In Memoriam

F. Warren Hellman

(July 25, 1934 - December 18, 2011)

Beloved Father, Husband, Brother;
Private Equity Pioneer;
Founder of San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

“What does move me is the philanthropic stuff,” he told Forbes magazine in 2006. “Giving really does move me. Part of it is selfish. It’s fun to be appreciated. But the other part is that good things really are growing.”

He called the bluegrass gathering a “selfish gift,” one that he, the musicians and the community could all enjoy.

“How could you have more fun than that? What the hell is money for if it isn’t for something like that?”

F. Warren Hellman
Forbes, 2006

Chris Hellman

(April 18, 1933 - Feburary 4, 2017)

We are saddened to announce that Patricia Christina “Chris” Hellman – artist, ballerina, philanthropist and wife of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass founder Warren Hellman – passed away on Saturday, February 4th.

Chris was a passionate supporter of the arts and that love came through in all aspects of her life. She was an avid painter and a tireless supporter of the San Francisco Ballet.

Nancy Hellman Bechtle

(Dec 14, 1937 - Nov 3, 2021)

It is with heavy heart that we announce the passing of one of our own, Nancy Bechtle. Nancy was the younger sister of our founder, Warren Hellman, and a noted force for good in San Francisco for many years. Renowned for her work with the San Francisco Symphony, the Presidio Trust (and many other causes) and beloved by all of us, Nancy was a vital part of HSB, performing with the Go To Hell Man Band and also fronting her own band, Nancy and the Lambchops. Her passing will leave a hole in our lineup for all time. As we feel the sadness of her loss, we also feel deep gratitude and appreciation for Nancy and honor her memory.

Tony Rice

(Jun 8, 1951 – Dec 25, 2020)

So sorry to learn that bluegrass master Tony Rice has passed away. How well we recall 2004 and 2005, when the Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet were with us at HSB and blew us all away with their great music. Our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.

Billy Joe Shaver

(Aug 16, 1939 - Oct 28, 2020)

A sad farewell and much appreciation to Billy Joe Shaver, seen here on the Arrow Stage in 2009.

Jerry Jeff Walker

(Mar 16, 1942 - Oct 23, 2020)

So sorry to learn that Jerry Jeff Walker (HSB 2008, 2010, 2012) has passed away. Thank you for all the songs and good times.

Justin Townes Earle

(Jan 4, 1982 - Aug 23, 2020)

A beautiful soul, and a singular talent. We are devastated at the loss of our friend Justin Townes Earle. Deepest condolences to the entire Earle family. Rest easy Justin.

John Prine

(Oct 10, 1946 - Apr 7, 2020)

John has been one of the perennial favorites at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. He was an amazing character and every staff member has a different story to share. As we compared notes today, we found ourselves laughing while holding back tears. This is a huge loss that we will be reeling from for a long time to come. It was difficult to pick just one song for our video tribute so we have several. We also recommend you view his full sets from 2014 and 2017 and share your memories.

Adam Schlesinger

(Oct 31, 1967 - Apr 1, 2020)

A master pop-rock songwriter/performer, Adam performed with his band Fountains of Wayne at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2010. We share 2 songs from 2010 as we mourn his passing (Apr 1, 2020) to coronavirus.

David Olney

(Mar 23, 1948 – Jan 18, 2020)

David Olney was a strong presence at HSB, in 2004, 2007, and 2010, appearing as part of the “Songwriters Circle” all three years, and also with Sergio Webb in 2010. In the video below, we share 2 songs from 2010 as we mourn his passing.

Donnie Fritts

(Nov 8, 1942 – Aug 27, 2019)

We were sorry to hear of Donnie’s passing – he was a one-of-a-kind songwriter also known widely for his work with Kris Kristofferson. When he appeared at HSB in 2015, he came as part of Buddy Miller’s Cavalcade of Stars with John Paul White, who had just helped Donnie’s 2015 album.

Dr. John

(Nov 20, 1941 - Jun 6, 2019)

We are truly saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. John. He was a singular talent, whose contributions will be felt through the ages. Rest well Night Tripper!

Roky Erickson

(July 15, 1947 - May 31, 2019)

We are saddened to hear of the passing of psychedelic rock pioneer, Roky Erickson. We are honored that he was able to grace the Rooster Stage with his presence in 2018. Check out the link below to see his masterful set in it’s entirety. Thank you Roky. ❤️

Tony Joe White

(July 23, 1943 - October 24, 2018)

Those who joined us at HSB15 were treated to a wonderful set by Tony Joe White, including this performance of “Rainy Night In Georgia.” We’re sorry to hear of his passing earlier this week.

