Pro Tips for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2022 in San Francisco

Fall means holiday season in San Francisco. The social calendar for last weekend’s Folsom Street Fair and Portola Fest is over, but October brings many, many rave opportunities.

From Fleet Week to Italian Heritage Festival to Castro Halloween Block Party, there’s something for everyone – but when it comes to unique and accessible city events, it’s hard to stand out at this weekend’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass .

Founded in 2001, the three-day event in Golden Gate Park features four stages of music that, as the name suggests, are American and root-themed, but remain genre-agnostic. You won’t find any techno producers on the bill (they’re all still on The Hangover at Portola), but the lineup does span an impressive range of genres, from Bela Fleck’s traditional bluegrass (Sunday, 3:50pm), to Rock icons like Elvis Costello (Saturday, 4.45pm) to trendy indie bands like Waxahatchee (Saturday, 3.55pm). Art-rock fans will also rejoice in Talking Heads’ semi-reunion, which features Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew performing “Remain in Light” in full (Saturday, 5:55pm).

The free BYOB nature makes it one of SF’s most cherished events, but the privilege of watching dozens of bands in the park without paying a dime comes from an unlikely source: an investment banker.

Of course, this isn’t news to longtime San Francisco natives, but the event was funded by venture capitalist Warren Hellman, who died in 2011 but whose continued contributions allowed the music to continue without any sponsorship.

In October, Modu Moctar performed at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park.  June 6, 2019.

In October, Modu Moctar performed at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park. June 6, 2019.

Douglas Zimmerman/

What you need to know about holiday logistics

One of the best things about Hardly Strictly is that it’s essentially a big picnic, but that doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. Bring blankets and low chairs, but large coolers are no longer allowed (small soft-sided coolers for medical purposes are fine). Clear backpacks are recommended, large bags (22″x15″x10″) are not allowed.

Gone are the old days of free time with full barrels, but alcohol is allowed (beer and wine only, no glasses). No alcohol was sold at the event, but there were plenty of food vendors.

For the first time since the pandemic began, it’s “barely strict,” so organizers will set up a COVID station in Arrow Meadow, offering PCR tests, as well as shots and boosters.

Fantastic Negrito performs at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park in October.  June 6, 2019.

Fantastic Negrito performs at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park in October. June 6, 2019.

Douglas Zimmerman/

Pro Tips for Beginners and Veterans

Festival co-founder Sheri Sternberg offers some advice for first-time attendees and Hardly Strictly veterans. The festival is known to draw huge crowds, but there are ways to avoid getting stuck at a bottleneck when entering. The entrances to JFK and Transverse are the busiest, followed by Fulton Street on 30th Avenue. For faster access, go to JFK and 36th Avenue or South Polo Field.

In terms of transport, ride-hailing prices may not reach the level of the “Outside Lands” surge, but public transport (there will be an additional Muni bus), bike or walk to the festival is still highly recommended to avoid traffic jams and parking nightmare. There are four paid parking lots listed on the Hardly Strictly website. If you must call a Lyft or Uber, pickup and drop-off areas are 30th Avenue between Anza and Balboa, and Balboa between 30th and 31st (Irving between 25th and 27th Avenue is pick-up only).

Since most festivals are late into the night, it makes sense to wait until mid-afternoon, but HSB’s 7pm stop time means it’s not that difficult to arrive early (1pm on Fridays, 11pm on Saturdays) and Sunday morning). On the one hand, it will be less crowded, but additionally, organizers have piled up some of their favorite acts earlier in the day. Sternberg suggests soaking up the reverbs of Rainbow Girls (Friday, 2:15) or Hindustani minimalist Arooj Aftab (Sunday, 12:30pm). Other relatively early standouts include afrobeat legend Antibalas (Saturday, 1:15pm), and funk master Cymande’s reunion (Sunday, 2:10pm).

Another smart suggestion is to check out bands you’ve never heard of on the smaller Bandwagon and Porch stages. This year, Sternberg features North Carolina songwriter Dead Tongues (Friday, 3:20 p.m.), up-and-coming soul singer Danielle Ponder (Sunday, 1:20 p.m.) and rocking root rocker Whitmore Sisters (Sunday, 4 : 55 pm). After all, it’s a free event, so think of it as a risk-free music discovery opportunity that lets you beat your algorithm.

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