Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadows was packed with about 100K music fans during the peak hours of this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Today's paper estimated that 750 thousand people would attend this year's ninth annual free event.
Yesterday on the west facing Banjo stage, I played a set with Mike Bub, Casey Driessen, Kenny Malone, Darrell Scott, and my sister Mollie O'Brien.
When she lit into a big fat high note on "Shut De Doe," the crowd responded as one with a spontaneous yell, folding the thrill back to us on stage. I also sat in with Steve Martin, who caught his hat in the air after it blew off during his set. Then as the sun disappeared in the west, in 35-degree weather, and wind gusts of 50 miles an hour, I played the final set of the day with Steve Earle's Bluegrass Dukes. Dennis Crouch wedged himself and the bass against the stage, as his instrument was the biggest sail on stage. Late in the set, I grabbed Steve's guitar for a few numbers and was blown back several feet. I was glad to be wearing a Fishing Music ball cap, and a polyester blend All Black's jersey. Still, about 40 minutes into the set, my fingers felt like stones, the only feeling the sting of the strings as they vibrated against the fingertips.
Today I'm playing in Darrell's band for the first set on the Banjo stage. Mid-point in Darrell's set, I looked to my right and saw Robert Plant sitting on the stage skirt, watching us play. I tried my best to ignore him, thinking he might go away. He did.
When it came time for my solo on Darrell's song "With A Memory Like Mine," I closed my eyes and thought of my long lost brother Trip, who died in Viet Nam back in 1968. I got lost in the music and when I finished and looked up, four Canadian geese were flying right over the stage against a clear blue sky. The sight took my breath away.
Several years ago this festival took place during "Fleet Week," a time when US Navy displays its big ships in San Francisco Bay. The Blue Angels flew over the festival grounds several times that year, to Ricky Skaggs' delight, and to Steve Earle's chagrin. I have to admit the geese in formation made less noise, and were a heap more meaningful to me. I decided the four were Trip, my mom, (both former Marines), and Charles Sawtelle, and Frank Edmonson, my departed Hot Rize cohorts.