As is the case with years past, The Pelican Café gives out awards for the Best of Hardly Strictly. It is a great honor to have been chosen for this task.
BEST 87 YEAR OLD GUY SINGING A SONG
Ralph can still belt it out and if you have not heard him sing, it is a truly American experience. Part Appalachia, part blues, part native Indian chants, it is a one of a kind thing. The Clinch Mountain Boys always deliver some solid traditional bluegrass.
BEST USE OF A SUS 4 CHORD FOR A REAL LONG DURATION
Alison sounded great and as the sun came out full-blast and I applied my second batch of sunscreen, the sus 4 chords just keep coming. Everyone knows that hanging out on sus 4 chords in Bluegrass is just strange. It is like mixing your sour mash whiskey with Dr. Pepper. Better just to drink it straight.
COOLEST ROCK AND ROLL OLD FART
This guy played some heavy songs, with profound lyrics and delivered some totally out there guitar solos. I caught him later at the Rooster Stage playing a solo ballad. When the sound went out on his acoustic guitar, he did not skip a bit and borrowed yet another guitar and finished the last two verses.
BRAVEST ARTIST, GOING OUT ON A LIMB SINGING A STRANGE BALLAD, SINGING WITHOUT HIS GUITAR
Speaking of singing ballads, Steve Earl at the Kate McGarrigle Tribute, sang one of Kate’s ballads, and pulled it off admirably. You could tell he was in unfamiliar waters, but rose to the occasion.
MOST SOULFUL SINGER WITH A GROOVIN’ BAND
Just a breath of fresh air, great voice and a solid band.
BEST HARMONICA PLAYING WHILE PLAYING STAND UP BASS
Chris Wood of the Wood Brothers
Not too many harp players in bluegrass. It is a strange misunderstanding. Anyway the Wood brothers are a very interesting band. Maybe next time Chris should put down the bass and grab the harp with two hands. This year, I started to get into this band and strange combinations. It is easy to forget that all this music is just three people. Excellent vocals.
BEST COOL BAND FROM EUROPE THAT I MISSED
First Aid Kit
Can’t be everywhere…
The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival always takes place the first weekend of October in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Because of the season, you either experience a weekend of warm temperatures and offshore winds, in other words “Indian Summer,” or the end of summer, and the usual foggy cold. This year it was warm. The surf lined up to be shoulder high glassy things, and the sky was so clear, on Saturday morning from the dunes of Ocean Beach you could see far off to the distance along the coast to the north, the bluffs of Point Reyes.
Some people say I like this festival because I am cheap. Sure, one look at my car and you get the idea that this is a person who probably rinses out the end of the ketchup bottle in the spaghetti sauce. It is true, I tend to gravitate towards the simple pleasures, being a free festival, things become simple when it comes to money. But to take on a festival with over 100 bands, you got to have a strategy even if your strategy is to have no strategy. This year, after much searching for comrades, it turned out I was flying solo. Strange, I was unable to drag anyone from my family, anyone from my extended family, and not even a single soul from my rock and roll jam band world. Plans. Travel. Prior engagements. Camping-surf trips. No problem. How can you possibly miss this thing!
The strategy was to be simple. Surf in the morning. Hit the festival all day. See as many bands as possible. Pack supplies. Water, refreshments and binoculars.
So, Saturday, I awake to a sort of paradise, and proceed with my HSB schedule all marked up, West, to the ocean and the Golden Gate Park. The following day, after jamming in some undisclosed location in the Mission with the Beauty Operators, I simply repeated the formula. By the time my honey showed up for the final show on Sunday, I had seen over 13 bands, many for the first time. The only problem was that there were at least 25 more that I missed. Next year, weather permitting, all Friday afternoon at the Porch Stage hearing some folksy stuff. All Saturday and Sunday checking out acts I know nothing about. The weirder the names, the better.