Hardly Strictly Sanity

I just can't do it, and perhaps never again. I attended the first 8 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festivals in Golden Gate Park and have many times sung the praise of Warren Hellman and his glorious event. But we barely survived #7, and we peaked at #8 with access-passes (thank you BAD LIVERS!!)

They are predicting 750,000 attendees this year, and I don't think it's an underestimate. It's simply too much humanity for us to deal with, so this will be the 3rd year I'll miss it.

Just for shits and giggles, I'm going to create an imaginary itinerary here in case I was kuh-razy enough to go. And I'm going to be realistic. Gone are the days when you can navigate between stages to cherry pick your shows like a smorgasbord. Unless you are 6 1/2 feet tall and don't mind bumming out other people, your best bet is to pick a spot and stick with it.

FRIDAY - The Best Lineup of 2011

The obvious blockbuster here is Robert Plant & The Band of Joy at the Banjo (main) Stage at 5:45. This stage actually has a killer lineup all day long so if you are calling in sick to work, this is where you can't go wrong. Bill Kirchen is legendary and a total blast. I haven't heard the latest incarnation of Seldom Scene but you can expect awesome bluegrass. Bromberg is always a treat (and usually pretty funny)…. Del McCoury is the current keeper of the bluegrass flame and I'm not sure what he's up to with Preservation Hall Jazz Band but that would be a treat. John Prine is a great songwriter and then Robert Plant.

But across the way at the narrow and more exclusive Rooster Stage is the hipster show with M. Ward and Bright Eyes. Good luck getting a spot for this one!

Now… early on at the Star Stage you get some value with Charlie Musselwhite (definitive blues harmonica) and Zigaboo Modeliste (drummer for the Meters.) There are also some bands worth seeing at the Arrow Stage, which is pretty accessible… The Mekons at 2:10, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame.

The truth is… Friday has the best lineup.

SATURDAY - PICK YOUR SPOT AND STAY

My #1 pick for Crazy, Packed Saturday would be Robyn Hitchcok on the Rooster Stage at 12:25. Be sure to get there PLENTY early and enjoy The Wronglers with Jimmie Dale Gilmore. If you have a good spot…. I would simply stay because you are screwed everywhere else… and Robert Earl Keen plays his traditional slot at 5:45 (without Danny Barnes on banjo, unfortunately.) My personal opinion is the Rooster always has the best shows just because how it's set up... and booked accordingly.

The other great early show is Rick Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder at the Towers of Gold Stage. I've never seen this stage so I don't know how it goes, but this Kentucky Thunder band is killer diller. Trust me on this. I know some people will want to stick around for Buckethead but I'm not recommending that. He is most definitely the misfit of HSBF#11.

I just wouldn't even mess with the other stuff. I've seen Scruggs, Gillian Welch, and Steve Earle enough (and I'd see any of them again) that it just isn't worth the fight. But again if you land a nice spot at the Banjo Stage, keep it for crying out loud.

SUNDAY - FOR THE SUPER DEXTEROUS

Feeling ambitious? Here's a prescription for catching some of the best shows at HSBF#11 if you are up to it.

Your day begins at 11:45 at the Star Stage with The Low Anthem… and then stick around for Dr. John at 1:20. Now, if you get your dose from the doctor and want to catch Bob Mould at 2:10 @ Towers of Gold Stage, that'd be a hell of a trick!

For ending the day it's Arrow Stage all the way. The Mother Hips play at 4:00 followed by Dark Star Orchestra, the Grateful Dead simulation band. Please tell Rob and Dino (the drummers) I say hello. Anyway… the traditional closer is Emmylou Harris at the Banjo Stage but since you are already here for the Hips I say just stay.

But then again, if you are allergic to the hippie spinners and are delusional enough to think you can waltz into the Rooster Area, the Jayhawks are reunited and this will be a special gig. But the bottom line for me on Sunday is Dr. John and Mother Hips.

So have a great time. I won't be anywhere close, and my family feels relieved. But I am very VERY tempted to go to the Warfield and see Amon Tobin do his thing.

Also see: HSBG#6 | HSBG#5

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