Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a badge of San Francisco life. You move here and inevitably in your citywide journeys you're part of a conversation debating the lineup of this unbelievably free, always-entertaining fall fest that takes in Golden Gate Park the first weekend of October each year.
It's become a staple of the fall calendar, because well, the bands are good and we like our events free in this town. Now in its 11th year, there are still many new-to-HSB acts, along with the yearly frequenters Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Robert Earl Keen, and Ralph Stanley. Festival publicist Tracey Buck says there are at least half a dozen new local bands in 2011, and roughly 50 new touring acts.
Acquaint yourselves with a few from this year's HSB freshman class. (Though keep in mind: they may be fresh blood at Hardly Strictly, but most have been at this whole music thing for quite some time.) The big weekend is pretty much here: Fri/30-Sun/2.
Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally: Honky tonk at its finest. Robinson's voice quavers like a modern-day Patsy Cline, on par with her contemporary (and fellow HSB performer) Emmylou Harris. Robinson lends her voice more to vintage sounds, than bending to current trends. It's old time twang and classic country. (Sat/1, 6:05 p.m., Porch Stage)
The Devil Makes Three: One of the new locals that can rep the “bluegrass” marker of Hardly Strictly, Devil Makes Three plays a swinging mix of blues, rockabilly, ragtime, and yes, bluegrass. It's roots American music with a hint of sinister mischief, all tattooed and bearded, whiskey-ed up toe-tapping fun. It's been described as “dark bluegrass.” Expect to hear tracks off the trio's newest output, live album Stomp and Smash, which comes out Oct. 25. (Sun/2, 1:10 p.m., Arrow Stage)
Bob Mould: Can you believe it's Bob Mould's first Hardly Strictly appearance? With all his local appearances, prestige, and now current Bay Area address, we could have sworn we'd seem him there before. The former Husker Du and Sugar frontperson, and current globally-adored indie rock solo artist (and recent memoirist/Herbst Theater interviewee) even inspired a tribute concert – it goes down in Los Angeles in November with Ryan Adams and No Age among others. But first, the rocker will appear at HSB. Perhaps he'll read a passage or two from his new book See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody. (Sun/2, 2 p.m., Towers of Gold Stage)
Kurt Vile & the Violators: One of the festival's always-welcome surprises. Who would have guessed that straggly Mr. Vile would be playing the same event as Merle Haggard ? But actually, it makes sense. He of jangly guitars and mumbly, hoarse vocals, Vile has said that he grew up inspired by vintage records and is vocally inspired by Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons The critically acclaimed rocker will likely be one of the event's highlights this year. (Fri/1, 2:25 p.m., The Rooster Stage)
Thurston Moore: Catching Moore is a pretty big coup for festival organizers and goers alike. And his slot at HSB is well-earned. After years of beating guitars to a bloody pulp with Sonic Youth, he debuted the elegant, nearly all acoustic solo album, Demolished Thoughts, this year, produced by fellow luminary, Beck. I mean, the man was named one of Rolling Stones “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” – he can play his instrument damn well. (Fri/30, 5 p.m., Arrow Stage)
Broken Social Scene: While it's Broken Social Scene's first time at HSB, it may also be its last, at least for the time being. Following the Canadian indie (super)group's highly anticipated show at the Fillmore on Oct. 1 (i.e. a few hours after its Hardly Strictly appearance), the massive act will go on indefinite hiatus. Here's your chance to catch it in the fog-hampered sunshine, free of cost. (Sat/1, 3:25 p.m., Towers of Gold)