Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Day One Review

Sunset Over Golden Gate Park

With the city of San Francisco practically under siege this weekend the hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was just one of many attractions to quell the notoriously restless city. The attendees were not disappointed. We’re going to post the Day One review today and then tomorrow we’ll throw up Day Two and Three.

Day One

John C. Reilly and Friends

Friday was an eye opening day. I saw John C. Reilly’s band and was astounded at how good they were. I’d heard some of their music, but a recording can be made to sound like anything. An album can use all the advantages technology has to offer these days, but live is something else. Listening to someone in real time is what determines how truly good a band is and John Reilly and friends were an amazing mix of classic country, bluegrass, blues and Irish folk. They were one of my favorite bands of the weekend.

Pickwick

After that I rambled over to the Arrow Stage was a band I had never heard of, Pickwick. They are from Seattle and they are great. Not country, alt-country, folk in the slightest, but they did rock the hell out of the sparse crowd that was watching. Friday was the least populated day of the three and more than one artist remarked about how high the unemployment rate would be in SF after this weekend of hooky.

Ben Kweller at HSB 2012

After Pickwick finished and I chatted with them at the merch table (look for some developments on that front soon) I went to the Rooster Stage to see Beachwood Sparks, who bored me to tears. They were a fundamentally sound band, but for me it was the spark that was missing. Then Ben Kweller came to the stage from Austin, Texas and talked about he’d only gotten two hours of sleep the night before. For a guy that was probably exhausted he didn’t show it. Kweller played so many songs I felt they were going to drag him off the stage. He sang perfectly and much of the crowd, obvious fans, sang along with him note for note.

Jenny Lewis Dancing with the Watson Twins

After Kweller, on the same stage, was Jenny Lewis. Lewis was the best act of the day. She surprisingly brought the Watson Twins with her and they played songs from her recently release Acid Tongue and her solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat. She flitted and flirted her way around the stage with a wry smile and a few little dance routines with the twins.

Jenny Lewis at HSB 2012

She also told one of the funniest, yet most endearing stories of how when her father was sick they lit up a joint, smoked it and in a moment of curiosity she turned to him and asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” to which he took a hit, passed it back to her and said, “What was the question?” and she just looked and him and they both burst out laughing. He later passed away and it showed how much she missed him, because she remembered one of the happiest times in their lives.

Elvis Costello

Lewis left and off to the Banjo Stage I went to see Elvis Costello. He was up there without the accompaniment of a band and while he sounded crisp and was funny there was just something missing from the performance. He played a lot of new stuff which of course is every artist’s prerogative, but the fans would love to hear the songs they grew up with. Oh how I longed to hear “Allison” and yet, one of Elvis Costello’s most famous songs went unplayed. It was a really good performance that just missed the mark for me. Day one ended with “What’s So Funny “Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” and the enthralled crowd sang along before we all wandered off into the San Franciscan night anticipating a great weekend.

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