I showed up 3 hours early at the Star stage on Saturday to secure a spot for me and my buddies (People who know me realize that this was a miracle; there were only about 20 people when I got there, but dirtbags had already carpeted the place with tarps to “reserve” their space). We were dead center and less than a hundred feet from the stage. I actually could have been at the very front of the stage if I had so chosen. I think about 400,000 people showed up, which is more than half the population of San Francisco. The Star stage was hardly bluegrass, but that’s why the festival has evolved to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass over the years. The Subdudes opened the show . These guys are a terrific funky rockin’ New Orleans band. Apparently their fame has risen and declined over the years, but I recommend them highly; they are a blast to see live.
I think The Knitters played next, and they are one of my favorite bands of all time. They even tossed in an X song for good measure. They tore it up. I’d never seen John Prine before but it seems that he was the main draw for a lot of the crowd, especially the angry naturally dyed organic fiber wearing lesbians (no offense intended, it’s just that they were notably unpleasant amongst a very happy go lucky crowd) sitting next to me. They put down a tarp the size of a football field, only to show up just before Mr. Prine went on, thus missing two of the greatest bands all day long. John had a shredding guitarist playing with him whose name I can’t remember.
Keller Williams was pretty good and Bela Fleck played a couple of tunes with him. This was good because I fell asleep during most of Bela’s set due to an overdose of red wine. Quite the bummer, I was really looking forward to seeing him. All my friends had taken off to see Michelle Shocked on another stage, so no one was around to wake me up.
Los Lobos ROCKED! The last 2 or 3 times I’ve seen them they’ve been doing the Mexican folklorico stuff, which is good, but I much prefer them doing Rock and Roll. They did a bunch of songs with some of the Knitters (at least John Doe and Dave Alvin that I remember) and it was a near riot.
On Sunday, I showed up late and just sort of cruised around, starting up with Hot Buttered Rum, a real dyed in the wool bluegrass band. I have no idea if they are famous or not, but they were terrific, with fantastic musicianship and really good vocals (they closed a capella).
I wandered over to the Banjo stage which is the hardcore bluegrass venue and also the largest capacity by far. Dave Grisman was playing along with some ancient famous bluegrass dude named Curly Seckler. All great!
I took a break and caught a bus out to the Golden Gate bridge to check out the Blue Angels. I ain’t much into warmongering, but the Blue Angels are pretty damned impressive. It must be pretty frightening to be strafed and bombed by the US Navy. There was about a billion people hanging out around the bridge so I figured I’d have to be pretty aggressive about trying to get back to Golden Gate Park. I bullied my way onto the first bus. I think having had some experience on Tokyo subways helped me out.
I made it back in time to catch most of Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men’s set on the Rooster stage. This venue is notoriously small, but oddly enough, it was no problem getting a really good view just behind the Friends of the Billionaire area. Dave is always great every time I’ve seen him and Sunday was no exception.
I closed the show watching Emmy Lou Harris from about two miles away on the Banjo stage. Love that voice!
All the bands I saw were great, and the only bad thing is that you can’t see them all. It really had a Summer of Love vibe going on. I’ll be back next year.