Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014

HSB, Warren Hellman’s gift to the City, is not just one of the best things San Francisco has to offer, but one of the best musical celebrations experienced anywhere.

Yes, I’ve referred to it as a career fair for transients. And still, in this fourteenth edition of the completely free festival, the Upper Haight panhandle crew seems to relish the opportunity to recruit more nouveau hobos. The environs speak for themselves. Music, weed, and wagging tails all over Golden Gate Park. And on this first weekend in October (what I hope ends up being the hottest few days of the year) Hellman Hollow, Marx Meadow, and every other little patch of grass along JFK, seemed instilled with with a little more magic. A little more charm. A lot more b.o.

But there’s something else going on here. It’s evident in the lack of giant corporate-sponsored tents. The ease and peacefulness that accompanies every set, and every performance. In a City under an increasing amount of fire for out-of-control housing costs, tech startups spinning out of tech startups, and macromanaged microhoods infested with microapartments, it’s wonderful to see a park full of free music and BYOB picnic areas.

It ended up being a busy weekend. We had planned on going to HSB Saturday after the Giants NLDS game, but by the time Brandon Belt hit his go-ahead homerun in the top of the 18th, Golden Gate Park was being reclaimed by the squirrels and koalas.*

HSB_02But I went Friday afternoon, and caught some Lucinda Williams and Conor Oberst. I first saw Conor onstage at The Fillmore in 2003. Back then, performing with Bright Eyes, he took pulls from a bottle of red wine between every chord, and was barely able to remain upright. More than a decade later, and he’s in his fifth year of curating one of the stages. Maturity suits the kid pretty well.

*there are no koalas in GGP. but it’s easy to convince certain people otherwise.

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