Living in the fogbelt, we appreciate a good heat wave. We enjoyed a teaser 2 weeks ago and got the hint: 2 swamp coolers is better than one. Are you ready for a warm summer?

A swamp cooler is much like a fan that takes air through a "curtain of water." It uses far less electricity than air conditioning, which is overkill here in the Bay Area, especially when really hot days only occur in brief clusters a few times a year. But for those strings of swelter, a swamp cooler is perfect!You can buy a small, portable swamp cooler online for 100 bucks w/ free shipping. Our model (by Sunpentown, from Compact Appliance, legos not included) has 3 speeds and oscillates. If you keep it running on high you will need to refill the water every 20 hours or so. One thing I don't like is the loud beeping when changing settings/low water notification. These portable models won't cool your entire home but they cool everything in their oscillating paths... and you don't need to seal yourself in. We wheel it around to where we need it. The best part is: sleeping at night.

Not long ago we were hanging at a friend's house near Polk and Vallejo in SF. It was time to take the kiddies home and let the non-breeders proceed towards total unhingement but before leaving The City we stopped for some slices at Escape from NY.

Across the street, a man set up a powerful telescope right there on Polk in front of Walgreens. Seemed like a goofy place until we crossed over... and wow. Saturn was right above the moon and looking quite stellar. Duane, the sidewalk astronomer, was very cool about letting the kids look through his high-end optics. It was a special treat.

It's people like Duane who make things interesting on the streets of San Francisco. You can learn from him without being in the right place during a cosmic event... just click on his link below.

Usually, the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco is the rainiest saturday night of the year. 2007 - Year of the Boar - begins w/ "random summer", so it was a huge, crazy scene. We watched from the North Beach angle at the parade's final bend. Wish I had a pic of the Golden Dragon, but I only had 1 pair of shoulders for two glad little boys.

Tourists to San Francisco often board a boat and float out to Alcatraz. Locals scoff, but it's still a pretty cool thing to do. Be aware: the boat operator has changed, and instead of boarding these charming, rustic barges at Pier 39, you have to schlepp several blocks along Embarcadero to Pier 31 1/2. That's easy enough (and hellish for the joggers and bikers along that stretch) but here's the real rub: Hornblower, the new operator, doesn't hire union workers. And this is a safefy issue, plain and simple.

The Masters, Mates, and Pilots Union wants you to boycott Hornblower. We hate to see the name "Hornblower" tarnished as we love the fictional character in C.S. Lewis' novels, but if you are going to get on a motorized barge in the turbulent and crowded bay, you might think twice. Seamanship on the sea is not something to be taken lightly -- better not left to cheap part-timers.

Here's another tip: if you rent a bike, pay the extra 5 bucks and rent a helmet. That should be a no-brainer.

Hardly Strictly was amazing as usual. On the first day, our favorites were Danny Barnes Collective and the electric set from T-Bone Burnett. Elvis Costello joined T-Bone for 2 rock and roll songs.

Here's a 45-second sampling of the Danny Barnes Collective playing "Death Trip" at Hardly Strictly this year.

This video gets a lot of strange comments on youtube.

Simon meets Laughing Sal on his 5th birthday in San Francisco. The antique attraction operates for 50 cents on Fishermans Wharf.

There is a man in San Francisco -- to whom capitalism has been very kind -- who can make his fantasy come to life. And sure enough it did (and does) and there isn't a person alive with better dreams than he. As a matter of fact, this year's fifth and free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was so damned stupendous that is was too much so. We are terrified of what could happen next year, because how can it possibly improve? It was so good by Sunday at 4 pm that we had to leave. We just couldn't grin any more.

Let's back up... Saturday was one of those rare WARM, calm, FOGGY days out in the avenues. Golden Gate Park was taking on a Chinese painting mystique with the glowing mist, somehow warm enough for t-shirts. Modern stars and bluegrass legends, one after the other and often cruelly overlapping, feasted us all day long and it was Doc Watson's set in particular that reached our hearts. He played betwixt the Del McCoury Band, delivering as always, and banjo uber-legend Earl Scruggs, who was an absolute delight despite a few feedback snags.

Meanwhile, we had a space set up at the Rooster Stage, where we made friends with the soundman who apparently has been Van Halen's knob tweaker for 2 decades. Kelly Joe Phelps sounded like warm, melting butter and it was our first time seeing him. Our clan had to split for a bit... half stayed at Rooster for Jimmy Dale Gilmore's soulful country and yours truly enjoyed The Knitters, John Doe's country rock outfit which was just fucking great!!

