2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards

The 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park was  the last weekend of September – Sep 29, 2023 – Oct 1, 2023. My buddy Steve from Atlanta was in town and we went all three days, listened to a lot of bands, and had a blast. When you look over the schedule, you notice right away that it will be a tyranny of choices. So many bands. So little time. We did not even make it to a few of the stages this year, choosing to stay at good front row spots at some of our favorite stages. The new Horseshoe Hill Stage looked like fun but we never made it there.

In 2023 the weather was generally cool and partly cloudy with light winds out of the west.. Often October has some of the best surf, but during the HSB 2023 weekend the swell was a bit mixed up, large and funky and only for the totally committed surf community who seem to get out there and rip on just about anything.  Each day in the mornings you could see the marine layer out at sea ready to come ashore in the afternoon.

Without further ado,  here are the 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards.

– Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

It was a gas to listen to this young blues guitar player, just taking the music to another level – B.B King would be proud. Kingfish and the band brought some very funky grooves and it was awesome how the keyboard player would add some substitutions and extended and altered chords at tasty moments.  At one point Kingfish headed out to the audience and played an epic solo walking through the crowd.


– Chuck Prophet

Even though Chuck Prophet has played HSB many times, he is getting the UP-AND-COMING ARTIST award only because it was the first time I have heard him play and he sounded great – definitely home field advantage on the Rooster Stage.  Chuck is getting the UP-AND-COMING ARTIST award because at 60 years old he is but a youngster when up against the likes of Bettye Lavette and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. With out a doubt the youngster Chuck is now surely getting hounded by AARP.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express

– Bettye Lavette

So many artists at HSB were born in the 1940s. To live a long life you surely have to laugh a little and Bettye is sassy as ever, a bit glib at times, can still dance and one of her fortes is humor. Halfway through her set Bettye announced that she may have contracted a new disease that is problematic for many called CRS, short for Can’t Remember Shit. While there may have been a few pauses in the set, no one knew the difference. Her band was very funky and she delivered a great show.

– “Second Time Around” – Rickie Lee Jones

I heard Rickie Lee Jones in New Orleans last year and she brought her horn section and brilliant arrangements (which she writes) . What was she going to do in Golden Gate Park? Will she do her hits from her youth? Will she sing stuff that she isn’t particularly known for? Will she make it on stage?  During Rickie Lee Jones’ set on the Banjo Stage it was obvious that she was going to sing her jazz tunes. When she sang “Second Time Around” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen I wondered how many people even knew the song, but the entire meadow was pretty much transfixed.  Great tune. Great interpretation. You can hear Rickie’s version here.

– The Golden Retriever at the Banjo Staged

Just a chill dog that made you realize how sublime it must be to just stick out your  tongue, smell the air and feel the grass.

Chill dog

Until next year, that is the SF Journal 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is a little like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Big-name bands, many kinds of music and a festive atmosphere. One of the amazing things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is that even though there are tens of thousands of people, it is always a  peaceful event, and in the end people seem to get along just fine and often make new friends. Everyone seems to pack out the trash pretty well too. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Warren Hellman’s party.  Communal music therapy.