Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Towers of Gold Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2016

Set up by local billionaire Warren Hellman and now in it’s 15th year, last weekend was San Francisco’s famous ’Hardly Strictly Bluegrass’ festival. This free festival in the beautiful Gold Gate Park boasts seven stages, takes place over three days and sees over 80 artists perform.

The line up is now very varied hence the ‘Hardly’ in the title, but still manages to pack lots of Bluegrass bands onto the bill.

You know you are at a festival in San Francisco when you see someone parting the crowds on a Segway while others roll around in hammocks smoking! The atmosphere is very laid-back, friendly and welcoming, though at times the crowd is enormous and it’s hard to get around the different stages.

Here are my top tips for enjoying the festival:

If you don’t have a specific act you want to see, head down on the Friday.

If you’re lucky enough to not have work commitments or you can take a day off, Friday is the best day to enjoy the festival just for the atmosphere and great setting amongst the trees in Golden Gate Park. It’s a lot less crowded than on the weekend days, therefore it’s easier to get to and from the festival and around all of the stages, not to mention the toilets are at their cleanest and have the shortest queues!

Take your own drinks and snacks.

The food choices are fairly limited and alcohol is not available at all within the grounds of the festival. The nearest liquor and grocery shops are several blocks away from the park and are difficult to find. Don’t take glass containers in (they aren’t allowed), but canned beers, soft drinks and picnic food are all fine. Pre-pack a picnic and some beers so you can just relax and soak up the atmosphere when you are there.

If you’re set on seeing a particular act, get there early.

On the Saturday there were two acts I really wanted to see and didn’t catch either due to the sheer size of the crowds they attracted. If you are really set on seeing someone, find a space earlier in the day to settle and ensure you can see/hear the performers on the stage. Otherwise the big names pull in major crowds and it can be impossible to get close enough.

Plan your route.

Trying to drive or get a taxi to the festival isn’t recommended, because it’s free the site gets incredibly busy. Use public transport or if you’re close enough walk to the park.

In a nutshell, this is a brilliant event and an even bigger bonus is that it’s free. The downside is how busy it gets and the amenities, although as the organisers resist sponsorship and intend on keeping the festival completely non-commercial, this is to be expected. I hope to be back next year!

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