"The closest I'll ever get to heaven" is how the 76-year-old investment banker and bluegrass fanatic Warren Hellman describes his annual free music festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, which turns 10 this weekend. Begun as an actual bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, in the last decade it has transformed into a sprawling three-day music orgy that invites artists from a variety of genres and draws up to 750,000 fans from across the planet. This year's lineup features female punk pioneer Patti Smith, British rock icon Elvis Costello, and maturing emo troubadour Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) among its 80 acts. But even as its lineups have expanded in size and focus, Hardly Strictly has retained its reputation for booking some of the best bluegrass and American roots music bands around, thanks partly to the curiosity and taste of the man who foots the bill. The festival is an obsession for the eccentric billionaire, who plays in a bluegrass band himself. To understand why Hellman has bought the world a free weekend of music for 10 years, we spent an afternoon in his downtown office, listening to him wisecrack about his favorite new bands, joking about how much pot gets smoked over one weekend, and trying not to get distracted by his panoramic views of... More >>>
Warren Hellman's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass drew an estimated 750,000 people to Golden Gate Park last year.