Hardly Strictly Blugrass Music Festival – A Guide

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October 9, 2012 by chriszumtobel

If you live in or near the Bay Area then the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Festival is not something you want to miss.  Even if folk music is not your thing, it’s worth going only to experience the vibe and the excitement of this enormous, three day, free, music festival.  So if that sounds interesting to you at all then here is your guide to catching the madness next year (or as much of a guide as I can put together from my two years of attendance).

Research the Lineup!

Watch the lineup closely as it is released, if you recognize a band that you love, then start a list by writing them down and when and where they play.  But also on that list you want to include the other bands that sound interesting, the ones you research a little and decide, “Hey, I’d like to catch them too.”

This will make a huge difference, you will be amazed how overwhelming the environment is and how quickly you can completely miss a show you had really been looking forward to.  Some of the most entertaining shows are the ones you were least expecting, but even catching one of those probably won’t make up for missing one of the bands you were most excited to see.

Research the map!

The configuration of stages is really easy once you get the hang of it, but sometimes lugging your stuff through the enormous jungle of Golden Gate Park, after 40 minutes you will start to wonder if you are heading in even remotely the right direction.

Either get there very early or try to get a good feel of the map and what stage you are headed to before making you way into the festivities.

Know how to get there
  1. Bart – Parking in Berkeley and then riding the Bart over can be a really reasonable choice because both hotels and parking are cheaper in the East Bay. It only costs one dollar on weekdays, and is free on weekends, to park in the Bart parking lot (but be careful sleeping in your car here, luckily we only got a warning ticket).  Just know that the Bart won’t take you to the park and you will have to find your way there from the Market street area.
  2. Bus – The bus is useful but very slow.  It took us almost 40 minutes to ride the bus from market to the park.  This is still an affordable and convenient choice if you time it well enough.
  3. Parking – Parking for the festival is terrible, but sometimes you have no other option.  At least once you find a space it is often free, here are a few places to try.

Buena Vista Park is my top choice.  It is a little walk, but a fun one down Haight, to the festival but it feels safe (especially towards the top of the park).  The festival is towards the middle of the park though, so give yourself time from these parking spots, about an hour walk (but we were fine sleeping in the car here).
Residential neighborhoods around the park are all free, but very, very tough to find unless you get there early.  Usually you will end up parking tight between a couple of driveways and find yourself worried about a ticket the whole concert.
Parking inside the park is very convenient but a little bit tough to find.  The hours vary and some allow only 2 hour parking but as you get deeper inside you will find some 4 hour parking.  Cannot stay overnight and tough if you will be drinking because you will need to continue to move the car.
***One great option I will add (which we haven’t been able to take advantage of yet) is the free parking around the park.  The park is surrounded with street parking, which doesn’t seem to have a limit, making it very difficult to nab a spot.  Without getting extremely lucky, the only way to grab one of these spots is to get there on Thursday at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, right after the street cleaning when the spot is cleared out. (Hopefully next year we will get one of these spots!)

What to Bring

Plenty of drinks, foods, and snacks!  Everyone around you will be sitting on the hillside drinking a beer or sharing a bottle of wine.  It is an amazing environment and people really enjoy themselves.

You will get very hungry, especially after back to back to back shows on back to back to back days, and it is nice to have some sandwiches and chips to snack on.  This will also help you to save money, because the food stands inside can get pretty pricy.

A ball or a Frisbee can be a ton of fun.  It is a park and there is much open space where you can hear the band.  We had a great time and made some great friends when we dove into a random game of Frisbee.

HSB Festival 2013!

Hopefully I will see you there next year.  The wonderful music, easygoing crowds and beautiful backdrop of the park and trees lend to an unforgettable experience and something I know I won’t be missing out on year after year.  I’ll be bringing my kids!

Why miss it? It’s free!


Have you been to the festival? Any more advice for readers?

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