Hardly Strictly Bluegrass draws hundreds of thousands of people to San Francisco each year. Here's everything you need to know about this annual music festival in Golden Gate Park.

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September 16, 2019

Everything You Need to Know About Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

The first weekend of October brings the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. With more than 80 artists performing at this celebration, you can hear country, soul, folk, and indie blues in an outdoor setting.

The festival hours are Friday, Oct. 4, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 5, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 6, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A Brief History of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

The festival originated as “Strictly Bluegrass” in 2001, but as artists from other musical styles were added to the lineup, the name was changed to “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass”. Now in its 19th year, the festival serves as a gift to the people of San Francisco from the late investor, banjo player, and bluegrass fan Warren Hellman. 

The Hellman Foundation now funds the free and non-commercial music festival that celebrates creativity and community in a friendly and fun atmosphere spread across six stages in Golden Gate Park.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass welcomes more than half a million festival-goers over its three days. In years past, the festival has featured artists like Emmylou Harris, Hazel Dickens, Gillian Welch, Earl Scruggs, and many others.

Artists and Music Genres

Some of the biggest draws for this year's festival will be Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Grammy-winner Emmylou Harris, the perennial festival closer. Other performers on the bill are Judy Collins, Tanya Tucker, Hot Tuna Electric, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Grammy-award winning Bay Area artist Laurie Lewis, and Jon Langford of The Mekons.

You will have a chance to listen to great sounds from Hiss Golden Messenger, led by Michael Taylor, previously of the San Francisco indie rock band The Court & Spark, and rock ’n‘ roll icon John Kay of Steppenwolf.

Discover the music of newcomers on the bill like Minnesota-based Chastity Brown, Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren, and The Budos Band.

Expect to experience a lot of “hardly” at this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival as emerging artists bring a mix of Americana, rock, funk, Afro-soul sounds, and a blues-oriented set.

You don’t want to miss Kurt Vile and The Violators’ quirky and melodic indie rock or San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet’s Music for Change: Pete Seeger @ 100, with special guests Aoife O’Donovan, Meklit, Lee Knight, Brian Carpenter, and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

Look for the rock band Mercury Rev’s collaboration with Beth Orton and Margo Price as they perform songs from the band’s recent tribute album “Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited.”

Check out the full festival lineup here.

Festival Location in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park welcomes more than 13 million visitors a year and hosts hundreds of events and activities throughout the year. The park's 1,017 acres of gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, and monuments make it a perfect location to have large public events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

The three-day music festival takes place at Hellman Hollow and Marx and Lindley meadows in Golden Gate Park. The festival area is bordered by John F. Kennedy Dr. to the north and Transverse Dr. to the east. Remember to check the map to locate one of the four entrances.

If you want to see more of Golden Gate Park, try a free City Guides walking tour, which includes a tour of the Japanese Tea Garden, Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, or the West End of the park.

Things to Know Before You Go

The gates will open at 9 a.m., so you can head in and lay out your blankets and chairs on the grass. While collapsable wagons and taller chairs are alowed, do be considerate and mindful of the neighbors around you. Be sure to bring only clear plastic bags or backpacks. Refer to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass website for a list of items allowed on the festival grounds.

As San Francisco is known for its wide range of cuisines, you will find new food options this year at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Expand your horizons by sampling any of the 35 food and beverage choices or feel free to bring your own picnic (but be sure to leave your coolers at home).

Alcohol will not be available for purchase at the festival, but beer and wine may be brought to the park in non-glass containers only. Kegs are not allowed per park rules. Check the festival website for park rules about alcohol.

Prescribed medication or infant care may be brought in a small, soft-sided cooler.

Please be aware that there are no ATMs on-site. Cash or cards will be accepted for concession and merchandise purchases.

While October usually brings warmer weather to San Francisco, it's best to prepare by dressing in layers for sunny days and foggy evenings. You never know when Karl the Fog might make a special guest appearance!

Ways to Get There

Parking can be extremely challenging in the neighborhoods around Golden Gate Park during the festival weekend. To make your commute to the festival less of a hassle, we encourage visitors to walk, bike or take public transportation.

A free Golden Gate Park shuttle will be operating during the festival weekend. The shuttle, provided by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Just look for the green shuttle stop signs at the Ocean Beach parking lot on the west end of Golden Gate Park. Your most convenient shuttle stops for the music festival are either JFK/Transverse Drive or Marx Meadow. You can find more shuttle information here.

You can take the 5 and 5R Fulton Muni bus to the north side of the park, with festival access at 25th, 30th, or 36th avenues. The 29 Sunset bus is also within close proximity to the festival and the 7 Haight/Noriega bus runs on the south side of the park.

Accessibility Choices

For people with accessibility needs, there will be a special ADA viewing section reserved at each stage. Drop off for disabled persons will be at JFK Drive and Transverse Dr., while ADA parking is designated along Transverse Dr. on a first come, first served basis.

Wheelchair accessible shuttles will be on hand for round trips starting at 11:30 a.m. on Friday and 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shuttle begins at JFK and Transverse drives and makes stops along JFK Dr. near each stage.

Check the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass website and mobile app for the latest news and vendor locations that will be announced in the week leading up to the festival.


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