By amurillo | October 14th, 2010
When the line-up for 2010 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was first announced, I thought there had to be a joke somewhere, or hidden fee. Not even a donation? I simply did not believe it. The chance to see legendaries like Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, T Bone Burnett, Patti Smith (and plenty more) all for only the amount of effort it took to get to Golden Gate Park. With a plethora of public transit (with even some bus lines gratis on behalf of HSB) and ample street parking, no one really had any excuse not to go.
From Friday October 1 to sundown on Sunday, Golden Gate Park became a gathering place for like-minded, music-driven folks. Many brought their picnic baskets, blankets, and fall brews to set up camp. The following is a recap of the festivities:
Friday: I was unable to attend the opening day and missed out on some great music, including Jenny & Johnny (Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and newish-beau Jonathan Rice), T Bone Burnett featuring Punch Brothers & Karen Elson, and The Secret Sisters, and of course MC Hammer. (For real — I actually know someone who went to this show in particular and was converted to his number 1 fan. Only in SF, guys.) This day was more like a primer for the weekend, a small introduction to the chaos that would ensue.
Saturday: After preparing some caprese sandwiches, plenty of pumpkin ale, and baked garbanzo beans, I was officially set for day one. I started with awesome powerhouse group Carolina Chocolate Drops. They brought some Louisiana to the Bay, not skimping on great horns and some pretty catchy lyrics. They filled up the Banjo Stage and really set the tone for the rest of the festival.
Next I headed over to the smaller and more intimate Porch Stage to catch Exene of the famed and revered Los Angeles punk band X. She took to a low-fi set with her band, the California Mothership. They kept things pretty mellow, showcasing her still-amazing vocals and badass stage presence.
Conor Oberst played to a full crowd at the Star Stage, performing a nice mix of songs from his folky album, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, as well as other post-Bright Eyes tracks. A lot of people were surprised he played “Easy/Lucky/Free,” and got so into it; they probably forgot they were there to see some bluegrass! Oberst played for over an hour, the perfect transition into a late afternoon fog (literally).
I finished the day back at the Porch Stage with the sweet sounds of Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs. A Brit who plays garage-band rock and R&B equally as good, Golightly really brought some ‘ol fashioned rock and roll to usher in the evening. Her roots-based music kept everyone dancing and clapping, remembering why they came to the festival in the first place.
Sunday: After getting a later start, I arrived with some epic sandwiches, more pumpkin ale and all the excitement I could muster. Why? My first act of the day was none other than Elvis Costello and The Sugarcanes. There was a massive crowd of enthused people waiting just for him. I thought the Star Stage was full for Conor Oberst, but it was nothing compared to Costello (and rightfully so). His set included a mix of songs, both new and old; each song built up the crowd more and more. The music wafted in and out of the audience, a perfect way to welcome the afternoon haze. His band was phenomenal and definitely deserved their own billing.
Next I moseyed over to catch the brilliance of Patti Smith. To be fair, I had to hear half of her set while waiting in the bathroom line, but it was no matter. As soon as she took to the stage she was a force to be reckoned with. Most notable was her cover of the great Rolling Stones track “Play With Fire.” The crowd went absolutely wild, despite her forgetting some lyrics. When she got it right, the audience lost it. It was the most frenzied crowd I saw that night.
That was, until I finished up the festival with the incomparable Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. This was the act I was most excited about. Ms. Jones has been called a female James Brown, and after seeing her live, it’s extremely obvious why. Her band warmed up the crowd for fifteen minutes, playing awesome soul and R&B that got everyone off their picnic blankets and up on their feet. When Jones came on the stage, she didn’t waste a minute belting out hit after hit. The energy was amazing and I left thinking that it was truly the best way to end the 2010 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.