Bluegrass in San Francisco? Hardly...

School of Medicine

It’s one of the highlights of the San Francisco music calendar:  the autumnal rite of Bluegrass —Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, that is. The three-day free concert featuring over 40 acts comes to Golden Gate Park this weekend, from Friday, October 4 to Sunday October 6.

In its 13th year, the music festival will bring together legends of bluegrass, new banjo-picking acts and, as the name implies, bands from other genres. With so much talent in one place, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Thinking back several years to my first Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, I was torn between seeing tried-and-true Emmylou Harris, and rolling the dice with rising stars Old Crow Medicine Show. This year, I’m planning to see timeless blues/rock singer Boz Scaggs and Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks fame. I also did my homework and asked a bluegrass buff for some recommendations.

Rob Inglis, a first-year medical student who hails from North Carolina, is already planning his first foray into HSB. For those who want a true taste of the genre, he recommends folk singer Tim O’Brien, Ralph Stanley — a “giant of bluegrass”— and Patty Griffin, whom he considers “absolutely one of the best singer/songwriters in America today.”

HSB offers up-and-coming bands equal billing with the greats. Inglis also plans to check out Trampled by Turtles, a “thrash-grass” band that puts on a “really fun show,” and Spirit Family Reunion, a band with a growing following, whose sound is reminiscent of gospel without the gospel lyrics.

Into the indie scene? recommends The String Cheese Incident, Moonalice and Gogol Bordello.

With all the amazing musical acts and low price of $0, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong, no matter which stage you end up at. Some of my favorite memories of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass have come from chatting with old friends and making new ones between acts. My best advice is to bring friends, a blanket and some beverages (permitted in non-glass bottles), and to just soak up the quintessential San Francisco experience.

And when you’ve had your fill, spare yourself the inevitable trauma that is Muni after a concert, and plan to walk or bike home from Hellman Hollow. For a full lineup and more details, go to