An illustrated Appreciation of, and Accolade for

Warren Hellman.
A Compilation of Some of Derek Brandon's Personal Observations and Experiences.

(Note: you might need to use the hrizontal scroll bar at the bottom of the screen
to see the whole of some photos.     standard English spelling is used. Version13Dec2013)

Who was Warren Hellman? (Photo left)

Well, that depends on which Warren Hellman you mean?

He came in three versions that I know of!

First There was Warren the investment banker
Warren was a financial wizard entrepreneur, head of the San Francisco financial house Hellman&Friedman until, sadly, he died aged 75 in October after the 2011 Festival.

I have come across people who were not comfortable with someone being a multi billionaire because they think they are the rich living off the poor. But in Warren's case nothing could be further from the truth.
But who am I to make these comments? Well, Warren became a good friend and I will explain many things as the story unfolds.

         Then there was Warren the philanthropist…
Warren founded and funded the Strictly Bluegrass (later known as the Hardly Strictly or HSB) festivals to give something back to  San Francisco, the city he loved and to support bluegrass. Also Warren said that he wanted his idol Hazel Dickens to come and play for him privately but she wouldn't, partly because she was raised in a very poor family and saw him on the unacceptable side of the fence.
   Warrens solution was simple if expensive; Have a festival and book her. Hazel starred at every festival until HSB 2010, but she died in 2011 before the festival. When Warren also died in 2011 wverybody thought it would mark the end of the HSB festivals.  Entrprener philanthropist warren had anticipated the future and established a trust fund for his family to continue the festivals for some years to come. That's philanthropy in Aces!

Photo right: Warren (left) gets a free lesson  from an expert!

However Warren had another reason to run the festivals; we wanted to learn to play the banjo frailing style. He first approached his idol Pete Seager for lessons, but Pete declined. Eventually he asked Jodi Stecher who agreed. Warren improved until he finally had a band called "The Wronglers" which was eventually booked to play at the festival! That might sound strange, but Warren left it to his festival organisers to decide which acts were booked.
My wife Jean and I live in Chester England. Despite the 12,500 mile round trip we have attended every hestival!
We first met Warren at the end of the first (2001) Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. He was standing near the exit surrounded by a small crowd and a few San Francisco policemen for security.
I asked him could my wife Jean pose with him for a photo (see left) for our bluegrass magazine and he was obviously very pleased to say "sure! and to let Jean interview him also.
Warren noted our English accents and commented that his wife was also English. He asked, "Have you come from England especially for the concert? He was pleased to learn that we had come at that time to coincide with a visit with our daughter Pamela, AKA Belle Monroe, who lives in the city.. I explained that when we saw the festival promotions we thought it must be a joke because we couldn't imagine that anyone would ever put on such an event, full of sparkling stars, for free. Smiling he said to everybody, "Well , it's been my pleasure, thanks for coming, and I'm hoping to see you all again next year!


For several years Warren put on a special Friday morning event for the school children of San Francisco. This consisted of a concert of famous bands, groups and individuals selected specially to appeal to children. One such group was the Peasall sisters. But the concert wasn't all - he also paid for a fleet of coaches to bring in the children and their teachers. Warren also provided a stand with a large selection of the things children like to eat and drink; all free of charge. We attended these events because we were writing them up for our UK magazine North West Bluegrass News. One teacher asked me, "who is paying for all this?" When I told her and pointed him out she said, "I've got to thank him and say how grateful we are because our schools cannot afford anything and this will be our field trip for the whole year.

We already knew about the clinics for aids and other things and shelters in parts of San Francisco but later we were amazed to learn that it was Warren who paid for them and members of his family that administered some of them.

