Retirement is not the right word to describe Dawn Holliday’s plans.
Yes, it is true that the longtime booker for Slims and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco is stepping down from her role as a talent buyer after 30 years on the job, but she’s not going to spend her days crocheting or baking cookies. Besides continuing to book the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Holliday said she is going to dedicate her time to resisting and protesting the national embarrassment currently occupying the White House.
“I’m going back into the political arena,” she told Amplify. “I’ve decided that my skills at public assembly can be used in the streets.”
Holliday cut her teeth in the music business in the 1960s and 70s working for Bill Graham in San Francisco. She said she is still inspired by the spirit of activism from that time and has a rich network of contacts and production knowledge that can be used to improve protests, like the Women’s March that took place in San Francisco (and around the world) on the day after the inauguration. While the march and protest were inspiring, the production, sound and staging were not so great.
“I want to go in and help,” she said. “I want to bring all the skills that I know. I want to bring in a better production quality to mass marches and bring in the positive energies that crews have and musicians have to some of these larger events.”
Besides, most marches are promoted through visual arts and posters — “who better to be a poster person than an ex-employee of Bill Graham Presents?” she said.
She’s also preparing for the 2017 run of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, one of North America’s largest free annual festivals — last year 750,000 people attended the roots-music event created by investment banker Warren Hellman in 2001 with Holliday’s help.
“He wanted to have a Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park,” she recalled of her first meeting with Hellman discussing the event created to honor both San Francisco and bluegrass music. “He asked if I could do it, and I said, ‘Yes, but we needed to book Hazel Dickens.’ He said he loved Hazel Dickens, and I’m like ‘I love her, but we better have Emmylou Harris so people come, otherwise nobody will come.'”
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass now hosts about 100 performers a year over seven stages.
“I book everything from punk to gospel, as long as it has a root, that’s my rule,” she said, noting that last year’s show included a headlining set by the Dropkick Murphys. “It’s root music. I stay away from EDM. I stay away from anything that doesn’t have a root in the ground.”
Holliday is currently listening to music and working on curating this year’s festival.
Learn more about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass at hardlystrictlybluegrass.com.