Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 15. October 2,3,4. San Francisco. Golden Gate Park.
It’s that time of year again. I’ve been to most of the fifteen Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festivals. It’s still an incredible event. Yes, it will be crowded. It’s free! San Francisco authorities estimate 750,000 will attend during the three days. Crowds can be overwhelming. There are ways to avoid the real crush of the crowds. I tend to lurk on the periphery anyway.
The Warren Hellman family still bankrolls Hardly Strictly. Warren passed away a couple of years ago, and he made sure that a trust fund would keep the festival going. It costs the city of San Francisco nothing. HSB even pays for any damage done to Golden Gate Park during the event. It’s still Warren’s gift to the people and city.
There didn’t seem to be as many big show business names this year. No Dolly Parton or Willie Nelson. Big acts bring out clueless throngs. There were still plenty of familiar names and some new ones too. It didn’t seem to bother attendance.
The best way to do the festival is to “Get a spot,” and spread a blanket, but it gets harder for me sit on the grass all day. I’d rather wander around anyway. There are four stages going on Friday, and six on Saturday and Sunday. It’s amazing how many different acts you can see in one day. There are some acts that are “musts,” but sometimes it’s just a matter of chance who I see.
This will read more like a list and it will be hard to read at times. Song titles are in quotes. Sometimes they are guesses or the first line from the song. Corrections are welcome and appreciated. Sometimes half the fun is going back and trying to figure out who I saw and heard. I will make a few of my usual cynical comments on the event and the crowd, but I can only describe a small slice of what goes on in Golden Gate Park over this magical weekend. I tend to focus on the unusual in crowd situations. Most of the crowd are “normal” looking people. So, if you can’t stand the crowds, or you just missed it, here’s the annual report.
My plan this year was to go early and to leave early. It’s a much different atmosphere in the morning and early afternoon. It’s easier to get around and there’s just more room. Much of the festival is streamed live on the Hardly Strictly web site. The band Moonalice sponsors the webcast. Seeing it online has been frustrating in the past, but the technology is smoother now. I believe that music is always better live, but after five or six hours in the park, I cut some corners this year and watched the last hour of the day online. Three days in a row at this event can be challenging.
There is a Baby Boomer, Woodstock feel to the crowd. It’s a real throw back to the old days. People share more and want to help each other out. It’s part of the long tradition of free music in the park. Things get a bit crazier near the end of each day when people pour in to see the bigger acts, but even then there is usually the unique courtesy seen at big events in San Francisco. The tradition of free music in Golden Gate Park goes way back into the history of San Francisco.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sweetness, peace and love. There was a disturbing report in The Examiner the day after the festival ended. A body was found in the park near the festival grounds. The feel good atmosphere wasn’t marred, because most of us didn’t hear the story until the next day. Few at Hardly Strictly knew what happened. More details unfolded in the week after the festival, and I’ll give them to you after the report. It’s the first fatality at HSB that I can remember.
Friday. 10/2. There are only four stages active today. There will be six going on Saturday and Sunday. It all starts at noon at the Banjo stage with Dry Branch Fire Squad. I’m here for Ron Thomason’s dry humor and stories. They open with a Bluegrass instrumental. At least HSB starts with a Bluegrass song. “We’re the strictly part of Hardly Strictly,” Thomason tells us. “Echo Mountain.” “Can You Be Mine.” A Gospel song mentioning Ezekiel and the trip to Jordan.
These guys are the real deal. They wear country style suits and ties. They’re professional! Thomason talks in a laid back Southern drawl that can sometimes mask his biting humor. “I’m not talking too fast for you now, am I?” He tells us that the first time he met Doc Watson, Watson was on his roof fixing his TV antenna. “This was a scene of existential angst.” Thomason made the speech for Watson’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Girl I Left Behind.” “Someone You Used to Know.”
Thomason has been a long time family friend of the Hellmans. He tells us he met Warren “at the races.” “Later, I saw him announcing bands at the Bluegrass festival.” Thomason had no idea how rich Hellman was. He asked him, “How did you get a job announcing bands at a Bluegrass festival?” Warren said he knew someone in management. Thomason later figured out Hellman was more than management.
