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Aimee Mann at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Sunday the weather in San Francisco shifted from San Francisco Autumn back to, well, San Francisco Summer: cool, windy, and clear; sunshine that imparts far less warmth than you might imagine. Richard and I ventured to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival at Golden Gate Park Sunday afternoon. Aimee Mann was playing the Arrow Stage and I’d managed to miss every other opportunity I’ve had to see her play live.

Speedway Meadow was far more crowded than I imagined and I think Richard was amused by my remaining provincialism. Somehow we managed to make our way through the crowd and find a spot stage left. We put our blanket down, enjoyed a sandwich, and tried to avoid being trampled while we waited for Aimee to come on.

Aimee Mann (flickr)

I’ve heard several live recordings of Aimee and she was just as warm and engaging Sunday as she is on those recordings. She opened saying, “Holy shit! There’re way more people here than I expected! This is awesome!” and interspersed generous helpings of “oh, thanks” and “you guys are so great” between songs. It may be an act but it works for me. On some level I’m able to forget the crowds, the pushing, the pot, the sorority girls behind me (“Oh my god guys! She drank my fifth of vodka! MY FIFTH!” “Damn! No!” “Yeah!”) and imagine that Aimee and I are hanging out and she’s just picking and playing a few songs, just for me.

The set was “Magnolia” heavy. I’m not sure if that’s because her more recent work on “@#%&*! Smilers” is even less “bluegrass” or if she’s playing what she thinks people know and want to hear. The set list went something like this:

  • The Moth
  • Nightmare Girl
  • Momentum
  • Build That Wall
  • Par for the Course
  • Amateur
  • This is How It Goes
  • Wise Up
  • Save Me
  • You Could Make a Killing
  • Little Bombs
  • Thirty One Today
  • Freeway

I thought it was interesting that she introduced the last two song as “from my most recent album, Smilers,” as opposed to calling it “Fucking Smilers”. Everyone got a good laugh, too, when she introduced “Save Me” by saying, “this is the song that lost an Oscar; to Phil Collins.”

I had hoped to stick around and see Neko Case and Emmylou Harris, but after walking over to the Star Stage, I decided it wasn’t worth dealing with the crowd. Another time. I’m not sure that I love the free festival musical experience, but I’m glad I finally got to see Aimee live.