Monday, October 6, 2014

A Festival for All of Us

Chris Isaak | Star Stage | Golden Gate Park
There's something that happens to our brains when we hear the word free. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is the best free music festival in America, guaranteed. Golden Gate Park has to be experienced. It is an urban American treasure at the grandest scale. Long gone are the days of this event being a secret—it now bends with too many of us...

Now-a-days we tend to hit up the one day that gives us the most of what we like. This tactic is further justified by the live stream feature on the festival's website (couch tour). We chose Saturday. We chose wisely. 

Parking was a bit of a battle, and thus, we missed Deltron. Rumor has it that the 3030 set was hot.

Built to Spill | Tower of Gold Stage | 3:05pm

A cooler full of goodies gave us power for the ensuing Built to Spill performance at the Gold Stage. Idaho's finest began with "Goin' Against Your Mind." "Time Trap" was the track that grabbed my attention most. During the reverb heavy snarl of three guitars, when Doug stopped singing, two Red-tailed hawks began soaring over our heads, talons down and open. Quite the coincidence. A fitting exhibition by nature. Maybe they liked the music too? Built to Spill ended their set with a park-vibe version of "Carry the Zero."

Setlist: 1. Goin' Against Your 2. Liar 3. Time Trap 4. Conventional Wisdom 5. Life's a Dream
6. Joyride 7. Stab 8. Carry the Zero

Dave Rawlings Machine | Banjo Stage | 4:25pm

The perfect timing of the schedule allowed us to walk all the way to the Banjo Stage to catch Dave Rawlings Machine. The Collection of talent was as I had hyped. The set was almost comprised entirely by covers. My personal favorite was Gillian singing, "Wayside/Back in Time." A classic song from the artist herself. The final handful of offerings began when I heard them teasing a Neil tune while picking out the pieces of Bright Eye's "Method Acting." They whittled their way down to a sharpened "Cortez the Killer," my validation. The next song, my other favorite, "Queen Jane Approximately," was almost too much. The Dylan cover was stark and stripped down—a beautiful take on an absolute all-timer. As the denim-clad quintet stepped off the stage I was completely pleased. Moments passed, and then they came back out to inundate us with "Going to California."

Setlist: 1. The Monkey & the Engineer (Jesse Fuller cover) 2. To Be Young (Ryan Adams)
3. Ruby 4. He Will Set Your Fields on Fire (Bill Monroe) 5. Wayside/Back in Time 6. Stew ball 7. Method Acting (Bright Eyes) 8. Cortez the Killer (Neil Young) 9. Queen Jane Approximately (Dylan)
E: Going to California (Led Zeppelin)

Chris Isaak | Star Stage | 5:45pm

The final destination, the serious stuff. Chris Isaak only lives six blocks from Golden Gate Park. He gave us a win-you-over performance, the type that makes you believe. His first cut was a ripping 50's sounding rocker. To follow up, he crooned, "Somebody's Crying." He left his guitar to walk out into the crowd, moving toward me he decided that I was worthy of a ring-laden handshake. I was beaming (photo above). He then preceded to sing two songs out at the corner of the soundboard. He made his mark on tracks that were a skillful mix of crafty language and honky-tonk rhythms. Seven songs in we heard, and gave into, the sounds of "Wicked Game." Sexy should just have this song as its definition. Rocking and rolling with different guitars, he, his amazing suit and his band, transformed a late Saturday afternoon into a Quentin Tarantino-like haze thanks to "Blue Hotel." It had a soundtrack quality, of course aided by special agent Chester Desmond's vocals. Lucky number 13 was "Only the Lonely." Chris is probably the only human capable of attempting that cover. He did it a great justice and even added some squeezebox for good measure. They added some spice with a couple of Latin influenced takes, highlighted by "Ring of Fire." Shifting back into his world, they dazzled with, "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing." The opening licks to one of the all-time greatest tracks is "Pretty Woman." They challenged themselves to reproduce Roy's classic. Chris Isaak cultivated those songs into his own, which is saying something, at least in my opinion. 'Only the Lonely' kept coming up as we walked back to the car and tried to recite the magic. Thanks, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.


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