Easy Pickin’s: Hardly Strictly Preview

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Illustrations: Kira Walker/Staff

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BEN KWELLER, 3:25 p.m., Rooster Stage

From the young age of 15, Ben Kweller has been making audiences swoon with his infusions of musical genres. The San Francisco native first emerged in the music scene with his childhood garage band Radish back in the early ‘90s — although, without much success. Today, at age 31, Kweller has released roughly five solo albums, all of which range in musical versatility from country to punk rock and everything in between. Most recently, he released Go Fly A Kite in February, a pop album nearly three years after his Changing Horses, a country album. Kweller’s true talent lies in his ability to capture a wide array of listeners with his ever so catchy melodic tunes and raw lyrics, no matter the genre the songs falls into.

All in all, his music sounds like a mixture of Ben Folds Five meets early Bob Dylan, with bits and pieces of Tom Waits thrown in there as well. One can be sure to find a fitting sound during his Friday afternoon set.

— Michelle Lin

JENNY LEWIS, 4:25 p.m., Rooster Stage

Red-locked indie darling Jenny Lewis will rock her way back to the Rooster Stage this year. If you’re not familiar with the name, you might recognize her work from Rilo Kiley and Jenny and Johnny, a side project with boyfriend Johnathan Rice. She’s written plenty of catchy tunes, such as “The Moneymaker” and “Scissor Runner.” Although Lewis’s music generally appeals to more alternative crowds, she’s not a complete departure from the bluegrass festival’s lineup. Her sound, whether solo or in a band, has often been imbued with a country influence. Her performance will provide a sightseeing opportunity where hipster meets cowboy. Lewis’ stage presence is subdued yet charming — she’s able to produce album-quality sound live as her gentle alto permeates the audience. She’s joined forces with fellow Hardly Strictly performers Elvis Costello and Conor Oberst in the past. Here’s hoping that they’ll reunite onstage Friday.

— Caitlin Kelley

CONOR OBERST, 5:45 p.m., Rooster Stage

Conor Oberst, now 32, has been building a repertoire for more than half of his life, since he was 15 years old. 17 years and six side projects later, he has developed a sound that is both sophisticated and insightful, pushing the boundaries of poetic lyrics and indie sound. Most prevalently under the alias of Bright Eyes, Oberst is known for his American blues and folk music as well as his poetic lyrical ballads. His politically driven and emotional songs are thought-provoking as much as they are musically moving. In addition to Bright Eyes, Oberst has done a lot of solo work as well as his two main side projects, Desaparecidos and Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. Some compilation of foot-tappin’ acoustics with upbeat melodies will be flowing as this musical genius gets his boots on stage. Expect to see a collaboration with Jenny Lewis as the two frequently pair up at fairs and festivals in California.

— Shanna Holako

ELVIS COSTELLO, 5:45 p.m., Banjo Stage

Elvis Costello, the perpetually bespectacled singer-songwriter, has been around for a while. He has garnered a Grammy Award as well as been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his backing band, The Attractions, in 2003. He is responsible for such classics as “Alison,” “Every Day I Write the Book” and his cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

It’s difficult to trace the gist of his prolific music career. Genre promiscuity is a central characteristic of its breadth. With roots in New Wave, he’s moved from cheesy ‘80s pop to ballet scores to, most recently, country rock. Regardless of what genre he picks up, he sounds like Elvis Costello. In his most recent incarnation, he’s his English self with a Southern sonic layer.

The man has charisma worthy of a drag king impersonator. This should be interesting to witness at a bluegrass festival.

— Caitlin Kelley



With a sandpaper voice and an attitude befitting his roots rocker status, Dave Alvin is an exemplar of American rock. Alvin’s signature cowboy hat, black aviators, red bandana, yellowed smile and incriminating cigarette in hand make him a total badass. The California native has been recording and touring since the ‘80s, taking his bluesy rock across the states. Drawing on country and rockabilly, Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones are hard to peg to one sound. Theirs is the sound of the interstate, which is to say, rock-and-road if there ever was such a thing. If you like Tom Waits’ scratchy croon and talented musicianship — see Alvin handle the strings of a guitar with the deft fingers of decades of practice — then Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones are the guilty pleasure to indulge this round of Hardly Strictly. Check out Alvin’s most recent release, Eleven Eleven and then catch the Guilty Ones at the Star Stage.

— Natalie Reyes

THE LUMINEERS, 2:30 p.m., Rooster Stage

In a time when most folk rock bands sound like poor knockoffs of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers differentiate themselves with a heartfelt earnestness. The band emerged in a period of grief for lead singer Wesley Schultz and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites, and they found solace in music. This reflects their self-titled debut album, where clean notes are untainted by extraneous, messy sounds, resulting in a raw and sincere collection of songs that narrate their various life experiences, in both moments of hope and despair.

