Jack's Guide to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass No. 7

Our favorite weekend of the year is almost upon us.... the seventh Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.This year, thankfully, doesn't have any crossover superstars that make the scene entirely too crazy (such as Willie Nelson or Dolly Parton) but we still have to make some utterly cruel choices, especially late on Saturday. We get some good rockin' on Sunday morning and Friday's evening program is great too, although we'll miss it! Continue on for a full rundown....

Friday begins with the children's program in the morning. If your kids aren't in school, this is worth attending. Wish our schools were going. This afternoon, T-Bone Burnett and Friends play at 4:15. I don't know who the friends are this year, but last year Marc Ribot was playing guitar and it was our favorite gig of the weekend (after Danny Barnes Collective, or course!) Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame follows at 5:45. We've always liked Tweedy... we know for a fact that he's one of the most AUTHENTIC "rock" stars out there, as we knew him in the early Uncle Tupelo days. As a mater of fact, my wife and I's first date was sort of a double date w/ Tweedy and then girlfriend Heather, who I worked with at Cicero's in St. Louis. Lord knows there's some songs about her! Well, everything worked out for all of us, I suppose. I have vivid memories of Tweedy hanging out at Cicero's, smoking his Camels and drinking Rolling Rock. He was always friendly but reserved. Anyway, my opinion is he always deserved his fame and his music just keeps getting better.

I'm going to miss Friday's program because I'm taking Danny Barnes down to Saratoga where he warms up for country legend Charlie Louvin. We might pop over the hill to join up with Robert Earl Keen's band in Santa Cruz because Barnes is also their banjo player. He's been out on the road with them the past few weeks opening for Bob Dylan and Dave Matthews Band. Turns out that Dave Matthews is, like us, a HUGE Danny Barnes fan and invited him to sit in the past coupla nights in Texas. Way to go Barnes!!

Saturday begins simple enough. The Knitters (cowboy version of punk legends X w/ Dave Alvin on guitar) kick it off at the Star Stage. For those who don't know, the Star Stage is a great place to set up w/ the family because it has a lllllllong meadow. The Rooster Stage is more challenging w/ the kiddies, but we'll have to spend some time there as Guy Clark plays at 12:40 followed by the one and only Nick Lowe! We'll then head over to the Arrow Stage (which can sometimes get blasted out by the Main/Banjo stage) but we'll want to see a rare appearance of The Flatlanders at 2:20 followed by Michelle Shocked at 3:45. But the trick here is to also witness Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder w/ special guest Bruce Hornsby at 3:20 at the Banjo Stage. Skaggs and KT are always worth seeing... it's amazing how an acoustic band can project such a Wall of Sound.

While Skaggs and Company are followed by major draw Gillian Welch, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones play the Star Stage at 4:10. If you've never seen them, I strongly recommend dropping in. Hell... you could spend all day at the Star Stage. We just might. Because after Bela is Los Lobos, one of the consistently best live bands in the history of the planet. And here is where it gets cruel, because the afore-mentioned T-Bone Burnett and Friends plays the Arrow Stage at 5:20 and Robert Earl Keen (w/ Barnes on banjo!!) plays the Rooster Stage at 5:45. And.... Steve Earle and the Bluegrass Dukes play the Banjo Stage at 6. Got that??? It doesn't get any tougher than this.

Sunday is more clear cut. We must arrive early to see our beloved Mother Hips at 11 am at the Arrow Stage. The Hips are California Rock incarnate. After they finish, we'll dash over to the Star Stage for The Sadies, whom we haven't seen since an adventurous night in Tucson several years ago. This is countrified rock THRASHED TO THE KILT. If you still feel like "hardly bluegrass", stick around for the Heartless Bastards, one of the news bands on the Fat Possum label (modern dirty blues.) If you want to see a true legend instead, Charlie Louvin plays the Rooster Stage at the same time (12:55). Charlie is in his 80's and still sounds magnificent.

The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience plays the Banjo Stage at 1:45, followed there by banjo legend Earl Skruggs at 2:55. You can't go wrong spending the afternoon here at the Banjo stage, as Skruggs is followed by our favorite flatpicker (and Henry's favorite) Doc Watson. But the Rooster Stage is competitive too, with Jorma Kaukonen (of Hot Tuna and the original Jefferson Airplane) at 3:15 and Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men at 4:30, who will play hard-driving blues rock.

Alvin could be this year's MVP around the festival, with his own gig and The Knitters. He could very well show up w/ Los Lobos and/or T-Bone Burnett. Who knows? Barnes was last year's MVP, as he had his own Collective gig, plus REK and Tim O'Brien. Make sure you see Dave Alvin at least once.

As is tradition, Emmylou Harris closes the Banjo Stage at 5:45 on Sunday, but we'll be enjoying the best pure bluegrass band in the world over at the Star Stage... the Del McCoury Band.

I don't know how well we'll stay on target here. We might just set up base at the Star Stage and ramble from there. Glad the stroller days are over, that's for sure, and I always welcome some foggy weather to stunt the crowd a little bit. We've never missed a day of this festival since inception and hopefully never will.... it's the most amazing gift for Bay Area music fans imaginable. Hope to see ya there!

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