Warren really cared about people. At the 2001 festival the sun was high and the day had become very hot. Warren, who was sat on our tarp, said "look, people are wilting in the heat," then called an assistant over and said, "These people are going to fry this afternoon - I need 7000 bottles of water ASAP, will you see to it?" "No problem, I'm onto it!" she said then, minutes later she said "It's all fixed!" after half an hour the laden Black Mountain truck arrived and the bottles were distributed to the crowd free of charge, with Warren helping. What a man! I commrnted to Warren on his kindness and he said, "I was really worried that some might really suffer".

I could mention many examples of other ways in which Warren has subsidised and supported deserving events, functions  and structures in the City.

Also there was Warren the 'Hellofa man'!
Warren's business life meant that he had to work, dine, do business with and act as advisor to a whole spectrum of people, right up to the government. I felt that Warren really wanted to take part in life like an ordinary person. He was extremely easy to get on with. At the festivals Warren would often sit on the side of the stage but it was typical of him to sit in the crowd. We often sat on our tarp and low-backed chairs close to the main (banjo) stage. When he came to me and asked, "Hey Derek, do you mind if I join you on your tarp?" I replied "Warren it's your festival, you can sit wherever you like, but please, sit on this chair!" "Oh no, he said I know that's Jean's chair and she'll need it when she returns". So I said, "take it until she returns otherwise somebody less gentlemanly than you probably will!" When Jean returned he gave up the chair and sat on the tarp!

                                                           To get that photo I just pointed the camera and gave him a Thumbs up sign!

One day at the second (2002) Strictly Bluegrass I was sat alone on our tarp at the Banjo stage when Warren arrived and joined me as was his want. He said "Your daughter's band Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys are playing on Stage Three at 1pm - are you going down to see them?" "You bet!" I replied. "Hey - I want to see them too," Warren exclaimed - "Do you mind if I walk down with you?" Heck no, it'll be my pleasure." I replied. Warren said, "Is 12-30 ok? I'll be back." And so he was!  

photo below LEFT: Warren watches Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys and learns band dynamics.

I asked Warren please would he pose for a photo with the band, which he did then sang along with them for a short while! (Photo right)

We were sat on the grass in front of the audience when Warren, looking over his shoulder exclaimed, "Derek, look at that!" I looked but couldn't see anything untoward and asked' "look at what?"  He replied, "Look at the size of the crowd they have pulled; I'm really impressed!"
Belle Monroe (my daughter) hadn't noticed Warren and when I told her afterwards that he had gone specifically to see the band she said, "Thank goodness we didn't know; we'd have gone all to pieces!"

As Qarren and I were walking down the then Speedway Meadows to see Belle Monroe And Her Brewglass Boys I was staggered by the number of people who stopped him. It's hard being a famous hero! He told me a story about some extremely rich people who owned a beautiful golf course they had built in Hawaii. Apparently he asked them who plays there and they replied "We do"! It was not shared with anyone. Warren said "That's wrong. Money is like manure. Keep it in a stack and it stinks, but spreading it around makes things flourish!"

I told Warren how fantastic it was for someone like him to fund such a mega event and how much it meant to us. He smiled and said, "It's my pleasure, It's my gift to me and to everybody else too!"

I explained that if all the bands were to appear in England we could never afford to see them, what with the cost of tickets, transport and accommodation etc., because they would be widely dispersed and on different dates. I explained that we wished that in turn we could do something for him. I said that it would have to be something from the heart because we could never impress him with monetary value. Then I explained my wife's culinary expertise (French, English and more)  and invited him to bring his wife Chris to dinner either at our house when they were in the UK or to our daughter Pamela's house in San Francisco. Warren thanked me profusely and explained that although he had a really busy schedule he would try to fix it sometime.  The offer was sincere but I wouldn't  have put money on him taking it up even though I hoped he would. Can you imagine My wife Jean's response when I told her what I had done? "Oh my gosh! You might have mentioned it to me first, but no problem; I can't imagine they would ever come to dinner here when they can go wherever they like." I responded, "well don't be too surprised if he accepts - I've concluded that he's a very talented genuine honest to goodness guy who just happens to be very very rich. ".

