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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: The Best of Friday, Saturday and Sunday

It's as if the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass gods knew they were scheduling their free concert chock full of world-class acts the same weekend many of us have to begrudgingly hand over our rent checks. But obviously that's not the real reason we're excited for the festival. Here's a day-by-day look at the best of the festival.

Friday, October 1

If you're an early bird, head to Golden Gate Park to catch MC Hammer on the Star Stage at 11:30 am. Question is: will he be sporting his magical hammer pants?

Patty Griffin, who recently recorded with Robert Plant on his new Band of Joy disc, brings her gospel folk to the Rooster Stage at 2:45 pm, followed by the smooth, sexy indie pop of Jenny Lewis and her man Johnathan Rice (who recently played two nights at Great American Music Hall) at 4 pm.

At 4:05 pm sharp on the Banjo Stage, move those feet to the best down-home bluegrass you'll ever hear, courtesy of the sharp-picking Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys.

Competing for your attention at 5:45 pm on separate stages are the super groups of T Bone Burnett, featuring the Punch Brothers, Karen Elson and the Secret Sisters on the Rooster Stage  and The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, a powerhouse populated by baby boomers Donald Fagen, (the voice of Steely Dan), Boz Scaggs (R&B and jazz whiz), and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers performing on the Banjo Stage.

Saturday, October 2

This is where it gets tricky: start your day at noon on the Rooster Stage with Jonathan Richman, formerly of proto punkers The Modern Lovers, swing a set with Tommy Larkins.

Longtime San Francisco hippies Hot Tuna Electric go on the Star Stage at 12:45 pm with their psychedelic blues, followed by Bright Eyes' and Mystic Valley Band's Conor Oberst, playing his bleeding-heart political folk on the same stage at 2:30 pm.

Enjoy up-and-comers Carolina Chocolate Drops, a three-piece string band making waves with their cover of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style", at 12:55 pm on the Banjo Stage.

Legendary Americana songwriter Guy Clark, whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, the Highwaymen and David Allan Coe, takes the Rooster Stage at 1:15 pm with fellow tunesmith Verlon Thompson.

Peacenik Joan Baez performs at 2 pm on the Banjo Stage (how does her voice STILL sound so angelic?), while on the Porch Stage at 3:05 pm, you can see bluegrass violinist Skip Gorman lay down his masterfully beautiful roots music.

Jerry Jeff Walker, famed country songwriter of the Bob Dylan-covered classic "Mr. Bojangles", takes the Arrow Stage at 3:55 pm, while Bonnie "Prince" Billy & the Cairo Gang shower the Star Stage with their intimate, ethereal take on psych blues.

Rounding out the day at 5:20 pm on the Arrow Stage are 70s country purists The Flatlanders, the trio of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely, and seamless soul of country luminary Steve Earle and the Bluegrass Dukes.

Sunday, October 3

Country punk rockers Lucero kick the day off better than coffee can at 11 am on the Towers of Gold Stage, while The Indigo Girls, who are back in a big way these days, start strumming at 1 pm on the Rooster Stage.

Our money's on Earl Scruggs, one of the fastest (and oldest) banjo pickers out there, for his show at 1:45 pm on the Banjo Stage. Decorated composer and Academy Award winner Randy Newman takes the Towers of Gold Stage at 2:05 pm, followed by Doc Watson, perhaps the modern cornerstone of bluegrass and folk guitar, on the Banjo Stage at 3 pm with David Holt.

At 3:05 pm, the multi-talented, bespectacled Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes take the Star Stage, while punk goddess Patti Smith, fresh from her stint at this year's Litquake, will give us her cerebral rock and spoken word high above on the Towers of Gold Stage at 4:10 pm.

A fixture of the UK's new wave and punk scene, singer and producer Nick Lowe & His Band steal the Rooster Stage at 4:40 pm from spawn of Johnny Rosanne Cash.

The late afternoon gets especially crowded, with Hardly Strictly fixture and country queen Emmylou Harris at 5:45 pm on the Banjo Stage going head to head with rising cuties The Avett Brothers at the same time on the Arrow Stage.

For the perfect nightcap, head to the Rooster Stage at 5:55 pm for true show stoppers Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, who play the most infectious soul and funk we've heard in years.

If your eyes don't hurt yet, see the festival's full schedule here. There are so many more amazing acts to see, so tell us what you're excited for!

Photo via Blacknell on Flickr.com