Monday, October 06, 2008

SF Seals the Food and Musical Deal

In an effort to prove you're never too old to attend a music festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Amy and I hightailed it up our fine state to attend as much of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass as we could this past weekend. Of course there are terrific fringe benefits going to SF--we get to see Amy's brother Ken, we get to eat great food, we get to visit the city we'd most like to live in if we opted for a more urban life.

We arrived close to midnight Thursday, fueled by the inanity of Sarah Palin. First, is it necessary for a Republican to be unable to pronounce nuclear? Sort of some Masonic handshake of global understanding idiocy? And then she calls it "weaponry," like she's a LARPer or something. I mean, are they trying to find someone who makes Bush look sophisticated? For all her dropped "g"s she's one tallboy short of a Joe Six Pack if you ask me. Biden kicked ass.

Friday morning we decided to try a new (to us) breakfast place and now can only rave about the terrific Brenda's. It's tiny, in a sort of nowhere neighborhood (worse when you approach from the north as we did, bussing it all weekend), but the food is amazing--indeed French soul food as they bill it (turns out the soul of France is New Orleans--maybe that's why Republicans didn't care if it drowned). We both had specials; I had a hangtown fry, which is oysters and bacon, both of quite high quality, worked into a sort of omelet. The sides almost stole the show, as they have incredible, butter-oozing grits and flaky biscuits that don't stick at all to the roof of your mouth and are heavenly with the homemade strawberry jam. Amy had shrimp and grits, the shrimp cooked just right, the grits as good as the side grits (big surprise), the whole thing painted with a tasty just a bit hot sauce. Oh, and the coffee you can stand a spoon in.

Then we went to SFMOMA, took in the shows. Went and met Ken after his shift, hung out at his place near Alamo Square (yep, where the famous row of Victorians are, although I've never seen the Olsen twins there), and off to HSB we went. Along with maybe two-thirds of San Francisco. Friday night there was just one show (generally there were 5 stages going at once), and that show was Allison Krauss and Robert Plant with T Bone Burnett for free. From where we stood it looked sort of like this....

This sort of led to cranky George. I have this huge deficit (ok, one of several, don't be mean)--often I just don't even try to imagine what will befall me when I go someplace or experience something. This can be a good trait at times--it means events that might freak some folks out (like job interviews) don't faze me. But it also means stuff I should be prepared for can throw me. This was too many people happy to be at a free event in a beautiful park, and, oh, hey, there's some music playing, isn't there? Even the easily attainable contact high (who knew so many music-lovers are also medical marijuana users?) wasn't enough to make me happy. Plus, in the spot we choose, even the sound was warbly. So after 6 songs or so, we split. We did get to hear this, although Buddy Miller, as wonderful as he is, is no Marc Ribot.

If you want something to make you feel better quick in SF, go to Alembic. I've praised it before and am sure I will again. Even the website is cool. We ate lots of tasty small plates and I had a Southern Exposure and a Gilded Lily. Good gin is good.

Saturday had us hating the Love Festival. Ever ambitious, we left our Laurel Heights hotel and took the bus downtown to go to Mijita, Traci Des Jardins' Mexican place in the Ferry Building for breakfast. Another place you can't say enough about--such richly flavorful food, great huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. But, it turns out, Saturday there was something called the Love Festival going in SF (and isn't that always? that's like celebrating a Lie Fest in McCain HQ). Lots of young people with glitter and wings and sparkly tights. It also meant that busses weren't running, so we got trapped, and it took awhile to figure out how to untrap ourselves (plus a short BART ride). Simply put, it took us 2 hours to get from the Ferry Building to Golden Gate Park.

We arrived just as the Waco Brothers finished their set, and missing Jon Langford for me hurts. We then went to hear the Bad Livers, as I know of their legend if not of them enough, and I figure for free it's good to see people you haven't (instead of, say, seeing Richard Thompson for the maybe 15th time--sorry Richard). They were quite good, but I got stung by a bee. Nature and I often don't tend to get along (hey, I've camped, once). Then we moved to a different stage to see Three Girls and Their Buddy, which is a boring way to say: Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, and Buddy Miller. Oddly, for the first part of the set, Miller's turns in the round robbin seemed best, but soon everyone was doing more and when all 4 harmonized on Patty Griffin's "Mary" to close, well, that was the nearly cry-worthy beauty I'd hoped for all along. Turns out if you don't mind standing, doing so right behind the sound board isn't too bad a place to be.

After that we went to the spot to meet Ken after he got off work, and then caught a bunch of Nick Lowe from up the hillside out of the actual meadow where the Rooster Stage was. Have I ever made it clear how much Lowe means to me? What terrific songs, even if he's never strung them together on albums as well as he did with his first two (back when I was still in high school). Still, he performed "Cruel to Be Kind," "Without Love," "I Live on a Battlefield," "I Knew the Bride," and "What's So Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding" more or less in a row to close his set. Nice.

Then we held tight to see Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women. Those of you who know Alvin know he often tours with the Guilty Men, so this was a great shift, a band with all-stars including Christy McWilson, Amy Farris, Laurie Lewis, Sarah Brown, Lisa Pankratz, Nina Gerber, and Cindy Cashdollar. Alvin, as he always does, rocked like crazy, and somehow the great band never rolled over him. They closed with "Fourth of July," one of my favorite songs of all-time. There was accordion and dobro on it. I no longer felt my bee sting.

