Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Day Two started with jets screaming overhead as the Blue Angels were practicing for their fleet week finale. We arrived to see throngs of people, far more than Friday. The masses assembled at every corner and we knew that getting from one end to the other would be time consuming. We saw Justin Townes Earle, who seemed to be a bit off. He played some songs off his new album, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now and more off of Harlem River Blues, but there was something disheveled and different than when he was there last year. He seemed a bit out of it and rambled endlessly in between songs, at times incoherently.
Despite the weirdness of the set it was still good and we reveled in songs like “One More Night in Brooklyn” which was one of my favorite off the aforementioned Harlem River Blues. Earle finished and we headed to go see the Lumineers, the group we were most excited to see that day. However, when we arrived the sheer amount of people prevented even getting close enough to hear the speakers playing their set. We were easily a football field and a half away and they looked like specks. It was disappointing to say the least. We headed over, instead to catch the second half of Dave Alvin and the Guilty One’s set and it was pretty good. Not being super familiar with his music I really had no frame of reference as to what he sounded like on record or otherwise so it felt like a new experience and one I quite enjoyed.
Then came on Cowboy Junkies and as soon as they went on a guy that must’ve been about 50-55 turned to me and said, “It’s weird that they’re here, isn’t it? Have they been relevant for the last twenty years at all? Have they even made a record? Weird…” I simply nodded in agreement and then realized during the set that he was absolutely right and it showed. Really what do we remember most about Cowboy Junkies? They covered the Velvet Underground’s song “Sweet Jane” and it was good. They were essentially a no-hit wonder. The rust was evident and the set was disjointed and a bit over-the-top. Margot Timmins, the lead singer, was acting a bit weird like Stevie Nicks, but without the same vocal acuity.
After the Cowboy Junkies disaster, we scooted over to the Towers of Gold Stage and there we caught The Head and the Heart. What a performance. They electrified the crowd with their beautiful sounds and this was the defining band of the day. The crowd stretched into the trees, people watching through chain link fences, despite it being a free concert. People crowded in wherever they could just to see this little indie band from Seattle and they did not disappoint at all. They were gracious, their harmonies were perfect and their musicianship was amazing. We headed out after they finished and saw part of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, but not much. We left with the energy of Head and the Heart coursing through us; a band that shared a beautiful sound to end a weird day two at Hardly Strictly 2012. Despite that weirdness it was the company of friends and family that made the day what it was. That communal atmosphere is what makes Hardly Strictly the best festival in San Francisco now and hopefully for years to come.