HARDLY STRICTLY BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL 2017
GOLDEN GATE PARK, SAN FRANCISCO
08 OCTOBER, 2017
As always, what you can always bank on San Francisco-wise in October is Indian Summer, and a decided lack of Karl The Fog, making a perfect setting for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Made it up for the final day of this years edition, and navigated both the crowds and a crowded schedule to get a well-rounded taste of music in just a few short hours. Leading off the day was Poor Man's Whiskey, who, out of all the talent assembled, could justifiably claim home field advantage, as they've appeared here for roughly 2/3's of the festival's existence. Sure crowd pleasers, they got the joint fired up and set the tone for the day.
While his roots and skill make him an accomplished arranger, Randy Newman shines most darkly on his own, just a guy at a piano, spinning out his inimitable tales, covering his songbook from early days of providing hits for others, ("Mama Told Me Not To Come") to his golden age ("Six Feet High and Rising") to his Pixar period, leavened with his own deprecating manner.
The significance of the NOLA flag planted at the Towers of Gold stage revealed itself fully with the arrival of Big Freedia, Queen Diva. Backed up by an amazing dance crew, it was an irresistible set that compelled even the unwilling to shake that ass. Capped off, of course, by drawing enthusiastic audience members up for the closer, our National Anthem, "Ass Everywhere".
Drenched in sweat, the next logical choice was to make the brain work as hard as the butt, and for mental calasthenics, it's hard to top the work of Ornette Coleman. A reunion of his Prime Time band from the 70's, led by Jamaladeen Tacuma, was notable enough, but adding in guest firepower in the form of tenor man David Murray, Wallace Roney, and Marc Ribot tipped the scales to the very outer limits.
If you take enough left turns, eventually you'll come back to where you started, and the sweet comedown of Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile was the perfect salve. The pair came together in Australia, and a meeting of like minds blossomed into a just-released album. Backed up by the Sea Lice, including Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, they made a winning go of their very first show, wowing the huge crowd that packed the Swan Stage, stretching back as far as the eye would permit. Combining songs from the aformentioned LP with covers of each other's material, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Walking away from Swan, it didn't take long for the roar of a full in-flight Bob Mould Band to catch the ears. The row of Porta Potties that demarcated a space where you could hear both bands was something to behold. Backed by a rhythm section of Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy, Mould raged through the sun and his mountain of a catalogue, without a breath between songs, to provide a jagged and uplifting coda to the day.
POOR MAN'S WHISKEY
PRIME TIME REUNION
COURTNEY BARNETT/KURT VILE
BOB MOULD BAND