What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding

Here’s my review of today’s HSB (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass) show in Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park today under overcast skies, before a crowd of at least 40 thousand people.

The opening act was Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock doing a mostly acoustic set (not as loud as the Flatlanders) comprised mostly of Butch Hancock songs, though they did perform Woody Guthrie’s “If you ain’t got the do-ra-mi”, which got us all singing along. There were a few new songs, including an a capella lament addressed to the dictator-in-chief. We were also accompanied by the Blue Angels, here for Fleet Week, and doing passes just a few hundred feet over our heads. It was actually quite ironic, as Warren Hellman (who pays for the festival) put it, “The machines of war are in the air, but peace is on the ground”.

Judith had a chance to talk to Warren and gave him a copy of her book as a thank you. It was a big thrill to see him holding it on stage as he welcomed the crowd before Elvis Costello came on stage.

I hadn’t seen Elvis since the Palace Theater in Albany in 1978, but he’s better than ever. He opened with “Red Shoes”, playing alone on acoustic guitar. After four songs, he brought out his band, The Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods. True to their name, they played music that fit right in. They played the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Elvis sounded like he was channeling Gram Parsons. They continued with Lefty Frizzel, and a few more tunes featuring the band on guitar, piano, and accordion, and then, in a perfect San Francisco Grateful Dead moment, they played Robert Hunter’s “Deal”. I should mention that the only restriction in the park is you’re not allowed to smoke tobacco! (draw your own conclusions).

Then, a real highlight, Emmylou Harris came out to join them. The crowd roared to its feet and stood for the next hour as they performed duets. Gillian Welch also joined them on stage, along with some other bluegrass musicians. The sun finally broke through, showering the stage with a golden glow, as they finished with a lengthy encore, including “What’s so Funny…”

I can hardly wait for tomorrow. Here’s my plan:

Banjo Stage

  • 11am The Nashville Bluegrass Band
  • Noon Alison Brown Quartet with special guest Joe Craven
  • 1:05 Banjo Extravaganza w/ Bill Evans, Tony Trischka & Alan Munde

Rooster Stage

  • 2:20 Songwriter Circle w/ Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson

Star Stage

  • 3:35 T Bone Burnett (Electric set)
  • 5:15 Jerry Douglas & Best Kept Secret