Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Day 1

After we got ourselves organised for the day, we walked up from our apartment in Lower Haight.  We now have a pretty good idea as to why there’s “Lower” in the name – it’s a long way to the top if you want to get to Upper Haight.

It was good to catch up with Baz and Sue who we hadn’t seen since Americanafest in Nashville.  Baz put us on to tickets for a little Chuck Prophet gig tomorrow night.

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Jenny, Richard and I then continued up Haight St into the east end of Golden Gate Park where we walked and walked and walked.

Luckily a girl was giving away Hubert’s Lemonade which was very refreshing.

Finally we arrived at a Festival entrance.  There are only three stages running today (being a work day) – Banjo, Arrow and Rooster Stages.  Jenny and I purchased some well-earned food – a knish (potato,spinach and garlic in a light, seared dough).  A good first up choice.  While there, Jesse DeNatale was playing a set on the Banjo Stage.

We decided to walk further (it was an effort) to the smaller Rooster Stage set in a little dale, with plenty of shady vantage points up the hill to the right.

My Festival Tours poncho came in handy as a ground cover.

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Jenny got out her knitting and we watched The Felice Brothers (se above).  No strangers to Australia, they hail from the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.  A blend of revivalist, folk and Americana, they played many songs with which I was familiar from their breakthrough 2008 self-titled album.  It was the first time I’d seen them live and they were engaging and kept the crowd focused.

A chicken quesadilla was the next snack – plenty of water too, it was warm in the sun.

The crowd was pretty big around the Rooster Stage but not uncomfortably so.  I expect there will larger groups tomorrow, even with three additional stages in operation.

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I then sat and watched The Evens (above) knowing little of them except the name.  They are based in Washington D.C. and, according to the Festival program, are ‘indie pop’ – a duo of Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina.  The Washington Post has described their sound as “what happens when post-hardcore becomes post-post-hardcore”.  I’m not sure if that helps you (it doesn’t me).  I found their set somewhat jarring and self-indulgent – a lot of stage banter with attitude but not much momentum gained during proceedings.

I have written about First Aid Kit (see below) before.  I attended their show at The Forum in Melbourne this year which for me was truly revelatory.  Angel voices and harmonies, strong material from their first US-recorded album The Lion’s Roar and a beautiful cover of Paul Simon’s “America” made it a surprisingly special night.

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Here at Golden Gate Park they played a similar set – two or three new songs and their voices a feature and the crowd (below) were clearly enamored of their sound.

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We had a dinner connection at 6.30 before traveling to see Calexico at Slim’s, so we decided to leave the Park a little early to have a quick, refresh turnaround before the evening’s activities.  A cab back to our apartment (shared with Baz and Sue) and within 45 minutes, all five of us walked one block to Haight St to get on the bus up the hill. The bus was very busy but we made it to our designated dinner spot Cha Cha Cha (Cuban).  Originally identified as the place to go by Brian Wise (an expert in such matters), it was excellent – plenty of good, plentiful food and a nice glass of Zinfandel to wash it down.

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After the meal, another bus ride, this time about twenty minutes and a walk and we finally managed to arrive at Slim’s.  Jenny and I worked our way to get to the stage front right before the support Robert Ellis commenced.  I saw him three times in quick succession this year and already can see that he developed even further in the interim.  New songs on top of his fine debut album material, a good sense of humour and winning stage presence – you will hear a lot more about this performer.

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Calexico (see Joey Burns above) had played at Hardly Strictly today, finishing just before 7.  The band spent a lot of time sound-checking (presumably they had no other time to do it) and by 10.15 they launched into “Pepita”.  To say their performance was a sheer delight is an understatement.  Much of their set comprised about seven songs from their most recent New-Orleans-recorded release Algiers which is a fine addition to the band’s impressive discography.  Favourites such as “Alone Again Or” and “Not Even Stevie Nicks” were well received.  By the time they completed a rousing encore with “Guero Canelo”, the assembled were very content.

The band played in Melbourne, just weeks ago. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t see them there due to traveling through the U.S.  When Hardly Strictly announced that the band was on its line-up and the side gig at Slim’s became public, I was extremely appreciative of seeing this unique, passionate and evocative outfit again (John Convertino of Calexico below).

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After the show, I purchased the band’s CD Aerocalexico which I understand is a collection of instrumental, spaghetti-Western material.  By the time I found Jenny, she had chatted with Joey Burns and achieved his signature on the band’s set list (see below). Very nice work.

We managed to get the bus back, arriving at the Waller St apartment well after midnight.

A brilliant day.

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Author: Rob Dickens

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