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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass comes home to Golden Gate Park with old favorites and new rules

Marcus Mumford performs in Seattle in September 2022. | Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Somewhere, Warren Hellman is smiling. After putting the in-person festival on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (HSB) returns to Golden Gate Park this weekend. Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons headline the free, family-friendly roots music festival.

They’ll be joined by about 75 acts, both large and small, performing across six stages—including Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads, who is expected to perform hits from the band’s catalog, such as “Once in a Lifetime.”

While some aspects of the festival are the same as they ever were—it’s still free and guests are allowed to bring in their own food and drink—Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has also kinda, sorta tightened its security protocols and rules for attendees this year.

Read on for The Standard guide to HSB 2022.

Ethiopian American jazz musician and composer Meklit performs at the 17th Annual GlobalFest at the Copacabana in New York. | Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Legends, Locals & Deep Cuts

Costello, a 1970s punk pioneer and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee who’s played with the likes of Paul McCartney and Jerry Garcia, will take the Towers of Gold Stage on Saturday evening. This year marks Costello’s fifth year at Hardly Strictly.

He first appeared at HSB alongside progressive country legend Emmylou Harris, a 14-time Grammy Award winner. Harris was also a longtime friend of the festival’s funder-in-perpetuity, San Francisco businessman Warren Hellman. She’s performed every year (live or streaming) since the inaugural event in 2001—back when it was called “Strictly Bluegrass.” In 2009, the festival expanded its musical breadth and rebranded as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, booking rapper MC Hammer to emphasize the pivot. 

On Saturday at the Swan Stage, Talking Heads guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison will be joined by Adrian Belew—a guitarist and singer who has worked with the Talking Heads, King Crimson and Frank Zappa; together they will perform the seminal new wave band’s 1980 record, Remain in Light, along with other Talking Heads tunes and solo songs.

The lineup also benefits from the addition of local artists like Meklit, an Ethiopian American jazz singer-songwriter and the Head of Creativity and Impact at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She told The Standard that free, outdoor family-friendly festivals feel more important to the city than ever. “I think it's really important that music be intergenerational,” she said. “I think a lot about the ways that music is about being our whole selves with our whole communities.”

Michael, a festival attendee, dances in the crowd as Moonalice performs at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2019. | Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Plant Your Flag Early

The key to scoring the best spot at Hardly Strictly is to arrive early—the gates open at 11 a.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday—but people will surely line up even earlier than that. 

Public transit is your friend here. Muni will offer expanded service all weekend, and you can take the N Judah toward Ocean Beach and get off at 29th Ave. The 5 Fulton, 5R Fulton Rapid, 31 Balboa, 38 Geary or 38R Geary Rapid buses are also viable options. 

You won’t be able to roll into the festival grounds on a bicycle, but self-parking at designated racks will be available along the periphery of the meadow. Scooters, skateboards, Segways and Onewheels are not allowed on the grounds, either.

Driving to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is not a novice endeavor. There are certain tricks that seasoned HSB-heads know, but pandemic-era changes to JFK Drive have further complicated the parking situation within Golden Gate Park.

However, if you’re eligible for the first-come-first-serve ADA parking along JFK Drive, west of Chain of Lakes, it’s not too bad. Shuttles will transport people all weekend until 7:30 p.m. from there. Golf cart transport is also available within the festival grounds upon text request to HSB’s Accessibility Ambassadors, who will be stationed in a tent along JFK Drive and 36th Ave., next to Gate 3 at Spreckels Lake.

Once you arrive, the best move is to choose a spot and spread out a blanket—as long as it’s no larger than 8 by 10 feet. This weekend, the most valuable real estate may be on the grass in front of the Towers of the Gold Stage, where Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford headline on Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively. 

If picnic blankets aren’t your thing, you can also bring short-backed chairs. Tall or obstructive chairs will likely get you stopped at the gates, or at the very least, they’ll make your neighbors cranky. 

Clear see-through backpacks are encouraged at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. | Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Actually, Strictly Verboten

Where you could previously pack a cooler full of cold ones and juice boxes, large hard and soft-sided coolers are no longer allowed. Small soft-sided coolers are admissible, but only for medical or child care purposes.

Backpacks, bags, purses, fanny packs, collapsible wagons, hydration packs and reusable water bottles are all fine. Clear bags will gain you the fastest entry, and large bags may be searched and prevent you from securing that perfect spot on the lawn. 

BYO or Buy?

Festival vendors will sell food and non-alcoholic beverages, but per park rules, alcohol sales are not authorized. Smoking and drug use are off the menu. You can bring your own beer or wine if it’s in a non-glass container. But, per the new rules around coolers, you may need to get creative in order to keep your brews at the optimal temperature.

Local eateries like Cochinita, Sandy’s Muffulettas, Andina, and Sankofa will be selling food, but you can also pack your own picnic for the festival. 

Tanya Kollar, HSB’s food curator, has been prepping the vendor area of the festival all week. “The energy is building, and I think it’s going to be the best year yet,” she said.

Members of the San Francisco police SWAT team stand guard during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in 2019. | Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

New Order

As part of heightened security measures this year, festival-goers will have to walk through a body scanner. Large bags are subject to search. And the San Francisco Police Department will have an increased presence, with more officers and K9s patrolling the meadow. 

It may also be harder to access the festival on foot. Previously, attendees could reach the grounds using a network of side paths. This year, extra fencing will close many of those familiar byways off. 

Cash or Card? 

This year, Hardly Strictly won’t provide ATMs. Merch vendors will accept cash or cards, but food vendors will only take credit and debit cards. HSB is also known for playing host to an eclectic assortment of unofficial vendors, many of whom will take Venmo. 

… Oh Right, Covid

As is the case with most large events these days, HSB recommends festival-goers to test and vaccinate against Covid, and to wear masks when not eating or drinking. 

If you can’t make it in person, HSB will livestream performances from the Swan and Towers of Gold Stages.

Our Friend, the Fog

Finally, if you’ve lived in SF for any length of time, you know the fog has a mind and spirit of its own, so be sure to pack layers. Happy HSB!

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Hellman Hollow, Lindley & Marx Meadows in Golden Gate Park
Friday, Sept. 30 (1 - 7 p.m.), Saturday, Oct. 1 (11 a.m. - 7 p.m.), Sunday, Oct. 2 (11 a.m. - 7 p.m.)