The artist lineup for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival #8 has been revealed. Of course, the biggest news for this year's fest is the reunion appearance of BAD LIVERS (featuring Danny Barnes). The biggest news for everybody else is Robert Plant & Allison Krauss featuring T-Bone Burnett. That's one big show we'll have to squeeze into, for sure!

The traditional bluegrass is thick this year. Earl Skruggs, Del McCoury Band, Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Emmylou Harris, and Peter Rowan all return for their usual slots. Other Hardly well-knowns include Steve Earle, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe (not necessarily together) and MC Hammer. Yes, the website says MC Hammer. Hmmm. Reminds me, I'll have to tell you about GangstaGrass in my next post.

Aside from Bad Livers, the ones that interest me the most include Bonnie Prince Billy and Los Cenzontles featuring Santiago Jimenez (tex-mex). Will also target Dave Alvin, The Waybacks, Richard Thompson, and Robert Earl Keen (w/ Barnes on banjo).

Barnes could conceivably play w/ Bad Livers (his band), Robert Earl Keen's band (does every year), The Waybacks (on occasion), The Infamous Stringdusters (who cover his tunes), and Laurie Lewis if I'm not mistaken.

Missing this year are The Knitters (damn! damn! damn!!), The Sadies (too good to be true last year w/ Neko Case), T-Bone's own electric set (saved our lives last year), Doc Watson (folks, gotta catch these legends whenever you can!!), and The Hacienda Brothers (Chris Gaffney R.I.P.). Still looks like another good one and I'll see y'all at the Bad Livers in Golden Gate Park!

As November begins, it occurs to me that we've been Californians* for 10 years exactly. The * is for my friend Hil in L.A. who rightfully notes that I'll never be a true Californian... I will always be a Midwestern Boy. Fair 'nuff, I can accept that. I'm actually proud of it. But make no mistake... Simon and Henry are true Californians. And their mom and dad will be sure to help find them some nice Midwestern Girls, some day.

10 years ago I loaded up the Nissan Pulsar -- the one my Frontenac, Missouri mechanic said I should junk but went on to log 1000's of vertical miles in the Oregon/Washington Cascades and beyond -- and drove south from Hood River to San Francisco, where my brother Peter had a studio apartment on Lower Haight.

He let me... actually, encouraged me... to set up shop (my web design biz) at his place. Because it was so tiny, I actually had to set up a little office w/ a PowerMac fresh every morning after tucking away the pullout bed. I flew back up to Oregon just in time for Thanksgiving w/ Kari, packed up a truck and the cats, and migrated south into Peter's apartment! Thanks to Peter's heroic patience thresh-hold, the 3 of us and the 2 cats shared this tiny place for 3 weeks until we could re-situate.

So that's how it all began for us. I have an amazing cascade of memories from my early SF days... navigating our stuff through the maze at Crocker's Lockers.... seeing Bob Weir w/ a cart full of grapefruit at Rainbow (hey, Bob, ya gonna whack'em or extrac'em?)... Go-Getters, the worst pizza on the planet... getting towed for the first time (a miserable must for all SF newbies) and so on and so forth and next thing you know, it's 10 years!

When I talk to my friends in the Midwest, sometimes it seems like they are either hoping or expecting me to bounce back east. Or they just have to write me off as one of the crazies. To a practical Midwesterner, living out here makes no sense, no matter how easy it is to get to Stinson Beach. It's too expensive. They bring up earthquakes a lot.

But since many have been so curious I've pulled together a few answers to questions I often get that might help Midwesterners understand what it's like out here. I'll just give the answers, you can guess the questions:

  • Yes, I feel the shakers. Here in Alameda, at first you think there's a really loud heavy truck speeding your way. Then it's a rumbling locomotive going 800 mph underneath your house. I remember my first one in SF. I was walking across my office floor on Maiden Lane when the whole room turned to jello and I felt as if I was body surfing. When it ended, the old-timer in the corner, without looking up from his typing, calmly said "that's a 5.2" and indeed it was.
  • I always enjoy meeting other Midwestern Transplants. We always seem to find each other and get along. I've discovered that I really like people from Wisconsin, probably more than any state.
  • If you stubbornly insist that you eat only "American" food, you'll miss out on a lot.
  • No matter how liberal you think you are in St. Louis, you'll always be off a little to the right.
  • Nobody cares what you do.
  • Unless it offends somebody.
  • I don't know how you get anything done in Berkeley.
  • Driving across the central valley to Tahoe sucks.
  • They start them off in hot tubs when they are just babies.
  • Nobody cares where you went to high school.
  • Baseball just doesn't impact people's lives here much.
  • San Franciscans aren't just a bunch of gay people getting married.
  • Bands always play their best at the Fillmore.
  • In California, it is socially acceptable to just Not Show Up. My disdain for this practice keeps me a Midwestern. Meanwhile, I've begun to on occasion just Not Show Up. This concerns me.
  • Yes, it's crazy expensive to live here. Don't really know how we do it, but we've somehow found a way to make it work and share a wonderful family life.
  • Added 11/20/2007: You know your son is a truly a Californian when he asks "So why do cars even have turn indicators?"

Here it is.... the Hardly Strictly wrap-up. I'm pretty wrecked, probably because I had boys on my shoulders for 8 hours/day all weekend. Highlights and lowlights after the jump...

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!

This might qualify as too much information that you don't really want to know, but this website pinpoints reality on the other side of the Oakland Estuary. You can select which kinds of crime you want visible and adjust the slider for time frame.

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.