Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Announces One Million Dollars In Aid For Communities in The Bay Area and Beyond


Hardly Strictly Bluegrass ​​continues to support the music community during the Covid-19 pandemic with a new philanthropic effort aimed at immediate relief needs and more equitable recovery. Today, the world-renowned roots music festival reveals plans for a total of one million dollars in new grants shared between Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative’s Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project and the Tenderloin Museum’s “Sounds of the Tenderloin” project.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, HSB has prioritized supporting the local and national music community in this time of unprecedented need. Over the past two years, grants have totaled $4.1 million, including $550,000 raised from more than 3,000 generous donors during the broadcast of last year’s joyful, quarantine-produced film “Let The Music Play On”.

“It’s clear that COVID-19, and the current spread of the Delta variant, continue to deeply affect our music communities, and that new support is needed,” says Frances Hellman, one of the directors of the Hellman Foundation, which funds and oversees Hardly Strictly Bluegrass as part of the legacy of founder Warren Hellman. “We hope that these grants will not only provide some economic relief to the artists and workers who make live music possible, but also help to lift up some of the most highly-impacted neighborhoods as we begin to recover from this historically challenging period.”

The new grants respond to the current needs of the music community at this point in the pandemic: direct funding for vulnerable community members via Sweet Relief Musicians Fund; and forward-looking support for new projects promoting a more equitable recovery in the underserved, culturally-rich Bay Area neighborhoods of West Oakland and the Tenderloin. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass’ support will allow Sweet Relief to provide hundreds of new grants of up to $1,000 to musicians and workers. This year, grants will honor HSB’s long connection to the San Francisco Bay Area and New Orleans, which are both focal points of this year’s festival and centers of roots music. Eligible SF/Bay Area counties are: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin; eligible New Orleans parishes are: Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany. Sweet Relief’s COVID-19 Fund is open and will accept applicants on a rolling basis; however, due to expected demand, applications are recommended by October 31, 2021.

Says Aric Steinberg of Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, “Our music community is still in crisis. Artists, crews and all of the talented individuals who work in the live music industry are still fighting for their financial lives. The Delta variant has been another devastating blow, and the community is in desperate need of immediate financial assistance. With the support of partners like HSB, we are able to provide emergency financial assistance to artists and crews during this unprecedented emergency. Grants are used to pay for vital living expenses such as medical bills, rent, food and clothing.”

East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative’s Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project is a neighborhood-led effort to restore a historic West Oakland jazz and blues venue, closed for years, and establish a new community-centered home for music and art with a performance venue, café, and artist housing. Small outdoor gatherings are planned for this fall. Noni Sessions of East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative says, “The Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project is a project that brings transformation—almost a transmutation—of a decades-long deserted building into a generational asset. Esther’s will once again be the living legacy of the history and culture of West Oakland. Support from organizations like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass guarantees our future by investing in our present.”

The Tenderloin Museum’s “Sounds Of The Tenderloin” project seeks to uplift and celebrate San Francisco’s historic nightlife district, once home to a thriving jazz and swing scene before becoming world famous as a major cultural center for the hippy, folk and rock explosion of the 60s and 70s. “Sounds of The Tenderloin” is designed to bring this unique neighborhood’s diverse and often underinvested community together with music fans from the wider Bay Area through several months of live performances, beginning this fall with Covid-safe, small-scale live music shows at outdoor and indoor venues throughout the neighborhood. This program will celebrate the Tenderloin’s rich legacy of jazz, blues, and rock music, support the recovery of the city’s live music scene, and bring the joy of music back to the local community in an accessible way. “With the support of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, we will be able to bring accessible, live music programming rooted in the Tenderloin’s undersung cultural history to one of SF’s lowest-income communities, which has endured the many devastating effects of the pandemic with amplified intensity,” says Alex Spoto of The Tenderloin Museum. “Through Sounds of the Tenderloin, we will create experiences that will foster strength, resilience, and connection in the heart of San Francisco.”

Last year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass relief was focused on Bay Area venues that had been shut down by shelter-in-place, had no government aid in sight at that time, and needed an immediate and urgent lifeline. Support was given to Ashkenaz, Bottom of the Hill, El Rio, Eli’s Mile High Club, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, La Peña, Mystic Theatre, Felton Music Hall, Red Poppy Art House, The Back Room, The Chapel, The Ivy Room, The Lost Church, The Monkey House, and The Starry Plough, as well as national and regional direct funding to the artists themselves. With this latest effort, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass seeks to recognize, appreciate and care for the people who lend their creativity, heart and hard work to the American roots music community in the Bay Area, New Orleans and beyond.

Following their decision to move this year’s festival from its usual home in Golden Gate Park, and create a pandemic-safe alternative for their artists and audience, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass dedicated themselves to producing something sensational, in keeping with their tradition of providing music fans with an entirely free, world-class festival. Beginning Friday October 1st at 1pm Pacific, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass’ 21st annual festival will broadcast 15 live and 12 pre-recorded performances over three days via HSB’s website, Facebook, YouTube and via Xfinity platforms. The formidable line up includes Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Mavis Staples, Cedric Watson, Dom Flemons, Terence Blanchard, Valerie June, Las Cafeteras and more.

Tune in live to watch the festival: Friday October 1st, Saturday October 2nd and Sunday October 3rd from 4:00pm EST/ 3:00pm Central/ 1:00pm Pacific.