Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2017: Friday Recs and Rundown

by Becka Robbins on October 4, 2017

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is here again, bringing a host of bands both new and familiar. The best music is not necessarily the most well known, and the greatest festival experiences are the surprises. Here’s the first of three posts to help guide your HSB journey, with recommendations, links, and descriptions.

On Fridays, the crowds are relatively light until the late afternoon, so you can wander more easily than on the other days. Those dastardly organizers, though — they always pit similarly great bands against each other at the same time slots, so there will be hard choices to make.

There are some amazing artists all weekend long, and you can’t go wrong picking a random stage and sticking with it. A lot of people do that and show up early in the morning, claiming a spot with a blanket and ride it out. The time slots are staggered in such a way that it’s hard to catch entire sets, and I’ve created this schedule with an eye on prioritizing the full sets of emerging or local artists who I think are most worthy of attention. I prioritized staying at one stage for at least two acts consecutively because getting a spot can be an unpleasant hassle, but if you’re down for running around, you’ll catch shorter snippets of a broader range.

Recommended Schedule for Friday

This schedule is a little light on traditional American roots music; if you’re looking for that experience, I highly recommend catching the Dry Branch Fire Squad and Laurie Lewis. Also, I was sad to omit Jessie Harris and Big Thief. A lot of people, I’m sure, will say it’s foolish not to see Billy Bragg, but I favor supporting newer and lesser known artists over established ones, and this is just one list. 

12:00-12:45: Sam Chase and the Untraditional at Swan Stage

1:30-2:10pm Tracy Blackman at Bandwagon Stage

2:35-3:25pm Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express at Swan Stage   

3:55-4:55pm The Bo-Keys featuring Don Bryant and Percy Wiggins at Banjo Stage

5:30-6:45pm T Bone Burnett at Banjo Stage at Swan Stage


Rooster Stage:


Mega Bog: Trippy rock and roll with a light touch, with reverb effects to make it feel hazy, and without the conventional pop structure.


Jesse Harris: Mellow singer songwriter; great music and talent.


Big Thief: Woman-led band that plays dynamic and energized non-sleepy folk. Very pretty moody music that doesn’t feel heavy.

The Felice Brothers: Good country folk rock. They have an accordion in the band, and a nice feel in some of their songs. They’ve toured with Old Crowe Medicine Show and Justin Towne Earle, and this is a pretty good fit.

First Aid Kit: Beautiful harmonies, with uplifting melodies that are uplifting, but also feel a bit spooky, with interesting cadence play in their lyrics. Wonderful.

Conor Oberst: Do you love great angsty folk music driven by acoustic guitar? Conor Oberst is your modern troubador. There are some rock notes in there and great lyrics. Can’t go wrong if this is your thing, but sounds like a lot of other musicians here.


Bandwagon Stage:


Molsky’s Mountain Drifters: Very influenced by old time music and bluegrass; harmonies and lonely vocals and fiddle and mandolines. Very, very beautiful and stripped down.

Tracy Blackman: One of only a handful of women of color in the lineup, and she’s great, so you should go. She’s got a great, sharp voice, and delivers stirring blues songs.

Foy Vance: More great, earnest singer/songwriter guitar-driven folk. A little sleepy, very pretty, good harmonies.

(gap here)

Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines: Terri Hendrix is kind of bluesy, kind of folky, tinged with country; airy and fun.


Swan Stage:


The Sam Chase & The Untraditional: Local band. Fun, lively folk rock, with punk influences and anarchist sensibilities.

Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors: Folksy, mellow rock and roll, thoughtful lyrics, and pretty songs.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express: Local musician who plays rock and roll and feels very, very American in a good way.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Big, beautiful horn sounds and afrobeat. Stands apart from the rest of the lineup. Not to be missed.

Brandi Carlile: Famous folk rock talent. Acoustic guitary singer songwriter.


Banjo Stage:


Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands: Laurie Lewis is based in Bluegrass and is a world class bluegrass musician. Big soaring harmonies, a voice clear as glass, high level banjo, flatpicking, and mandolin.

Dry Branch Fire Squad: Great bluegrass, four part harmonies, classic sound that is as good as it gets.


Billy Bragg: Punk folk English songwriter; some acoustic, some electric, very political. Lots of fun, big legacy of activism, and has worked with legendary bands like Waco and Echo and the Bunnymen.


The Bo-Keys featuring Don Bryant and Percy Wiggins: Soul band from Memphis. Lots of horns and big vocals, and pure energy. Don’t miss.


T Bone Burnett: Basically responsible for the current renewed interest in American roots music; he’s more famous as a producer than a musician. His music is rock and roll infused with country, and he does a lot of slow singing or talking over melodies picked over electric guitar.

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