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

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- 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.

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 returns 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.

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 has instituted new bag requirements similar to other paid music festivals, football stadiums and arenas. Only clear plastic backpacks will be allowed into the park and even small soft-sided coolers (9" x 6" x 3") will only be allowed if being used for medical or child care needs. Any restricted or oversized items will be turned away at all entry points, so to avoid the frustration of having to return things to your car (or worse, abandon them altogether), check the festival FAQ page carefully. Given that less people will be bringing food given the restrictions, Hardly Strictly will also be expanding the number of food vendors on site this year.

While there will not be any COVID restrictions as far as vaccine or masking requirements at the festival, HSB is still encouraging all attendees to wear masks -- especially when in close quarters -- practice distancing and maintain hand hygiene. Individuals should not attend if you have tested positive for COVID or had close contact with someone with COVID in the five days before the festival. The festival recommends attendees get vaccinated and get tested ahead of the festival. Free PCR COVID testing and vaccination will be available by the Bandwagon stage.

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 current collaborator and HSB mainstay Dave Alvin), guitar wizard Buddy Miller presenting his annual Cavalcade of Stars, perennial bluegrass traditionalists Dry Branch Fire Squad, Laurie Lewis and her band the Right Hands, and noted U.K. songwriter Jon Langford who takes the stage with a combination of his two main bands, the Waco Brothers and the Mekons. Other returning artists include British rock icon Elvis Costello -- a longtime perennial guest during the early years of HSB who plays for the first time in a decade -- and banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, who will play the Swan Stage Sunday with his high-powered acoustic project, My Bluegrass Heart.

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

A sprawling line-up of over 70 acts will perform on the festival's seven stages between Friday and Sunday, not including a number of paid nighttime concerts happening at various venues around the Bay Area as part of the Hardly Strictly Out of the Park series starting Friday night. Some of the headliners for the evening shows include the Waco Brothers and Bob Schneider, NYC Afrobeat revivalists Antibalas (both performing at Sweetwater Music Hall in San Rafael), Costello -- who plays the music of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter for two sold-out benefit shows at the Great American Music Hall to raise funds for the Prader-Willi Homes of California, modern folk-rock songwriter and Mumford & Sons namesake Marcus Mumford at the Fillmore and a special show celebrating Hyde Street Studios at the Alcazar Theatre featuring Jimmie Dale Gilmore with fellow Texas musician Rob Gjersoe as well as an array of local talents including alt-rocker Forrest Day, jazz saxophonist Richard Howell, noted songwriter and guitarist Chris von Sneidern (The Sneetches, Flying Color, Flamin' Groovies), gifted singer and guitar player Pamela Parker with her band Fantastic Machine and more.

This year, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass will offer up sets from a stunningly diverse range of acts from influential, heavily-sampled British soul band Cymande, funky New Orleans favorites Galactic and Seratones, and Friday's headlining Southern rock greats Drive-By Truckers to western swing legends Asleep at the Wheel, notable Americana/roots acts like Jake Blount, Charley CrockettBonny Light Horseman, Amythyst Kiah, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers and Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder Rhiannon Giddens with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, bluegrass notables Alison Brown and Sam Bush and an anticipated set by ex-Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison and six-string wizard Adrian Belew (Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, King Crimson). For more detailed schedule information and more, please visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass website.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Friday-Sunday, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fri.) FREE
Golden Gate Park

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