Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Wild Weekend 2: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was started in the middle of Golden Gate Park in 2001 by the billionaire Warren Hellman as a vanity project where he could play his banjo with professional musicians, and it quickly grew into a massive event with five different stages in adjoining locations.

Along one chain link fence, there was a fifty-foot cloth printed with photos and quotes from Hellman, who died last year of leukemia at the age of 77. Born in New York City with inherited wealth from Wells Fargo among other capitalist dynasties, he went to Harvard Business School and then became seriously wealthy while working for the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. The quote above reads, "No one would have believed down in the bowels of Lehman Brothers doing IPOs that I'd ever be up here on stage with Jimmie Dale Gilmore."

After becoming president of Lehman Brothers, he eventually moved on to his own venture capital firm in San Francisco in the 1980s. He was a Republican who treated San Francisco very much like his own Sim City, as you can note by the quote above: "I always say, 'Monet or a festival?' If you had the money, which would you rather own?" That final word is telling.

Wealthy people seem to be used to owning other humans.

The crowd was mostly white and mostly charming.

The problem was that there were too many of them, packed in small to medium sized dales, where there was not an inch of grass to be seen between the tarps, blankets, and humans. My New York friend became claustrophobic, mentioning that it felt a bit like 42nd Street at rush hour.

We wandered forlornly looking for a section that wasn't in the pathways or packed to the gills, and chanced upon the smallest Porch Stage, where the British folk artist Robyn Hitchcock below was performing a lovely, funny set.

"Robyn Hitchcock?" My young neighbor Ella exclaimed, while we chatted during a rush hour Monday morning Muni bus trip to downtown. "He was huge in the 80s. Now he's playing the Porch Stage? I guess we all have our ups and downs."


Matthew Hubbard said...

Warren Hellman with Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson?

Warren Hellman, rot in...

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Matthew: Thanks for the alliteration.