Mandolin player Tom Boyd has a mandolin that was owned by Bill Munroe. The story is that an enraged woman smashed it to pieces. Munroe sent it back to Gibson for “some warranty work.”
Guitar player Brian Aldridge gets a dig from Thomason for once being in a Country and Western band. “He played in a band with men who wear makeup.” Thomason goes on a long diatribe about “that other kind of music,” that defies summary.
“Seven Spanish Angels.”
Gospel song of the year: “Lift Up.”
Thomason announces that Ralph Stanley will have to cancel his appearance at the Banjo Stage on Sunday. He broke his hip. I’ve seen Stanley almost every year at HSB, and he’s always inspiring. Some of the older musicians from the first HSBs are no longer with us. Stanley is one of the last of the originals. Here’s hoping he can make it back next year.
Gillian Welch song: “Rolling Home.” “Orphan Child.” The 2015 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival starts with some real Bluegrass from some long time festival stalwarts!
In past years the cell phone thing was nearly out of control, but people text more now. It does cut down on obnoxious chatter. “Where are you?” “Dude! I’m right by the stage!” There will be more oblivious people as the day goes on, but there are less people yelling into their cell phones. It’s only because the technology gets better.
They’re setting up a Hammond B3 organ for the “Psychedelic Soul” of the Monophonics. It’s a little early for night club music, but they get things going with: “Are You Ready?” and “There’s a Riot Going On.”
Then they do an odd Bluegrass cover of the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” that gets the crowd going.
A group of about fifteen young people dance into the crowd. They have to be in their early twenties. They have flowers and feathers in their hair and carry around staffs with trinkets, ribbons and jewelry. They look like they stepped out of a time warp. The Sixties have to be a remote concept for them, but they seem to be living the dream. They are selling their trinkets at the big Rock show in the Park.
“Finding My Way Back Home.” “Hanging On.”
“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down.)” The Sonny and Cher hit from 1966!
There’s a forty minute gap so I wander, and catch the very beginning of Mary Wilson-Piper’s Acres of Space. Mary Tilson, the host of America’s Back Forty on KPFA introduces them. It looks interesting, but I press on to the Banjo Stage.
The Mavericks are a band that have been around a long time. They’re a swinging R&B party band. The Banjo Stage will be the home for some Rhythm and Blues acts today. “That’s What You Do To Me.”
The Mavericks are a colorful bunch. They wear loud suits. The keyboard player is very visible with a pink suit and pink pork pie hat. An original: “Summertime.” Good time music.
There are certain regulars who show up at many of the free music events around San Francisco. One of them is a man who I call Dancing Guy. He looks about sixty and always wears a suit and hipster hat. He looks a bit bloated and scarier than usual. When the music starts he dances and wildly throws his arms around.
He can get a bit aggressive with his swinging windmill arms. He creates a space for himself. He also says that, “Contributions are appreciated.” The last time I saw him he created a bit of a confrontation with his neighbors. Today when he arrives a few people have to scatter from their spots and relocate. It’s early in the day and easier to just move away from his space.
A friend of his shows up. They greet each other. They’re two old veterans meeting again. They compare notes. The other guy has a hook for a right hand. They’re quite a pair.
A sad song: “Harvest Moon.” A long, soulful version of “Guantanamera” that blends into “Twist and Shout.” The crowd is getting into it. “Back In Your Arms.” “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.”
The former Star Stage has been renamed to honor Warren Hellman’s wife. Chris Hellman was a ballet dancer when they first met. The Star Stage is now The Swan Stage. There’s a gap in the schedule. In the early hours it’s easy to find a place to stretch out a bit. This area will be jammed with people later.
It seems like people are more dressed up today than usual. Halloween is almost a month away, but there are people in the spirit already. Some people do stick out, even in a crowd of two hundred thousand. A guy is running around with a strange green suit. It looks like grass is growing out of the suit. It’s some kind of organic suit. A mustachioed juggler is putting on quite a show nearby. He’s tossing pins thirty feet in the air. It’s a carnival atmosphere.
There’s a mobile home size trailer next to the Bandwagon stage. It’s a mini museum of the history of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. There are posters and pictures from all fifteen years of the festival. This has become a permanent exhibit at the Jewish Contemporary Museum in downtown San Francisco.
