It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to dub alt-country icon Buddy Miller the Godfather of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, or at least its resident guru.
Having participated every year, except one, since the festival’s inception in 2001, the Nashville guitarist currently curates the Rooster Stage. He’s combined new talent with country and western legends such as Dan Penn, Bill Anderson, Tony Joe White, and, this year, composer Bobby Braddock, featured in Ken Burns’ recent “Country Music” PBS documentary.
From headliner Robert Plant to traditional show closer Emmylou Harris,there are very few artists on the three-day bill who haven’t been touched by Miller’s benevolence and generosity.
The list is huge, after four colorful decades in the music business, including a few mid-1980s years he and his wife Julie lived in San Francisco. (“We were at 2444 Fulton, just down the block from the old Jefferson Airplane house,” he says. “And Julie used to go to the park to collect twigs to burn in our fireplace; every year when I come back, I drive by the place and take another picture of it.”)
The couple just released its first album in a decade, the Southern-Gothic-eerie “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South,” although Julie suffers from a fibromyalgia-like nerve condition that makes touring too difficult. She won’t be playing HSB this year.
Miller always seems to make friends easily. Soon after he moved from New Jersey to Austin in 1975, he was taken under the wing of rockabilly legend Ray Campi, who gave him chestnuts to learn and put him to work in his band.
“That was the first gig I got when I came to town, and Ray was just great. He taught me a lot,” says Miller. Through Campi, he met punk rocker Julie Griffin, who refused to sign publishing deals and go corporate, and who initially believed Buddy’s audition for her band was too twangy. She hired him anyway, romance unexpectedly blossomed and the newlyweds wound up in New York, where Miller played with Shawn Colvin, Larry Campbell and Jim Lauderdale, with whom he now hosts Sirius Satellite’s “The Buddy & Jim Radio Show.”
Miller’s first solo album, “Your Love and Other Lies,” appeared in 1995. At the time, he was living in Nashville, producing artists in a living room studio he called Dogtown. He also toured as backing guitarist for Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their “Raising Sand” jaunt in 2008.
“I took every single gig I was offered, including the ABC ‘Nashville’ show, for 10 to 15 years until I realized that I’d left Julie by herself, and in ill health,” he says. “So I decided to stop everything and just hang out with her. But after a year of hanging out and not talking about music, we started to make music together again.”
Julie didn’t want to record in the formal home studio, so Buddy miked up the bedroom for a more intimate feel, whicn includes a few interlopers: “You may not be able to hear them, but I can,” Miller says, chuckling. “We have three dogs — and one was from Emmylou and her dog rescue — and trying to get them off this drum loop I made was next to impossible.” Good old times aside, Miller is just as content dicussing a recent powwow he had with Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, his son, and Jade Jackson, the powerhouse vocalist they discovered, who not only took advice he offered, but were happy to share with the press how much they “loved” Miller.
IF YOU GO
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 19
When: Noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 5-6
Where: Hellman Hollow, Lindley and Marx meadows, off John F. Kennedy Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
Note: For the first time, fences will surround the park; entrances are only at JFK Drive and Transverse Drive, Fulton Street and 30th Avenue, JFK Drive and 36th Avenue, and South Polo Field. Bags and backpacks must be clear plastic. Large bags, coolers and kegs will be turned away.
St. Paul and The Broken Bones, 5:55 p.m., Banjo Stage
Bedouine, 5:10 p.m., Bandwagon Stage
Milk Carton Kids, 5:55 p.m., Rooster Stage
The Waterboys, 2:55 p.m., Swan Stage
Live From Here with Chris Thile with Grace Potter & J.S. Ondara, 4 to 7 p.m., Towers of Gold Stage
Robert Plant, 5:50 p.m., Towers of Gold Stage
Hot Tuna Electric, 5:45 p.m., Rooster Stage
Steve Earle & The Dukes, 5:45 p.m., Banjo Stage
John Craigie, 6:10 p.m., Porch Stage
Caitlin Canty, 5 p.m., Bandwagon Stage
The New Pornographers, 5 p.m., Swan Stage
Buddy Miller, with Dirk Powell and Stuart Duncan, 4:25 p.m., Rooster Stage
Calexico and Iron & Wine, 3:50 p.m., Towers of Gold
Emmylou Harris, 5:45 p.m., Banjo Stage
Punch Brothers, 6 p.m. Rooster Stage
The Wild Reeds, 6:10 p.m., Porch Stage
Kurt Vile and The Violators, 5:50 p.m., Towers of Gold Stage
Jackie Greene, 4:45 p.m., Swan Stage
Michael Nesmith and The First National Band, 4:25 p.m., Rooster Stage