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Indybay Feature

Hardly Strictly

by Marc Norton (nortonsf [at]
I knew I had stopped having a good time when Emmylou Harris gave Warren Hellman a big hug at the Banjo Stage in Speedway Meadows.
Hellman, after all, is the billionaire financier, venture capitalist and political heavyweight who tore up the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park to build a parking lot for his monstrosity of a museum, just a short stroll away from the site of his Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.

I had worked my way up to the front of the crowd, close enough to see the whites of Hellman's eyes when he introduced Emmylou. After the big hug, and after a couple of songs, I remembered that I really didn't enjoy her music that much either. So I wandered off in another direction, and ended up at the Rooster Stage listening to Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, described in the festival's bios as "Hillbilly-Floyd, folk-pop and surreal Americana." They were a great act. Among other numbers, they did an audience-participation yodel song, a Who retrospective, and a rambunctious version of Dylan's "Gates of Eden." The guy on the electric slide mandolin really wailed. I also liked the young lady who played the accordion, and, occasionally, the cello.

Not once did Gandalf thank the great benefactor Hellman, but repeatedly thanked us for coming to hear a band we had never heard of before, while the rest of the world was off listening to Emmylou. They finished with a mummer's song, which they described as a Philadelphia New Years tradition to chase away evil spirits. The crowd gave them a huge ovation. I left feeling good.

But not for long. I joined the throngs of festival-goers waiting for Muni's 5-Fulton. One came by after a few minutes, with plenty of room for us, but whizzed by without stopping. Not a good sign. So I headed up to Balboa, to wait for the 31. The "nextmuni" sign claimed that a 31-Balboa would arrive in two minutes. Three minutes later the sign announced that a 31 would arrive in fifteen minutes. Inexplicably, an empty 5-Fulton drove by. So, I was off to Geary. An empty 2-Clement drove by. Finally, a 38-Geary pulled up, and I boarded the cattle car, through the back door of course. I got off at Divisadero. The "nextmuni" sign said that a 24-Divisadero would be by in just forty-two minutes. I walked down Divisadero, looking back over my shoulder for wayward buses. At McAllister, the "nextmuni" sign announced that a 24 would be by in just sixty minutes. So I walked home.

Maybe Warren Hellman could use some of his millions to fix Muni, in addition to throwing music festivals where they sing songs about poor folks.
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