San Francisco and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

I had high hopes for San Francisco, not only did I remember bits of it but the city itself is iconic staring in some of my favourite movies. As I travelled I met loads of people from SF and they all seemed really nice and truly loved their city. It all started out auspiciously when I couldn’t find the carpark, it was dull and overcast, the streets were filled with aggressive homeless people and the hostel was way over-priced ($70 a night!). First impressions count and San Francisco never really changed my opinion or won my affection.

The Festival

I can’t remember where I first heard about the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival but it was somewhere in South America whilst chatting to a fellow traveller. They waxed lyrical about how wonderful it was with loads of huge names coming to play and given I was in the States at the time I engineered it so that I hit San Francisco that weekend. It turned out to be a bit of mix-bag. I was disappointed with bands I’d come to see and loved the ones I’d never heard of before. High and low lights were Gomez for an amazing finale, a random guitarist called BucketHead, Hugh Laurie, Elbow and the ultimately disappointing Felice Brothers.

The sun did shine for the three days and whilst I wore jeans and a t-shirt, it was warm and just sitting on the grass in Golden Gate Park surrounded by like minded people was a lovely experience. The Festival might not have lived up to the expectations I had (I’d been building it up in my head for 4 months or so) but I had a great time meeting the locals and listening to some great music.

One funny thing did happen though, back in Latacunga in Ecuador I chatted to someone for the evening before bidding farewell as we went separate directions – as I was standing watching a band they wandered past. The shock in both our faces was apparent but we ended up catching BucketHead together!


I don’t know why, but Alcatraz has always been in my thoughts. Maybe it’s films like The Rock and Escape From Alcatraz or the stories about the prison itself, but it’s always interested me. I therefore took the tour across without really expecting that much, but I loved it – it was probably one of the best things I did in San Francisco! There is a simple audio tour which takes you round main cell block and tells the story of the living there, riots and the escape attempts and then you get to walk around the island yourself.

Most of the island is falling apart and it’s difficult to get away from the other tourists (well, not that hard when it’s raining if you don’t mind getting wet) but there is a dark and eerie feeling to the place for some reason and I couldn’t help but imagine what it’d be like years ago filled with prisoners. I ended my tour of the island by walking into the Recreational yard from outside – I immediately broke into a huge grin as I could just see Clint Eastwood sitting on the steps! It’s an amazing experience and I highly recommend it if you’ve got the chance.

Castro District Street Fair

When heading to the music festival I tried to walk a different way each day so could see as much of the city as possible – one day I walked through Mission and Castro districts and it happened to coincide with a street fair. I didn’t know Castro area was the Gay district of San Francisco as I walked towards it, but it very quickly asserted itself as such.

Immediately on my right was a naked man riding a bicycle. To my left a group of men dressed in animal costumes stroking each other and willing passer-bys. Men in leather trunks offered massages. Drag Queens prowled the streets. A large group of men read an “alternative” bible focusing on Gay Pride. A Cheerleader squad threw people high into the air. Men gyrated in bar windows. Drag queens sang from balcony roof-tops. Men wearing very little played with angle grinders. Random kiosks lined the streets and vied for attention. People of every description prowled streets. It was, well, colourful, but not overly shocking.

A week or so later I met someone who had been in San Francisco a week earlier and had attended a different street festival – they had a very different experience with naked people walking the streets, how can I put this delicately (my 7 year old nephew reads this), “enjoying” each others company. Naked women were tied up with ropes and then left dangling lamp-posts and traffic lights. There was a S&M demonstration on the stage… The pictures were somewhat amusing, but it was her recollection and the faces that were pulled that amused me the most – she was slightly shocked to say the least!

Those hills and the city itself…

he last thing I did in San Francisco was take the Dodge Charger and drive around the various districts, but more importantly I charged up and down the steep streets imagining a de-chromed, British Racing Green 1967 Ford Mustang was chasing me. Ok so I didn’t break any speed limits and was hampered by pesky STOP signs and traffic lights, but I still had fun making all brum-brum noises at appropriate times Open-mouthed smile

At Fishermans Warf I popped into the sports shop there and bought a baseball for my nephew – the shop and buying a baseball, mitt and bat is one of the few memories I have from when I hit the states in 1991!

The City is an amazing place though and is an extraordinary place to look at. With the Golden Gate Bridge, the steep streets, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park, Fishermans Warf, the cable cars… it’s chocker block full with interesting things. For me though, I’ll remember the unpleasant people and the homeless people – they were everywhere and spoiled an otherwise awesome city!

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