The MC talks about the tradition of free music in San Francisco, especially Golden Gate Park. Peter Rowan was a part of that tradition: “He was there.” Rowan has played and recorded Americana music for many years. “There are some genres he invented.”
They start with a Doc Watson song, “It’s a good day for guitar picking.”
“Free Mexican Air Force.” A song that brings back old memories.
“Tin Roof Shack.” “Rain and Snow.”
Peter Rowan’s brother, Chris, joins.
“Midnight Moonlight.” “Across the Roaming Hills.” “Arise.” “The Day Odetta Died.” “In the Pines.” A Bill Munroe song. “Angels Rock Me To Sleep.”
Hardly Strictly is a magnet for anyone who lives in the park. Near the eastern entrance of the park there is an encampment of younger people who are living on the streets. Most have long hair, sleeping bags and ragged clothes. Are they living the dream or the nightmare of the Sixties?
At the back of the Banjo stage there is a big oak tree. It’s cordoned off by iron police traffic barricades. A couple of years ago the tribe of way-wards and strays took over the shady area under the tree. I don’t know exactly what was going on under there, but the authorities put an end to it. Maybe it was just too obvious a haven for drug abuse.
They still gather near the oak tree. A group of fifty of them can be a bit intimidating. They smell bad. There are a few older, more grizzled residents of the park, but most of the tribe look young. They try to panhandle, but they don’t seem to be getting many contributions here today.
Michael Franti & Spearhead. “Just Let You Heart Just Go.” Franti’s songs have a very positive message. “Hey Hey Hey.” “Let It Go.” “All I Want Is You.” It’s starting out as a rocking, lively show. I’m way in the back and decide to head home. It doesn’t take me long. I find the live stream on the www.hardlystrictly.com web site.
“Take Me to the Place I Want to Go.”
“It’s 11:59.” “It’s 11:59 and 59 seconds.”
Franti comes down off the stage and climbs into the crowd. He’s high five-ing everyone. He’s singing and hugging fans. He lets people sing into the microphone. It’s quite a love fest. “Everyone should have someone to love.” Not only is he in the crowd, but he goes way into the back. People are thrilled to suddenly be near the action. The show comes to them. I start to wonder how he’ll get back onstage for the finale.
“Say Hey (I Love You.) “Once a Day.” “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like)”
Saturday. October 3. I get a ride with John Stuber, a member of The Albany All Stars. We head to the Arrow Stage for the 11 a.m. start of Pokey LaFarge. The band plays original songs with an early Americana flavor. The new CD is “Something in the Water.” The first song is “What’s the Matter With You,” and then they play the title track from the new CD. “Bow Legged Women.” “Ton of Bricks.”
They have two horn players that add to the old time sound. Pokey is out in front in a gray suit. Stuber turns to me: “They’re children!” I don’t get it at first, but they look so young that they look younger than college age kids or even teenagers. They look like children. Well, compared to us they are, but they’re playing old time music. It’s great to hear a band so into recreating a historic sound.
Pokey makes it a point to tells us that all their songs are original. He makes a catty comment: “We don’t do covers. You’ll have to deal with a cover band later.” It’s pointed at Leftover Salmon, who will be playing The Arrow Stage later on in the day.
They play a Spanish song: “Goodbye Barcelona.” I liked the song, but they seem to lose a bit of momentum with the crowd. It’s early, but the fans want to party. “Acting the Fool” gets the crowd going again.
A Red Tail Hawk flies around to our right. Most of the birds have fled the huge crowds. The raptors never seem to be bothered by it. Maybe it stirs up extra groundhogs.
“I Wanna Be Your Man.” An original, not the Beatles song I heard Ringo do Thursday night. The music sounds like a revue of older Americana music: Jazz, Country, Swing, but all the songs are original.
“Where Have All the Good Girls Gone?” “Riverboat Shuffle.”
Pokey tells us they’ll be going on tour in Europe. They will be ambassadors, “For better or worse.” They love playing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, but are looking forward to getting home to St. Louis, where they will be on “Central Time” again.
The Bandwagon Stage is in the back of the Arrow Stage area. There’s a mobile home opened up with a stage in front of it. It’s a great idea. Smaller acts fill some of the dead time while equipment is changed on the Arrow Stage.
