Before I ramble about some of my favorite parts of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 17, I wanted to make sure I wrote down something that’s been on my mind:
Seeing as the worst mass shooting on American soil took place at an outdoor music festival just 5 days prior to HSB, I was more than a little paranoid about going to a large-scale, free concert in the park last weekend. I even packed a first aid kit in my bag and had a few fleeting concerns about how to use its contents without fainting, which is a bummer because no one should have to be fearful of going to a music show.
But thankfully, nothing awful happened, and in fact almost every artist I saw made some sort of comment about the feelings of peace/love/brotherhood/sisterhood floating around the festival throughout the weekend. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but there is something special about HSB that you don’t get at Outside Lands or any other festival. For one, it’s completely free and non-commercial—no corporate sponsorships, no “Heineken House,” no admission price. Attendees range from babies to baby boomers (and also lots of dogs), and everyone respects one another. There’s an immense amount of trust involved in letting 750,000 people walk into Golden Gate Park with unchecked coolers and backpacks, but if there’s any place you can pull it off, it’s here. So thanks, San Francisco, for once again proving that you’re a city of peace and love and (literal) harmony.
Now, with that out of the way, here are my highlights from the festival.
The War and Treaty
This Michigan-based couple were billed as a supporting act to Buddy Miller, but umm, they definitely stole the show. Their love for each other practically radiated off the stage during their set; it was wonderful. (Fun fact: Michael Trotter Jr. was a soldier in Iraq who wrote his first songs on a piano owned by Saddam Hussein.) They just released their first EP this summer, called Down to the River. Check ’em out playing the title track below (so much energy!!). I feel lucky to have seen them, and hope they come back to the Bay Area soon.
I never really got into The Black Keys, but while listening to HSB playlists in the past month, it was Dan Auerbach’s stuff I kept coming back to. Also, I really like his music videos – they’re so fun (and a little bizarre). See: “Shine on Me” and “Stand By My Girl”, both of which have a bit of a George Harrison/All Things Must Pass-era vibe to me.
So seeing Auerbach on Saturday evening was definitely a highlight. We were right up front (my dad has a friend who makes a point to stake out front-row spots at the beginning of each day) and it was awesome. I had no idea who the guys in Auerbach’s band were—none of them looked younger than 65—but turns out they’re kind of a big deal: Gene Chrisman drummed on “Respect,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” Dave Roe was the longtime bassist for Johnny Cash, Bobby Wood and Russ Pahl have played with some of the biggest names in music. Cool!
Here’s the video for the opening song Auerbach played at HSB, a nostalgic mini-movie complete with a John Prine cameo:
The Secret Sisters
I got to the festival early on Sunday to catch The Secret Sisters, and they did not disappoint. If you like First Aid Kit (another sisterly duo, whose performance on Friday I sadly missed), I would definitely recommend checking them out! They performed a whole bunch of lovely original songs (like this one) but the video I chose below is an a cappella version of a 1920s song, because I just loved their rendition so much.
Thank goodness I tagged along with my parents to this one, because I’ll probably never get to see Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, and Lucinda Williams (and Bob Weir!) on the same stage together ever again. Lampedusa is a group of musicians currently touring to raise awareness of the worldwide refugee crisis. My heart melted as soon as they started singing (appropriately) “Refugee” and continued to melt all the way through “Love Hurts,” “I Know You Rider,” and “Pilgrim”. Not to mention the Blue Angels were flying over our heads throughout their set, which made for some sweet pictures. Can’t find any high quality videos from the show, but here’s one of “I Know You Rider” which is fun because you can see me and my parents over on the left side near the front (Dad’s in a green shirt and big hat, mom’s in a white shirt, and I’m in red).
Also, can I just say how amazing Emmylou Harris is? She was the first act I ever saw at HSB, and one of my favorite singers. She continues to play the festival every year, and her voice is just pure magic.
- Although Alex and I were about a football field’s length away from the stage during Randy Newman’s set, it was still great fun. Obligatory “You’ve Got A Friend” video (“That guy looks like Tom Hanks…”).
- Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were good from what I heard, but by that point it was so packed at the Swan Stage that I couldn’t really get a solid look/hear. Ah well, maybe next time.
- Same as above for John Prine; I really would’ve enjoyed being up close for his set, but the crowd was too much so unfortunately I just heard a few songs.
In previous years, I found HSB to be a bit overwhelming, but this year was so enjoyable that I’m really looking forward to the next one. Also, kudos to my parents for hanging out at the festival all weekend; if they can do it, I guess I can too. :p