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Boz Scaggs & Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2010

Boz Scaggs & The Dukes of September perform at the HSB festival, October 01, 2010.

Dukes of September - HSB - 2010

HSB 2010 Review - Blogspot

written by John Marcher / A Beast In A Jungle
The 10th Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival rolled into Golden Gate Park this past weekend and though the weather hardly cooperated, it was a glorious weekend of free music for hundreds of thousands of people. With dozens of bands appearing over eight hours on six stages each day, no one experienced the event in the same way- there were simply too many different things going on and this year there was truly something for everyone. I came away from it thinking hundreds of thousands of people has a wonderful time even though it was a very large, diverse, but always calm crowd. People came from far and wide to hear a line-up that was amazingly wide and deep with serious talents from many genres of music. I completely lucked out this year and was able to see it from the "Friends and family" sections of the various stages which made the entire event a relaxing joy, courtesy of Penelope. A big thanks to Warren Hellman for putting it on and to the good folks at Slim's who organized and booked such a great event. Best of all, I found out Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is going to keep going through at least 2025- there's your inside scoop, folks.

For Day 1 I took off work early and even though Friday afternoon featured only three of the six stages and started at 2:00 PM, we were stunned by how many people were already there- the crowd wasn't as large as it would be on Saturday and Sunday, but a lot of people obviously blew off work that afternoon to enjoy the show.

By the time we packed a picnic and made it to Golden Gate Park we were just in time to catch Blue Highway, a straightforward contemporary bluegrass band, who've played the festival many times and record for Rounder Records. Tim Stafford on guitar, Jason Burleson on banjo, Rob Ickes on dobro, bassist Wayne Taylor and fiddler/vocalist Shawn Lane set the weekend off right with a set that dazzled with easy virtuosity and sophisticated playing. They'll be appearing in Northern California four times in November- check out their website for details. I would definitely go hear this band again.

Next up came one of the three must-see acts for me- Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Like a lot of people, I'd never heard of Stanley until "O Brother Where Art Thou?" came out. He's held my interest ever since and next to Johnny Cash, there's Ralph Stanley and that's pretty much it if you want to listen to a singer who sounds like they've been to hell and back and lived to sing about it. Both singers also share the unique distinction of becoming more interesting to listen to in their later years- at least to my ears.

Stanley came out and and delivered a solid set without having to resort to "A Man of Constant Sorrow," which speaks volumes not only about the depth of his songbook but also to his refusal to rest on his laurels. Well into his 80's, he's intent on delivering a real performance and on this he delivered handsomely- giving the receptive crowd an hour long set that dug deep into the darker side of bluegrass and gospel. He's hosting his own three-day bluegrass festival in Virginia in the spring of 2011. It may well be worth making your plans now for attending it.

Stanley's a tough act to follow and it could be imagined that a "supergroup" headed by Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald would be up to the challenge. I usually blanch at the idea of these ad-hoc groups, but I was rooting for this one to succeed because why not? It's not like they're The Eagles, who just tour the country to empty the pockets of baby-boomer suckers in the most cynical way imaginable.

Still, it became evident early on The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue was nothing special, certainly not any better than most bands you could hear at the Saloon in North Beach on any given night. The song selection seemed to be based on the leaders' favorite songs from their youth, which were given a big-band, but ain't we funky, we're rich rock stars who can still get down in a blue-eyed soul kind of way. No doubt these guys can play and sing, but whatever real gifts they brought to this material were mired in a sound mix that left any nuance buried beneath a loud, shiny surface. They sounded like a big bar band, nothing better, nothing worse, but certainly not worth sticking around for an entire set and then having to deal with traffic afterwards so we did what any rational person would do and left to grab some dinner and make the 8:00 curtain for the opera. And we did.

HSB 2010 Review - San Francisco Chronicle

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival draws 600,000

Joel Selvin /San Francisco Chronicle

October 4, 2010

The bluegrass invasion swarmed over the west end of Golden Gate Park again this weekend as financier Warren Hellman threw his million-dollar bash, the 10th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and the park was filled with people playing fiddles, mandolins and banjos - way past the legal limit.

Impresario and banjo enthusiast Hellman opened the Saturday morning session with his own band, the Wronglers, at the small Porch Stage right by the festival entrance.

Wearing a coat embroidered in sequins by his granddaughter, with Stars of David and "Tenth" across the back in Hebrew, Hellman said city officials told him they want to talk to him about his future plans for the free music festival, with more than 60 acts and spread across six stages over three days.