A muscular guy is playing an acoustic. He looks like he could be a lumberjack. The first song is about a guy who does the right thing and exacts revenge on someone who wronged his sister. He did what he had to do, and it was worth getting executed.
Barry is pouring his heart and soul into every song. In the next song he offers to “cover the cost of a flight” to be with his lover. Barry is intense and the songs are heartfelt.
Barry tells us that he’s toured a lot, but he is still terrified before performing. “Do something that you’re afraid of! Do something dangerous!”
“Has anyone here ever heard of Gabriel Prosser?!” The inevitable Google search reveals that Prosser tried to lead a slave revolt near Richmond in 1800.
Barry is from Virginia. He says, “We shouldn’t erect any more statues to Civil War generals.” We should be honoring the heroes of the Civil Rights movement. This is a popular stand in San Francisco. The confederate flag controversy had just been in the news.
Stacy is in the crowd. You may have seen him on television coverage of many Bay Area sporting events. They usually show him playing banjo before commercial breaks. He was a member of The Family Dog in the Sixties. I’ve heard he has the patent on the twirly helicopter thing on baseball hats. Stacy has been a guest musician on The Rooster Stage in past years. He’s nodding approval.
Barry’s passionate performance is drawing a crowd. People headed to other stages have to pause. “I flew in from Virginia for this half hour!” “It’s So Long.” Barry says he’s going to party tonight. We spot him in the crowd the next day headed to the Porch Stage.
The HSB band biography handout says that The New Mastersounds are a greasy soul and funk band from Leeds, UK. We hear them pound out three songs. They’re long jams. They sound great, but we want to visit The Rooster Stage before Hot Tuna.
The Rooster Stage is being commandeered by Buddy Miller & Friends for most of the day. (12:15-5!) Jim Lauderdale is the first guest in Buddy Miller’s cavalcade. “Something Should Happen In Good Time.” “Let Me Find You.” “And It Hurts.” The new record is Soul Searcher. “Mysterious.” Lauderdale is tanned and wearing a big Stetson. Buddy Miller joins in a purple suit jacket and trademark hat. Lauderdale says every Bluegrass festival has to have a Robert Hunter song: “Throw My Bucket Down.” “Worth the Wait.”
Lauderdale says that corporations are taking each other over at such a fast rate that maybe we should just get it over with. Maybe there should just be “One Big Company.”
Buddy’s second guest is Donnie Fritts & John Paul White. The two Alabamans teamed up to play at the premiere of the documentary about the legendary Muscle Shoals studio. John Paul White was in The Civil Wars. The first song is about swimming in fried chicken. Donnie Fritts plays great Wurlitzer electric! “Errol Flynn.” Do they even make Wurlitzer electric pianos anymore?
It’s time for a slice of pizza. There are food vendors, but they will be swamped later. Jim Lauderdale is in the back of Marx Meadow talking to a small group of fans. It’s one of the great things about HSB. Sometimes you see musicians you’ve just seen onstage wandering the crowd, even though they can get a ride from stage to stage on golf carts.
Hot Tuna Electric. Banjo Stage. 1:25. Big crowd for this one. They’re loud, but it’s still hard to hear them from the back. The wind is a factor. The boys are blasting in the Park again. “I See the Light.” Jorma and Jack are dressed mostly in black. The hair is all white. They’re still an imposing pair. They’re in conservative attire, for them. Gracie Slick once said Jack Cassady is, “The weirdest looking guy on the planet,” and it’s still true. Jorma looks and sounds as powerful as ever on guitar and vocals. They’ve been playing together for almost fifty years! “Hesitation Blues.”
They play an ominous Blues: “99 Year Blues.” “Well give me my pistol, man, And three round balls/ I’m gonna shoot everybody/ That I don’t like at all.”
They’re a power trio with Justin Guip on drums. “Bow Legged Woman, Knock Kneed Man.” A tremendous “Rock Me Baby.” “Hit Single #1.” “Come Back Baby.”
It’s as close as you can come to the old days in the Park. “Rock Me Baby” alone was worth it. One of the highlights of the whole weekend!
It’s off to the Swan Stage for Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones. One of the acts I see almost every year. We pass the Arrow Stage where the Doobie Decimal System is covering a Pink Floyd tune! It does sound good, but we press on. Love the band’s name.
