Eclectic Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Unites Emmylou Harris, Richie Havens in San Francisco


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Warren Hellman is the kind of billionaire investment banker who makes it hard to hate billionaire investment bankers. Every year, Hellman a successful venture capitalist and an amateur banjo player organizes something called the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, a three-day celebration of picking and strumming in San Franciscos Golden Gate Park.

Opened to all and 100 percent free and every year, Hellman picks up the tab. Since its inception eight years ago, with two stages and nine bands, HSB has grown into perhaps the largest free festival in the country: Over the weekend an estimated 500,000 fans crammed into this years installment, more than Coachella, Lollapalooza and All Points West combined.

Emmylou Harris was the fests very first headliner back in 2001, and Hellman named the thing Strictly Bluegrass hoping to guilt her into playing some. (She didnt, so they had to add the Hardly later.) Now the lineup is a cross-section of almost every kind of American roots music from R&B legends like Booker T. and Allen Touissant to NPR folkies like Steve Earle and Aimee Mann to young indie-rock Turks like Okkervil River and Dr. Dog. And, of course, banjos, banjos, banjos.

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