Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, or HSB for short (previously Strictly Bluegrass) is an annual free and non-commercial music festival held the first weekend of October in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Conceived and subsidized by San Francisco venture capitalist Warren Hellman, the festival has been held every year since the first event in 2001.
From its outset, the festival has been subsidized by Hellman. Various corporations have offered to sponsor the event over the years, but Hellman always turned them down, saying in an interview, "I want to keep it entirely free and noncommercial". For some performers, the unique fact that the event is unsponsored is very important to character. In an interview with Hellman, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show said that part of what keeps the event focused on the music and the community is Warren's decision to ensure it isn't "consumption driven" and the audience isn't "bombarded with signage".
Originally Hellman intended only to invite bluegrass musicians. But soon artists from other genres were invited to the event, and in 2004 the word "Hardly" was added to reflect its expanded scope. The festival draws very large crowds, nearly equal in number to the entire population of San Francisco. In 2011, the festival drew an estimated 750,000 people over the course of the three-day event.
Hellman first mentioned his dream of holding a festival for bluegrass music in the park to Jonathan Nelson in 2001. Nelson had worked for Bill Graham Presents, and introduced Hellman to booker, Dawn Holliday, and producer Sheri Sternberg at a lunch. Holliday and Sternberg agreed to help and would continue to book acts and produce the festival, respectively, each year thereafter.
From the start, Hellman most wanted Hazel Dickens to perform at the festival. But Dickens, who was known for political songs about workers' strikes, was wary to perform because of Hellman's wealth and background. She later agreed, and went on to perform at the festival every year until her death in April 2011.
The festival name and scope was changed when, at the very first festival in 2001, Emmylou Harris played with her not strictly bluegrass band. Hellman was a fan of her bluegrass sound under the band name, Nash Ramblers, but at the time she was touring as Spyboy. She played the festival as Spyboy, which had a New Orleans style rhythm section. Hellman didn't complain, and "Hardly" was eventually added to the name of the festival in 2004.
The 2011 festival was dedicated to the memory of bluegrass icon and personal friend of Hellman, Hazel Dickens, who died five months earlier and had performed at every HSB since 2001.
The most frequent performers over the years, each with 5 or more appearances, have been:
- Emmylou Harris
- Dry Branch Fire Squad
- Hazel Dickens
- Robert Earl Keen
- Gillian Welch
- Kevin Welch & Kieran Kane & Fats Kaplin
- The Del McCoury Band
- Earl Scruggs
- Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson
- Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
- Peter Rowan
- Buddy Miller
- Dale Ann Bradley & Coon Creek
- Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands
- Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys
- Jimmie Dale Gilmore
- Nick Lowe
- Poor Man's Whiskey
- Steve Earle & The Bluegrass Dukes
- The Wronglers
- "Strictly Awesome". East Bay Express.com. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- "A Bay-Area Billionaire's Annual Gift of Music (Transcript)". NPR. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass". Official Website. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- Peter Lattman (December 19, 2011). "Warren Hellman, 77, Investor Who Loved Bluegrass, Dies". The New York Times.
- Harrington, Jim (2011-10-02). "Review: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass honors a legend". mercurynews.com. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
- "Big Twang Theory". The Bay Citizen. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- NPR profile "A Bay-Area Billionaire's Annual Gift of Music". NPR. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
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