The 2016 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Awards

It is with great pleasure that we were asked again to present The Pelican Cafe 2016 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Awards . So many great bands… so many stages. It is a world-class event still free to everyone.

As usual, I start this post with a brief assessment of the weather. The first week of October in San Francisco is usually the beginning of our “Indian Summer,” that two month period of time between the horrid fog of summer and the torrential rains of December, where we get some consistent sunlight and winds often blow out of the east. Surfers take to the ocean, as this time of year is when the waves are at their best. Last year during the festival was no exception, but this year during the The 2016 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival the northwest winds were already beginning to howl at around 9 am. Of course this made it so the entire weekend was not what surfers would call “rideable.” It also had another effect. On many of the stages facing west, the sound got literally blown away by the wind. It is not ideal to have these winds when putting on an outdoor festival.

The winds off Ocean Beach San Francisco on October 1, 2016
The winds off Ocean Beach San Francisco on October 1, 2016

People (all three of you), who follow this publication, know that every year I give out these precious awards to the deserving people and musicians. It is a lot of work narrowing down the selections, but I think I nailed it this time around.

Outstanding Billionaire of 2016:
Warren Hellman

It is easy when you attend a free festival to give thanks to the person paying for everything. In our winner-take-all economy, that guy is Warren Hellman, who now is somewhere six feet under and must accept this award posthumously. Unlike, one of the current presidential candidates, Warren Hellman actual had a passion for something other than himself. That was bluegrass music and the banjo, and he actually gave money back to the community. He spent his days as a banker and venture capitalist and somewhere along the way started the festival. He made so much money that he has funded The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival for a decade after his death in 2011. Mark your calendars. That would be 2021. Thanks Warren. The entire American Beverage Association and all the corner stores within a mile radius of Golden Gate Park really thank you.

Rebirth Brass Band
Chadrick Honore – Trumpet Player in Rebirth Brass Band

Outstanding Musician:
Chadrick Honore – Trumpet Player in Rebirth Brass Band

I took off work early on Friday as I simply had to go see the Rebirth Brass Band play at the Arrow Stage. The band, with a long tradition and many members over the years, is playing really well these days. The trumpet player Chadrick Honore was simply on fire and the way he plays trumpet makes it look effortless. As usual, New Orleans’ musicians are much more than just playing an instrument. Chadrick was singing and working the crowd as well. But, his playing was truly outstanding. It is curious that as time goes on with The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival that there are more wind instruments and less banjos. I would wager there were fewer banjos this year than any of the last five. Perhaps the festival should be renamed The Hardly ANY Bluegrass Festival. But that is OK with me. Just bring on more bands from Louisiana.

This one needs to be replaced...
This one needs to be replaced…

Terrible Speaker that Needs to Be Replaced
Banjo Stage

With that Northwest winds howling and blowing the trees, I was wondering if that speaker about 100 yards down the meadow from the Banjo Stage was even on? Yes it was. But, let me tell you – it sounded like crap. Sometimes speakers like this just get old and fall apart inside.

Actually not a bad spot to see a show at the Rooster Stage. Jackson Browne, somewhere down there.
Actually not a bad spot to see a show at the Rooster Stage. Jackson Browne, somewhere down there.

Best Babyboomer Singing “Life Soundtrack Songs”
Jackson Browne

I have never been to a Jacksom Browne concert. Now I have. It was pretty good. He played a lot of his big hits, titles that I do not know but the melodies that have been ingrained in you somehow. He is a great singer-songwriter and I came to realize that what he really writes are simply hymns. Lots of IV to I. Lots of V SUS chords to I. All good. Not very bluesy at all. During one of his songs he got about 8 bars in and simply stopped. I have know idea if he suddenly forgot the words or the chords, but he just took a little pause and started it all over. I think half the audience didn’t even noticed. Performers take note.

Band that Never Made it Due to Flight Delays
Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie

With a name like that, how would you NOT want to go all the way across town and check it out. But alas, the flight was delayed and they missed the show.

During Curtis' set at the Arrow Stage
During Curtis’ set at the Arrow Stage

Amazing Special Treat of the Festival
Curtis Salgado

Man, can this guy sing and play harmonica. A really special musician who has been there through the years. It is truly strange that he was not listed on the schedule. Curtis is the “real deal.”

Strangest Aspect of the Festival
So few San Francisco Bands

In the early days of the festival, word has it that there were actual a fair amount of San Francisco bands on the stages. Not so much these days. Sure there are local musicians like Boz Scaggs, part of the booking, and locals who get the gig playing behind him, but I find it perplexing that the band Front Country, a really good bluegrass band from San Francisco, is not on one of the stages. There are many other great San Francisco bands people in the area do not even know. The closest thing this year, was the showcasing of the Little Village Foundation, a local non-profit that is doing some really good work. Diverse and very Northern Californian.

Anyway, I caught about 12 bands in total, a bit less than years past but it was about right. All of The Pelican Cafe 2016 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Awards are guaranteed for 30 days from this reading. After that you are on your own. Go out and hear some live music from the locals. Until 2017…

Past Years Winners

The Photos (Click on Images)