Then we walked over to the Banjo Stage and watched a bunch of Steve Earle's set. He was doing the single mic classic bluegrass style approach, but still had the Earle-ian gumption to kick off with his anti-draft song (hey, it was San Francisco) "My Uncle." That looked like this, but better, as I don't have a great zoom lens on our pocket digital. (Steve is in the hat.)

That evening we had a bit of bus hell getting back toward Ken's, but the edge was dulled by lovely cocktails at Nopa, which might be the best not-ridiculously-expensive restaurant in the country. My drink had cava, absinthe, violette liqueur. It made me special. And then we got yummy pizza at Little Star Pizza and brought it back to Ken's and watched the Dodgers finish off the Cubs. And somehow I'm now rooting for the Dodgers, even while eating deep-dish pizza, something I've never done in my time in CA. Totally Strictly Manny-Mania? (Caveat, he's on my fantasy team, too.)

Sunday we only have time for one quick show as we've got that 5-and-a-half hour ride home. This means we miss Evlis Costello, Iris Dement, Emmylou Harris, Peggi Young, Bonnie "Prince" Billy (sorry, ahab). We meet Ken right by our hotel to have the usual wonderful breakfast at Ella's. Then it's to the park for Jon Langford's Skull Orchard featuring Sally Timms & the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus. For a total Mekons-head like me, that's sort of heaven, especially as Langford never disappoints live. For an old-time punk he sure believes in entertainment value. He talks, he jokes, he builds a set. He plays like he means it, mostly with the Waco Brothers as the band, and with Timms not having enough to do, although even when 35 voices are singing, you can hear that clarion soprano in the mix. As for the Burlington Chorus, they are from Canada, almost all Welsh, one was a a punk Langford knew back in the day. They certainly added lift to the set, especially moving from a tune about Tom Jones flying back to take over Wales (without a plane) to a rollicking cover of "Dellilah" without a net. Just thinking about it makes me smile. And I swear they were closer than this, but maybe that's just because I always feel closer to Langford and the gang (Rcio Bell was there!) in my heart:

Postcript: While doing a bit of research for this entry, I discovered Langford is even cooler than he has to be. The old art student, who has been painting more and more, does the art for the special edition beers from Dog Fish Head. So my favorite band and my favorite brewery come together in one neat package. It's a small delightful world sometimes.

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Blogger Mike said...

Sweet. San Fran in October and bluegrass in GG Park. Not sure anyone's worthy of that.

Meanwhile, I wish I knew you were heading to SF. I'd have recommended that you check this place out:

3:56 AM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Suddenly, Rickey despises having never made a trip out to the Left Coast.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Catherine said...

So happy that you enjoyed my town. Had I known, I would have made you a list of places to check out.

1:05 PM  
Blogger George said...

Mike, we have been to City Beer--actually went last December for a holiday beer tasting. Incredible.

You still have time, Rickey. (And don't you remember your years with the A's?)

Catherine, we always enjoy San Francisco, and are always up for more suggestions.

1:28 PM  
Blogger ahab said...

A good friend of mine from DC is out there -- he invited me but I couldn't make it -- and he raved about Bonnie "Prince" Billy.

But he may have just been lording it over me.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous freealonzo said...

Wow, what a fun weekend. I would've love to seen Plant and Krauss, I've heard some good things about their sets.

Jon Langford has been showing is his art in Minneapolis on a semi-regular basis lately. Below is the link to the gallery. Haven't been able to convince the boss to spend $300 on a piece however.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Generik said...

George, once again, I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to meet up at the festival. I exchanged my POS cell phone for a slightly better one yesterday; maybe that will help me avoid future mix-ups like Saturday's.

For my part, I would like to have seen many of the acts you did, but seeing Richard Thompson for the very first time was certainly no bummer. And catching both Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Elvis Costello on Sunday didn't suck, either. In fact, if it had been any further from sucking, it would have blown.

(Just to add to my fabulous musical weekend -- which started Thursday night with the Ry Cooder/Nick Lowe/Jim Keltner benefit show at Great American Music Hall -- Monday night we caught David Byrne at Davies Symphony Hall, and he absolutely killed. Embarrassment of riches, I know.)

Glad you got to try Brenda's (which is just four short blocks straight down Polk Street from my apartment) and Nopa, where Marcella Lew, the executive chef, is a long-time friend of ours (she used to work with Mrs. Generik back when Marcella was a student at the Culinary Academy).

Anyway, hope to see you next time you're up this way, and do make plans to attend next year's HSB if you can. As T Bone Burnett said, "It's the best music festival in the country. No, in the world."

10:31 AM  
Blogger Generik said...

If you're interested, I have some pictures I took there posted up here.

3:46 PM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks for the gallery link, Free.

Generik, great photos, but your photos are always great. How lucky for you to be so close to Brenda's and having a connection with Nopa. Way too much good food in SF.

We will definitely make sure we meet up next time.

And shoot, we missed Byrne, had to trade in our tickets, as he played Santa Barbara Saturday and we were in SF then. All I want to know is, did he do "America Is Waiting"?

4:23 PM  
Blogger Generik said...

Thank you for the kind words, George.

As for David Byrne, I believe he did play "America Is Waiting." He introduced one song as being from that album, but I have to admit to not being as familiar with it as I should be, so I can't say for sure. But listening to it just now sounds like the one he played. Most of the material was Talking Heads stuff, though, which kind of surprised (and delighted) me. He only did about three songs from th new album, which I also like very much.

8:20 AM  
Blogger George said...

I downloaded the new Byrne-Eno (and that's very much the order of whom it seems to be coming from, if you ask me). I, too, like it a bunch.

9:40 AM  

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