John Doe and John Marcher
We made it to Day 2 of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass later than we wanted,  missing the set by the Wronglers, of which Warren Hellman is a member, but still managing to get to the Banjo stage in time to catch some of the Dry Branch Fire Squad's fun set. Then we had a dilemma, because Penelope heard good things about the Carolina Chocolate Drops but I wanted to head over to the Porch stage to hear what Exene was up to. Thankfully someone else Penelope knew said she was going over to hear Exene as well and that persuaded Penelope to give up the Chocolate Drops. Returning to the F&F area to fetch a blanket, I ran into John Doe- Exene's ex-husband, actor, and bass-player/vocalist for the legendary X. I introduced myself and we exchanged a few pleasantries, snapped a photo and during our conversation he mentioned my dear friend Mr. Bitchen' sold him his very favorite guitar.
On the Porch stage Exene was performing with the California Mothership, which features the superb violinist Jessy Greene. Exene's songs are as dark and lyrically strong as ever, even if she's writing in firmly in a folk/country vein. The set became a revelation that grew stronger with each song, most of which came from her last release Somewhere Gone and her forthcoming album which I believe she said was due in November. Especially stirring were "Surface of the Sun" and "Honest Mistake" from Somewhere Gone I chatted with Exene later on that afternoon and she gave me a copy of the cd. I've listened to it a few times over the past few days and strongly recommend it.
Exene and the California Mothership
After Exene we made our way to the Songwriter's Circle at the Rooster Stage. This year's circle was comprised of David Olney, the aforementioned John Doe, Robert Earl Keen and Steve Earle. Taking turns and going down the line, each singer sang a song and then turned it over to the guy on his right. Penelope noted that past versions of this format had a lot more talking and interaction between the singers- something almost completely absent while we were there. We stayed to hear everyone sing two songs apiece and while everyone was good (and Doe's song about California was really great) it was Olney who impressed me the most with his understated but complex songs with great lyrics. It was also nice to hear Doe do an acoustic version of X's "Burning House of Love."
L to R: David Olney, John Doe, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle
We then returned to the Banjo Stage to hear Penelope's favorite, Joan Baez. At almost 70 years old, Baez can only be labeled amazing. Standing alone with just her guitar onstage, she mesmerized a crowd of tens of thousands of people with her beautiful that shows no signs of age and a fantastic selection of songs. She tweaked the last line of "Diamonds and Rust" with an aside saying she'll take the diamonds and the crowd roared. I'll to admit to being ambivalent about seeing Baez at this point in her career but I was wrong. This was a bold performance that not many performers would brave- nothing but a woman, her voice and a guitar alone onstage- and she killed it.
Joan Baez
After Baez we made our way over the opposite end of the festival to catch Richard Thompson at the Towers of Gold  stage. Thompson is one of those musicians I've always known of but he's always ended up on a back burner as far as my actively discovering what he was about on his own and I thought this would be a great opportunity to remedy that. I knew some of the music he recorded with his ex-wife Linda but nothing that came later. He also often plays two blocks away from where I live and I've walked by and seen very enthusiastic crowds waiting to get into his gigs. Now I know why. If Patti Smith wasn't on the bill, Thompson's set would be the highlight of the festival for me. With a crack band behind him he played everything- and I mean every kind of rock and roll music and he was fantastic. The crowd loved it, most seemed familiar with the songs and even though I'm coming to this party very late, I am now a huge fan of Richard Thompson based on this performance and can't wait to see him again, hopefully down the street at the Great American Music Hall. Do check him out. Best of Saturday.
Richard Thompson
After Thompson we stopped in to hear some Bonnie Prince Billy and the Cairo Gang. Billy has a very good voice and writes songs that reminded me of what a young Billy Joel may have written if he were only cooler and perhaps more talented. Not quite Leonard Cohen, certainly not Elton John, but a weird Billy Joel vibe. So despite the trendy updating of this kind of material and Billy's decidedly quirky delivery and good voice, we grew weary of it quickly and left so that we could catch all of Steve Earle and the Dukes.
Bonnie Prince Billy & the Cairo Gang
 Earle and the Dukes were in strictly electric, hardly bluegrass mode and they rocked it pretty hard. But they day was winding down, it was getting really cold, and for rocking it electric, Thompson's set couldn't be beat. The songs were well played, but we left about 1/2 an hour before the scheduled end time. All in all, it was fantastic day of music.