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A Wizard, A Truly But Not Strictly Bluegrass Star Lineup

08:01 AM Tuesday 7/21/09 | |

There may be a recession in full swing, but the ninth annual installment of San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is bucking the trend by adding a sixth stage and an even larger roster of artists for the free Oct. 2-4 festival in Golden Gate Park.

And this year’s roster is more hardly twangy than ever. Todd Rundgren, performing his classic album A Wizard, A True Star, joins an eclectic cast that includes Marianne Faithfull, Mavis Staples, Richie Havens, Robyn Hitchcock, Tom Morello, the Chieftains, Natalie MacMaster, Aimee Mann, MC Hammer, Malo and Booker T. and the DBTs.

  • Todd Rundgren

    Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Norfolk, Conn.
    December 20, 2008

    (Michael Dobo / Infinity Hall)


In addition to HSB mainstays Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Del McCoury Band, Gillian Welch, Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson, Dave Alvin (with the Knitters and the Guilty Women), Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs, they’ll join Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers, John Prine, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, the Flatlanders, Dar Williams, Nick Lowe, Billy Bragg, Neko Case, Marshall Crenshaw, Marty Stuart, Billy Joe Shaver, Allen Toussaint and dozens of other bluegrass and not so bluegrass favorites.

The addition of a sixth stage means more hard choices for festivalgoers, but three of the performances –Rundgren, Prine and Lovett – will take place on opening day Friday, which traditionally has been set aside for kids’ music programs and, in recent years, one headliner. Last year, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant packed Speedway Meadow to kick of the weekend’s festivities.

  • Steve Martin

    Club Nokia, Los Angeles, Calif.
    May 11, 2009

    (AP Photo / Chris Pizzello)


Despite a recession and an unexpected competitor in the talent pool – Austin City Limits Music & Arts Festival is taking place the same weekend – the 2009 edition obviously isn’t hurting for star power. And festival benefactor, philanthropist and bluegrass fan Warren Hellman seems intent on taking peoples’ minds off of the economy.

Dawn Holliday, who manages Slim’s in San Francisco and takes on booking duties for HSB, told Pollstar that the new stage will be called “Towers of Gold.” It refers to Hellman’s great-grandfather’s practice of stacking $20 gold pieces in one of Southern California’s earliest banks as a symbol of hope and to assure customers that better times were ahead.

But for fans, you can’t beat a better recession-busting symbol than a totally free weekend of top-shelf talent. And Hellman has thrown the annual bash without charge since the hoedown’s inception as Strictly Bluegrass in 2001.

It’s grown from about a dozen artists – always including Harris and Dickens – into a mark-your-calendar event that draws fans from across the country and last year earned its first Concert Industry Awards nomination for Festival of the Year.

  • Emmylou Harris

    Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
    October 7, 2007

    (Jay Blakesberg © 2007)


Hardly Strictly Bluegrass can be counted on to produce unexpected and unplanned collaborations between artists who tend to “hang out” at each others’ sets. And some pairings are downright inspired.

One set that is sure to be a highlight this year is the return of the Songwriters’ Circle, with what could be an “only in San Francisco” lineup of Rage Against the Machines’ Tom Morello and Steve Earle, joined by Allison Moorer and Dar Williams.

Artists are still being added to the lineup, which can be found at the festival’s Web site at HardlyStrictlyBluegrass.com.