San Francisco will always feel like a second home to me after living there for almost a year in 1999. It’s an amazing display of progressive arts/culture/energy, combined with a natural beauty that is as inspiring as any. I took a year off from Dartmouth and relocated to a tiny apartment in Nob Hill, taking banjo lessons with Bill Evans and working at a start-up run by Thomas Dolby of ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ fame. The guys from Hot Buttered Rum were just getting started–we would cross paths at a regular jam in the Mission. A few more established players were there (Dawg, Bill, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall), and even though it was a regular stop for most touring acts, the city didn’t have the most prolific bluegrass scene. Big cities without a longstanding traditional scene always seem to develop their own version of the music, less in touch with past, more in touch with the present, via the youngsters who pick it up. SF a cultural center where the arts grow and change, and BG is no exception.
The omnipresent Grateful Dead mystique of the Bay Area ripples through the bluegrass scene even today. David Grisman is our direct connection to that world and he remains in the Marin area. Dawg has a few great projects going on: The Grisman Sextet (complete with George Marsh on drums and two of the best young musicians I’ve heard–Mike Barnett on fiddle and Grant Gordy on guitar), and the DG Bluegrass Experience with his son Sam on bass. Peter Rowan is also connected to the hippy bay area roots, with an excellent recent album and Grammy nomination. Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum and a few other veteran string players help to anchor the professional scene. Bill Evans is an amazing banjo player with a shifting focus on various styles from old to new, always involved in cool projects. He is working on a new project with David Grier, Todd Phillips, the Clarridges, Matt Flinner and others–sure to be awesome. Windy Hill is the latest young band to emerge, playing trad style BG that sounds great–equal parts authentic and original (they won Rockygrass last year). Other local acts have stood the test of time, including Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys, regulars in the SF scene for 16 years. If you’re looking for a jam head to Amnesia in the Mission on Monday nights to find new players and new fans of the music (and an enthusiastic bar owner named Swawn Magee who’s happy to share music/beverages with the patrons).
San Fran is also home to two of the most epic festivals of the year: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands. The Dusters were at Hardly Strictly 3 years ago. It’s free, it’s huge and it’s amazing thanks to private funding from music enthusiast Warren Hellman. A few weeks ago we played our first show at Outside Lands and it was just as huge but in a different way. We were the only string band on the lineup (unlike Hardly Strictly), following John Fogerty and Little Dragon, just before Deadmau5 and Arcade Fire–a dream come true in terms of exposure (thank you Joshua Knight, our booking agent)! The crowd was a sea of cool young people sharing in a giant musical celebration. A festival like Outside Lands is so heavy on the ‘cool’ factor that many fans just drift from stage to stage knowing that they will find something to enjoy no matter where they go. To see all these disparate musical styles in one place, and the hordes of people taking it all in, really demonstrates an important point: these days innovative string band music can go anywhere. We’ve seen other bands do it, but now we are starting to see it for ourselves. The OS Lands audience rocks to the classic sounds of Fogerty, the Deadmau5 DJ revolution, and the Stringdusters, all in the span of one amazing day. This is where you make new fans.
San Francisco is a mecca of open-minded ideals, musical and otherwise–the kind of place where the Dusters thrive. The road to OS Lands started long ago, building our SF audience from the ground up. This past January we sold out the Independent (about 600 people) in the heart of the city, a big part of the reason we got on the festival. We hope to see all of our new friends from Golden Gate Park at our next Independent shows (2 shows, Fri & Sat) this fall with the Emmitt-Nershi Band!