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones. “Mister Kicks.” “This World Is In a Bad Condition.” “Southern Flood Blues,” a Big Bill Broonzy song. We’re on the left side of the stage. There is a small hill that has a good view of the stage, but it is packed with people. It also cuts off our view of the stage. The crowd around us is distracted. Small groups ignore the stage and chatter. Almost can’t blame them, but they’re missing a great set.
“Trucking Little Woman.” The Alvins did an entire album of Big Bill Broonzy covers. The brothers had a bitter falling out that has been mended in recent years. Phil is a respected mathematician. It’s an odd combination of careers. Dave wrote a song, “What’s Up With Your Brother?” It’s humorous. No matter what he accomplishes everyone wants to hear the latest news from his brother. It could be the ultimate sibling rivalry song.
“Dry River.” “Someday it’s going to rain...” We’re starting to wonder in California. El Nino storms are predicted for this winter and many fingers are crossed. The weather for HSB weekend has been almost perfect. Clear by the time it starts. Sometimes it’s a bit windy, but really great weather. The wind does whip up late in the day and it did cause some sound problems.
A hot cover of the James Brown classic, “Please, Please, Please.” An old Blasters song: “American Music.” “Turn On Your Love Light,” by Bobby Blue Bland.
Even with the distractions it’s a rocking show! Great set the whole way. Definitely one of the highlights! Maybe the best act I see at the festival this year.
We head to the neighboring Towers of Gold Stage for Joe Jackson. He draws a fanatical following. The Towers of Gold has more room and a hill on the left that gives many people a view of the stage.
“It’s Different for Girls.” The big hit: “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” “Real Men.” “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want.)”
The crowds are huge by now. I’m at the western edge of the festival, and working my way back. The Arrow Stage is packed for Leftover Salmon. “The cover band” Pokey taunted earlier. They do a rocking Bluegrass version of the T-Rex hit, “Bang a Gong.” The crowd loves it!
The portable toilets at the back of the Arrow Stage have lines about ten deep! I’ve seen lines like this at the festival before, but never so early in the day.
Over the years HSB has set up a network of cyclone fences. Most of them keep the human traffic going on JFK Drive. Green tarp is put up on the fences to keep people from stopping at stages to “take a look.” It’s been an unavoidable change over the years.
Ry Cooder has been playing live more these days, but it’s still rare. When he does it’s always a music history lesson. He’s teamed up with “Bluegrass pioneer” Ricky Skaggs and Skaggs’ wife, Sharon White.
“Family Who Prays.” “Take Me In Your Lifeboat.”
Merle Travers tune: “Sweet Temptation.”
“Mansion on the Hill.” Great Americana “roots” music. “Now we’re going to do a Merle Travis tune,” “Sweet Temptation.”
The wind is getting stronger. It causes sound problems again. It’s sound versus wind.
Skaggs acts as MC and promises us, “A history of Rock and Roll and Bluegrass. There will nothing after ’65.”
Cooder is wearing a blue woolen hat. Skaggs is in his professional Country and Western suit and cowboy hat.
They do a Gospel song: “End of the Day.” Cooder says he found it on Youtube!
“Are there any Jimmy Martin fans here today?” There is some applause. “The rest of you should find out about him.” “Coming Home.”
“Are there any Dillard fans here?” There is more of a reaction. “How about Darling fans?” The Darlings? Aren’t they the family that played Bluegrass on The Andy Griffith show? That may be the first taste of Bluegrass that many of us heard. Skaggs tells us: “The black and white ones are the best.”
“Old Home Place.” “Why did I leave for a job in town?”
“Ready To Go.” “San Antonio Rose.” Of all the songs I heard today, this version that sticks in my head.
“We gotta have a train song. This was done by The Delmore Brothers.” “Pan American Boogie.”
Another Gospel song: “Wait a Little Please Jesus.” They close with a Bill Monroe song. It’s been quite a romp through the history of Gospel, Country and Bluegrass.
This is the Saturday night party crowd. I consider going to the festival’s smallest stage, The Porch Stage, to see The White Buffalo. This is usually the most laid back area of the festival, but I can see people are pouring in. JFK Drive is a sea of humanity. It looks impassable. I know I can get through, but decide against it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I head back in the direction of the apartment.
