Meet Dave Rapa, an SF State alum and performer at this past weekend’s Hardly Strictly Festival

A lifetime dream finally blossomed for Dave Rapa, a former SF State history major, when he performed live alongside his band mates in The Sam Chase and the Untraditional, at the 14th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Rapa, 39, attended SF State from 1996 – 1999 but Rapa was introduced to Sam Chase, the lead vocalist of The Sam Chase and the Untraditional, in 2011.

“We hit it off very well,” Rapa said. Over the past few years, Chase contacted Rapa to do some substitute gigs for the band and Rapa soon developed a strong passion for performing. Last June, Chase invited Rapa to join the eight-member band as the bass player.

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“Dave is one of the most positive people I have ever met,” Chase said. “It also doesn’t hurt at all that he is one of the most incredible bassists I have ever come across. He is a powerhouse and was built to make music.”

Hardly Strictly annually hosts about 100 bands, performing across seven stages, for an audience of over 750,000 people coming from all around the world, according to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass website. The festival is a three-day event full of free music, good food and fun.

This was not only Rapa’s first time, but also the band’s first time performing on stage at the festival.

“To be able to join up with this band at this exciting period in their career, where a lot of the momentum and hard work that has been building up, it’s amazing to be a part of and I’m really glad to be able to perform the festival with this amazing group of musicians,” Rapa said.

The band brought the crowd to their feet Sunday morning at the Arrow Stage for its entire 40-minute set.

“There’s no better feeling than be with close friends where you can all sing and dance together to one of the best local bands,” said Madeline Edwards, a fan standing front row. “A beautiful time was had!”

The idea behind the festival sprouted in the spring of 2001 when founders Jonathan Nelson and Warren Hellman, accompanied by Dawn Holiday and Sherry Steinberg, two women heavily involved in Slim’s music club in San Francisco, met for lunch and imagined the free, community-invested music festival.

“A bunch of it was motivated by our love for music and a huge part of it was our want to share it and we have a real passion for San Francisco,” Nelson said. “As a result of it being free and having such great music I think everyone just relaxes a little bit more and its got a really special vibe. While (on) one hand the festival has gotten a lot bigger, I think it’s sorta amazing how much the festival has stayed the same.”

Sarah Woolford, a liberal studies major at SF State, believes this year was the best Hardly Strictly she has attended in the past four years of living in the city.

“Festivals like this remind me why I love San Francisco so much,” Woolford said. “Good vibes. Good music. Good people.”

Some of this year’s headliners included Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Built to Spill and Social Distortion, the latter of which Woolford enjoyed.

“I watched the happiest, most friendly mosh pit at Social Distortion this year,” Woolford said. “It was odd but really fun.”

Along with the variety of music offered at the festival, food options ranged from alligator to barbecued corn on the cob to some festival must-haves, such as corn-dogs, kettle corn and ice-cold lemonade. No alcohol was sold due to the festival being admission-free, however one attendee found a way around the rule.

“I was here last year selling beer and I made quite a bit of money there as well,” said Blake Friedman, a beer salesman from Davis. “Everyone is just super welcoming and ready to buy beer. I wouldn’t try to sell beer at any other event.”

In addition to hanging out and listening to bluegrass all weekend, the park was the perfect place to be for people-watching.

“I enjoy seeing all types of people who come out and enjoy the music,” said Lacy Reese, a health education student at SF State.

Although Reese believes Hardly Strictly to be a great festival, she said this year was overwhelming because of the heat and large crowds. Temperatures peaked in the high 80s for all  three days.

Now that the weekend has come to an end and all the bands have traveled home, Golden Gate Park will prepare for an even better festival next year.

As for The Sam Chase, the band now plans to travel to the Pacific Northwest for a 12-day tour scheduled for the beginning of early November. The band was overjoyed to see their non-traditional music was such a crowd-pleaser at this year’s festival.

“Rather than pretend like we are one genre, we embrace the fact that we are untraditional,” Chase said.

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