As San Franciscans, we reserve the right to complain that a huge, free spectacle held in our honor is a drag. It's in the city charter, somewhere.
But not all huge free spectacles are created equally. And, as folks who don't live in this city are fond of saying, "freedom isn't free."
So, it's worth contrasting the just-concluded Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival and the not quite as just-concluded America's Cup.
Both wrested away the city to cater to the whims of charismatic billionaires. But that's where the similarity ends. Hardly Strictly's charismatic billionaire took it upon himself to pay for the whole thing, even from the grave. The America's Cup, meanwhile, may still cost the city millions, even after an oft-farcical fund-raising campaign and dubious claims of millions of free-spending visitors streaming into San Francisco.
See Also: Hardly Strictly Surprises
There's Only One America's Cup Winner. There are Many Losers.
You didn't have a farcical fund-raising drive with Hardly Strictly because founder and banjo-playing billionaire Warren Hellman paid for the whole thing. Repeatedly. And he endowed the festival to keep running, sans city largesse, for 15 years after his death.
So, an estimated 750,000 people flooded into the city over the weekend to watch top-flight performers -- for free. What's more, it works both ways: Many of these performers are insanely talented, but don't play the sort of music that three-quarters of a million people might normally make it a priority to see. Provided you aren't trying to catch a No. 71 bus, it's a win-win.
from featuring artists of Hardly Strictly caliber, foisted acts like
Jonas Brothers and Train -- Train -- upon the city).
Those objecting to stoner- and stoner effluvia-laden public transit or the ignominy of Steve Martin plucking a banjo too damn loudly within earshot are dreading next year's Hardly Strictly. But the city's bean-counters and politicos are not. Damn near 1 million people will come here, spend money, and have a great time.
It's paid for.
With the America's Cup, however, no such glow exists. Bare-knuckled negotiations reminiscent of those in 2010 are likely already under way. If so, it's also quite likely that the professional sharks working for Team Ellison are, once again, eating the city's lunch.
And that lunch isn't free.