The name of the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is pretty telling of its actual line-up: bulky, ironically mismatched, but ultimately enticing. Running since 2001, its thirteenth edition this year continues the tradition of featuring both long-celebrated names and more recent bands, ranging from bluegrass to folk, world music, pop and alternative rock. The more famous acts (Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Conor Oberst and the like) are sure to draw in the masses, but many non-headliners are more than worth checking out as well. The festival is scheduled for the first weekend of October at Golden Gate Park and, most notably, admission is free. Check out the website at for the full line-up, with schedules coming soon!
Father John Misty
Joshua “J.” Tillman got his start releasing independent solo material out of Seattle for several years, but he managed to stick his foot solidly in the folk rock door by enlisting as the drummer for medieval-core four-part-harmonizers Fleet Foxes. However, they lacked a certain humorous narrative, which seems to be Tillman’s bread and butter. So after four years of touring, he said his goodbyes and embarked on a new musical quest under the moniker Father John Misty. Embracing psychedelic rock, folk, country, and even plastic soul on occasion, Misty’s work chronicles the journey of a presumably-fictional mystic of indiscernible sexuality, who travels the land exploring barrooms, bedrooms, and funerals. If tuneful unpredictability is your desire, Misty is your man.
Maybe they were listening to way too much of The Zombies or The Trashmen when they met as Amoeba Records employees. Maybe they smoked way too much weed as teenagers. Or maybe, just maybe, these LA locals caught enough inspirational whiffs of salty ocean breeze to convince them that the world really needed another surf rock band. Whatever the reason for their formation, The Allah-Las proved against all odds that the genre still has a fair amount of kick left in it. Retro production techniques and vast, foggy layers of reverb go a long way in creating the faithfully 1960s vibe saturating their recordings, but their songwriting skill surely does most of the work in this department.
Hailing from neither Mexico nor California (including the actual eponymous border town), the liars behind Calexico charmingly blend elements of Americana and Latin folk in a post-rock format, providing fair rationale for their band name. Even taking a gander at their previous collabs gives credence to this mixture – they’ve featured Iron & Wine and toured with Arcade Fire, but they’ve also featured Jairo Zavala and toured with Ampáro Sanchez. Much of their music is delivered with an aurally scenic anguish, earning their sound the nickname of “desert noir.” While the efforts of trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela pull much of the group’s atmospheric weight, the subtle but powerfully nostalgic vocals of Joey Burns show he’s no slouch either. Much like a California Burrito, Calexico may not be fully authentic but their unique flavor is undeniably delicious.
The Devil Makes Three
Listening to The Devil Makes Three, it might be a bit hard to believe that the trio surfaced not from deep within Dixieland but rather from the opposite side of the country. Regardless of their native coast, this trio broadcasts an absurd degree of liveliness with each of their songs, strumming and plucking behind bittersweet accounts of road life that are sung with all the authority of experience. Over a decade of nationwide touring has done their form good, and their persistence through a band-cestual break-up has shown that they are in it for the long haul. Minimalistic in terms of line-up but rich with regard to sincere zeal, this Faustian force of pseudo-Appalachian folk is essentially what the festival was made for.