Bob’s Hardly

Detour this week, passengers! I thought I’d throw you a non-cab related story this week.

(Yes, even hacks get a day off.)


It’s Saturday, my day off from ‘ol Citizen’s Cab. And the spawn are off busy with their mom and Uncle – who’s visiting from Texas. So, alone, I biked over to the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival set so sublime amidst San Francisco’s crown jewel, Golden Gate Park.

It was the 16th year of this annual, free, all-things-Americana-almost concert, with its seven stages and over 100 acts ranging from techno to banjo, all playing out over the course of Friday through Sunday. But after over a decade of attendance, sadly, I can now only brave about one of the three days.

And it is almost certain that this year will be my last.

Do not get me wrong, I am happy to concede that this socially/politically-active music and food truck Mecca is an absolutely WONDERFUL event! One which embodies well the living legacy of Warren Hellman, its deceased down-to-earth philanthropist, (good) hedge fund billionaire, and banjo-playing benefactor. And against mortality itself, with the grace of Warren’s trust, this to-do trudges on as a truly fitting homage to Mr. Hellman, with flying colors. Except…

That it trudges on.

You see, as good things go, Hardly Strictly has grown WAY out of control and devolved into a real cluster. This granola, break-out-your-best-hippie-sun-hat-and-tanned-leather-tassel-boots, feel-good festival has finally succumbed as a victim of its own (free) success, cresting and breaching critical mass, quite literally. Yes, there are just too many damn people in attendance now, all making the Hajj out from around the globe. And this reveler can no longer partake as one of the herd.


At the top of my list of “must see”: Cyndi Lauper.

(Hence, the “Hardly” in Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.)

I mean, who doesn’t like Cyndi Lauper? An icon now for decades, known for such colorful, irreverent (and even punk, I dare say) style and pizzazz, who else had the fortitude to break out at the ripe old age of thirty, within the vanity of the 1980’s! (Ripe for a breaking pop star, anyway.)

But even in her later years, who could not stand captivated by Cyndi’s performance of ‘Carey‘ at Joni Mitchell’s 2000 Tribute show. And now? At Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 16, the Queens-born die hard is touring in support of ‘Detour,’ her newly released album of old time country classics!

But, back to the bitching…

I traveled light to the festival with just my back pack, loosely filled with an extra, long shirt – for the Pacific fog that would be rolling in late in the day, a bottle of water, a hand towel, my pot, bowl and lighter, a small hand drum and a six pack of canned beer. (Bud, of course.)

And when staking out a spot for Cyndi, going alone had its advantages. Without conflict, I was able to nestle early before her performance, into a modest spot amongst the blanketed cattle, securely blocked from a view of the stage just a few yards behind the sound board tent.

Well prior to show time, seated Indian-style on the ground protecting my tight personal space, I calmly broke out a beer and a bowl, and began to take in the vibes.

But as show time approached, a progressive stream of bag after bag, knee after knee, began bumping and slamming into my head and back, as a tip-toeing, prying, and weaving flow of late comers stepped in, on, over, and between those of us who had been long wedged in tight down on the field. And all fighting it out for ever closer proximity, however unattainable, to the stage, and pop glory.


The last thing I remember, before the first notes of Cyndi Lauper’s hit ‘She Bop’ so aptly rang out from the speakers, was taking a hit from my pipe… JUST as a little blonde girl in a flower-patterned dress playing line leader drags mommy by the hand to continue weaving through the crowd and stepping over me!

And suddenly, I am FACE-TO-FACE with Shirley! She stops dead, with the pipe hanging limp from my mouth, its illicit contents smoldering and the flame alight. And Shirley’s jaw immediately goes agape, as at a now MUCH slower clip, as if time has stopped, she mindfully moves past with her head cocked in complete wonderment and total fixation!

I feel my heart tremor as BOTH our eyes go wide, before nervously, I slowly cover the bowl, closing it into the palm of my hand and retreat, lowering the now obscured pipe down to my side.

And I hold my breath…

Following Shirley by the hand, is mommy; who today is sporting a tan sun hat and baby carrier on her chest, fresh with its contents that is Shirley’s baby brother. And as Mom stumbles over my backpack while prying past, she ducks to whisper to me, a simple, “Thank you.”

Presumably, for my badly failed attempt at discreetly shielding her young daughter from the sins of a rock concert.

And as Shirley and family move on, with Shirley STILL looking back at me, DEEP into my eyes and stunned with awe, I suddenly get flush in the face. And I recoil at this invasion, as I consider, “Surely, Woodstock was NOT like this!”

And though just half of a song in, and after having sweated mightily for this bad position behind the mixing board, I now look up towards the flanking, Eucalyptus-strewn hillside for relief, where I had successfully taken refuge in years past.

And I pack up my belongings, and move…

After thirty yards of a hard fought extraction, by way of bumping and prying and knocking into scores of concert-goers myself, I climb the dusty, organic matter-infused hillside, before ultimately coming to rest on a large fallen branch, adjacent an older lesbian couple and their golden retriever.

And as I sit in my newly found sanctuary, the serene and majestic view of the teeming pasture of revelers below against the orange sun sky, fill me with the bliss that I had come to Hardly seeking.

And despite the now significant distance from the stage, and my resignation to the even more greatly obscured view from within this hillside grove of Eucalyptus, a wave of energy overcomes all, as cheers erupt for the opening riff of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun.’

No, this observer cannot report all to be dour. As always, there is a magic in Hardly. And there is more to come, as the Lord shines His light in the most unexpected of places…

Alex Sack

Alex Sack, born 1970, is a taxi driver who grew up in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Maryland. He attended several different colleges and universities around the D.C./Baltimore region as a music major for 4 & 1/2 years before quitting - pre-diploma - to the horror of his father. He tried his hand as a professional musician/songwriter seeing him through travels domiciled in New York City’s East Village, Los Angeles (where he scored a few songs on The Disney Channel's 'Even Stevens') and San Francisco - where he's ultimately put down roots. Alex is a single dad to two boys, currently ages 15 and 17. His post-natal fallback occupation as Operations Assistant at a start-up clean-tech engineering consultancy came to a sudden end with the one-two punch of the owner’s fatal skiing accident in Tahoe and the subsequent downturn in the economy.This - and an acquired nervous twitch to cubicle work - has led to his latest job...

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