Ronstan

Hardly Strictly: The Anti-America’s Cup

Published on October 7th, 2013

Well, that didn’t take long. With the memory of the 34th America’s Cup still alive, a segment of the local media is reminding their readership that while the regatta might have seemed great, it really wasn’t that great…

As San Franciscans, we reserve the right to complain that a huge, free spectacle held in our honor is a drag. It’s in the city charter, somewhere.

But not all huge free spectacles are created equally. And, as folks who don’t live in this city are fond of saying, “freedom isn’t free.”

So, it’s worth contrasting the just-concluded Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival and the not quite as just-concluded America’s Cup.

Both wrested away the city to cater to the whims of charismatic billionaires. But that’s where the similarity ends. Hardly Strictly’s charismatic billionaire took it upon himself to pay for the whole thing, even from the grave. The America’s Cup, meanwhile, may still cost the city millions, even after an oft-farcical fund-raising campaign and dubious claims of millions of free-spending visitors streaming into San Francisco.

You didn’t have a farcical fund-raising drive with Hardly Strictly because founder and banjo-playing billionaire Warren Hellman paid for the whole thing. Repeatedly. And he endowed the festival to keep running, sans city largesse, for 15 years after his death.

So, an estimated 750,000 people flooded into the city over the weekend to watch top-flight performers — for free. What’s more, it works both ways: Many of these performers are insanely talented, but don’t play the sort of music that three-quarters of a million people might normally make it a priority to see. Provided you aren’t trying to catch a No. 71 bus, it’s a win-win.

Hellman was a complicated man. But he was, quite arguably, a mensch.

Which brings us to the America’s Cup. Yachting billionaire Larry Ellison is also a complicated man. But nobody is lining up to call him a mensch. Much more here.

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