Kevin Farley, with a backpack, and Fran Cullan, in orange, go through the security gates at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Friday morning. (Caroline Ghisolfi/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass kicks off with not-so-strict bag policies

For the first time in festival’s 19-year history, guards are stationed at security gates

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has introduced new security measures this year, but officials on site say they’re giving fans time to get used to some of them.

For the first time in 19 years, Golden Gate Park was fenced and heavily patroled by police and K-9 officers and private security.

Festival organizers also imposed new regulations, banning coolers, large chairs and large and nontransparent bags.

“As the world changes, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass feels the need to respond, prioritizing safety over convenience,” organizers said in a statement in September.

However, when the typically heavily attended free musical event kicked off Friday, officials were letting bags and equipment of all sizes, shapes and colors through the gates after brief inspections.

“There’s going to be a large police presence, just to make everyone more comfortable with what’s been happening,” said Hannah Early, manager of Praetorian Security, the main private company monitoring the event, before the gates opened at 9 a.m. Friday.

“But as for bag restrictions, we know that not everybody is going to get the message, so this year we’re not going to be (as strict). It’s going to be more of a ‘thorough search’ kind of thing.”

Early said it may take a couple of years before crowds get accustomed to “the new terms and conditions.”

Meanwhile, she said organizers are hard at work getting the information out to the festival’s over 250,000 daily visitors.

Kevin Farley, an early bird waiting for the gates to open, said he read the regulations on the event’s smartphone application. He was holding one clear backpack and a regular-sized lawn chair – both allowed.

While some bluegrass fans said they heard about this year’s changes in the newspaper, many others were learning about the policies just as they waited in line.

“I’m surprised that there wasn’t a big notification on the website or on the app,” Farley said. “And it wasn’t very clear either. They said we can’t bring coolers with wheels. So does that mean that coolers without wheels are allowed?”

Standing next to Farley, Fran Cullan, holding two large black bags, said she was aware of the regulations, but did not expect strict enforcement.

“They can search it, I don’t care. I mean, what are they going to do? Are they going to reject us?” Cullan said, adding, “I bet you there’s going to be a lot of people that don’t come because of this new stuff.”

Both Farley and Cullan’s bags and equipment were inspected, and both were allowed through with all their belongings.

“You can keep all of it. I just have to check it.” a security guard from Admiral Security Services, a subcontractor of Praetorian Security, told Cullan.

“I tried to comply, no need I guess,” Farley said on his way through the gates. In a group behind him, a man answered: “Yeah, but there’s too many guns.”

According to Early, Praetorian dispatched 120 guards and hired two private subcontractors — Admiral Security Services and National Pro — with an estimated total of 240 guards.

Private firm MSA Security Inc. was also hired and provided a K-9 team with three explosive-detection dogs sniffing visitors at festival entrances.

The San Francisco Police Department dispatched bicycle, equestrian and on-foot teams, led by Richmond Station Capt. Michelle Jean. Police on site said information about units and officers present was confidential.

As of 10:30 a.m. Friday, guards at Gate No. 1 at JFK and Transverse drives (one of four entrances) said the crowds were fairly compliant with new regulations and the lines were moving smoothly.

“Everything going very well,” said Zamyla Jones, a National Pro worker at the main entrance. “There were no more than 100 people at the gate (at a time), and the lines are going fast.”

Early said bigger crowds were to be expected at noon, when the music started. But she added, “We have hopefully planned accordingly and staffed enough for the lines to move quickly.”

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