The Boulevard Ear

Welcome back to the Boulevard Ear, a regular feature on The Bay Bridged, where our man about town examines a community’s live music offerings. What is it like to be a show-goer whose experiences are dictated entirely by location? Follow Todd as he explores Bay Area music venues by neighborhood, finding a variety of independent music along the way.

The Boulevard Ear, 10/1/12 - by Todd Wanerman

Planning for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is, for many, an artist-driven process: circling the names of one’s favorite acts and intiriguing prospects, and arranging blanket hopping accordingly.

For a professional wanderer, however, it is the moving about that matters, especially when memories of highly-anticipated duds (Iron & Wine) or unpredicted bullseyes (North Missisippi All-Stars) linger long in the imagination.

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And how the moving about has changed! Time was, the trip between stages was the most pastoral part of the occasion. Now, it can evoke some extreme remake of “Soylent Green.”

The Boulevard Ear, 10/1/12 - by Todd Wanerman

Although sometimes picturesque, nonetheless.

But, as you faithful readers well know, we have little time for pining nostalgia. It is the adventure of today with which we are concerned and, as such, you may be sure we have a plan. Not just a one-size, wholesale plan either. In fact, our current strategem has been updated in just the past two seasons, owing to the outmoding of our earlier plan, referred to here as “The Obselete Porch Stage Strategem.”

The Porch Stage used to be a sure refuge from crowds and slick road warriors. Here you could count on paltry company and surprising, often local, new acts. It was here that we first discovered the magic of Jimbo Trout and the Fish People, many, many years ago.

But the Porch Stage is situated at the entrance of the festival, and word has gone round that this is the place to find “edgy” acts. Geographically, it is not as brutal as some of the other spots – one can approach and exit from multiple angles. But the ratio of relaxation to musical stimulation is no longer viable.

We want to impress upon you that many of our advisors are opposed to our sharing the current strategy with you, since that may render it also unviable. However, if we are not at your disposal to maximize your gadding pleasure, what indeed are we? You may wish to be judicious as to whom you pass this on to:

  1. Arrive at the Towers of Gold Stage 10 minutes prior to the beginning of the first act of the day – for those of you wishing to master this at an advanced level, you will have not just a blanket in tow but whitefish from House of Bagels.
  2. Stake your blanket claim obscenely close to the stage.
  3. Dispatch allies to repeat steps 1-2 at the adjacent Star Stage. You now have base camps at the two least-trammeled stages at the most civilized time of the day.
  4. Enjoy the first two acts at both stages, regardless of who they are.

At this point, when you find yourself surrounded by increasing quantities of Cosby sweaters and inventive facial hair, you will have enjoyed the best that HSB has to offer for several hours and can weigh your options accordingly. In addition, you are now at the least crowded end of the festival, so the wandering up to other stages may prove actually quite pleasant.

If you insist upon tying your plans to “your” music, we would recommend applying The Strategy on Sunday. This would expose you to an aggregate calling themselves Giant Giant Sand at the Star Stage at 11:00, or an outfit operating under the monnkier The Milk Carton Kids, at the Towers of Gold Stage at noon. It matters not how good these acts are. You will see them up close from a comfortable sitting position.

You will then be poised to see the Knitters (always dependable); Doug Sahm’s Phantom Playboys (just the sort of aged legends who can light it up); Dwight Yokam; and Patti Smith, whose previous performance at HSB brought tears. Your vantage point will be akin to this view of Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson’s unforgettable set last year.

The Boulevard Ear, 10/1/12 - by Todd Wanerman

Or you can do as we do, and wander.