11 Artists to See at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Red Baraat at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass - courtesy of Ted Kurland Associates.jpg
Ted Kurland Associates
Red Baraat performs Saturday at Hardly Strictly.
There are lots of great things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass -- but one of them isn't having to make the difficult choices that the massive, free roots music festival presents. To help you sort through this year's massive lineup, we've gathered 11 artists especially worth catching at the three-day event.

Friday, Oct. 5
Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys
Mead was the lead singer and main songwriter of alt-country stars BR549. He toured with members of The Mavericks as The Hillbilly All-Stars, was the music director for the Tony-winning Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet, and now leads the Grassy Knoll Boys, an outfit that covers classic country, rockabilly, and old-time music hits. On his latest solo album, Back at the Quonset Hut, he recorded his favorite country tunes with an A-list team of Nashville session heavies. For his Hardly Strictly appearance, Mead will bring a younger band, but their chops on the hits of yesteryear are just as impressive, with pedal steel player Carco Clave and Mark Miller's acoustic bass particular standouts. 1:15 p.m., Banjo stage. -- J. Poet

Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express
The latest in a long series of odes to San Francisco, Chuck Prophet's 2012 album, Temple Beautiful, is a rock 'n' roll retelling of the turbulent history of this wild town from one of its best songwriters. And the funniest part? Prophet didn't bother to check any of the facts in his song-stories. He didn't need to: After rising to fame with local punk-country group Green on Red, the singer-songwriter has proven himself a local treasure -- an energetic songwriter, electrifying performer, and eager chronicler of this strange life. Prophet was chosen to perform on Friday at HSB by Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, along with Jenny Lewis, Beachwood Sparks, and of course Oberst himself. 1 p.m., Rooster stage. -- Ian S. Port

Patterson Hood and the Downtown Rumblers
Heir to the prodigious musical heritage coming out of Muscle Shoals, Ala., Hood made a name for his songwriting and that near-rasp as frontman for Drive-By Truckers. A flood of story-songs followed, including the ambitious Southern Rock Opera, which over two discs unspooled all manner of Southern topics -- race, lust, lust for racing -- through the lens of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Quite a thing. Hood takes his solo act on the road every once in a while, and the songs tend to be more languorous than clangorous, more dark night of the soul than loud night in a sweaty bar, as his latest, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, bears out. The man's meticulous, give him that: Listen to his songs and it feels as though he's slowly working his way through every myth and mistake of the South. 3:20 p.m., Arrow stage. -- Brandon R. Reynolds

Saturday, Oct. 6
Red Baraat

Brooklyn's Red Baraat plays bhangra, a driving, percussion-driven Punjabi folk music with a pulse that meshes perfectly with western dance beats. The band's relentless pulse drops the sounds of an Indian brass band into a mix that also includes jazz, hip-hop, house, funk, go-go, and Latin music. The nine-piece group includes three drummers and a horn section that wails like a hurricane. The ensemble creates a wall of relentless rhythms that will blast you out of your seat and onto the dancefloor with a turbulent fusion of Bollywood hits and their own originals. 11:40 a.m., Towers of Gold stage. -- JP

Lloyd Cole
In a better world, Brit-born, U.S.-residing singer/songwriter Lloyd Cole would share the iconic status of peers Guy Clark and Ron Sexsmith. Cole's approach is literate but not elitist, droll and ironic but never arch or obscure, and he knows stylish melodic hooks like a salamander knows wet leaves. In the early 1980s he fronted the Commotions, which fit the jangle-pop zeitgeist of the time, but in 1990 Cole went solo. His lush Don't Get Weird on Me Babe (1991) anticipated the wistful, retro-ish, orchestrated smart-pop of Field Music, Richard Hawley, and Sufjan Stevens. Like somewhat-soulmate Amy Rigby, Cole sings about being an aging but still-inspired hipster with self-deprecating aplomb. Noon, Rooster stage. -- Mark Keresman

Patty Griffin at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass - photo courtesy of High Road Touring.jpg
High Road Touring
Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin
The planet overflows with tender maidens of song, so what's one more? Just because she's a lady with a guitar, don't confuse Patty Griffin with the posse of angst merchants of coffeehouse-land. True, Ms. Griffin emerged from the cafes of Boston, but she comes with a bit more grit. Griffin has a sumptuously rich alto voice, compelling and earthy, evocative of Lucinda Williams minus the drawl, or Rickie Lee Jones minus the jazz influences. Her most recent opus, Downtown Church, features strong gospel flavors, but Griffin is far from the live-our-way-or-burn crowd -- it's about the essence of gospel, about a spiritual feeling that inspires rather than judges. 3:50 p.m., Rooster stage. -- MK

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