Saturday was my day to chill, and there was no better place to do it than at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco.
It was a little break from all my dad duties at home in Sacramento, and a chance to hit the road on my own for a day to soak in as much good, old-fashioned hillbilly music as I could.
As a little kid in the 70s, I was surrounded by storytelling country music. I heard songs like John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA” and Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road” again and again on the radio.
It’s no surprise that years later I still have a soft spot for songs that tell a good tale, full of fiddles, banjos, geetars and the like.
I was in heaven sitting on the grass in fog-shrouded Golden Gate Park, listening to the old and the more recent all mashed together in a wonderful stew. Every band I heard at this free fest was right up my alley.
Right at the top of the list were the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who add a modern bite to the most old timey stuff. They had the crowd going wild with “Hit’ Em Up Style,” with Rhiannon Giddens telling ladies to get revenge on their cheatin’ men by going on a spending spree. It was the first time I’d heard fiddle and banjo combined with beatboxing, and it was incredibly catchy.
Another rising star is Trombone Shorty, who worked up the audience with the driving jazz funk of “Hurricane Season” and a sweet jam called “Something Beautiful.” Jazz is always extremely cool, and this guy has something grooving and fresh to say.
I stood with my mouth agape for much of Joan Baez’s set, marveling at the legend in front of me and how great she still plays and sounds after decades in the business. She even did a little nasal sendup of Bob Dylan, which had the crowd laughing and cheering. As she finished, thousands in the audience got up on their feet to give her a much-deserved ovation.
I rounded out my eight-hour music marination with a set by Jackie Greene, the singer-songwriter who used to play little venues in Sacramento when he was just starting out. He treated us to a very bluesy, stunning version of “Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right.” I stood near the stage, and it was great to hear many of those in the huge crowd singing along.
I was mostly just glad to see so many folks — old hippies, families, young hipsters — all crowded into the park to hear roots music. I guess a story told well never goes out of fashion.