Of all the ways to describe the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Yogi Berra may have said it best: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
Berra was describing a St. Louis restaurant when he uttered these words—not the festival. But it's an entirely appropriate phrase to invoke each year when asked the inevitable: "You goin' to Hardly Strictly?" The problem is this: walking from stage to stage is not an option at the festival anymore. Not only are attendees shoulder-to-very-close-shoulder, but it's impossible to visually see performers unless one arrives early, picks just one stage, lays down a blanket and stays put for the entire day.
This year's lineup, however, is enticing enough to fight the crowds. Staying at the Rooster Stage on Friday, Sept. 30, yields a unique lineup featuring Woods, Kurt Vile & The Violators, the Felice Brothers, M. Ward and Bright Eyes. The Towers of Gold Stage on Saturday, Oct. 1, has a what-the-hell lineup of Ricky Skaggs, Hugh Laurie, Broken Social Scene and Buckethead. Other notables this year include Thurston Moore (above), Robert Plant & The Band of Joy, Dr. John & The Lower 911, and Irma Thomas.
Usual returnees flesh out this year's lineup, including John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Del McCoury, Robert Earl Keen and Gillian Welch—all excellent. The free festival runs Friday–Sunday, Sept. 30–Oct. 2, at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. For full schedule, see www.hardlystrictly.com.