The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Guide for Families

Moms, dads, grandparents, and godparents: Are you looking for a special occasion to dedicate to some one-on-one bonding time with your kid? Check out our series of hip happenings that will give the two of you secrets to share and a ritual to return to year after year.

Anyone who grew up in a small town or on a farm remembers their grandparents playing the banjo or harmonica, singing the blues and stomping their feet at a barn dance… right? Or maybe that’s just a scene in a movie that you wish you had lived as a child. Well, for your kids, that aching for old-time Americana could be a reality.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (October 6–8, 2017), which comes around to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for three days every October will take you back to that simpler time you wish you’d come from. Once your kids catch this whiff of hardcore nostalgia, Pokemon Go will certainly see its last days.

Philanthropy at Its Finest

Unlike most music festivals, this one is free, open to the public, and devoid of commercial sponsorship. It’s kind of like the utopia of festivals, which explains its ever-growing popularity among locals (and why they try – unsuccessfully – to keep it a secret!).

The festival’s founder, private equity firm billionaire Warren Hellman, funds the festival from his own deep pockets, simply because he loved bluegrass music and wanted everyone to experience it. Although he died in 2011, his endowment will keep the festival running at least until 2026.

In addition to this commercial-free mandate which prevents your kids from being bombarded with soda samples and countless ads, the festival also aims to be waste-free. You can bike, walk, or take MUNI. Line N runs the length of the park, just south of it. Take the Judah/25th stop and walk a few blocks north to enter the festival. MTA bus 5R runs north of the park, along Fulton Street, from Market; get off at 25th.

San Francisco Bike Rentals, on the east side of Golden Gate Park, is a great place to grab some wheels for your day in the park. If you’re staying elsewhere in the city, you’ll be able to drop it off at a different location too.

Inside the festival, recycling and composting help keep trash to a minimum. You’re encouraged to bring your own picnic food (although there are food vendors at the festival), and there’s no alcohol for sale in the park, although you’re allowed to bring your own beer and wine.

This well-structured, free, and easy festival is perfect if you want to avoid the drug-soaked, testosterone-packed events that cater to a young and wild crowd. Instead, this is really just a chill, music-centered festival for everyone.

Choose Your Music Wisely

Although the fest started as “strictly” Bluegrass, with some of Hellman’s favorite performers taking the stage, it quickly moved to “hardly strictly” by accepting performers from folk and country backgrounds that are not, strictly speaking, bluegrass acts. The festival is all the richer for these changes.

Festivalgoers are encouraged to bring the full picnic setup into the park and lay out your blanket, snacks, and comfy chairs in front of one of the stages to prepare for the long haul. There is no overnight camping in the park so don’t get too comfortable, but you’ll do well to choose a single-stage lineup if you really want to relax.

Not that into staying put in one spot? Try a picnic trade with another family or friends: If you each set up at a stage, you can switch off while keeping your whole setup down. The biggest names play the Rooster Stage, but the Porch Stage is more intimate and relaxed. Test out the other four stages before you commit to your final perch.

You’ll also want to pack clothes for all of San Francisco’s alternately sunny, foggy, cold, humid, dry, and hot seasons, which you might experience in the same day. Ear plugs are strongly encouraged. Even though it’s outdoors, the music still gets loud.

Blues before Bedtime

Want to stay near the festival? Try an AirBnB in the residential Sunset and Richmond districts that surround the park, or stay in hip Haight-Ashbury near the Panhandle. The area south of the park is full of quiet neighborhoods and the peaceful areas of the city, but make sure you’re still within striking distance of public transport up to the park.

MUNI and bus lines run from Downtown, so you can really stay anywhere on the more dense, east side of the peninsula and still have good transport options to the festival.

Feeling too tired to make it to day three of the festival? Watch the main stages via livestream over the web and have the festival come to you in your hotel room or your home, wherever that may be. After all, this is still San Francisco.

What are some music festivals you’re looking forward to attending this year? Share with us!

Cover via Kristina Bakrevski for Everfest 

Tags : hip happenings   music festivals   

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