The Lumineers’ debut album consists of the perfect balance of upbeat, rollicking songs, like their major hit “Ho Hey” or ballad like “The Dead Sea,” perfectly crooned by Schultz’s soulful voice. As a trio, with cellist Neyla Pekarek, the band successfully maximizes their traditional, rustic folk sound worth experiencing in the meadows of Golden Gate Park.  –

— Ha Duong

HEARTLESS BASTARDS, 2:45 p.m., Arrow Stage

To say that Heartless Bastards is a misnomer is a serious understatement. The Austin, Texas-based band is putting on a front because if there’s anything they have in abundance — besides rock ‘n’ roll chops — it’s heart. Lead singer-songwriter-guitarist Erika Wennerstrom pours just about everything milling about inside her into her plaintive lyrics. Her voice pleads and wrenches, betraying its strength even as it reinforces it. The four-person outfit has honed its live performance since it first formed in Cincinnati in 2003, touring and recording extensively in the years since. Their most recent release, 2012’s Arrow, is Wennerstrom’s pride, and her vocals rise through the bands shivering guitars, heartfelt and poignant as the twang of a string. Heartless Bastards are appropriately scheduled to play the Arrow Stage. The quartet of unlikely cupids are sure to pierce the soul with their faithful crooning and bona fide garage rock sound.   –

— Natalie Reyes

SEASICK STEVE, 6:05 p.m., Porch Stage

Looking like a miscreant out of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Seasick Steve’s trademark beard and overalls emphasize a working class aesthetic. But it’s a not just a look — recurring subject matter of being blue-collar pervade his lyrics while his sound is full of gritty soul. However, the longtime musician, who is in his ‘70s, had his breakthrough in 2006 with Dog House Music. After collaborating with the likes of Jack White and John Paul Jones, playing at numerous festivals and selling out tours, Steve will make his way back to the Bay Area. You would never guess that he hails from Oakland if you were to judge from his heavily Southern-inflected blues rock. And yet it’s a sound that he makes accessible to an array of audiences.

Get ready for him to play his custom-made instruments: The Three-String Trance Wonder, The One-Stringed Diddley Bo and The Mississippi Drum Machine. This lone guitar-picker is sure to rock your docs.

— Caitlin Kelley


RUBBLEBUCKET, 1:25 p.m., Arrow Stage

Rubblebucket is an eight-member indie pop band from Brooklyn whose large size seems to be directly correlated with the diversity of their music. While their sound is reminiscent of Matt & Kim, it is far from a typical indie dance outfit. The band is an incredible conglomeration of sounds, combining a vast array of genres and instruments, making the band’s name apt.

Bringing together afro beats with polysynthetic keys and brass instruments, Rubblebucket is hard to define, which might be exactly what makes them so successful.

Because their band draws from so many different sounds, the only descriptor that can properly capture their two most recent releases, Omega La La and Oversaturated EP is relentlessly catchy. Their funky melodies attracts many, and their dance music aesthetic makes them perfect for the festival stage.

— Ha Duong

GLEN HANSARD, 2:20 p.m., Rooster Stage

Glen Hansard should be a household name. Not only is he the lead singer and songwriter of the renowned Irish band, The Frames, he is also an actor as well as both an Academy Award and Grammy winner. The multi-talented artist is best known for his acting and musical contributions to the 2007 Irish musical film “Once.” Hansard played the lead role alongside Czech singer-songwriter Marketa Irglova and composed nearly the entire soundtrack — including the simplistic yet brilliantly chilling award-winning song “Falling Slowly.” Today, the movie has also been adapted for the stage as a Broadway musical, winning eight Tony Awards of the 11 that it was nominated for in 2012.

The man has been tied to practically every big entertainment award known to humanity. Come Sunday afternoon, Hansard will be sure to deliver an awe-inspiring set. I repeat, Glen Hansard should be a household name.

— Michelle Lin

DWIGHT YAOKIM, 3:30 p.m., Towers of Gold Stage

While the name Dwight Yoakam may not roll off the tongue often when discussing pop, rock or hip-hop, in the world of country and bluegrass, it’s synonymous with easy-listening, rollicking guitar licks and Kentucky pride.

Few musicians have had a career as lengthy and consistent as the 55-year-old Grammy winner, who has sold over 25 million albums. Unlike most artists his age, Yoakam is constantly writing new material, and is currently on tour for his latest album, 3 Pears, which features contributions from musical shape-shifter Beck and fellow country star Kid Rock. For those that are not familiar with his cowboy-powered smooth grooves, he might be recognizable for his side hobby as an actor. Time and time again, Yoakam proves through his continued success that, for him, it’s all about the music. This weekend, his laid-back attitude is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

— Ryan Koehn

PATTI SMITH AND HER BAND, 5:00 p.m., Towers of Gold Stage

If there is one act to see at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival it is Patti Smith, the “godmother of punk rock” herself. Bringing poetry to rock ‘n’ roll and rock ‘n’ roll to poetry since her 1975 Horses, Smith has been a force in the music, art, spoken word, literary and political worlds for decades. Gravitating toward the arts from the beginning, Smith helped bring to life the New York City CBGB’s punk rock scene in the ‘70s, collaborated closely with photographer and AIDS activist Robert Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award for her novel “Just Kids” and released her new album Banga just this year to critical acclaim. As the longevity of her career and impact on other artists such as The Smiths, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth suggests, Patti Smith has become a legendary figure in American culture and is still guaranteed to bring Sunday’s crowd to its feet with both old favorites like “Gloria” and new songs from Banga.

—Lu Han

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