The annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival returns for a 15th year this October, and for us, it always calls to mind the early years when the free event was somewhat rigidly called the "Strictly Bluegrass Festival."
Luckily, in 2004, founder Warren Hellman saw fit to expand the styles on offer at Golden Gate Park, and agreed to change the name to "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass." Last year alone saw sets by SoCal greaser-punks Social Distortion, futuristic hip-hop orchestra Deltron 3030, twee art-rockers Cibo Matto and lo-fi indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo.
The 2015 lineup -- with reliable returnees like Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and more -- already includes some outliers who could hardly be classified as bluegrass. And that's fine with us.
1. Flogging Molly
It's a miracle that the Pogues' Shane MacGowan is still alive, and it's a shame that he doesn't make it to the U.S. more often from Ireland. Filling the anarchic, drinking-anthem void are Flogging Molly -- a band with a banjo, sure, but a group that would never be filed in the bluegrass section.
2. Charles Bradley
This soul belter has performed in Golden Gate Park before, backed by the tight rhythms of the Menahan Street Band, at Outside Lands. He'll transfix the Hardly Strictly crowd, no doubt, and offer the festival a heartfelt pang amidst all the weekend's twang.
3. Paul Weller
Even though his solo material has been frequent and robust, Weller will always be affiliated with the Jam -- and that London power-punk band's enduring hits like "In the City," "All Around the World," "That's Entertainment" and "Start!" Expect a rave-up of singing along in accents more British than Southern.
4. Chicano Batman
Whittier Blvd. is a long way from the deep south's Highway 61, and with a completely different style -- at least in the 1970s, the lowrider era from which this polyester-clad Latino soul group takes inspiration. If only a parade of '64 Impalas could split the crowd during their set, like Moses parting the Red Sea.
5. Joe Jackson
There's no doubt Jackson has diverse taste -- his recent listening habits include Oscar Peterson and Hank Williams, and we last saw him in the Bay Area singing Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and playing boogie-woogie piano. Who knows what he'll do in Golden Gate Park, but it's not likely to be bluegrass. Or maybe a mandolin-and-fiddle version of "Sunday Papers"?