Charles Bradley

(November 5, 1948 – September 23, 2017)

We here at HSB were very sad to hear of Charles Bradley’s passing. We will always remember his spectacular performance at HSB in 2015. Rest in peace.

Jimmy LaFave

(July 12, 1955 – May 21, 2017)

Days after a grand, emotional goodbye with his sold-out Songwriter Rendezvous at the Paramount Theatre last Thursday, Austin songwriter Jimmy LaFave died Sunday, confirmed his label Music Road Records. He was 61. – Austin Chronicle

Our thoughts are with Jimmy LaFave’s family, friends & fans. Thank you for so many years of beautiful music. We will miss you.

Sharon Jones

(May 4, 1956 - November 18, 2016)

Here’s a glimpse at just one song from an amazing set of music in the park that Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings gifted us with back in 2010. We shall miss Sharon and her energy, dedication and spirit.

Ralph Stanley

(February 25, 1927 – June 23, 2016)

We’re so very sad to hear the news about Dr. Ralph Stanley. Such an incredible life. May he rest in peace.

Guy Clark

(November 6, 1941 - May 17, 2016)

Guy Clark was a fixture at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass for 10 years and we will miss him dearly. We have shared his performance of “Stuff That Works” at HSB4 (with Verlon Thompson) – just one of the many special moments he shared with us over the years.

Merle Haggard

(April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016)

On April 6, 2016 we lost another musical icon and member of the HSB family, Merle Haggard.

This excerpt from the SF Weekly article after his appearance at HSB11 puts it well:

The Merle/Kris performance appeared to be the great unifier of all HSB attendees. The silver haired, elder cowboy-hat demographic, identified at performances by Robyn Hitchcock or Gillian Welch, danced like no one was watching. Aside them, younger fans in tight black jeans and denim jackets shared their flasks before eventually congregating in front of A.A. Bondy. Legends achieve this status because their music spans decades, defies genres and speaks to people across experiences or musical preferences.”

Steve Earle also wrote a very personal op-ed for the NYT that you can read here.

Rest in peace, Merle.

Otis Clay

(February 11, 1942 - January 8, 2016)

We were so sorry to hear of the passing of Otis Clay. His performance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 11 was incredible, and we hope you’ll take a moment to watch him in action.

Claude Shade

(1953 - 2015)

When Warren first mentioned that someone from Goodby Silverstein was designing our inaugural Strictly Bluegrass poster we were surprised.  We expected something more organic.  Then we saw some of Claude’s work and understood.  It was original, he embodied something very unique and it could only be expressed through his eyes.

Claude designed every poster for the festival from 2001-2015.  It was a process.  Deadlines were not something he particularly addressed.  We could stress all we wanted but in the end we were always blown away with his finished product.

To say that he was a photographer does not do justice to his talent. He was a character; an artist without pretense.  He was genuinely fun to be around, usually smiling at you while his eyes were illuminating elsewhere.  It was how he viewed the world and how he shared his mindset with the rest of us.

The void Claude left when he passed away last week won’t ever be filled.  We are devastated to lose a friend and visionary who shared his passion with us.  Claude was warm, funny, clever and irreverent.  When I read Jeff Goodby describe him as “All Rick Moranis on the outside & Tom Waits on the inside” I smiled, he captured Claude’s spirit precisely.

We were extremely fortunate to have Claude as a colleague and friend.  His contributions to the festival will be with us always. – Sheri Sternberg & Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Doc Watson

(March 3, 1923 - May 29, 2012)

We were extremely heartbroken to learn that one of the founding fathers of bluegrass, Doc Watson, has passed away. He was 89 years old. We have had the great honor of Doc gracing our stages in 2005, 2007, 2009 & 2010. Doc once said of his own father – “One day he brought a banjo to me and put it in my hand and said, ‘Son, I want you to learn how to play this thing real well…It might help you get through the world.'” Indeed. Rest in Peace Doc, and thank you for all you’ve done.

Earl Scruggs

(January 6, 1924 - March 28, 2012)

In March 2012, we lost another legend and member of the HSB family. Earl played HSB every year from 2005 to 2011 – we will miss you, Earl!

Hazel Dickens

(1935 - 2011)

From the first HSB (when it was still called Strictly Bluegrass) in 2001 all the way through 2010, it was an honor and a pleasure to have Hazel grace our stages. An incredible woman and an amazing voice. She will be sadly missed.


(December 31, 1930 - December 2, 2008)

Those who joined us at HSB8 were treated to an incredible set by American singer, actress, guitarist, lyricist, and a civil and human rights activist Odetta. The highlight of her set included a heartstopping rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” that was the emotional center of that year’s performances.