"I told them if they want me to change anything, I have two words for them," he said. "And they ain't 'Happy birthday.' "

As the inevitable chill of the ocean fog swept through Speedway Meadow at sunset Sunday, signaling the end to the idyllic weekend, Emmylou Harris, as she has every year, brought the extraordinary festival to a close, as Elvis Costello, Steve Earle and Boz Scaggs watched from the wings. Hellman joined with a handful of the musicians and played one final song for the weekend.

Costello, featuring accomplices on banjo, mandolin and fiddles, caused pedestrian gridlock during his set Sunday afternoon at the far end of the festival site on the Star Stage, appearing back-to-back with rock poetess Patti Smith, who name-checked William Blake and Lawrence Ferlinghetti before she got through her second number.

If Patti Smith doesn't sound even remotely bluegrass, she joined a program that mixed the finest performers of traditional folk music such as Joan Baez and Ralph Stanley with odd ducks as far from the Appalachians as Trombone Shorty, Jonathan Richman, Fountains of Wayne ("Stacy's Mom") and Michael Patton of Faith No More singing in Italian in front of a 20-piece string section.

Police estimated more than 600,000 attended the festival over the three days, including 350,000 Sunday, the festival's traditional top attendance day. Between the high-caliber talent and breadth of musical styles drawn from inside and outside the acoustic music world, the festival has undoubtedly become the greatest outdoor music festival anywhere.

Almost half of the acts return virtually every year. Dawn Holliday, general manager of Slim's and the Great American Music Hall, who devotes more than half her workload to throwing Hellman's clambake, says somebody will have to die before she books a new act for the Banjo Stage on Sunday, and robust 87-year-old Doc Watson didn't look like that was going to happen anytime soon.

Buddy Miller, guitarist for Harris on Sunday, played an outstanding set on Saturday with his own band and, if he wasn't sitting in with acts such as Kinky Friedman or Patty Griffin, could be seen wandering the grounds and watching from the audience. Harris and Griffin likewise joined Miller for his Saturday set at the Rooster Stage, as did Jim Lauderdale, the Nashville-based songwriter who also played Sunday with Costello.

The festival started Friday afternoon with the Ebony Hillbillies, a group of African American bluegrassers from Queens, New York, who were touted to Hellman by one of his scouts who caught the group in a Manhattan subway station.

With so many attractions competing for attention at the same time on the schedule, festivalgoers on Sunday were forced to make hard choices: Rosanne Cash at the Rooster Stage or Elvis Costello at the Star Stage? Randy Newman played the Towers of Gold Stage, while Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women were rocking leafy Marx Meadow from the Rooster Stage, including an impromptu reunion with his brother, Phil Alvin, who used to sing in their rock band, the Blasters.

Nobody has a better time than Hellman, who played banjo Sunday with Earl Scruggs on the Banjo Stage and backed up clog dancer Heidi Clare at the Porch Stage. "I could put on Hardly Strictly," he said at the cast-and-crew dinner Saturday night, where he, once again, played more banjo. "Or I could buy a Renoir."

The look on his face said it wasn't even close.

Chronicle Pop Music Critic Aidin Vaziri contributed to this report.
Photos: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

HSB 2010 Review - Rolling Stone

By  Barry Walters
Rolling Stone
Oct 04, 2010

“It’s a cool thing, a community,” says Steve Earle about San Francisco’s annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, where he has been a fixture for its ten-year existence. “You never know quite what’s gonna happen until you get here.”

That’s the Texas-raised, New York-based country-rocker’s perspective on SF’s massive three-day festival held in Golden Gate Park as one of its most regular participants.

“He’s my favorite capitalist,” Earle admits.

Last year’s attendance was officially estimated to be 800,000, although that doesn’t include fans who returned multiple times (and, as Earle puts it, “You can never trust the police’s numbers about anything”). This weekend the vibe remained low-key and loving, as indie fans mixed with hippies, kids, and dogs. The bands were highly eclectic, as well: Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton appeared with his orchestral Italian pop cover band Mondo Cane on Sunday evening, while Sharon Jones sang with her funk-soul band, the Dap-Kings, on a nearby stage. The proximity of so much free music made for unexpected moments of pleasure: Bluegrass group Blue Highway sang an achingly beautiful a cappella ballad that could be heard by fans en route to see Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, the Rilo Kiley frontwoman and her singer-songwriter paramour, who emphasized the engaging harmonies in their cranked-up garage-rock. Their Friday afternoon set featured a surprise appearance by a typically natty Elvis Costello, who did a duet with Lewis on “Carpetbaggers,” before returning Sunday night with his Americana-styled Sugarcanes.

