Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass through the lens of Garrett Hardin

One of the rights of passage for young economists is to read a mostly dystopic essay by Garrett Hardin called the "Tragedy of the Commons."   Hardin argued that if things were not properly gated (or priced) they would be used inappropriately.  Allow people to use an open field to graze sheep (the commons) and they will mostly wreck it.  There is some truth to what Hardin had to say but like most writers of his type there is also something very wrong about his basic idea.   Wired writer Chris Anderson raised the more logical part of the "commons" problem in his book called "Free" - but there is a darker side of the "commons" problem which lead Hardin to project all kinds of environmental disasters.  There I think he was mostly wrong.   If you did not go - or even if you did and missed acts there is a great Webcast Archive of some of the Performances.

Yesterday we went to the 13th edition of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass - which is a music festival originally funded by Warren Hellman and held in Golden Gate Park.   The music is a bit eclectic - although many of my generation would understand the reference - performers ranged from Boz Scaggs to Louden Wainwright III to Allison Krause.   HSB venues are nestled into a half dozen niches in the park.   It is organized pretty well, for what it is.   So what you get is hardly, strictly bluegrass.

 This was the first time I had been to one and I was stuck with several impressions.

#1 - There are two choices for this - follow the performers or follow the venue.   We chose a venue and stayed the day to hear the groups as they moved through.   We chose something called the Rooster Stage - which is in a small area bounded by two hills.   We did not want to sit in the sun and thus sat up in one of the high areas.   The benefit of staying on one venue is you do not have to deal with the crowds much.   The cost is there are a lot of good acts in each of the venues.   As we were walking out to go to dinner Allison Krause showed up on the Banjo Stage and did a nice short set.  And we got to hear her as we walked along. The simple answer seems to have been the venue choice is the better, just for the reduction in hassle; but choose the right venue.

#2 - At least where we were, the crowd was not really there to listen to the music.   Almost immediately we recognized that the crowd, which was overwhelmingly young and white, was there to hang out.   The music was a precipitator but not a motivator.  That was unfortunate, but it seemed to prevail in the venue for the entire afternoon.   There was constant chatter which was loud enough so if you wanted to listen to the musicians you could not.

#3 - There were a set of inconsistent ethics - This may be an odd comment but I think it is correct.   For the most part, unlike many events like this, the crowd was pretty good at picking stuff up.   Fans that either brought or bought food, carried out the wrappers and cans.   That was not true for some beer cans (Coors cans seemed to be the ones most neglected) but most people actually cleaned up after themselves.  But the crowd did not respect space very well.   As we were coming back on Bart an HSB visitor complained that she had staked out a space in one venue very early in the morning to be able to see a particular set of performers but as the day wore on  people came and stood in front of her.  So she was not rewarded for her effort.  The clods seemed to be oblivious to her space.  So in one sense, part of the commons problem (trash removal) was disproven.   At the same time, another part - the chatter and the inability to respect reasonable boundaries - was true.  Hardin, like his original paper, was about half right.

#4 - Impressions of San Francisco -  The HSB has a normal melange of people you expect to see in San Francisco including lots of tattoos (I wonder how those people will ever get hired), piercings (ditto), and Doc Martins with fancy dresses.   Those do not bother me - although they are different.   I think that many of those choices, made in the name of individual expression, when you see such a large group together, are evidence that many are just another form of conformity.

And as you would expect at any large street event there were the usual band of eccentrics.   The picture to the right is of a guy who between acts would sell poetry readings.   He had a patois which was funny (at least the first two times you heard it.)

Riding back on the Muni - there was a good and happy crowd.  (We had to go on the Freeway, to BART, to Muni and then a lot of walking.)  It was, for the most part, a pretty mellow crowd.

#5 - Entrepreneurial spirit lives - In the middle of the afternoon a guy with dread knots came by with a cooler.  The guy had purchased coconuts with the husk off and was carrying a large bottle of rum and a machete.  He was lop the top off (with a bit of panache)  the coconuts and allow the buyer to sip out some of the coconut milk and then he would refill it with rum.  The deal was $10 - which based on other prices was certainly reasonable.   In the space of about an hour working the crowd he sold about 20 of these concoctions.   I was impressed by his enterprise.   He had a mix of showmanship and entrepreneurial talent that was pretty nifty.

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