Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Announces Final Lineup And New Security Policies

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
– Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the massive, free, roots-music-based festival held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park the first weekend in October, has released its final lineup after weeks of teases but the bigger news may be the announcement of new security policies.

While the musical focus and festival regulars like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, The Flatlanders, and artists ranging the gamut from folk royalty like Judy Collins to psychobilly masters The Meat Puppets, the lineup should be comfortingly familiar to longtime fans as HSB heads into its 19th year Oct. 4-6.

But what will be a major, and inevitable, change to the otherwise laid-back weekend in the park comes in the form of a necessary security policy. For the first time, the event will be fenced in and entry points limited to four locations around the west end of sprawling Golden Gate Park. 

In addition, coolers will no longer be allowed and festivalgoers will need to use clear plastic bags or backpacks to hold personal items and blankets — which are subject to search. Short-backed chairs will still be allowed. Concessions are to be expanded to compensate for those unable to pack picnics.

One tradition for early risers goes by the wayside as well: No one will be allowed into the park before 9 a.m. — so hardcore fans wanting to spread blankets on prime real estate and listen to artists run through sound check at 7:30 a.m. will have to wait. 

“As the world changes, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass feels the need to respond, prioritizing safety over convenience,” a statement to Pollstar reads. “We understand that these changes will make our event differ from years past, but are hopeful that our long-time fans will embrace these new rules and enjoy the performances as they always have. Please work with us as we make these changes. As Mavis Staples sings in ‘Dedicated,’ ‘And if it’s us against the world, well, I would bet on us to come out on top. But if you go yours and I go mine, all bets are off.’”

So fans won’t be able to scamper down the hillsides overlooking the six stages, but they should take that bet, anyway. The lineup of 80-plus artists is, as always, stacked with talent — bluegrass and hardly. And this year’s edition features a deeper international lineup than in years past.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters, Kurt Vile and the Violators, and Hot Tuna Electric join more traditional HSB bookings like Bill Kirchen, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands, Buddy Miller & Dirk Powell with Stuart Duncan, Punch Brothers, Robert Earl Keen, Shooter Jennings, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Hayes Carll, Hot Buttered Rum, The Infamous Stringdusters, Mandolin Orange, Mary Gauthier, Nikki Lane, Poor Man’s Whiskey, The Milk Carton Kids, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Sierra Hull.

Funkier fare including Pimps of Joytime, Bettye LaVette, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Fantastic Negrito and Tank and the Bangas are on hand, along with highly anticipated sets by British soul/country artist Yola and country queen Tanya Tucker and another outlaw gal, Margo Price.

On the international front, Syrian-born Bedouine brings a mix of folk, country, funk and even a little bossa nova; DakhaBrakha hails from Ukraine and puts a new spin on world music; Flor De Toloache brings a fresh take on Mexican music though its members have roots from Cuba to Australia; and Mdou Moctar brings the sound of Taureg guitar reminiscent of Tinariwen and Bombino to HSB.

And as always, one-time-only collaborations and special performances abound. Kronos Quartet’s Music for Change: Pete Seeger @ 100,  Mercury Rev & Beth Orton Perform Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete; Ismay Presents: Songs and Stories from Sonoma Mountain; HARMONY F: Petra Haden, Hank Roberts & Luke Bergman; Jon Langford and the Skull Orchard Welsh Male Voice Choir, and a return edition of “Live From Here with Chris Thile”  with Grace Potter and J.S. Ondara are on the bill.

Other artists of interest, and most performing for the first time at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass include The Waterboys, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Calexico and Iron & Wine; Chuck Prophet & The Mission Expres;Jackie Greene, The Long Ryders,  Bobby Braddock, Joan Osbourne, and many more.

See full lineup here.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was born as “Strictly Bluegrass” with five artists in 2000. It quickly grew and added non-bluegrass musicians after a couple of years and re-branded to reflect the new direction. Founded by the late San Francisco billionaire and philanthropist Warren Hellman and his wife, Cris, the festival has never charged admission, issued tickets, sold alcohol or high-end food yet in its biggest years has been estimated to draw as many as 750,000 music fans to Golden Gate Park. The festival has been underwritten by an endowment established by Warren Hellman, who died in 2011, for the foreseeable future. 

According to its mission statement, HSB “is to carry forward the wish of Warren Hellman and his family to make a gift to the people of San Francisco and the world of a free annual outdoor music festival that features and celebrates American ‘roots’ music and its many outgrowths, and in doing so fosters joy, creativity, freedom, peace, collaboration, love of music, mutual respect, and spiritual community. 

“For the past 19 years, our free weekend of music has promoted tolerance amongst us and kindness to strangers. Bring extra patience and compassion with you and support the necessary efforts of our staff, volunteers, security and law enforcement.”