By Sunday morning, delirium set in, two full days at the fest with surprising heat. I experienced flashbacks to the New Orleans Jazz Fest and when I found The Allah-Las playing Towers Of Gold at 1145am, it seemed I was still with them at The Chapel the night before. I didn’t dare take a photo. Next door at Star Stage I got my first dose of SF’s Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers. They were joined by Boz Scaggs for “Lido Shuffle” and more intense flashbacks.
Richard Thompson started off his set with a full band. The highlight was “Wall of Death” from 1982’s infamous Shoot Out the Lights LP. The high point of the show, however, was Richard solo playing “1952 Vincent Black Lightening” from 1991’s Rumor and Sigh.
Justin Townes Earle brought a fabulous backing band with Mark and Matt from Centro-matic/South San Gabriel, and played a very fun cover of the Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait”! May the holiness of the moment bring the Replacements’ reunion west! No sign of Justin’s father Steve…
Billy Bragg played “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” from 1998’s great Mermaid Avenue record, a collaboration with Wilco that put Woody Guthrie’s previously unheard lyrics to music for the first time. From the brand new Tooth and Nail, he played “Chasing Rainbows,” a song he joked was sure to inspire spontaneous line dancing. Bragg spoke of playing Golden Gate Park in the 60’s for the Hairy Strictly Festival and played The Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” In true Billy Bragg style, he called for free health care, but he also demanded that the Russians free Pussy Riot, whose members remain in jail for performing a ‘punk prayer’ critical of Putin.
Leaving the safety of the Star/Towers of Gold corridor, we ventured for the wilds of the Banjo Stage. Along the way, an older bearded man in the bushes approached with a poem completely memorized from Shel Silverstein – “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.” It is moments like these when I love San Francisco.
Ralph Stanley was joined by Jim Lauderdale. “O Death” sounds a little more ominous every year. Ralph is 86 now. His brother Carter died in 1966. But Ralph sounded pretty good, and, more importantly, he looked happy up there next to his grandson leading the band, playing songs that only got widespread recognition with the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou?.
Tift Merritt was joined by Robert Ellis and played Tom Waits’ “Train Song.” During the set, a man quietly dressed up as the Pink Panther and took off through the crowd. Tom Waits plays the Bridge School Benefit this year!!!!!!!!! Not to be missed!!!
Closing the festival as always was Emmylou Harris. She played Townes Van Zandt’s “Poncho and Lefty” and Gram Parsons’ “Love Hurts” and “Luxury Liner.”
RIP Warren Hellman. Thank you! It is a tremendous gift you have given to San Francisco.