The final day is also bittersweet. Sure your feet hurt and yeah maybe you’re a little bit tired, your ears might be ringing and maybe all that awful food you’ve been consuming all weekend is taking its toll, but damn it this is music! We got there and Rubblebucket was supposed to play, but they weren’t there. Jesse Winchester was supposed to play, but he didn’t make it either. Instead we saw Lucero, who turned out to be really good. They were more punk rock than bluegrass, kind of Dropkick Murphy’s meets Social Distortion meets Merle Haggard. They were the kind of band that drinks a bottle of whiskey before, after and during every show. They are inherently outlaw country.
After Lucero we saw Son Volt, one of the bands I most wanted to see and they did not disappoint. Jay Farrar isn’t exactly exciting, but he is a great singer and songwriter. He covered a couple Woody Guthrie songs and played a lot of the old tracks that made Son Volt so popular after Uncle Tupelo broke up. They were tight musically and the songs sounded almost exactly like they did on their records.
Nick Lowe was next and I really didn’t know what to expect. He’s around Elvis Costello’s age, so the possibility of him being a bit boring was there. It crossed my mind, but my fears were quick cast aside as he started a phenomenally beautiful, funny set. He engaged the audience with classic British charm and really gave the crowd a feeling that he was younger than his years led on. He pranced around the stage like a man half his age, smiling just him and an acoustic guitar.
We were off to see a rock legend next. Patti Smith was a contemporary with Debbie Harry, Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde, but she cast aside her burgeoning rock career to be a wife and mother. She came back recently and it was our immense pleasure to see her absolutely tear up the Hardly Strictly stage. She was militant, tell people not to trust the government. She was kind, telling people to be good to the environment and Mother Nature. And she was a bad ass as she ran through her discography like a woman possessed. She sang the song she knew we all wanted to hear, “Because the Night” and was rewarded with the biggest ovation of the weekend.
The festival finale was the Civil Wars a dichotomy if there ever was one. A group comprised of two individuals, one man, one woman. The man from Alabama, the woman from Santa Cruz, they met in Nashville at a songwriting workshop and well the rest is history. Speaking of history, it was made on Sunday night as the crowd was the largest they had ever played for. They weren’t deterred, however, as Joy Williams enthralled the crowd with her dramatic performance and John Paul White with his emphatic vocals and expert guitar playing. Fresh off their award winning turn at the Grammy’s they are about to blow up and this is the performance that those in attendance will remember most of all. People sang along, danced along and laughed along as the Civil Wars ended the festival on the perfect note.
This was the year that HSB took a turn towards that indie vibe where they culled the greatest acts from the past, present and hopefully the future to play a free festival for an adoring crowd. This was their moment, the year Warren Hellman died to show us that the show most certainly go on. They did not let us down and knowing that the show will continue for at least a decade more we are comforted knowing that it is most certainly in competent hands. Thank you, Warren.