Even though the 2018 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass lineup is missing some favorite acts of recent years — “regulars” Conor Oberst, Jackson Browne, Gillian Welch, Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams and John Prine aren’t appearing — the world’s most fantastic free acoustic music extravaganza, as is typical, boasts amazing talent.
The massive festival created and funded by Warren Hellman, the beloved venture capitalist and bluegrass fanatic who died in 2011, runs Friday through Sunday, Oct. 5-7, in Golden Gate Park with about 80 acts.
Opening day looks especially promising on the Banjo Stage in Hellman Hollow: country-roots-rocking greats Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore with the Guilty Ones appear at 2:45 p.m., followed by R&B and gospel legend Mavis Staples (and Rock and Roll and Blues hall of famer) at 4:15 p.m. Headliner Alison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer with the angelic voice, plays at 5:45 p.m.
Over on the Rooster Stage in Marx Meadow, classy veteran folk singer Patty Griffin plays at 2:55 p.m. Friday. In Lindley Meadow at 4 p.m on the Towers of Gold Stage, Chris Thile (mandolinist, singer, songwriter and composer of Nickel Creek fame) appears in the variety show “Live From Here” (formerly known as “A Prairie Home Companion”) with guitar great Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac renown) and Hurray for the Riff Raff, an indie rock band from New Orleans headed by Puerto Rican-descended Alynda Segarra. Hurray for the Riff Raff also plays Saturday at 11:45 a.m. on the Swan Stage in Lindley Meadow.
Saturday’s Banjo Stage lineup offers tried-and-true HSB favorites, beginning with Bay Area bluegrass veterans Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands at 12:30 p.m., followed by country-Americana artist Rodney Crowell at 2 p.m.; The Flatlanders (country rockers Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock) at 3:50 p.m. and outspoken country rocker Steve Earle at 5:45 p.m. However, choosing what to see in Saturday’s final slot proves difficult. Playing at the same time are alt-country-rock’s Jeff Tweedy (Wilco mastermind) on the Rooster Stage, veteran folk rocker Graham Nash on the Swan Stage; earnest folk rocker Ani Di Franco on the Towers of Gold Stage and up-and-coming Americana artist Courtney Marie Andrews on the Bandwagon Stage.
On Sunday, the “hardly” of the fest’s title kicks in: Eclectic English singer-songwriter-guitarist Robyn Hitchcock (whose video for the tune “Raymond & The Wires” includes footage on vintage Muni cars) plays the Porch stage at 3:40; Texas psych-rock singer-songwriter and harmonica player Roky Erickson plays the Rooster Stage at 5:40 p.m.; indie rockers Deer Tick play the Swan Stage at 4:45; and wacky Ween (the experimental band headed by Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo, aka Gene and Dean Ween) plays the Tower of Gold stage at 5:50 p.m.
But for those who want to stick with great classics, the inimitable Emmylou Harris — who has famously appeared every year — again closes out the Banjo stage at 5:45 p.m. Sunday.