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October 6th, 2017

A Brief History of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Art & Culture

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is one of many of SF’s gifts to the music world. The event is hailed for being free and not corporate, a rarity in today’s music culture. SF is home to the Summer of Love, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and all things counter-culture. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is significant because it was born after the millennium but continues that very SF tradition today. So, here’s a brief history of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, how it got its name and how it continues its humble popularity.

Founded by SF venture capitalist Warren Hellman, banjo player and bluegrass lover, the festival was originally billed as “Strictly Bluegrass” in 2001. Hellman wanted it kept noncommercial and sought to avoid bombarding concert-goers with brand names and signage, which today is a significant feature of any festival. Because Hellman had the means of maintaining this vision, the festival today is still unsponsored.

A few years after its inauguration, other acts joined the stage. These acts weren’t strictly bluegrass, so in 2004, the festival added the adverb “Hardly.” Since then, the fest has welcomed various musicians to the stage, still maintaining its strict policy of not allowing corporations to sponsor the festival.

Over the years, the festival has drawn the likes of Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst, among others.

Since 2001, the festival has grown dramatically and is one of the most treasured events in the city. In 2011 it drew an estimated 750,000 people to Golden Gate Park over the weekend, which is about the population count of the city.

Today, admission is still free, welcoming people of all different backgrounds to enjoy the three-day event in the most coveted park in SF. Guests are allowed to bring coolers, blankets and chairs, and food is for sale from vendors. Alcohol isn’t sold at the event, but guests are welcome to bring beer or wine in non-glass containers. A mutual respect of the park is requested -- to bring out what you bring in and to be courteous to the space and other guests.

This year’s festival features 90 artists on 7 stages. This year’s lineup is something special -- guests will see the likes of T Bone Burnett, Billy Bragg, the newly popular Sturgill Simpson, Cheap Trick, and the list goes on… Check it out here. For questions on parking, camping or anything else, check out the website for all the info.

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