All photos by Kyra Kverno
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass kicked off on a scorching Friday night in Golden Gate Park with the thick smell of dust, eucalyptus, food vendors and, well, the neglect of personal hygiene. Oh, San Francisco.
At the music festivals to which I am accustomed, whether there is admission or not, there is always some form of security at the entrance. At Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, however, while there were security guards present, there were absolutely no security entrances (bag checks, etc.). This is not to say there weren’t rules, but those rules were loosely adhered to. Alcohol was not for sale but was permitted in the park as long as it wasn’t in a glass container, although that rule was blatantly disregarded with bottles of wine tucked into back pockets, bottled beers drooling in pasty white hands and, most surprisingly, lots of bottles of hard liquor being passed around. Tobacco smoking was also prohibited, a rule reiterated several times throughout the festival, always with a particular annunciation on the word “tobacco”—Californians love their wacky tobacky.
Friday was the tamest day of the weekend, with only four stages running; on both Saturday and Sunday, there were six. While sacrifices due to scheduling always have to be made at festivals, John Prine was definitely on my “not willing to sacrifice” list—and I’m glad I didn’t. He did not disappoint. Beginning his set with “Spanish Pipedream,” Prine was just as charming as we all expected him to be. Ryan Adams took the stage after Prine with songs off his new album, as well as older material from Heartbreaker, with witty, playful commentary in between (a staple of his shows). Other highlights included Jason Isbell and Sun Kil Moon.
That said, sound quality varied from stage to stage with some artists being next to inaudible unless you were literally right up front or on the side of the stage. Regardless of the festival’s flaws, Golden Gate Park was gorgeous and good music was everywhere.
– Alicia Gallagher