Expect to see even more smiles than usual when the beloved Hardly Strictly Bluegrass makes its long awaited return to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
It marks the first in-person HSB since 2019. The 2020 and 2021 events were online-only affairs due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, what a way to make a comeback. Steve Earle and the Dukes, Elvis Costello, Allison Russell, Charley Crockett, Meklit, Marcus Mumford, Bela Fleck and Emmylou Harris are among the dozens of acclaimed acts performing at this year’s festival.
It’s another stellar lineup for a festival that has certainly had no shortage of them over its storied history. And, as always, admission is free.
The following are a dozen of our top picks, listed chronologically, for the 2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Underscoring the “Hardly Strictly” portion of the festival’s name, our choices range from country and rock to folk, R&B and more.
For more information about the three-day event — and to get acquainted with the festival’s do’s-and-don’ts — visit hardlystrictlybluegrass.com. That’s the same place where you will find music from two of HSB’s six stages — the Swan and Tower of Gold stages — being streamed throughout the weekend.
Friday (Sept. 30)
The 22-year-old Oakland artist gets her name from a Sanskrit word that translates to “truth.” So, it perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s such a tangible sense of emotional openness and honesty to be found in her recordings. She tackles the topic of love in a variety of styles — dealing with both heartbreak and healing — on her latest EP “Deep Blue,” all the while showcasing an impeccable vocal delivery on her slow, soothing and soulful offerings.
(2-2:30 p.m. Bandwagon Stage)
“Outside Child,” the debut solo outing from this highly talented Canadian singer-songwriter-clarinetist, was the best album of 2021. It offered up a spellbinding array of musical styles, from jazz and soul to country and world music, as well as elegant vocal work paired with harrowing lyrics telling of the abuse Russell suffered as a child at the hands of her adoptive father. It was nothing short of a stunning artistic achievement, which should translate to a huge crowd waiting to see the Montreal native at Golden Gate Park.
(4:45-5:45 p.m. Swan Stage)
The Lone Star State troubadour possesses an old-school sound that feels decades removed — in a good way — from most of what we hear on country music radio these days. He’s also incredibly prolific, having released 11 albums since 2015 — including a pair, “Lil G.L. Presents: Jukebox Charley” and “The Man from Waco,” during a five-month stretch in this year alone.
(5:45-7 p.m. Towers of Gold Stage)
Saturday (Oct. 1)
The Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter first caught the public’s ear with “Ease My Mind,” which the Village Voice named one of the best country albums of 2014. Since then, she’s released three more well-received full-lengths, including this year’s “Oh to Be That Free,” nicely showcasing her clever lyrics, superb singing voice and an overall sound that blends elements of Americana, classic country, indie-rock/pop and honky-tonk.
(12:30-1:10 p.m. Porch Stage)
Finding the right band name can be crucial. The Closner sisters — Natalie, Allison, and Meegan — located theirs eight years ago during a trip to visit their grandfather in the small eastern Oregon city of Joseph. Of course, even a good name — and an accompanying cool back story — won’t help a band if it doesn’t have talent. Fortunately, this sister act absolutely wows in that category, filling their soft folk-pop numbers with a wide array of vocal delights — from soaring full-band harmonies to pristine lead and back-up work.
(2:15-3:05 p.m. Banjo Stage)
A folk singer has to be pretty talented to land a deal with Oh Boy Records, the independent label founded by one of the genre’s all time greats — John Prine — in the ‘80s. Thankfully, talent is something this Sacramento singer-songwriter has in abundance. Drop the needle on the 2020 debut “Caught It From the Rye” or the 2022 follow-up “You, Yeah, You” and what you’ll find is an artist who crafts strong lyrics and melodies that grip and hold the attention of listeners.
(4:35-5:20 p.m. Porch Stage)
Jerry Harrison, Adrian Belew — Remain in Light
Get ready to sing along with “Once in a Lifetime” and “Crosseyed and Painless” during this all-star live performance of the Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light.” Helping to lead the charge is Harrison, who obviously should know the classic album well given that he created it in the studio alongside fellow original band members David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth as well as producer Brian Eno in 1980. His co-captain for the endeavor is Belew, the longtime Kim Crimson great and solo artist who has also worked with the likes of David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos, Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper over the years.
(5:55-7 p.m. Swan Stage)
Sunday (Oct. 2)
The singer-songwriter-composer made history earlier this year when she became the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy Award. She accomplished the feat with the mesmerizing “Mohabbat,” which took the title of Best Global Music Performance at the award show. The song hails from “Vulture Prince,” the latest offering from this Brooklyn-based artist who uses Urdu poetry and ghazals in her captivating, minimalist-rooted compositions.
(12:30-1:15 p.m. Rooster Stage)
Ponder says she enjoyed working as a public defender in her hometown of Rochester, New York, a career choice she pursued after her brother received a 20-year “three strikes” prison sentence. Yet, it would eventually get to the point where she had to make a choice between the legal system and the music business. The latter won out, of course, and now fans will get to experience Ponder’s marvelous mix of R&B, pop, blues and trip-hop at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
(1:20-2 p.m. Porch Stage)
Fare Thee Well: Celebrating the Songs of John Prine, Nancy Bechtle, Justin Townes Earle & More
This should be an incredibly moving set of music, as organizers pause to honor and remember members of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass community who have died in recent years. Steve Earle — Justin’s father — will lead a “guitar pull” with a number of other artists.
(2-3:15 p.m. Banjo Stage)
Jesse Colin Young
He’s accomplished so much during a career that now stretches some 60 years, including releasing over 20 studio albums and utilizing his substantial talents on a number of memorable songs. Yet, one tune remains the most memorable, right? Of course, we’re talking about the amazing Summer of Love anthem “Get Together,” a number written by the Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Chet Powers (aka Dino Valenti) that Young and his Youngbloods featured on their eponymous debut from 1967. The chance to hear Young perform that classic in Golden Gate Park — where all ‘60s peace anthems just seem to ring louder — is a major reason to attend to this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
(2:30-3:10 p.m. Porch Stage)
The Alexandria, Virginia-based artist is a Guitar Hero 2 success story. As legend has it, Williams begged her parents to buy her a real guitar after playing the popular video game back in 2009. Good thing her parents agreed, because their daughter is now an amazing guitarist who is sharing her talent with a growing audience of appreciative fans. Notably, she was voted one of the “10 best acoustic guitarists in the world right now” in MusicRadar, which championed Williams for her “knock you down with a feather” playing style and the “meditative escapism” her music brings to listeners.
(5-5:45 p.m. Bandwagon Stage)