Jenny and Johnny’ were followed by T Bone Burnett and Punch Brothers, a bluegrass quintet featuring a particularly lively and virtuosic mandolin player, Chris Thile. Burnett, clad in a suit, recited the Dada-esque lyrics of “Zombieland” from behind shades as the Brothers (actually unrelated ) played, then introduced the Secret Sisters, a Carter Family-esque — and very much related — Alabama duo.

At the same time Friday evening, Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs filled a much larger stage with their Dukes of September Rhythm Revue. The band brought impeccable chops: When they launched into Scaggs’ disco-pop classic “Lowdown,” the groove was as close to the original’s lush mid-Seventies sound as could have been possible in a live outdoor setting. This particular combination of talents meant that one could hear McDonald’s distinctive background vocals on the Fagen-fronted “Peg,” just like on the 1977 Steely Dan recording. Even better was “Something in the Air,” the 1969 countercultural anthem by Thunderclap Newman that still, today, sounds like the greatest John Lennon never wrote. The band gave the track a full-on Sgt. Pepper-style arrangement, complete with ragtime piano break and climactic horns, as the three front men split vocal duties. It was completely unanticipated and yet so right for Golden Gate Park, the nexus of so much San Francisco peace and love.

Saturday’s entertainment was decidedly more somber. Folk legend Joan Baez sang solo for several songs that afternoon, then gradually built up her arrangements. Of course, the best-received songs were by or about Baez’s early Sixties lover Bob Dylan — her 1975 hit “Diamonds & Rust,” as well as covers of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which brought her set to a close with a spot-on impersonation of Dylan’s voice. Conor Oberst maintained the Dylan vibe: Joined by the Felice Brothers, indie-folkies who played their own set Sunday morning, the Bright Eyes leader offered multiple protracted musical climaxes that emphasized his intensity. Even in a free festival, the guy remains admirably passionate.

Passion was the link between Oberst and subsequent Saturday performers Richard Thompson, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Steve Earle. Although his affect was cool, English folk-rocker Thompson generated much musical heat on a damp and chilly day; his complex, melodic guitar solos were particularly fiery. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham, gave this year’s festival one of its most unconventionally charismatic performances: His achingly sincere Louisville, Kentucky-accented tenor contrasted sharply with his engagingly awkward pirouettes, sweeping hand gestures that showed off painted fingernails, and other thespian quirks that kept the audience guessing. Is he serious/kidding/insane/high, or some constantly shifting, inspired combination?

There were no such theatrics from Earle. “As you probably figured out, we’re more Hardly than Strictly this year,” he quipped halfway through his loose but enjoyable Saturday evening set, his first gig with a rock band in five years. He harmonized with wife Alison Moorer, sang early hits like “Guitar Town,” and spoke to the day’s largest crowd about immigration, sobriety, and other issues that inform his songwriting.

“You think this festival would be complete and total chaos, but I think it draws the best behaved audience I’ve ever come across,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s a lot of music out there for free, and its endowed to go on for 15 years after Warren Hellman is gone — but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down that I can detect.”

About HSBF 2010

Eclectic, electric Hardly Strictly Bluegrass bill

Aidin Vaziri / San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco ChronicleAugust 9, 2010 04:00 AMCopyright San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.August 9, 2010

There's a reason they call it the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Patti Smith, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Randy Newman, the Avett Brothers and Rosanne Cash will be among the more than 70 acts appearing at the free concert series Oct. 1 to 3 in Golden Gate Park, a gift to the city by billionaire investment banker and banjo player Warren Hellman.

Many of the Hardly Strictly regulars will also be on the bill for the world-renown event, which marks its 10th anniversary, including Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Steve Earle, the Del McCoury Band and Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes.

Hellman's own bluegrass outfit, the Wronglers, will make a return, too.

Hardly Strictly booker Dawn Holliday, general manager of the Slim's and Great American Music Hall, has plenty of surprises in store along with the usual cache of traditional and contemporary country acts. This year's festival will include appearances by Fountains of Wayne, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Umphrey's

McGee, Jonathan Richman and the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue featuring Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs.

The festival, which featured just eight bands and drew a crowd of about 13,000 in its first years, now spreads over six stages across Speedway, Lindley and Marx meadows. Last year, it drew an estimated 750,000 music fans to the park - almost the entire population of San Francisco.

Set times have not yet been announced.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 10: 2-7 p.m. Oct. 1, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 2-3. Free. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

©2009 hardly strictly bluegrass festival - photo by nora stratton
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