Bluegrass festival strikes all the right notes

One of the great joys of the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco is that it brings us a kind of music not usually associated with the city, but a flock of characters that are.
 
To that end I would offer Kevin Welch, a 30-year veteran of the Nashville music scene, who has played in almost every HSB since its inception nine years ago. Considered a supreme songwriter and guitarist by his peers, Welch recently moved to Austin, Texas to be closer to his music-playing kids and says he has tried to make it to San Francisco every year since he first picked up a guitar. He's playing along with his long-time collaborators Kireran Kane and Fats Kaplin on the Rooster Stage in Golden Gate Park on Sunday.
 
“It kind of an interesting thing that a giant bluegrass festival happened in San Francisco,'' Welch told me. “I used to come in years before just to play Slim's and I would always jump at every chance to play there.
 
“The festival has now become arguably one of the greatest music festivals in the world and in some ways it tops them all. What (HSB benefactor and local philanthropist) Warren Hellman is doing for San Francisco and for all of us is unbelievable. The festival has gotten seriously huge – it's just too good for people to stay away from. The word is out now.''
 
And words are Welch's stock in trade. Just a quick browse of his website will offer such gems as:
 
“Kieran Kane, Harry Stinson, Mike Henderson, Tammy Rogers, and Kevin drank so much vodka one night that they started their own label, Dead Reckoning Records. This was around 1994 or 95. They released 21 records over the next 7 years, toured individually and also together as a collective called A Night Of Reckoning (with Fats Kaplin and Allison Prestwood) through the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Europe, and Canada. They were really really good together, but then they all got tired and went home.
 
“Except for Kevin. One evening while shaving in a broken mirror over the dishwasher's sink in the freezing kitchen of a pub somewhere very far from home, he suddenly realized he was humming the tune to “There's No Business Like Show Business.” He still didn't stop.
 
 “Kevin and Kieran started traveling together with a 2-man show – 2 guitars, 2 voices, and a bottle of Bushmills, or sometimes Jameson. They made a live record in Melbourne, Australia, called '11/12/13' and kept on with it because it was so much fun and actually pretty good, too. They went all over the place.
 
“In the years 2000 and 2001 Kevin completed a record with his friends from Denmark, who everybody just calls The Danes. Kevin thinks it's real damn good.''
 
It is. Expect more of the same high notes this weekend.

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