Bay Area Beats: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Above: "Wild Bill Jones" by Doc Watson
This week Bay Area Beats looks into the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which runs this coming Friday through Sunday in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Now, normally I don’t pay much attention to music festivals that come through the Bay: they’re expensive, crowded and dirty; everyone smells and it’s hard to get anywhere near the stage for the thirty-odd minutes each group has to perform. But every year I put all that aside and bike into the park because the show lineup is just that good. And it’s FREE!
So if you’ve got some spare time this weekend, whether three free days or just a couple hours one afternoon, I highly suggest stopping by to hear some great American music. There are simply too many good acts to mention, so please bear with me when I leave out some great performers (for example, I haven’t included Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, or Patti Smith since I figure their reputations precede them). Without further ado, your live show picks for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass…
MC Hammer, Star Stage, 11:30 AM
Yes, you read that right. For the third year in a row, MC Hammer will once again kick off the music festival. Better tell your boss about that “dentist appointment” you forgot about Friday morning. The real question is whether the former Billboard king will be sporting “Hammer pants” at 11:30 in the morning. There’s only way to know for sure…
Patty Griffin, Rooster Stage, 2:45 PM
Griffin recently released “Downtown Church” (recorded in a church, believe it or not), mixing traditional gospel and blues to create a truly great Americana record. Griffin has written her fair share of songs as well, so expect to hear a blend of traditional spirituals and original compositions (it’ll all be boot-stompin' material!).
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Banjo Stage, 12:55
The relatively new bluegrass and jug band might prove to be the most fun band to see at the entire festival this weekend. The Chocolate Drops came together to revive and celebrate traditional black bluegrass music by covering old classics, new pop songs, and of course creating songs of their own. You don’t have to be a bluegrass fan to be a fan of these guys – they’re that good.
Gillian Welch, Banjo Stage, 4:20 PM
Though raised in New York City, to hear Gillian Welch’s voice and guitar style you’d assume she was born in Nashville. Welch and musical partner David Rawlings have been touring and making music together for nearly twenty years, celebrating the traditional Appalachian, folk and bluegrass musical styles. They’ve made country music accessible to people who don’t like country music; walk by the banjo stage on Saturday afternoon and you’ll hear why.
Doc Watson, Banjo Stage, 3:00 PM
Despite all the young up-and-coming performers on deck this weekend, I am most excited about seeing the 87-year-old guitar and banjo legend, Doc Watson. Famous for his flatpicking guitar style, Watson has been implemental in keeping traditional country and roots music alive in this country, and Sunday will be no exception.
The Avett Brothers, Arrow Stage, 5:45 PM
Last year, the hip young bluegrass band of choice for Sunday afternoon was Old Crow Medicine Show; this year it’s the Avett Brothers. The Brooklyn-based, Carolina-raised band are about sentimental as you can get. They’ve recently added a piano to their band, but you can still expect plenty of banjo. Whatever instruments they’ve got up there, expect it to be heartfelt and loud.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Rooster Stage, 5:55 PM
Hell yes! I love me some bluegrass, but after three straight days, I wouldn’t mind switching it up a bit. And what better way to that than with the 60s era soul and R&B rhythms of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The funky 9-piece outfit will play one of the last shows of the weekend, so stick around until the end.