Within Golden Gate Park sits the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival — a world where older couples with spreads of wine and cheese converge with the patchouli-scented youths that roam the city streets. Since being established by venture capitalist Warren Hellman in 2001, the three-day free festival that took place Friday through Sunday now boasts more than 750,000 attendees and an eclectic set of 120 musical acts performing on the seven stages.
It’s a festival for every man, woman, child and dog — as there were quite a few in attendance — with a variety of musicians spanning the genres of bluegrass, hip-hop and rock’n’roll. Popular names including Michael Franti & Spearhead, the legendary Boz Scaggs and Los Lobos were featured on the bill, drawing massive crowds of the casual and adoring fans alike.
Small food trucks with labels championing their gluten-free, home-grown, vegan, vegetarian and organic foods littered the sides of the paths within the park. Parents pushing strollers with toddlers, solitary old men with their small dogs and loved-up couples intertwining with one another meandered from one stage to the next. A silent disco interrupted the flow of traffic of the road where people with massive headphones swayed around a figure fashioned out of sticks with a disco ball as a head. Filled with the positive vibes of helpfulness and nonaggression, sharing and familiarity, the festival seemed to be an homage for music lovers of all ages across the Bay and beyond.
Friday’s performers ranged from country bluegrass artists to indie-folk stars. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, who both closed and curated the acts on the Rooster Stage, lightly treaded across the stage, captivating the crowd with his soulful and passionate singing. English folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling’s slow, breezy voice entangled in knots throughout a sea of straw hats of the sun dazed audience. “I feel like Laura Marling just sang me a love song,” remarked the emcee emphatically after her set.
The second day of the festival was perhaps the most interesting of the three days, boasting the likes of Paul Weller, Joe Jackson and Flogging Molly. Paul Weller, now pursuing a solo career after fronting bands such as the Jam and the Style Council, was featured on the Swan Stage. Playing a massive variety of hits ranging from his previous projects to his solo career, Weller captivated the crowd with his powerful and seasoned vocals. Middle-aged men donned in dapper polo shirts bobbed their heads along mouthing every word back at him, while casual fans responded excitedly to the Jam hits “Man in the Cornershop” and “Start!”
Arriving on the Gold Stage after a slow and swoony folk singer-songwriter, Lera Lynn, whose country folk tunes sedated the audience who mostly attended for the calming vibes of her performance, was English singer-songwriter, Joe Jackson. As soon as he took to the stage, those who were casually lying out on blankets, leisurely eating grapes leapt to their feet with vigor. Jackson responded quite positively, engaging in banter with the crowd after placing himself behind his mighty piano. His cutting and clear vocal added an air of controlled calmness to all of Golden Gate Park. Swaying back and forth, his hands moving across the piano keys, Jackson evoked a response of euphoria within the audience after opening with “Is She Really Going Out with Him.” Mixing both old and new tracks, he took the listeners on a musical tour of his discography, and they were more than willing to travel along with him.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a festival for the people — a festival that exhibits the positive and peaceful vibes that it wishes to foster within the community. This is a tradition that surpasses the boundaries of age and social class — a tradition in which people are able to gather together to support and enjoy the music that others have created and an atmosphere of love. And this tradition must continue on to preserve the love of music within the heart of San Francisco.
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