Twenty years ago next week a San Francisco musician and financier, Warren Hellman, arranged a birthday concert for his sister, a big bluegrass fan. The next year, as part of a bid to get Emmylou to play, Hellman included a modifier to the concert’s name, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was official. Since then the event has grown from a few thousand people in a meadow in Golden Gate Park to a behemoth of an event with 700,000 – 800,000 attendees and 80+ bands across a multitude of stages. Also, I should mention, it’s free.
For the reasons we all know, having that event this year simply wasn’t possible. Fortunately for us the organizers decided to focus on what they could improve instead of what they couldn’t control. Thanks to Hellman’s endowment they didn’t have the overhang of trying to make money. So they’ve focused on making the event globally available while providing financial relief for musicians (and their crew). They’ve partnered with a national artist relief organization, a couple of local relief organizations, and a special fund for helping musician’s crews. They’ve seeded these with $2.5M and will naturally accept donations to increase that.
As for the music itself, it’s going online. With 35+ acts already confirmed it’s going to feel like a music festival. Rather than some out-of-control Zoom session HSB has gone out and professionally shot the artists in venues around the country, primarily Austin, Nashville, and San Francisco. They’ve packed all that goodness into a 3 hour slot, 2pm – 5pm San Francisco time, on October 3rd. It will be streamed on the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass site as well as a couple of others, and aired live by a collection of TV stations here in the U.S. The HSB people have done their part. Now it’s just up to you to find a shamefully large monitor connected to a killer stereo and all the bandwidth you can muster. Let’s see just how good a pandemic concert can be.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.