Souls (who play the Fillmore on Thursday night before appearing at the Chapel Friday for a special dub set being mixed live by reggae production legend the Scientist), fiery blues guitarist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram who plays the Great American Music Halldesert guitar hero Bombino at the Fillmore and Australian neo-psychedelic band the Church at Sweetwater Music Hall. The Hardly Strictly "Out of the Park" concerts also raise funds for the nonprofit organization Music in Schools Today.

The festival would expand during the decade that followed, growing to extend over a full three days and include a special children's program for San Francisco elementary school students every year. While the festival's benefactor passed away in December of 2011, he left an endowment that would ensure that Hardly Strictly would continue for at least ten years following his death. San Francisco's Rec and Parks Department named the site of the festival Hellman's Hollow in his honor.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park
Golden hour light through the trees at the Rooster Stage.  Dave Pehling

After two years of virtual versions of the festival because of COVID, Hardly Strictly returned last year with some of the major changes that were introduced for its 19th edition still in place. Due to security concerns in the modern world in the wake of the 2019 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, the festival will again have four secured checkpoints for attendees to enter as well as new restrictions as to what will be allowed inside Golden Gate Park. The four entrances to the park -- at JFK Drive and Transverse Drive, Fulton Street and 30th Avenue, JFK Drive and 36th Avenue and the South Polo Field -- will be open starting at 9 a.m. (11 a.m. on Friday) where festival goers will be subject to search prior to entry.

ALSO READ: Highlights at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2023

Among the items that will no longer be allowed at the festival are hard alcohol, hard-sided coolers, large backpacks, high-backed chairs and glass containers. Additionally, Hardly Strictly is recommending that attendees use clear plastic backpacks and small soft-sided coolers (9" x 6" x 3"). All larger bags and coolers will be subject to search. More information on restricted items is available on the HSB website.

As with past years, the Friday line-up kicks off at 1 p.m. and features performers on four stages: the new smaller Horseshoe Hill Stage, the main Banjo Stage in Hellman Hollow and the back-to-back Swan Stage and Towers of Gold Stage at the western end of Lindley Meadow. Acts featured on the latter two stages will be livestreamed throughout the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, the entertainment begins at 11 a.m. with three more performance areas presenting artists -- the Rooster Stage, the returning Arrow Stage and the nearby Bandwagon Stage (it appears the small Porch Stage that welcomed attendees as they entered at the eastern end of the festival is no more).  

The Third Mind - "Journey in Satchidananda" (Official Music Video) by Yep Roc Records on YouTube

Returning regular guests at the festival include legendary vocalist and annual HSB closer Emmylou Harris, political firebrand Steve Earle, Texas tunesmith Jimmie Dale Gilmore (performing with his son Colin's new band, the West Texas Exiles), roots music icon Dave Alvin (the Blasters, X) bringing the stage debut of his psychedelic improv project Third Mind with fellow six-string great David Immergluck (the Counting Crows, John Hiatt, Camper Van Beethoven, Monks of Doom) and Camper/Monks of Doom bassist Victor Krummenacher, guitar wizard Buddy Miller presenting his annual Cavalcade of Stars on the Rooster stage, perennial bluegrass traditionalists Dry Branch Fire Squad, Laurie Lewis and her band the Right Hands, and singer-songwriter Peter Rowan as well as noted U.K. songwriter Jon Langford, who takes the stage with the Bright Shiners, a new band that includes Shiny Ribs vocalist/keyboard player Alice Spencer, Mekons fiddler Tamineh Gueramy and Lost Soul guitarist John Szymanski. Other returning artists include Bay Area songwriting favorite Chuck Prophet and his band the Mission Express, dobro master Jerry Douglas and soulful gospel-meets-folk singer Valerie June.

"Refugee" - Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller by aw rs on YouTube

This year, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass will offer up sets from a stunningly diverse range of acts, spanning the sonic spectrum from Oakland-based psychedelic Afrobeat band Orchestra Gold, funky blues prodigy Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, and legendary soul and blues belters Bettye LaVette and Irma Thomas to notable Americana/roots acts like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Dustbowl Revival, legendary singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones (who reads from her autobiography "Last Chance Texaco" at the Horseshow Hill Stage Friday afternoon and performs on the Banjo Stage Saturday) and Australian acoustic guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel to indie-rock favorites Kurt Vile and the Violators, M. Ward and Vetiver, neo-disco dance band Say She She and pop piano maestro Rufus Wainwright. For more detailed schedule information, please visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass website.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2023
Friday-Sunday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fri.) FREE
Golden Gate Park

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