Almanac Music: Col’s USA Trip – San Francisco


Brian and I are back where our journey began in the USA – San Francisco.


Leaving Marfa a day earlier than originally intended, we’d decided to fit in the  final day of the ‘Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival’ set in the Golden Gate Park.


Clouds between El Paso and Denver


We sat on the tarmac at El Paso for a couple of hours as our flight to San Francisco via Denver was delayed at the last moment due to severe storm warnings in Denver. Eventually arriving in Denver we again were delayed for another few more hours while our connecting flight from Chicago arrived. Thankfully we had allowed ourselves a full day to reach San Francisco!



We found our hotel, The Vintage Court on Bush St in the Lower Nob Hill part of the city.



After the long trip from Marfa the blazing fire in the lobby was a welcome sight.



Wafting through the lobby and the foyer the pleasant aroma of fresh flowers was a stimulating pleasure. Much better than the artificial fare many hotels utilise! The hotel is probably typical of many others in the city reflecting the glamour and affluence of days gone by but a nice enough place to be our home for the next few days.


From the bus travelling to Golden Gate Park it was sad to witness the many homeless people on the streets, this only a few blocks from where  we stayed. Lying in doorways and gutters, covered in rags and papers, clothes and body covered in dirt, grit and grime, spread out across footpaths blocking the way of the few pedestrians brave enough to venture in the area. It was very sad and heartbreaking, pitiful and pathetic. Pitiful and pathetic in the sense nothing is done about this alarming epidemic is a downside for this wonderful city. Noticeably, many appear to suffer from mental health issues. Sadly, nothing appears to be  offered  to help alleviate the misery of these poor souls, it should not be happening in the world today.



One of the many stages spread throughout the park



Another stage, Steve Earle and Elvis Costello performing a tribute to John Prine



The superb Rhiannon Giddens and band tuning up



Making my way to Emmy Lou Harris in the distance



Spread throughout the park over seven main stages the Golden Gate Park  is the ideal setting, for an event of this size. ‘The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival’ attracts up to five hundred thousand patrons to each of the three days of the event, and space is needed to cater for crowds of that size. Surprisingly, the size of the park worked well and I didn’t feel any sense of crowding,  and to make things even better the weather was superb. There is  plenty of grass and shade to spread out and rest.



Pathway leading to the restricted ‘Pickers and Strummers’ enclosure



Through Brian we were provided with the much sought after ‘Pickers and Strummers’ wrist bands that entitled us to specially designated closed off places close to the stages to watch performers. This was a real bonus, no fighting our way through crowds, just flash the wristband to security and waved through. Fantastic being close up.


As always with large festivals there is so much on offer, unfortunately many acts I was keen to see their performances often clashed, performing at the same time on different stages so it difficult decisions needed to be made.  I tend to ‘flitter ‘ from stage to stage to get in as much as I can but that can prove difficult in such a huge performance space. Sometimes I took a punt on who to watch, some  were good choices and some not so. I also got my directions confused at one stage. I was desperately keen to see Jesse Colin Young formerly of The Youngbloods hoping to hear him sing one of my all time favourite songs, ‘Get Together’. I went to the wrong stage! Brian told me later Jesse didn’t sing the song so I felt better about that.



Dave Alvin (L), unknown organ player, Jimmie Dale Gilmour (R)


The highlight for me was Jimmie Dale Gilmour and Dave Alvin performing together with their band. They were sensational! Dave’s growly blues vocals and his superb guitar playing alternating songs with JDG, who with his unique voice and songs wowed the crowd. Both are legends and have huge individual followings and I think they attracted the biggest crowd from what I saw there. The love and appreciation they had for each other’s playing and songs was palpable and we all felt we were part of one big happy family. Emmy Lou Harris, well she was Emmy Lou; professional, great songs and rapport with the audience, and like a good wine gets better with age. Still at the top of her game! The Brothers Comatose I’d heard previously via a Spotify link and they were the hidden gem for me. In the style and sound of many Americana acts but probably more Country Alt and a really nice groovy feel about their music.



Some of the many eucalyptus trees on left of image



Late afternoon in the park


The park had many eucalyptus trees, their dried leaves emanating  that wonderful gum leaf aroma when stepped upon made an Aussie’s heart jump a beat or two as  he recognised he was reaching the end of wonderful trip and home was not far away.



One of the world’s great bookshops – City Lights



Upstairs in the Beat Literature section



Jack Kerouac Lane next to City Lights



I could not help myself and made another trip to City Lights Bookshop. Again I was overwhelmed by the scope and range of the books, and the incredible history of the shop makes the visit even more amazing. I spent too much money buying books I knew I would not find back home but as far as I am concerned, books are undeniably one of life’s great pleasures for me!





Looking down Ashbury Street



Jimi Hendrix lived here



Cha Cha Cha



We caught the bus to legendary Haight Ashbury area to check it out. I could not help thinking the ‘Summer of Love’ occurred fifty-five years ago. It seemed like only yesterday! We also met up with some friends of Brian’s for dinner at Cha Cha Cha, another fabulous Mexican restaurant.



Waiting for the next ‘Summer of Love’



There are many interesting shops in the area mostly reflecting that time from the past, mainly catering for the tourist market. Still many young, and not so young  people with their backpacks are hanging around corners living the dream by endeavouring to re-generate those by-gone times.



Chinatown and the bridge in the distance



 Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in Chinatown



With a day or so left before heading home I wanted to see as much as I could in that time. Heading up Stockton towards Chinatown  I confronted  a hive of activity. With many food stalls and shops I could not get over the range of fresh fruit and vegetables and the amount available for sale. There was much bargaining going on, raised voices and the waving of arms added to vibrant nature of this culturally diverse area of San Francisco.



Golden Gate Bridge



Golden Gate Bridge



 The warehouse precinct





As I walked through Chinatown I realised the Golden Gate Bridge was closer than I thought so I made the decision and continued walking until I reached the wharf area of the bay. People were everywhere, most probably tourists taking in the magnificent sights of the bridge and the bay from the various positions around the bay. The  retail precinct within the wharf area was busy as souvenirs were bought, ice-creams purchased and a good time was had by all. I had my second best coffee after Marfa in a coffee shop on one of the wharves.



Great views from the top of streets



Cable car









San Francisco has many hilly parts to the city, some streets very steep and numerous. Cable cars were introduced in 1873 to the steeper parts of the city to make it easier for travellers to reach their destinations in these hilly areas. The cable cars are one of the major tourist attractions of the city so the morning free before flying out back home I finally had the opportunity to ride them. It is a fantastic and worthwhile experience, crowded and a little rough and ready with every person for themselves to obtain the best seats or spot on the running board. The views are eyecatching from the higher limits looking towards the bay and present a great vista to capture on film.


San Francisco is a great city and a memorable way to end our USA music trip.


All images taken by CGR on an iPhone Pro Max 11




More from Col Ritchie can be read Here


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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. brilliant way to end the trip Col. Thoroughly enjoyed the stories and photos cheers

  2. roger lowrey says

    Great yarn Col. Good to hear that Elvis Costello is still up and about too.


  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks for your stories Colin. An excellent travelogue of what looked like a great trip.

    I note your issues of flitting between stages and making decisions when clashes occur. I do prefer single stage (and obviously smaller) festivals to avoid what I call “band envy” – when someone reports in on someone they have seen which sounds better than the choice you made.


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