Bill Evans on Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

The following is a contribution from Bill Evans, well-known banjo picker, educator and semi-regular contributor here on Bluegrass Today.

I’m just back – and completely exhausted! However, I wanted to share these pictures and relate a little bit of the magic that was day two of the 6th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, being held this weekend in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.

It’s hard for me to imagine a more interesting and eclectic lineup of Americana, folk, singer-songwriter and bluegrass acts at any other festival in North America – and the fact that it’s a free event makes it all the more special. Hardly Strictly is a gift to the world from Warren Hellman, a San Francisco investment banker and aspiring clawhammer banjo player. This year’s event brings together folks like Earl Scruggs, Emmylou Harris (with John Starling, Tom Gray and Mike Auldridge), Dry Branch Fire Squad, Del McCoury Band and Ricky Skaggs as well as Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson and T Bone Burnett. It’s not all bluegrass but it is all fantastic and the mixing of different styles and perspectives is truly marvelous. And did I mention it is free?

I was asked by Warren to put something together this year that would be truly special and, knowing his love for banjo music, I asked my good friends and mentors Tony Trischka and Alan Munde to join me in a set of music at this year’s event. We played several triple banjo tunes in three part harmony (including the Osborne Brothers’ Big Ben and Alan Munde and Byron Berline’s Deputy Dalton) and also performed tunes separately, including two songs from Tony’s upcoming double banjo CD to be released on Rounder Records in January, 2007 (this is going to be good!). For our last tune, Alison Brown joined us for a four part version of Dixie Breakdown.

Earl Scruggs and Friends followed our performance and the U. S. Air Force Blue Angels put on a dazzling display of aviation prowess above our heads while Earl and the band played. Last year’s weather on Saturday was somewhat marginal with heavy fog and temperatures in the upper 50s. That wasn’t the case this year, as it was bright, sunny and warm….well for San Francisco at least (temps were in the mid 60’s)!

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is always held the first full weekend in October out here in San Francisco. Make plans now for next year’s event – it’s truly an unforgettable experience! Attendance was estimated at 230,000 people today with music spread out on four large stages located throughout the central meadow at Golden Gate Park.

Photos by Gretchen Snyder and Steve Stolzenburg