Things are all but strict at the 13th Annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

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By Robin March
Flapjack Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO–The soft echoes of fiddle and guitar chords carried over the wind as large groups of people moved in herds through the tangled trees and shrubbery of Golden Gate Park. Armed with chairs, beers and with a hunger for music the crowd continued onward, leaving behind the pathways for shortcuts down hills to quicken their journey to the music that became louder with every step taken. Naked feet braised across eucalyptus leaf  covered earth as a last narrow dirt path was turned down, and as the light was reached at the end of the path as Bridgette McElearney smiled at her acquired destination.

San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival took place Friday Oct. 4 through Sunday Oct. 6, drawing in music lovers from all across the state. The annual weekend show has been free since its beginning 13 years ago promoting a need and love for music from those in charge of maintaining the concert. As crowds of thousands gathered for the start of the festival early Friday afternoon high expectations were already sure to be met.  

“Every year is worth it, I’m never left disappointed,” Bridgette McElearney, 21, a philosophy major at HSU said while relaxing on a tarp waiting for Seldom Scene to take the stage. McElearney has attended every weekend of the festival with her father, creating a tradition she never wants to break. She, along with many other HSU students made the six-hour drive down to the Bay for a weekend of music in between getting ready for approaching midterms.

“I’m hoping I can stay until Sunday, but I have a test Monday afternoon,” McElearney said with a guilty smile. “But this is just too good, I don’t think I want to miss it.”

The bright green hills were covered with people and the crowds stretched from one end of the three meadows to another. An announcement was made to remind everyone to stay safe-people had climbed to the tops of the trees to get the best seats in the house.

The festival started with four stages on Friday, which extended to six the other two days of the weekend. Every stage always has a full crowd, and despite the multiple thousands of people that pour in from every corner of the park residents never seem to mind.  Warren Hellman, the founder of the festival who was a billionaire investment banker, set up a fund to ensure that the festival would remain free even after his passing, which everyone at the festival continues to pay tribute to.

As Friday’s acts began to come to an end Jack Snyder plowed his way through the thick mass of people to make it to his friends at the front of the crowd. An excitedly satisfied smile plastered his face as a sweet voice addressed the crowd, and as he reached his friends Bonnie Raitt began her eagerly anticipated set to finish off Friday’s festivities.

“There’s nothing like Miss Bonnie, I got lucky she played today,” Snyder, 22, a percussionist said. The crowd danced nonstop throughout her set as she and the band jammed out numerous hits and when she slowed the tempo to sing “Angel From Montgomery” Snyder smiled as he got to enjoy one of his favorite songs in person, which left him at a loss for words upon its finish.

“Wow,” Snyder said as he shook his head and took off his hat. “There’s nothing like it.”

As the final day of the festival began high spirits and good vibes vibrated through the air along with heavy bass chords and the ever-potent smell of marijuana. People smiled and waved at each other while walking to get food or back to the various stages, embracing the bittersweet taste of a wonderful weekend coming to an end.

“I really needed this (weekend),” Conrad Scheepers, 22, a sound engineer said while waiting in line for food. (Suggestion. Perhaps tidy up speech tags by not including scene as part of the sentence — at least, not all of the time. Like this:

“I really needed this (weekend),” Conrad Scheepers, 22, a sound engineer, said while waiting in line for food. Like others Scheepers used the free concert as an escape from the stresses of work and reality and enjoyed every minute of music he could. The main event for him was the closing set on Arrow Stage, The String Cheese Incident, and as the band came out jamming in all force all expectations were met. With variety ranging from bluegrass to reggae and from funk to electronic mandolin chords, the jam band had everyone entranced the entire set.

“They are hard to compare to anyone, but they’re so fat and good,” Scheepers said while talking to his friends on the walk out of the park after the show.

As the sun disappeared behind the trees and the pink clouds faded to deep violet another great festival came to a close, and anticipations for next year began to arise.

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