It is rather appalling I am writing this post on the 5th day after the event but what a week it's been friends. However, there is so much happening this weekend I knew I had to write it tonight or forget about it and there was so much fantastic music on display last Sunday in Golden Gate Park I would feel as if I was doing a grave disservice to the Beast if I left out the final day of HSB.
The scene in Friends and Family

Penelope and I arrived in time to catch the last 2/3 of Hazel Dickens' set. Hazel is still doing what she's always done and that's why she was one of the inspirations to launch this festival to begin with ten years ago. It's why she's performed every year and it's why you can't really say you went to HSB if you didn't see Hazel. Now some would argue that the same thing is true of Emmylou Harris' now-traditional closing set and I wouldn't argue against that point but I also wouldn't support it. Hazel's another story. A woman  who is the real deal that many people are only aware of because of her prominence at this festival and I'm glad she's still with us and I have a feeling she'll be returning as long as she wants to (and can). Long live Hazel!

Hazel Dickens

We stuck around after Hazel's set to check Earl Scruggs, one the preeminent banjo players in the world. Scruggs is as old as dirt (well, he's in his 80s) and while he doesn't say much anymore and let's the band do a lot of filling in, he can still play one mean banjo. Sitting on a chair expressionless for most of the set, when he finally turned his head and smiled wryly after a few numbers, the small gesture lit the stage up. Scruggs is backed by a crack band and they delivered an hour's worth of traditional bluegrass played a well as anyone could possibly hope for. I'd never caught him before and his set was a definite highlight of the weekend. Hellman sat in with them, playing the banjo "clawhammer style" while Scruggs kept on demonstrating the three-finger picking technique that's come to bear his name. In a word- fantastic.

Earl Scruggs

 Now came the hard part of the day, and the most difficult decision of who to go check out. Appearing at the same time across the park were Roseanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women, Randy Newman and Doc Watson doing a set with David Holt. Truly an embarrassment of riches and a ridiculous position to be in. However the main thing for me was that we make it all the way over to the other side of the festival in time to get a good seat for Patti Smith, who was going on the Tower stage at 4:00.

We decided to stick around and hear perhaps bluegrass' best guitar player, Doc Watson. It was a good choice. Everyone else we could have seen we could see again pretty easily. Doc Watson isn't that easy. Like Scruggs, it was pretty much another masterclass in how to play and perform American music at its highest level. Watson and Holt were marvelous and I can't ever recall being so impressed with someone picking an acoustic guitar that way.

David Holt (L), Doc Watson (C)

We left about halfway through the set to make it over to see Patti. When we got there we found a good spot at the front of Friends and Family and settled in. In a nice turn of events, Costello, who was playing at the Star stage which backs up to the Tower, was drawing a huge crowd and they were piping the set through the speakers of the Tower stage while that crowd waited for Patti. A twofer in a way, though I'm not a Costello fan. Some of his set did sound pretty good though, and The Sugarcanes sounded like a superb back-up band for him.

And then it was time for what was for me the most anticipated set of the weekend. News just broke through the crowd that Giants had won the pennant so there was a huge roar of delight and as it reached its apex Patti strode onstage and it was hard to tell where the joy of the Giants making clinching the West ended and the excitement an audience knowing they were about to see one the most compelling rock performers of any era began. She just waved,smiled and started singing.
Starting with "Dancing Barefoot," an irony since the Femme Fatale had just sent me the lyrics to that particular song to me the day before with a note saying "this song reminds me of your life," I had to smile. Smith was a little more chatty than the last couple of times she rolled into town, taking advantage of the huge crowd to make some pleas for peace, understanding and clemency for John Walker Lind, who she said was just searching- an American ideal. Her band, especially the fantastic Lenny Kaye, were in top form and also seemed invigorated by the size of the crowd. Among the highlights of the set were an especially dark version of the Stones' "Play With Fire" which really felt like a threat in her hands, "Pissing in a River,"  "In My Blakean Year," a rousing "People Have the Power" and the set's highlight- "Beneath the Southern Cross." This song erupted into an extended wall of metallic, thunderous sound at the end for about two minutes, becoming one of the most thrilling things I've ever seen and heard. When it was over Penelope, who had never seen Patti Smith before, turned to me with this look on her face, beaming, that said "WOW. What the fuck was that?!" It was incredible. But then again, you can expect that from Patti Smith and somehow she always delivers. If you have never seen her, please- you owe it to yourself- check her out the next time she comes through your town. No one else is quite like her.

Patti Smith

So what does one see after that? Emmylou Harris was set to close the whole thing down at the Banjo stage, or there was Mondo Cane, or there was Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. We had to go see Sharon and the D.K.s because the set they did at the first Outside Lands in this very park two years ago was great and I think anything else would have been a huge comedown and it wasn't time to go home yet.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

So we went over to the Rooster stage, where Nick Lowe was wrapping up a set for a large and enthusiastic audience. The last three songs sounded good, and then we waited. And waited, which was unusual because one the signs this gig is so well run is that many of the sets started early- that's how much the HSB people have it together- it runs like clockwork. The Dap Kings took the stage maybe 15 minutes late, and as expected, did a couple of warm-up numbers before Jones hit the stage. You know who else used to do it like this? The JBs- James Brown's band. Three tunes later, Jones hits the stage and you know what? Sharon Jones and the 10 member Dap Kings have taken what was already a formidable live show and upped it to 11. She's firmly doing a James Brown 60's era show, complete with the dancing, powerful, give-it-all-you've-got-and then-give-some-more singing,  tight, tight arrangements by the band, and music lifted straight from classic early funk and soul. Really the only thing missing is Bobby Ray and a cape. If the show hadn't been forced to end because the park had grown dark we may have gotten that too- and it would have totally fit. The crowd loved every minute of it and though she was working her ass off, Jones looked like she was loving every moment of it too. If we hadn't seen Smith, I would say Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings were the best band we saw at HSB this year. They killed it.

It was a fantastic weekend. Thank you, Penelope.