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Your Guide to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival with Kids

San Francisco’s biggest and most popular music concert, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, returns to Golden Gate Park for three full days of free music. This year’s HSB Festival boasts another impressive lineup of top artists (think Gogol Bordello, Trampled by Turtles, Bonnie Raitt, and Boz Scaggs to name a few). If you’re thinking of taking the whole family to HSB this year, we’ve gathered some handy trip and tricks on how you and your kids can best enjoy this free music event.

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When: Friday, October 4, 10:00 am and Saturday & Sunday, October 5-6, 11:00 am.

Where: Golden Gate Park in Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadows), Lindley & Marx meadows. Last year’s festival map can be found here, with this year’s setup scheduled to be very similar.

Cost: Free…yes, free.

What to Bring: San Francisco weather can be unpredictable, so be prepared for cloudy overcast days that might burn off into warm, sunny afternoons. Hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, long sleeves and closed-toed shoes are all good items to have on hand (for whatever the weather).

Blankets and chairs are perfect if you’re thinking of camping out in front of a particular stage. Coolers are allowed into the park, so pack a few drinks and snacks for the kiddos to enjoy throughout the day.

Setting up a little encampment with a blanket can work just fine at almost any of the six stages, with the possible exception of the Arrow stage. The bigger stages, Banjo and Star, have room to accommodate a big family, especially if you set up early. Rooster stage is smaller and known for its well-behaved audiences. This is the stage for the bands that draw the more serious fans of the old-timey bluegrass. The Porch stage is also very small and an easier place to track your kids. The Tower of Gold stage is relatively new, and for this reason could still be a well-kept secret locale for a full picnic set-up.

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Parking: Trying to find parking during HSB can be a nightmare. If you must drive, try and look for parking near the Polo Fields, which offers a quick getaway after the festival lets out. If possible, try and get a ride to the festival and arrange a pickup spot for afterwards. Park services run shuttles which drop off at various locations on outlying areas of the park as well. MUNI will also offer additional buses for the 5 Line starting at 2:00 pm, boarding at 30th and Fulton.

If you’re feeling eco-friendly, bring the kiddos on your bike or scooters right into the park. Bicycle parking is available during the festival, and it’s a breeze to leave once the festival ends.

You can also visit 511.com for route and schedule information for any Bay Area transit agency.

Managing the Crowds: HSB is, as always, a free music event (thanks to the late great Mr. Hellman) so be prepared for massive crowds. Last year’s attendance was almost 800,000 people. Even in Golden Gate Park, things can get very crowded. If you’re set on seeing a particular artist, be sure to get to the right stage early and set up camp. Check the lineup of all artists and showtimes on the HSB website. Chances are you won’t be able to move to different stages once you’ve laid out the blankets and chairs, so be prepared to stay put. Big stages, like the Banjo and Arrow stages, host some of the big name acts, so those stages get very crowded (and stay crowded). If you’re planning on jumping from stage to stage, be prepared to wander through the crowds.

If you’re bringing your little ones with you, get to the festival early, around 10:00 am or 10:30 am. The music starts at 11:00 am, so arriving early will give your kiddos the chance to run around and see the musicians perform. Around 2:00 pm, the crowds grow considerably as the more popular acts take to the stage.

Insider Tip: Plan to let your little ones shoulder ride through the crowd at least until you get situated, as strollers are nearly impossible to maneuver. Consider leaving them at home if the kids can manage.

Insider Tip: In case of a kid getting lost in the crowd, it’s a good idea to write a phone number where you can be reached on your children’s hands, or on a tag in their clothes.

Insider Tip: Cell phone service can get jammed, so plan on using text instead of voice to coordinate with friends and family.

What to Eat & Drink: If you’re looking for some festival treats, then you’re in luck, because there will be over 50 vendors serving up delicious eats all weekend. No alcohol will be served at the festival, but outside food and drinks may be brought in per park rules.

Restrooms: Port-a-Potties will be available on site, but check out the bathrooms between the Arrow stage and Polo Fields, which can sometimes offer shorter lines than those located at the festival.

Other Insider Tips:
Bring along earplugs to protect the tiny eardrums. The easiest to wear in most cases are the swimming earplugs made for children that can be found at any Walgreens.

Be ready for no shortage of second hand smoke—both kinds. The smaller stages might give you more opportunities to slip away from that Marlboro Man next to you.

This year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is going to be a huge hit! We hope you and your family have a great time and enjoy all the amazing artists who will be performing. If you have any tips or tricks on how your family best enjoys HSB, leave us a comment below. Otherwise, we’ll see you in the park next weekend!

photo credit: Mike Disharoonaballant38Kevin Krejci, & Egan Snow

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