Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Draws Massive Weekend Crowds to San Francisco

With seven different stages and over 120 bands performing over three days, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park may sound much like many of the other annual music festivals throughout the United States each year. However, what sets the Hardly Strictly festival apart from others — and is likely a large factor behind the estimated 750,000 attendees who have attended the event this weekend — is the cost of admission. Tickets are 100 percent free.

The 2015 edition of the festival was Hardly Strictly’s 15th since being established by Philanthropist Warren Hellman, who passed away in 2011, but whose “family continues the tradition with the money that he left behind” according to KRON4 News of the San Francisco Bay Area. This year’s line-up featured a diverse collection of top musical acts ranging from country to bluegrass to rock to hip-hop, and included names such as “Michael Franti and Spearhead, Los Lobos, Flogging Molly, Boz Scaggs, and more.

The crowds at Hardly Strictly have enjoyed sunny and mild weather in Golden Gate Park’s picturesque setting and can expect to see more of the same until the festival concludes at 7 p.m this evening.

The festival opened on Friday, with strong performances noted by the Marin I.J.’s Jim Harrington from acts such as Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, T Bone Burnett, and Marty Willson-Piper. However, Harrington reserved his strongest praise for country music star Lee Ann Womack, calling her performance Hardly Strictly’s most notable moment of day one.

“Womack, 49, delivered what might have been the set of the day, charming the crowd with one twangy, touching tune after another. Her voice was pristine, sounding every bit as good as back in her commercial heyday of the early 2000s, and she said she was thrilled to finally make it to the festival.”

The eclectic list of musical acts continued into day two at Hardly Strictly on Saturday as Cooder-White-Skaggs took the Banjo Stage in Hellman Hollow, and others ranging from Leftover Salmon, Boz Scaggs, Flogging Molly entertained an equally diverse crowd described by SF Gate as, “families mingled with tribes of street kids from the Haight.”

Following his mid-day set on the Bandwagon Stage, the Richmond, Virginia musician Tim Barry waded into the Hardly Strictly masses and thrilled his fans with an intimate, impromptu performance.

The three-day Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival finishes strong today with performances anticipated by the likes of Blind Boys of Alabama, Neko Case and Fantastic Negrito. The combination of big names performances across the line-up, mild and sunny weather, the inclusive environment, and the free cost of admission have some speculating that attendance records may be broken by the time the Hardly Strictly weekend ends. The South San Francisco Patch reports that “Mick Hellman, Warren’s son, told SF Rec and Park he hopes to see as many as one million visitors at Golden Gate Park this weekend.”

Even for those in the City of San Francisco not attending Hardly Strictly, the presence of the concert-goers is unmistakable. Traffic has been predictably heavy throughout the city’s western half, and MUNI public transit lines such as the N-Judah and 5-Fulton have experienced heavy ridership and delays throughout the weekend according to the report by KRON.

[Photo by Trixie Textor/Getty Images Entertainment]