When you started this, did you have any idea that it would become an inter-national draw?

No idea. I didn't know what would happen. We said, "Let's do a festival." We had one or two stages, we had a dozen bands, and I called Dawn [the festival's booker] the day before, and I said, "Do you think anybody's actually going to come?" There were several thousand, maybe 20,000 people. The music has become more popular, the diversity of the bands has made it more popular. When we started, a lot of people said, "This is old people's music." I hope that the movement that was started with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and then the Down From the Mountain tour [of artists from the film's soundtrack], has really put the pedal to the metal on this music. Maybe I'm just smoking something.

Was there a mandate to widen the range of bands playing?

Warren Hellman's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass drew an estimated 750,000 people to Golden Gate Park last year.
Ken Friedman
Warren Hellman's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass drew an estimated 750,000 people to Golden Gate Park last year.
Warren Hellman
Jay Blakesberg
Warren Hellman

The first two years it was called Strictly Bluegrass. The reason I called it Strictly Bluegrass is Emmylou Harris agreed to come. As you know, Emmylou Harris' music has moved through different genres. I really like the Nash Ramblers [Harris' onetime band], and I thought if we call it Strictly Bluegrass, maybe she'll be shamed into doing strictly bluegrass. No way. Then we thought, it isn't Strictly Bluegrass, because of course Emmy wasn't singing bluegrass in those days, so we started adding nonbluegrass acts. We saw how popular they were. And then we just decided, let's make it just a music festival. I wonder sometimes how the commercial festival people feel that we're kind of eating their lunch, and you know, I don't care. One way or another, I don't care. They should do it for free, too.

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