On Sunday October 1 2023, I grabbed my bag and jumped on the Harley to head to San Francisco California. This time, it was for Day 3 of the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Hardly Strictly is an event everyone should experience at least once in their life. This free event held in Golden Gate park is a perfect snapshot of Americana music. Ranging from Folk, Bluegrass, Country and Rock, Hardly Strictly has something for everyone.
One of my favorite parts of this event are the attendees. Unique people, families and pets are the norm here and you never know who will pop up. One of the regulars that I have been seeing is Harry Perry, the famed Venice Beach guitarist.
With six stages this year, it’s always a tough decision who to cover. What I like to do it start either at the bottom of the hill or the top of the hill with the first act I really want to see then work my way up and down the hill. This year I covered nine bands and probably walked as many miles.
My first stop was the Swan Stage for the John Doe Folk Trio. John Doe is one of my favorite musicians and I try to see him as much as I can. This time, with a bass player and drummer in tow, he sounded phenomenal.
Next on my list brought me to the Banjo Stage for the Grammy nominated Gaby Moreno. Born in Guatemala, now residing in Los Angeles California this singer songwriter has an amazing musical pedigree. She was very impressive and well received. I would really like to catch a whole set of hers.
From there, I popped over to the Rooster Stage for Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express. Chuck Prophet is a staple in the Bay Area and always draws a great crowd. By this time, the meadow was just about filled to capacity. Just before his set, there was an intro about the founder of the event, Warren Hellman, that concluded with everyone yelling “Thanks Warren!”. When Chuck and the band hit the stage, the crowd erupted with cheers. Definitely a crowd favorite.
Heading back down the hill to the Swan Stage, Valerie June was up next. This multi-talented singer-song writer, writer, actor, poet hit the stage like a little ball of fire. Writing over the years for artists such as Mavis Staples and The Blind Boys of Alabama, this lady is impressive to say the least.
After Valerie June, I headed back up the hill to the Banjo Stage for the Travelin’ McCourys. This progressive Bluegrass band from Nashville Tennessee is what this festival was founded on. This band, however, is Bluegrass with a twist. Having collaborated with the likes of The Allman Brothers, Phish and the Grateful Dead, you can see why the Travelin’ McCourys are a well loved part of this festival.
As I trudged up the hill to the Horseshoe Hill Stage to see the Doc Watson 100th birthday celebration (posthumously), I spent the walk ordering a new lens. Unfortunately, my 70-200mm decided today was the day to die. Anyway, I digress. This celebration featuring Mitch Greenhill, Jack Lawrence, Nora Brown, Stephanie Coleman and some special guests. While, the music was awesome, the all seated performance wasn’t great for photos so I didn’t get many. But, like I said, the music was the real star.
From there, I raced down to the Arrow Stage to catch Big Richard. This four piece from Colorado broke on to the scene back in 2021 and has taken it by storm. These four ladies were having a blast on stage and it showed. Be on the lookout for these bright young stars in the future, they are going places.
Next, I was back to the Banjo Stage for Rufus Wainwright. This second generation singer-song writer woo-d the crowd as soon as he hit the stage. The first two songs were on the piano and the crowd was riveted. On Song three, he switched over to guitar and said that he was in Kentucky just that morning and all the music made him feel like he was still there. Haha. The crowd seemed to love it.
Finally, I had ten minutes to make my way all the way to the bottom of the hill to the Tower of Gold Stage for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. This four time Grammy winning artist drew a huge crowd. The meadow was packed to capacity and the excitement was off the charts. Opening with “When We Were Close” off of his recent release Weathervanes, Jason wowed the crowd with about half the songs off this album and several back catalog hits.
As much as I wanted to catch a couple more artists, I had to make my way downtown to another gig. But, next year, I will be back and I know they will have another epic lineup.
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Photographer of about 10 years, I have been shooting concerts for about 8 of those years. I started to get serious about concert photography about 6 or 7 years ago and now try to shoot as many as I can. I shoot mostly rock but, have done some country and big band stuff. I love music and since I am nowhere close to being a musician, this is a way I can be a small part of what, in the words of Henry Rollins, “gets me through the highs, the lows and everything in between”.