Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2012 Guidebook

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is happening this Friday through Sunday at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Late last week, the full festival schedule (with set times!) was finally posted on the event website.

With dozens of acts performing on multiple stages each day, though, it can be confusing to figure out where to go and what to see next. Fear not, good friends: I’m more than happy to boss you around.

Here’s what I’d make a point to see if headed down to San Francisco this weekend. If you follow this itinerary and keep seeing the same people near you in every crowd, flag them down for a high five. They’re either Russian spies or fellow Country California readers – and either way it doesn’t hurt to make a new friend.


10:00am – Poor Man’s Whiskey and Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Star Stage
Since this is literally the only thing happening in the time slot, your first decision will also be your easiest.

Assuming your tastes are anything like mine, you’re then going to want to sidle on over to the Banjo Stage for the remainder of the day, where the line-up runs:

12:00pm – John Reilly and Friends (featuring Becky Stark and Tom Brosseau) at Banjo Stage

1:15pm – Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys at Banjo Stage

2:40pm – The Jerry Douglas Band at Banjo Stage
If you’ve heard enough of Jerry Douglas’ instrumental prowess by 3:20, you might briefly dodge over to the Arrow Stage just across the way, where Patterson Hood and the Downtown Rumblers will be playing. But stage-hopping is, as ever, a dangerous game: You might lose a prime spot for the next act on the Banjo Stage, a seldom-touring superband that’ll be starting up just as Hood finishes. It’s… (drumroll please)…

4:15pm – The Time Jumpers (Vince Gill, Dennis Crouch, Paul Franklin, Larry Franklin, Andy Reiss, Dawn Sears, Kenneth Sears, Joe Spivey, Jeff Taylor & Billy Thomas) at Banjo Stage

5:45pm – Elvis Costello (solo) at Banjo Stage

8:00pm – Reckless Kelly, Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys, The Trishas, Tiny Television at Slim’s
Not part of HSB proper, but a more intimate show featuring several of the acts in town for the festival. $20 admission, $45 admission + dinner. Details here.

Hope you enjoyed the relative ease of Day 1, as Days 2 and 3 will entail considerably more stage-hopping.


11:00am – The Trishas at Arrow Stage
Miss Hardly Strictly Bluegrass mornings at your own peril. Less crowded with festivalgoers but equally crowded with musical talent as festival nights, they’re a prime time to enjoy the natural beauty of Golden Gate Park. Though The Trishas would be my choice at 11am, you could also opt for the World Famous Headliners (Big Al Anderson, Shawn Camp, Pat McLaughlin, Michael Rhodes & Greg Morrow) at the Banjo Stage or what’ll surely be a nice tribute to festival founder Warren Hellman at the Rooster Stage, a lineup billed as Go to Hell Man Clan with special guests The Wronglers featuring Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

12:10pm – Sara Watkins at Porch Stage
The choice at this time really comes down to Watkins, Reckless Kelly at Arrow Stage, or the Alison Brown Quartet featuring Stuart Duncan at Banjo Stage. All else being equal, Watkins is playing the smallest and least crowded of the stages, which means you’ll probably be able to get about as close as you’d like without having to stick your face in the armpits of any displaced Red Dirt fans at the Reckless Kelly show. Banjo Stage will probably already be getting crowded by this point, as a huge, multi-artist tribute to Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Warren Hellman will be taking place there in just a couple hours.

1:10pm – Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson at Rooster Stage
Never miss Guy Clark, right? Should be an easy decision. But having Buddy Miller playing the Banjo Stage and Justin Townes Earle playing the Towers of Gold Stage at the same time might give you pause. Still, it’s Guy Clark. How many opportunities are you going to get to see Guy Clark in California?

