In honor of the big Warren Hellman tribute concert happening on Sunday, the schedule of which you can find over at SF Weekly, we've invited Corie Woods to talk about her experience as an avid fan who's attended every installment of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival since its inception in 2001, oftentimes throwing her birthday party there.
Update: SFist is saddened by the loss of Corie Woods, who passed away on Wednesday.
I started going to the festival ten years ago. The only reason I went was because my friend Emily and I are HUGE Emmylou Harris fans. The festival only had one stage. It was tiny. We had a great time. We vowed that we would go the next year.
Gillian Welch was playing the next year, and we love her. It was awesome, but it was raining like crazy. It was like a muddy pond of nothing between the two stages on Speedway Meadow. We went from one stage to the other all day. We were freezing our butts off, but we had the best time. Old Crow Medicine Show was there. It was so fun.
And the festival kept getting bigger and bigger each year. If it was a sunny day we'd bring a blanket and just hang out and have a great time. And Warren would always get up at the very end of the festival and bring everybody up on stage, and thank everybody for coming. That rang true with me as far as how people love being together at the festival. He made you feel like you're part of his circle of friends.
The bluegrass festival to me has always been about community. We all love music, and we love being around such a happy environment. Everyone takes care of each other and is really neighborly. There's no pushing and shoving like at other festivals, no drunk assholes just running around. There's only been one arrest for drunken disorderly conduct in ten years, which is just amazing to me.
And it's wonderful that it's free. It makes it easy for everyone to get there. My parents get up at the crack of dawn every year and come out from the East Bay, just so they can get there at 9:00 to claim our spot. For the last six years, I've sat near the Rooster stage, which is my mainstay. I'll sit on the hill, hanging out with my friends, who come from all over, including Nashville and New York. It's the best stage as far as I'm concerned. My friends always know to find me at the Rooster stage.
It's gotten so crowded at the festival now that it's really hard to move from stage to stage. It's easier to climb over the hills. When a band's coming up, you can see this massive migration of people coming down a hill like ants.
One year, I was sitting on the hill, enjoying the show, and all of sudden Gary Louris from the Jayhawks comes and sits in front of us. That's pretty awesome. Everyone's sitting there, no one's bugging anybody. "Oh, there's Steve Earle," or "There's Robert Plant." They're walking around enjoying the show just like everybody else. It's the nicest feeling.
I think my favorite story was from two years ago. I went and saw a Friday show with Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and T-Bone Burnett. Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello were playing a show at Great American Music Hall that night, and when Warren brought them up on stage, it was six o'clock, and Elvis said, "I have to go play at the Great American Music Hall, but I love this festival so much. I don't want to go!" He actually made it to his own show late to stay at the festival. My friends who were at the Great American were texting me asking what's going on, and Elvis was still sitting in the audience not wanting to go.
What's really touching is that every band that's played the festival has really wanted to come back. They're not necessarily getting paid big bucks to play there, but it's so much fun. The bands enjoy it as much as the audience does. Emmylou said one time that the festival's kind of like a band reunion. A lot of the bands are touring at the same time usually, and they don't really have a chance to hang out together, except when they're here.
One year Emmylou and her best friend, Dolly Parton, were playing the same day. Emmylou came over to Dolly's stage, and they both brought their dogs on stage to show the audience. I think that's when the festival really got huge, when Dolly played.
Emmylou and Warren didn't really know each other when the festival first started, and they became good friends through the years. At Warren's memorial, Emmylou said that when she asked Warren if there was anything she could do for him, he said, "Keep doing the festivals. And, also, would you mind playing at my funeral?" And she did. She said they always told each other that no matter who died first, the other would play at their funeral.
Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and many others are set to play Sunday's free show, which will take place on the Great Highway between JFK Drive and Lincoln Ave from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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