Emmylou Harris & Patty GriffinWhile the metro climbs the high cold of San Francisco, the people on board are discussing the best way to enter the festival. 23rd Street, says Mark, who doesn’t have a specific artist that he wants to see – he’s ‘just happy to be off work for a while’. We get off on 23rd Street. It’s Friday, so still quiet. Tomorrow and Sunday this place will be sworming with people.

We cross a road, walk over a path in the park and then take a shortcut through the woods. Straight down, on my flip flops, I fear for a painful slide, but hop, there I am in front of Arrow Stage, where The Waybacks and Sarah Dugas sing me a song. There are food stalls on the right, people are sitting on the grass or on camping chairs they brought from home and the atmosphere is indulgent – almost childishly happy. My purpose to come here today is Patty Griffin – she’s playing at Rooster stage, a small stage a little further on. After he has changed his shirt, put on a necklace with a shiny, round stone and opened his first beer (six pack in the backpack), Mark shows me the way.

It’s cold, a lot colder than in the city and I see girls, women, with perky skirts, firm leg warmers, hats, necklaces, tie-die shirts, men with cowboy hats and boys with flasks of whisky. San Francisco – with flowers in your hair…

Mark comes here every year, he used to live next to the park, those were the good days. ‘I didn’t go here the first time, ‘ he admits. ‘When they said what they were planning to do, I thought no, that’s gonna be a mess. But it turned out to be very well organized.’ We sat on the hill for a while and decide to get closer to the stage, with a friend of his who he went to Hardly Strictly BluegrassThe Netherlands with. I ask him why this festival is so special. ‘You will see for yourself in the next couple of days!’ he laughs and then continues, ‘the best artists perform at this festival, the line-up is truly amazing. And it’s for free! Everything is taken care of, the atmosphere is just very relaxed. But I especially like it that there are also bands you’ve never heard of. You get to know all this new stuff.’

Then Patty gets on stage. There are cheers, but coming from sitting people. As far as I can see, there are people – all sitting on chairs they brought, or rugs or plastic bags. On the side, with the fences are people standing, including me. The star at the stage exceeds all my expectations. When Emmylou Harris joins her for a song, I’m afraid I’ll explode with happiness. Mark leaves for another stage and we say goodbye. An hour and a half later I walk towards 22nd Street, while masses of people are still on their way to the park. Two hours at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and I am already convinced.