Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Names John Caldon Executive Director


Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has hired its first executive director in 22 years with the appointment of John Caldon, a leader in the San Francisco arts community, who will execute the event’s core and strategic missions going forward.

Caldon brings his experience as a leader of large events with deep community connections to HSB, which was founded by the late philanthropist Warren Hellman in 2001 as a free music festival and has grown from a one-day, single-stage bluegrass festival to a three-day, six-stage event crossing genres and drawing as many as 750,000 to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park every October.

Currently, Caldon is the managing director of the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center, one of the largest performing arts centers in the U.S., comprising the War Memorial Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, and Veterans Building. 

At the War Memorial, he has led the strategic vision, financial planning, operations, and DEI initiatives – all roles that he will focus on at HSB.

The organization contracted the nationally-renowned Arts Consulting Group in its search to fill the role. ACG has managed effective executive search processes at numerous arts and culture organizations, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, and the Museum of Latin American Art. 

“I am thrilled to join the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass family!” Caldor says of his appointment. “Few festivals of this size and caliber exist in the United States that are available at no cost to attendees, located in a setting as beautiful as Golden Gate Park, and kept free of corporate sponsorship to focus on celebrating music. Joining an organization that exists entirely to give the gift of incredible music to its community is the perfect next step for a career in which I have worked to promote access to arts and culture as a public good. I look forward to being a partner to the HSB Managing Board, Sheri Sternberg, and the entire team that works so hard to make magic every year.”

Sternberg is a founding staff member and executive producer of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, which was forced to pivot to a “virtual” festival, utilizing streaming and video technology to bring the festival into living rooms, during the 2020-21 pandemic seasons.

“Having explored virtual presentations and the new ways that Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was able to contribute to the health of the musical ecosystem over the past two years, bringing on an Executive Director like John Caldon was a natural evolution,” Sternberg says in a statement. “John’s deep roots in the Bay Area provide a unique opportunity for us to reinforce our commitment to the community.  His experience with the City and County of San Francisco, leading DEI initiatives and developing community partnerships will all be invaluable in guiding Hardly Strictly Bluegrass into the future.”