It’s strange to sit at the computer and watch an event I was at a half hour ago. I’ll say it again, live is always better, but this was luxury. I could choose between four acts: Flogging Molly, The Flatlanders, Steve Earle or Boz Scaggs. I’ve seen Flogging Molly several times at local events including the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Steve Earle was a bit too mournful. I was in more of a good time Saturday night Rocking mood, so I settle on watching The Flatlanders even though I see them almost every year.
The Flatlanders. Featuring Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmour & Butch Hancock. “The Highway Is My Home.” Joe Guzman plays some great accordion. Jimmy Dale Gilmore tells us that their first record, made in 1972, is finally being released!
“Rambling River.” “Old Shoes.” “Borderless Love” is “A song about tearing down the walls.” “Wind’s Dominion.” “The Road Goes On Forever.”
“Dallas.” “Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC9 at night?” Gilmore says the last DC9 was just decommissioned. “In and Out of Love.”
I usually catch some of The Flatlanders every year. It’s the same old guys with the same songs, but it’s a great rocking set for the Saturday night party crowd. Fun time. Even online.
“Midnight Train.” “Pay the Alligator.” “Sitting On Top of the World.”
Butch Hancock’s son Rory joins on guitar. He does two great solos.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore announces that after this they’re headed over to The Great American Music Hall! What a scene that must be!
John Stuber picks me up and I’m very glad to get a ride there. We head to the Porch Stage. We’re curious to see Chicano Batman. Another great band name. It’s early, but people are gathering. They do have a following. There are Chicano Batman groupies grabbing spots near the stage. The band wears suits and ties. They have an ominous, interesting Blues sound, but we wander to The Arrow Stage to see James McMurtry.
A white raptor flies by. Possibly an osprey.
We go to the Bandwagon Stage for Nancy and the Lamb Chops. Nancy is Nancy Bechtle, Warren Hellman’s sister. It’s a family affair with Warren’s son Mick on drums. Bechtle is wearing a dress once owned by Dale Evans. She got it at a Christie’s auction. At the same auction the stuffed remains of Trigger were sold for $260,000!
Bechtle was the President of the San Francisco Symphony for fourteen years. She sings a song Michael Tilson Thomas wrote for her: “Symphony Cowgirl.” She gives a spirited performance, but does struggle a bit with the vocals. Heidi Clare joins for a fiddle duel on “Orange Blossom Special.”
“Jambalaya.” Ron Thomason is in the crowd. He’s been a long time family friend and he’s showing his support.
We get to The Arrow Stage for the Steep Canyon Rangers. No Steve Martin this year. McMurtry will be on after them. Their new record is “Radio.” “Show Me the Way.” Some security staff are blowing large bubbles over the crowd. “Diamonds in the Mud.” “Trouble is Simple. Simple is Me.” “Headed Out to Caroline.” “Tripping On Your Doorstep.” “As I Go.” “Monumental Fool.” “You Never Did Nothing for Love.” “Things That I Never Knew.”
James McMurty has a big rocking sound. The songs are deep. “What I Know Now.” “Choctaw Bingo.” “Operation Mistake.”
We head to The Porch Stage for Heidi Clare & The Goose Tatums. Is the band named after the legendary Harlem Globetrotter? A Google search confirmed it. He was credited with inventing the hook shot. He also played baseball and was a teammate of Satchel Paige! I never did figure out what the connection to the band was. Maybe it’s just a cool name.
They’re playing what sounds like a Doors style dirge when we arrive. Then: “Bring Your Love from Behind Those Brown Eyes.” A sad love song. Eric Drew Feldman is on keyboards! He played with Captain Beefheart for years.
The Blind Boys of Alabama are waiting onstage at the Banjo Stage. They’re sitting on chairs, and they have a powerful presence before singing a note. “People Get Ready” is always a stirring song, but they take it to another spiritual level. Then a great version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky.” What a great song for this group to cover!
Jamey Johnson at The Arrow. “You Should Have Seen It In Color.” “This Land Is Your Land.” Stuber says he can leave now, he’s heard this year’s Woody Guthrie cover. It’s kind of odd, but I never heard a Dylan song covered this year.
