Maybe it was the perfect weather, or perhaps Elvis Costello was the big draw at this weekend’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park.
Whatever the cause, organizers said the sixth annual free event drew more people — likely topping last year’s 350,000 — than ever.
The free festival, which included Billy Bragg, T-Bone Burnett, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Steve Earle and dozens more on five stages was spread over three days, not two as in prior years, festival spokeswoman Tracey Buck said.
Sunday afternoon, people were sitting in trees and on nearby hillsides to hear the music emanating from Speedway Meadow.
The brainchild of local billionaire and investment banker Warren Hellman, organizers declined to say how much the event cost.
Buck did say the "gift" costs "a lot" but didn’t offer a specific amount.
Some left early, opting to escape a crowd that produced five-minute lines for those waiting to buy bottled water and longer for those needing to use the restrooms.
James Haskel, 52, of Gilroy spent much of the weekend listening to music, but cut out around 3:30 p.m. as people continued to descend upon the site. "It’s really too crowded," Haskel said, as he headed out to find his car.
San Francisco resident Russell Patitz, who lives within walking distance of the park at 48th and Judah, said that over the weekend, he
couldn’t find parking near his house, so he was forced to park a few blocks from Ocean Beach, he said.
"It’s the most crowded I’ve seen it," Patitz said. "It’s been insane around my house."
Dan Brady, 56, of San Francisco, said he’s attended each festival since 2001. He said the crowds don’t bother him but he would have liked to drink a beer while listening to the banjos and fiddles.
Organizers said the sale of alcohol was never a part of the event from its inception. "It would change the vibe," said production manager Sheri Sternberg.
The crowd could cause compaction on some the grass, when the green blades essentially suffocate from being repeatedly stepped on, said Rose Dennis, a spokeswoman for the Recreation and Parks Department.