Hardly Strictly

Despite my fear of banjos and hillbillies, almost every year, I enjoy three days in Golden Gate Park at the Hardly, Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

I know what you’re thinking: bluegrass?! Now I admit that I can appreciate a bluegrass harmony, even if it includes an Appalachian accent and some fiddle playing, but generally the key word – for me, at least — is hardly.

There are plenty of musicians at Hardly Strictly that aren’t considered bluegrass. Like Emmylou Harris, who closes out the festival every year on Sunday evening, filling Speedway Meadow with her incredible voice.


I know that bluegrass can be uncomfortably close to country music. And although it’s an unfair stereotype, country music often makes me think of gun-toting, bible thumping, red state hillbillies who believe you either love this country or you leave it — the sort of beliefs that run counter to those of most San Franciscans.

But my asinine assumptions are even more reasons to go to the show. Last year, an almost plaintive, country voice made me sit up and listen more carefully.

The voice belonged to Iris Dement and her songs made rethink everything I ever assumed about country music.

“Some guy refuses to fight, and we call that the sin
but he’s standing up for what he believes in
and that seems pretty damned American to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free”

When she sang “Our Town,” I was surprised find I had tears in my eyes. I know I’m a total sap, but I never expected to feel anything but contempt about a small town.

It’s these sort of experiences (and the chance to witness some truly appalling dancing in the audience) that make me return to Hardly Strictly year after year. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the festival usually includes some high profile musicians. Last year, Elvis Costello was there. This year, Jeff Tweedy is playing.

How else would I have ever learned about Iris Dement? Where else could I see someone who goes by the first name “T Bone” take the stage? I knew I loved Emmylou’s voice but before Hardly Strictly, I’d never seen her live. Now, I have a standing date with her every year as the sun sets and the fog rolls in.


One Response to “Hardly Strictly”

  1. cryitout Says:

    Great lyrics — thanks for the tip!


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