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Monday, October 7, 2013

The Best of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013: Billy Bragg, Bettye LaVette, the Devil Makes Three, and More

Posted By on Mon, Oct 7, 2013 at 9:54 AM

click to enlarge Bet you saw a lot of this over the weekend... - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Bet you saw a lot of this over the weekend...

Quick takes on the best of what we saw at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 13. Skip straight to Saturday or Sunday.

Friday, Oct. 4

Low

We gave the Duluth, Minn., outfit even odds in translating its gothic rock into the bright environs of a Friday afternoon in Golden Gate Park. Looking like a band of art-room kids who got locked out in the sunlight ("What a beautiful day -- I know you get a lot of beautiful days, but in Duluth we get about three and a half," said Alan Sparhawk), Low's quieter moments sometimes got lost in the ever-present din of conversation and the echoes from the Banjo stage up the way. But the band mostly pulled it off: "Holy Ghost" and "Witches" proved appropriately haunting, and Low made a cover of Rihanna's fantastic "Stay" seem like its own song. The second half of the spacious set was filled out with help from Duluth pals Trampled by Turtles, who filigreed a banjo-and-fiddle lightness onto Low's heavy-lidded dirges. "Sorry about all the dark songs," Sparhawk muttered toward the end. He didn't need to be. Ian S. Port

click to enlarge Low - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Low

First Aid Kit

Playing on the Rooster stage with Saddle Creek friends like Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis, Sweden's Söderberg sisters sounded bright and energetic during the penultimate set of the day. They showed off a bunch of new songs, which sounded promising, but the highlights were twofold: A memorable, harmony-laden take on Simon and Garfunkel's "America," plus a set-closing rendition of the rousing "King of the World," with Conor Oberst coming out onstage to sing his verse. One of the big themes of Hardly Strictly is stripped-down performances -- lots of performers go onstage armed with just their voice and a guitar, which can work well. But as this closing tune illustrated with guitar, keyboard, drums, mandolin, and even a little trumpet, sometimes more really is better. ISP

click to enlarge Bonnie Raitt - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt

Requisite quip about how it smells good out there. Requisite shock of white hair. Requisite Brownie strat. Requisite "Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About." Requisite husky humanity in her voice. But Raitt's slide guitar playing sounded somehow shocking, the electric banter of gods. "Have a Heart" pushed her set past 7 p.m., and spellbound everyone who was paying attention. ISP

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