We’ve waxed rhapsodic about the exceptional nature of this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass lineup since they first started releasing names in July. Which is great, but begs the question…how the hell are you supposed to see everything worth seeing?
Unfortunately, I can’t make that decision for you. While major headliners like Robert Plant, Kurt Vile, and Emmylou Harris are obvious must-dos, I can give you some of my suggestions for more under-the-radar acts. Trust me. I’m professional music-listen-to-er, after all.
(Mavis Staples at HSB 2016. photo: Ria Burman)
12:15pm: Poor Man’s Whiskey. The early hours of day one of a festival are for the locals. Poor Man’s Whiskey are utter classics of Northern California’s booming roots scene, they’ll wet your whistle for the twangy sounds Hardly Strictly is known for. If you don’t get there in time, don’t worry — they’ll be back in November for a Fillmore date.
2:45pm: Kronos Quartet does Pete Seeger. Think you don’t know Pete Seeger? I guarantee you do. A modern architect of the American songbook, he’s responsible for a bunch of those don’t-know-how-you-know-’em-but-you-know-’em songs, like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Turn! Turn.” Local ensemble Kronos Quartet will give his catalog the classical treatment on Friday.
4pm: Live From Here. If you are anything like me, you’re not getting out the door on Sundays until at least 11am. And that’s precisely when KQED-FM re-broadcasts Live From Here, which means I’m usually in my car to listen to the latest and greatest in folk, funk, and other great American musical traditions. Live From Here will be broadcasting from Hardly Strictly on Friday, with Grace Potter and our SXSW pick J.S. Ondara.
4:15pm: Tanya Tucker. Hardly Strictly has always been a great place to stage a comeback, and this year might be set to host Tanya Tucker’s. Not that she ever really went away: The outlaw country singer’s imprint can be seen all over modern country music, but her name hasn’t become as recognizable in the mainstream like contemporaries Dolly or Loretta. If you want to know where all these ballsy, badass women in country lately have gotten it from, stop by Tanya.
5pm hour: Lots. Here’s where things really get going. Personally, I’d probably ease myself into the upcoming onslaught of festival options with the gentle, beautiful guitar of Bedouine (5:10pm) and the Milk Carton Kids (5:55pm) shortly after. But if “gentle guitar” isn’t even close to your thing, St Paul and the Broken Bones (5:55pm) have played many times, but their fiery set is always worth a stop.
(Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile at HSB 2017. Photo: Ria Burman)
11am: Whiskerman. Headed by one half of longtime Bay Area musical partnership the Patzner brothers, Whiskerman has been around a while but haven’t seen much of them lately. If you’re in early, no time like 11am on Saturday to catch up with them.
1:20pm: Adia Victoria. The Southern-born “gothic blues” innovator is perfect for the spooky season as it draws ever nearer.
2pm: Tank and the Bangas. One of the more famous recipients of the Tiny Desk Contest top honors, this New Orleans group fuses funk, hip-hop, jazz, rock, and a good time.
3:25pm: Yola. Yola Yola Yola Yola. (Yola!) My personal favorite find of 2019, Yola blew me away with the epic “Faraway Look” and, as I found at later at our team trip to SXSW, she’s just as commanding in person. Fresh from a moving verse on the Highwomen’s declarative single of the same name, Yola’s poised for superstardom within the country idiom.
3:55pm: Margo Price. End of story.
(First Aid Kid at HSB 2017. Photo: Ria Burman)
11:50am: Mapache. Did you party responsibly yesterday? Good. That means you’ll be through the gates in time to catch Mapache. While they’re from right here in 2019, they almost sound (and almost look) out of another time — specifically, the Laurel Canyon of Joni Mitchell and CSNY’s heyday.
1:20pm: Fantastic Negrito. Do we really need to tell you much more? Our catalog is full of glowing reviews and accolades of the Oakland musician who, after years of working in an unkind music industry, is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
2:30pm: Y La Bamba. Just ask our staff: Y La Bamba is the next wave of indie rock — one that’s inclusive, instrospective, and multilingual. Y La Bamba offers a slow-rolling sound, occasionally interrupted by a crashing beat. Their intensely personal lyrics are largely sung in Spanish, but they should speak to you no matter your mother tongue.
3:10pm: Flor de Toloache. There’s a funny story I’ll tell you later about the time I had a glass of wine on an empty stomach and decided it would be a great idea to invite my in-laws to see this band at a club that’s notorious for not starting the opener until at least 10pm. My father-in-law nodded off in his seat. I left two songs into Flor de Toloache’s set cause I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. But at Hardly Strictly they are on at a far more reasonable hour, and I’m excited to see — like, literally see — these mariachi modernizers from New York City.
3:40pm: Mdou Moctar. I have to admit, I’ve been fascinated by the crossover capability of Tuareg musicians in the last few decades. Forget any silly notions you have of exotic sounds from faraway lands — while the traditional Tuareg influence is definitely present, but Moctar’s sound bends toward the echoing indie pop of the 2000s and the universal language of rock and roll.
Don’t forget: The rules are different this year. Make sure to check the website before you set out for Hellman Hollow to check what’s allowed and what isn’t.