Hellman Summer Stomp (photo: Carolyn McCoy)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
If ever there were a family tree that has grown strong and has deep roots in the musical community of the SF Bay Area, I’d say that it was all the branches of the Hellman family. The Hellman’s may not be a household name, so you may be unfamiliar with their legacy. It began as a seed with philanthropist, musician, and family patriarch Warren Hellman, who created Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in 2001. The Hellman family, not surprisingly, is a very talented bunch of humans, many of them are singers and musicians and many of them are in bands of their own, including The Well Known Strangers and Marco and the Polos.
Aside from continuing their father’s dream with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the family hosts a yearly musical adventure, The Hellman Summer Stomp, where the various talents of friends and relatives grace the stage in celebration of music and community.
This year’s Hellman Summer Stomp, held at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall, was a joyous and intimate romp that would have made Papa Hellman proud. The Hellman progeny include his daughters, Judith & Frances Hellman on vocals and Tricia Hellman Gibbs on vocals, guitar and banjo, son Mick Hellman on drums, his grandkids, vocalist Katie Gibbs & Laurel Hellman on vocals and banjo, along with a backing band consisting of vocalist Amber Morris, bassist Josh Zucker, ace guitarists Steve Coyle, Rob Anderson and David Noble, percussionist Ben Lauffer, and keys legend Austin de Lone.
The Summer Stomp is a chance for the Hellmans to share their music as well as a plethora of cover songs that span the gamut of pop, rock and old-timey folk standards. Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe,” Colbie Caillat’s “Gone West,” Elton John’s “Holy Moses,” The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” were played as well as original songs by family members including Tricia Hellman Gibbs. The first encore was a tremendously fun banjo-led rendition of “I Want Candy” by ’80s pop band Bow Wow Wow.
This night of incredible music by an amazing and generous family who bring such joy into the musical community was heartening and beautiful. The Hellman’s love of music shines through with every song, note, and chord, and that love was bestowed upon us listeners with the greatest of ease. We felt that love, we were able to understand their connection as a family and we rejoiced in the community they created, all because of the music.