Made it back to Rooster to see Danny Barnes shred banjer in Robert Earl Keen's band, and cruised to Star Stage for Los Super Seven, which was probably the most astounding set of the weekend. This was a special (non-touring) show all unto itself, featuring the complete Calexico (!!) as the core with Joe Ely, Raul Malo, Ruben Ramos, Rick Trevino, and The West Side Horns. The sound spread in Lindley Meadow was sweet as can be. For lucky reasons this was practically an intimate show, especially compared to the next afternoon's enormous turnout for Dolly Parton on this stage.

After Los Super Seven, we raced up the hill to hear the end of Steve Earl's set, and headed off to the Inner Richmond for horrid pizza and excellent beer (our friends Andrew and Judy lent us their home). The cruelty of the situation then sank in, as we took stock of what we MISSED, including Hot Rize, Gillian Welch, Buddy Miller, and the lads from Mother Hips.

Sunday we showed up early, and there were already lines and mayhem at the Star Stage. The Waybacks (augmented with Darol Anger on fiddle) rocked the big lawn early, and the crowd was treated to gigantic red-tailed hawks battling overhead in the midst of a crescendoing jam! I am not kidding, and yes I am talking about fierce birds of prey. Then came the best version of "Cumberland Blues" ever... Darol Anger 's augmentation a wicked weapon. The other Dead cover of the day was Hotter Buttered Rum String Band playing "Sugaree", and it was so fucking bad I was embarrassed. Sorry, but avoid this band we will. We stuck around for Hazel Dickens, who was introduced by Hellman (the aforementioned man who dreamed this up and delivered) as the heart and soul of the festival. We don't know the details, but we'll take his word for it.

A big Sunday highlight was Tim O'Brien's band featuring [this site's favorite] Danny Barnes on banjo and electric guitar. This new band is just starting a lengthy tour and they'll only get better, and that's downright frightening. Tim O has obviously set out to put the best players imaginable in his band, giving the next act Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder a run for their money for HUGEST SOUNDING bluegrass band. During the Kentucky Thunder set we also dropped in on the songwriting circle a bit, catching Dave Alvin and Steve Earle sing a few.

By the time Ralph Stanley was starting, you could see how the magnitude of the crowd was increasing... people were streaming in for the Dolly show, not to mention Roseanne Cash and Emmylou Harris and you have a gigantic collision of demographics. And please allow me to say this... I have never seen so many beautiful lesbians in stylee cowboy hats in my life, and I can't wait to see them all again next year. It's a fine, fine look.

So has it gotten too good? Can this sustain? I can't wait to see what that fantasy man will come up with for HSBF#6 in '06. But if he's taking requests, I have tiny few: invite the Danny Barnes Collective and Corinne West to play. And put Calexico on the main stage!

This year's line-up for Hardly Strictly is the best yet. Many of our picks (we are in full family mode for this thing) are pretty darned obvious to those paying attention but for those needing a little guidance or are just curious, here goes:

SAT - It's pretty much a grab bag until 1:25 when Del McCoury plays the Banjo Stage, followed by Doc Watson, who is then followed by Earl Scruggs at 4:15... a trio of legends in a row that we can't miss!! But it gets tricky... Robert Earl Keen (w/ Danny Barnes on banjo) plays the Rooster Stage at 4:50, and Calexico plays a Los Super Seven set with Joe Ely, Ruben Ramos, et al beginninga at 5:15 on the Star Stage. Youch. And then it's Steve Earle back at the main stage. To see all of this, we have to miss Kelly Joe Phelps, Tim and Greg from Mother Hips, Hot Rize, Gillian Welch, Buddy Miller, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Brutal. But if all goes well we won't accidently hear Joan Baez.

SUN - We'll kick off Sunday morning at 11 for The Waybacks w/ Darol Anger at the main. Roam a bit, but back to the main stage for Tim O'Brien's 1:15 set featuring Mr. Danny Barnes in his band. He's followed by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, who the past 2 years has totally astounded us. Another legend -- Ralph Stanley -- follows at 4:05 and then Emmylou Harris at 5:45. The Rooster Stage has some serious attractions... Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, and Steve Earle do a songwriters circle at 2:45 and Roseanne Cash is at 4:20. We'll catch her for a while, but then head over to see Dolly Parton at the Star Stage... cannot miss. Then to end it, it's gotta be Peter Rowan and Tony Rice over at the Arrow Stage at 5:45. Then we'd have to miss Emmylou, which we hate to do. Brutal choices!

There are 5 stages this year, so plans can change if the sound systems get crowded, but the main stage is looking mighty this year. Seeya in the park.