Nothing to do during the weekend of October 3rd to 5th? Well, then, I highly suggest you check out San Francisco’s annual, free, non-commercial and – did I mention FREE – festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass! Now in its 14th year, the festival remains in historic Golden Gate Park and draws thousands of festival goers every year. As you may have guessed, the event caters to mainly bluegrass and folk artists, but in recent years, festival bookers have relented and allowed questionable add-ons. Hardcore fans will grumble at this, but it actually makes the festival more appealing and attractive to the average concertgoer. This year, the folks at HSB have really outdone themselves by crafting a lineup that sticks to the festivals roots but also carries a few left-field surprises that makes this blogger one happy son of a gun. Now, without further ado, let’s see the top 5 acts to catch at HSB.
No question about it, Built To Spill deserves to be among the top five due to their years of stellar recordings and indie rock supremacy. As one of the most popular indie rock bands to come to prominence in the 90’s, BTS has had time to craft a tight and fluid live show. With a large catalogue of music to choose from and lead singer/guitarist Doug Martsch’s tendency to break into full-on jam band mode, BTS developed a reputation for unexpected and exciting performances. While the band has never reached international popularity, they have stayed firm by touring the underground circuit and have become a staple for festivals and small concert halls. Don’t bother looking up a setlist because it will do you no good. BTS earned their reputation from playing whatever the hell they wanted to at any given time. Embrace the music and experience one of the finest indie rock bands still touring today.
Recommended Tracks: “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, “Carry The Zero”, “Hindsight”
If the name sounds a little familiar and you might have thought that it had something to do with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy… then you are absolutely wrong and should feel sorry for yourself. I kid, it has everything to do with Jeff Tweedy. It is, in fact, a side project comprising of Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer, who plays the drums. With the low key (an actual song on the album), yet passionate trademark songwriting of Jeff Tweedy, the duo is set to release a full length album titled Sukierae on September 16th. Perhaps you are not convinced solely on new music alone? As an experienced musician, Jeff Tweedy knows what the audience craves and maybe if you are lucky he will bust out a Wilco cover or two. With only a handful of scheduled dates around the country, it should be an easy decision to make the trip to San Francisco to catch a free show by the master of laid back American pop rock.
Recommended Tracks: “Summer Noon”, “Low Key”, “Fake Fur Coat”
Out of all the acts heading to Golden Gate Park in October, Deltron 3030 takes the prize as most out-of-place artist. They are neither folk, bluegrass, rock, or punk, but instead – and here is the kicker – they are an underground hip hop supergroup. Featuring rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapian, producer/remixer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, and turntablist Kid Koala, Deltron 3030 have been fairly discreet since the release of their debut self-titled album Deltron 3030 in early 2000. New life was breathed into the futuristic themed hip-hop group in 2013 with the release of their second album, Event II. Attendees that want something new during the rock and folk stuffed weekend will gravitate to the group’s set. Known for their energetic live shows and scintillating rhymes, Deltron 3030 has the ability to be one of the most talked about sets all weekend. Combine this with a rare performance with The 3030 Orchestra, there is no telling what could happen. Think about it, hip hop with string instruments and backup singers? what could be better? I guess the only way to find out is to be front and center at the most unique show of the festival.
Recommended Tracks: “Mastermind”, “3030”, “What Is This Loneliness”
If there can be hip-hop at an event called Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, then some good old American punk rock will hardly offend. What better way to kick a day of feel-good folk rock into an adrenaline-filled rock show at the strum of a guitar, courtesy of L.A. based punk band Social Distortion. Formed in 1978 by frontman Mike Ness, “Social D”, as their fans affectionately refer to them, have been on and off for years due to personal issues and consistent line up changes. It wasn’t until 2009 and the release of their 7th studio album in 2011, titled Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, did the group find some sense of stability. Having not played Golden Gate Park since 2010 at the annual Outside Lands Music Festival, Social D is gearing up for an impressive and bone-shattering comeback. Rejuvenated and more hard hitting then ever, you can guarantee they will bring the thunder and possibly start the only mosh pit to be seen at this year’s festival.
Recommended Tracks: “Story Of My Life”, “Ball And Chain”, “Don’t Drag Me Down”
Most indie rock lovers know and adore Conor Oberst. He has been a popular figure in the scene for years due to the popularity of his mainstay band, Bright Eyes, along with his various other side projects that include Monsters Of Folk and, of course, his own solo work. While Oberst is no stranger to the bay area and has performed in some form or another throughout the neighborhood, his set at HSB will be a very special, once-in-a-blue-moon event. Joining him on stage for what can only be described as a folk rock super show, indie folk band Waxahatchee, modern folk rock band Dawes, mellow rocker Jonathan Wilson, indie rock band The Good Life, and singer songwriter Sharon Van Etten. With a massive guest list set to perform, one can only imagine what will occur on stage. Will they all play songs from their various catalogues or perhaps cover well and not so well-known songs that only a massive gathering of likeminded artists could accomplish? The possibilities are endless and that in itself is exciting. With the sheer amount of talent on stage and an air of mystery hanging thick, this will most certainly be the highlight of the weekend.
Recommended Tracks: ??? (expect the unexpected)