There's no other festival in the country like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Funded by hometown businessman Warren Hellman, the three-day San Francisco event attracts hundreds of thousands of music lovers -- and has remained absolutely free for the past dozen years.
It was 2001 when Hellman, a bluegrass enthusiast and musician himself, first threw a little party and picked up the tab to invite some of his favorite musicians, from Emmylou Harris to Hazel Dickens to Alison Krauss. A few years later, the musical scope of the festival broadened -- hence the added "Hardly" in the festival's title.
Given that, it's no surprise that HSB has attracted such top-notch bluegrass and country artists as Willie Nelson, Ralph Stanley, Del McCoury and Jimmie Dale Gilmore -- among countless others. But Robert Plant, Billy Bragg, Ryan Bingham, A.A. Bondy, The Jayhawks, Mumford & Sons, Broken Social Scene, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers, MC Hammer (!!) and many other non-bluegrass artists have dropped by at one time or another as well.
Over the years, Hellman's generosity grew along with the festival's size and scope -- he used to refer to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass as his "gift to the city," and the 750,000 who attended last year's event were certainly grateful! The city mourned when he passed away in December 2011, but he left a trust in his will to keep the event going for at least a few more years. So the 2012 version -- the first without its benefactor, happening this weekend, October 5-7 -- will be bittersweet, but the lineup is amazing all the same. The playlist features just some of the amazing artists playing at the 2012 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, including Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Beachwood Sparks, The Chieftans, The Lumineers, Dwight Yoakam and many more. Enjoy.