2:45pm – Tribute to the Founding Fathers: Warren Hellman, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson featuring Alison Brown, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton, with special guests Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris with Heidi Clare & Colleen Browne (from the Wronglers), Peter Rowan, Nick Lowe & more at Banjo Stage
Oh dear. I advised you to avoid the Banjo Stage earlier because of this very event, and yet it really is the best thing happening in its time slot. Plus, since Buddy Miller actually started 15 minutes after Guy Clark, you might be able to catch the last song or two of his set if you really hoof it after Guy & Verlon. So now, thanks to my advice, you’re near the back of the pack for what promises to be an incredible multi-artist tribute. You can try using your ninja skills to weave through the crowd on the field, or just climb the wooded hillside next to the stage for a clearer view. Even if you don’t end up with the best vantage point, you should feel blessed that you’re there to hear something like this in person. For free. Pretty hard to complain, right?

4:05pm – Jerry Jeff Walker at Arrow Stage
One perk of not being boxed in near the front of the Banjo Stage for that big tribute? The back of the Banjo Stage crowd is closest to the front of the Arrow Stage just across the way, so you’ll be able to beat all those other people to a prime spot for Jerry Jeff. That’s thinking on your toes, champ.

5:35pm – The Flatlanders feat. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock at Arrow Stage
Here’s one of those classic Hardly Strictly conundrums: You have Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses), the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and The Flatlanders closing out the day at the same time on different stages. And you somehow have to choose. If you saw Jerry Jeff, you’re already in position for The Flatlanders – perhaps the most elusive of the bunch – so I’d just stay put. But all the stages will be crowded by this point, so you could wander around and sample them all from afar if you’d like.

Congratulations on making it through a very nomadic Saturday. You’re probably tired, so rest up. There are plenty more big acts ahead tomorrow, and you’ll want to finish this thing in style.


11:00am – Jim Lauderdale at Rooster Stage
Ah, the smell of Hardly Strictly in the morning. Remember how crowded it was last night? All the people who got too drunk then are home sleeping now, so enjoy your personal space for the time being. If not Lauderdale, check out Lucero at the Arrow Stage in this same time slot.

12:05pm – Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands at Banjo Stage

1:10pm – Jesse Winchester at Rooster Stage
It’s the singer-songwriter’s first appearance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. There aren’t many established acts you can still say that about.

2:15pm – DOUG SAHM’S PHANTOM PLAYBOYS featuring: Dave Alvin, Steve Earle, Delbert McClinton, Boz Scaggs, Jimmie Vaughan & more at Star Stage
Some line-up! Soak up what you can in the 45 minutes you have before heading just around the corner to the Towers of Gold Stage for some guitars, cadillacs, and…

3:10pm – Dwight Yoakam at Towers of Gold Stage
It’s another festival first, and about as mainstream as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass gets.

4:05pm – Del McCoury Band at Star Stage
You might be a few minutes late for this if you stay for all of Dwight, but you should still have at least 30 minutes or so to get schooled on bluegrass musicianship and high lonesome singing by Del and the boys. Plus, the Star Stage is conveniently located between the Towers of Gold Stage and your next stop…

4:50pm – Todd Snider at Rooster Stage
Worth leaving Del early for Todd Snider? That’s your call. But do catch what you can of Snider’s set. He has a habit of offering one of the festival’s most entertaining shows, highlighted by some of its best stories and stage banter. A great way to (almost) close out the 2012 festival.

5:45pm – Emmylou Harris at Banjo Stage
Sure, The Civil Wars are closing out the Rooster Stage. But why would you? Always, always Emmylou. Unless it’s too crowded, in which case maybe The Civil Wars.

If you’ve survived, pat yourself on the back. Twenty-five hours of live music in three days is no small feat.

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  1. Arlene says

    HSB has gotten so crowded in the last two years that it’s now virtually impossible to travel to multiple stages in the cours of one day. If you are going to check out Guy Clark’s set on Saturday, you might want to stay at the Rooster Stage and catch Patty Griffin’s solo set at 3:50 p.m., a rare recent instance when reportedly, she won’t be appearing with that guy she’s not married to…. She has a new album coming out relatively soon and you’re likely to hear some new material.

  2. says

    Hot damn, that really is an amazing set of pickers and singers.

    You Yankee scum, with your free Americana festivals, cheap Levi’s and white Christmases.

    It really is an embarrassment of riches, and I’m sure you could devise another schedule that includes none of these acts but is still an incredible weekend.

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