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Arts + CultureCultureHardly Strictly Bluegrass: Best of the Bay 2020 Editors'...

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Best of the Bay 2020 Editors’ Pick

The roots festival reached back to its own, philanthropical roots—granting more than a million dollars to local venues and musicians

Throughout December, we’re publishing our Best of the Bay 2020 Editors’ Picks, highlighting some of the tremendous people, places, and things that made the Bay Area shine during one heck of a year. View the growing list below—and see our Best of the Bay 2020 Readers Poll winners and our Readers Stories of Resilience here.

No one familiar with the yearly roots festival’s history of generosity was likely surprised when Hardly Strictly Bluegrass’ grant program was announced in 2020. The yearly hoedown, started by late philanthropist and private equity magnate Warren Hellman, has always been free, a bonanza of live music that over the years has delighted audiences in Golden Gate Park’s Speedway Meadows (a green space now named for Hellman himself.)

Of course, this year there was no way that the festival would take place in its standard IRL format. But that didn’t stop the team behind Hardly Strictly from making sweet music. That took place in a few different ways, one being an online festival on October 3, held on the HSB YouTube channel, which featured the likes of Emmylou Harris and The War & Treaty—accompanied by emotional archival footage taking festival-goers back to the days before we had N95 masks fused to our faces. In a similar vein, the festival took its show on the road for the recent “Let the Music Play On & On series,” that visited well-known and up-and-coming musicians in their hometowns for intimate performances and interviews.

But to the second way goes the Best of the Bay. Hardly Strictly knew that the live music scene that fuels its spectacular lineups was hurting, and bad, during the COVID crisis that shut down bars and made screen-free concerts a glimmer in our memory. So the fest put $1 million towards supporting 15 musical organizations in the Bay Area, including such beloved venues as Bottom of the Hill, the Chapel, El Rio, and La Peña Cultural Center.

The giving was far from limited to stages. There too on the recipient list were individual musicians, who could apply for up to $2,000 a piece of a $450,000 total if they had residency in San Francisco or surrounding counties. In the end, 600 musicians were awarded much-needed funds. Such are the challenges currently being faced by our arts community that it’s hard to know whether support like this will be enough to keep it afloat—but props are in order for Hardly Strictly’s efforts to keep the banjos strumming. —Caitlin Donohue

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