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The Bluegrass Festival: Putting the Appalachia in SF

There’s bluegrass, but there’s also newer-grass and jazz-grass.

At the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, there’s green grass and that other kind of grass. But while it's free and open-air, the Golden Gate Park festival has pretty much outgrown its lazin' on a sunny afternoon appeal. It’s a massive crush of bodies and bicycles and the parking is hellish.

Slipping under the sonic radar is the San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Festival, a non-profit, grassroots festival that runs for 9 days in local bars and small venues San Francisco, Berkeley, Piedmont and Fairfax.

San Francisco is no Appalachia, and yet, it’s where some of today's finest old-time and bluegrass music is being played.

While Hardly Strictly has featured big wigs like Dolly Parton (pun!), Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello (‘cause its hardly strictly bluegrass),  this fest boasts local artists like the Knuckle Knockers, self-described as “homey hayseeds hailing from the Heights of Bernal.”


At bars like the Amnesia on Valencia,  The Make-Out Room (off Valencia), Berkeley’ Freight and Salvage and the Swedish American Hall, aficionados of old-timey tunesmithing can catch the likes of Cheyenne, a 15 year old Appalachian clogger, carrying on in the tradition of her great grandmother from Kentucky.


Tomorrow night is a one night special reunion of the original lineup of The Crooked Jades, together again to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the festival they helped to found. The band, which features instrumental oddities like  banjo ukuleles, minstrel banjos, plucked fiddles, bowed basses, Hawaiian slide guitars, harmoniums, Vietnamese jaw harps, pianos played claw hammer-style, have been described as “old time goes to art school.”

Other shows include bands like the Shut-Ins, who play “hula-billy”—a wacky blend of country-western, honky-tonk, bluegrass and Hawaiian music.

Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys are known for putting the dish in traditional.

And Jimmy Chickenpants? They put the hick in chicken.