Delbert McClinton. The Towers of Gold stage. I sit way in the back on the hill. The band is loud! “Bye Bye Baby.” A rocking song. “Honey Can You Squeeze Me In.”
For some reason I realize I haven’t seen Frank Chu here this year. He’s one of San Francisco’s beloved eccentrics. He constantly carries a sign warning of extraterrestrial attacks and invasions. I haven’t seen him yet this year, and then he walks right by me. There’s some kind of weird synchronicity going on here!
Asleep At the Wheel. A band I really wanted to see. I saw them years ago at the now gone Old Waldorf. “I Hear You Talking.” The big band has a Country Swing sound, like Bob Wills.
Robert Earl Keen joins for “The Girl I Left Behind.” “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” “Back to Texas Boogie.”
“Tiger Rag.” Asleep At the Wheel are great at breathing life into old songs. People have been leaving to catch the last big acts on other stages, so I’m able to get a bit closer.
A young Asian guy has a well crafted tiger mask. I had noticed it earlier. A couple next to him are fascinated by the coincidence. They explain what the song is about to him. It takes him a while to figure it out, but after a few more verses of “Hold that tiger!” he bounds off into the crowd waving the tiger mask head in the air.
“Choo Choo Boogie.” I’m almost out of the crowd when they start “Hot Rod Lincoln.” Gotta stick around for that!
I see Grass Man from Friday. He’s in red today!
I head for home. By the end of day three I’m OK with getting back to the computer and watching the last acts online. Hate to miss a chance to see Los Lobos live, but the legs are going. I watch some of their jams in the comfort of the man cave.
I watch a little of Alo, but it’s Devotchka that I want to hear.
The start of the last acts is a bit staggered, so I see most of Devotchka’s set. Their unique blend of music genres draws a huge crowd. “From Eastern European wedding bands to Norteno ballads,” the HSB bio handout tells us.
“The Enemy Guns.” “All the Sand in All the Sea.” “The Clockwise Witness.” “The Alley.” “Head Honcho.” The accordion player is Tom Hagerman. He’s one of the best I ever heard!
They draw a huge crowd. I’ll admit it was great to not be in the fray. I saw them at HSB a couple of years ago and the crowd was just too much. People kept pouring in, even though it was obvious there was nowhere to go. Devotchka is a unique band. A couple of their songs feature tuba!
“How It Ends.” They cover “Stand By Me.” “Such a Lovely Thing.” They use a theremin with a balalaika!
Doing three days can be a challenge. I did cut some corners this year. I left before the “main acts” on each day, so I probably missed most of the obnoxious end of the day drama.
Hardly Strictly can be a bubble of unreality. It’s crowded, but as I said there’s a friendly Sixties vibe. It was very crowded at times, but this year it seemed more laid back than in previous years. Maybe it was because there were less huge mainstream show business acts. It made the news the next day a bit more disturbing.
The day after HSB is always a Monday, and it can be hard to get back to reality. The mundane details of life have to be caught up with. There was a short article in the San Francisco Examiner. A dead body was found on the outskirts of the festival grounds. It took a couple of days to get any details.
The victim was Audrey Carey, 23. Her family said she was a “free spirit” who was traveling the US alone. She died of a gunshot to the head. There are three suspects. They are also accused of killing “a 67 year old Tantra instructor” in Fairfax, Steve Carter. They left him on a trail and shot his dog. They stole his car and were tracked to Portland and arrested. They still had the gun and some camping gear that was owned by their first victim, Audrey Carey.
The three suspects lived in Golden Gate Park, but they were despised by the other residents of the park. Tinkerbell lives in the park, and she is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle: “They were tweakers, we don’t hang with them.” They were well known on Haight Street for their amphetamine fueled antics. A woman who knew and saw them at HSB said they were “terrifying.”
It’s a typical San Francisco story. Masses of people have a magical, great fun time, but San Francisco has a dark side. There’s always that stark contrast. What really happened to Audrey Carey in the Park? It will probably come out at the trial.
HSB is a huge event. It probably won’t be tarnished by the tragedy. What could be done? It’s a sad aftermath to one of the more positive, good vibration events of the year in San Francisco.