Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Last weekend marked one of the busiest ever in San Francisco and certainly since I’ve been here. News reports predicted that more than 1 million spectators would be headed into town. For a city whose population sits at an already tight 700,000, that’s significant. The Blue Angels roared through the sky for Fleet Week, million dollar yachts ran along the bay in the America’s Cup, the Giants and 49ers gave it a go in home games, and the Castro Street Fair offered San Franciscans of all stripes a walk on the wild side. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass descended upon our neighborhood and Golden Gate Park for a 3-day free music festival.

City planners were warning of epic traffic jams, and SFMTA’s head called it “the World Series of Transportation.” With the bicycle heralded as the way to get around the city over the weekend, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition set up bike valet stands all around town.

Remembering last year’s outing to Hardly Strictly where temperatures reached in to the 80s and weekend attendance topped 800,000, we were tempted to close the blinds and hole up post-apocalypse-style with food and drink. The other alternative was a plan to flee to the free museums in Oakland.

In a last minute decision Friday night, we agreed to embrace the insanity (“When in San Francisco…”) and test the waters with one band at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Saturday. “Maybe,” we told ourselves, hopeful but not quite believing the argument, “with so many events in town, there wouldn’t be the same crush of people as last year.”

And I am so glad we did.

On Saturday, with a little strategic planning, we worked our way into the park at 30th Ave, walked straight to the Star Stage, and found a small plot of grass between those hardy festival goers that had been there for hours. A short wait later, Australian trio the Dirty Three put on a killer show. Warren Ellis reigned in top form and introduced songs with non sequiturs the like of which have never been heard before or since. Jim White’s drumming was fluid and simply mesmerizing. And Mick Turner was solid and stoic through it all.

Encouraged by a level of hassle that barely registered, we made plans for a neighborhood Sunday ride anchored by sandwiches from Fredy’s Ocean Beach Deli and two more sets at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

We found a nice spot near where we’d been on Saturday, got settled, and dove into our enormous deli sandwiches that were still hot from bread fresh out of the oven. Giant Giant Sand led off the morning with an early 11AM start with a set that started mellow like the day but had the groggy crowd on its feet by the end. Led Zepplin’s John Paul Jones even joined the band on stage and accented songs with one of a kind mandolin solos, and trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela absolutely killed it. I developed a new crush: Howe Gelb.

Even the stage change went quickly hanging out with my new pal Atlas the Akita and sipping whiskey. Before I knew it, the Knitters (the country/rock/punk incarnation of X) were jamming. Dave Alvin and John Doe tore it up. Even Exene got into the groove once her mic stopped blitzing out.

Sun, food, bikes, Golden Gate Park, and music. Ingredients for a 5 star weekend in San Francisco.


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