Hardly Strictly Bluegrass distributing $1 million in grants to arts organizations

Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, HSB

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell perform at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Oct. 6, 2013. Courtesy: Jay Blakesberg.

The producers of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, who in 2020 raised more than $3 million in relief for the music community in the Bay Area, announced on Friday that they will distribute another $1 million in new grants for California arts organizations.

The money will be split among the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund in Fullerton, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative’s Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project and San Francisco’s Tenderloin Museum’s “Sounds of the Tenderloin” project.

Since the pandemic began in 2020, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has doled out $4.1 million in grants, including $550,000 raised from more than 3,000 donors during the broadcast of last year’s “Let The Music Play On” broadcast.



“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,” said Frances Hellman, one of the directors of the Hellman Foundation, which funds and produces Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, in a written statement. “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 Sweet Relief Musicians Fund assists Bay Area artists and music industry workers with grants of up to $1,000. Sweet Relief’s COVID-19 Fund is open and will accept applicants on a rolling basis. Due to projected demand, the organization recommends that applications be submitted by Oct. 31. Applicants should live in one of the nine Bay Area counties.

The other two organizations have a goal to revitalize underserved Bay Area neighborhoods. Esther’s Orbit Room Cultural Revival Project is an effort to restore a historic West Oakland jazz and blues venue and establish a new community home for music and art with a performance venue, café and artist housing. Sounds Of The Tenderloin, meanwhile, has a goal to bring the community together with a series of small-scale live shows at outdoor and indoor venues throughout the neighborhood. The Tenderloin has a rich legacy of jazz, blues, folk and rock music, organizers said.



Much of last year’s funding assistance went to independent music venues like The Chapel, Albany’s The Ivy Room and Berkeley’s The Starry Plough, as well as national and regional funding to artists.

As for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass itself, the festival will once again stream new and archival performances in place of an attended event at Golden Gate Park.

Fifteen live and 12 pre-recorded performances will be broadcast over three days, beginning on Oct. 1, via HSB’s website, Facebook, YouTube and via Comcast Xfinity platforms. The line upincludes Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Mavis Staples, Cedric Watson, Dom Flemons, Terence Blanchard, Valerie June and others.