In my experience Warren was never too proud to ask for or to receive advice. First off; we were devastated to hear that, after a dispute with the City council over the construction of a garage underground in Golden Gate Park, Warren had decided to move his festival to Oakland. Plans were in progress so I decided to explain to Warren why he should cancel the idea and stay with the Park. I took me ages but I e-mailed him a detailed analysis of all the pros and cons of not moving.  Quite soon came an announcement; "The festival is not moving!.Wow, what a relief!

I wondered if my advice had any part in that decision Just a few of days later our daughter Pam 'Belle' bumped into the person wholly responsible for the management and implementation of the festival and said, "Hi, (xxx) I hear that the festival is back in the park - that's great!" Xxx said oh yes; it was that pivotal letter your dad sent that pursuaded Warren change his mind!!" Pam asked me ,"why didn't I know about it?" I replied;

"I told no-one about my letter, including you!"

Another time I received an email asking my thoughts and opinions on the change of number of days to 3 with five stages. I wrote a detailed analysis of all the pros and cons of the proposed changes and, in a nutshell, said that both Jean and I would vote for less than 5 stages on 2 or 3 days and with a narrower musical coverage nearer to the original 'Strictly Bluegrass' concept. Warren replied saying Thanks very much for your analysis Derek, but after careful consideration of the points you raise we've decided on 3 days and five stages.


When we few in from England on the Wednesday evening before the 2004 festival for our annual visit and the HSB festival Pam met us with "Hey you'll have to get your act together; Warren and Chris are coming to dinner Friday night and I've invited Dawn (a festival colleague of Warren's) as well, because she's been very helpful." She explained that she'd bumped into Warren and said hey, my dad said he invited you all to dinner at my house - when are you coming, to which Warren replied, "How about Friday night?" Jean nearly fainted! Thursday was spent planning a meal and shopping and tidying up the house and back yard. Friday was cook and panic day. I had only my rough vacation clothes so I sent an email to Warren explaining that because I had nothing to wear appropriate to such a special event the ladies might wear their best finery but the gentlemen would wear their regular clothes. Well, everything went together very well. Pam belonged to a wine club so there was an excellent selection of drinks. For ambience Pamela decided we would have bluegrass music but I had great doubts about that. The Hellmans arrived bang on time at 6-30 pm., on foot! They'd had to park a block away! In we all went and Warren quipped, "Ah - bluegrass - what a refreshing change from all t usual chamber music"! Chris went straight out back to admire the greenery. She said, "tonight will be very good for Warren, he will be able to relax. His life is strenuous and hectic, like, last night we dined with Caspar Wienberger and he has to watch his P's and Q's. Then it was time for aperitif-drinks, which were my department. I suggested the dining room but Warren headed for the kitchen and so it was.      Tom (bassist in Belle Monroe&Her Brewglass boys) and his lady Gayle (now wife) came for aperitif.
           Left to right:   Tom,   Chris Hellman, Dawn, Warren,         Pam, Jean,           Gayle

After the ladies had made their aperitif selections I asked Warren what wine would he like. I was very surprised when he replied "Have you any beer please?" I hadn't checked the beer situation and Pam's band "who are not called "The Brewglass Boys" for nothing had been around so I thought, "Lord, please let there be some beer!" I opened the refrigerator and there were two bottles of Anchor Steam Beer (the city's finest!). So I asked Warren;,"Is Steam OK? " "Oh sure" he replied. When I opened a bottle Warren reached for it and  I said "I'll just get a glass." Warren quipped"There's no need for a glass, It comes in a glass"-and took the bottle from me (photo above). He stuck with beer all evening (both bottles! You could have knocked me over with a feather. What a great guy! But then, he was driving after all! 

Photo Right Warren chats up Jeanette, VP of the ACU
We belong to an association that has a psychologically depressed chicken for Vice President. The lifelike model of the chicken was with us and when we explained it all to Warren he posed with it. Dinner went extremely well and Warren told some interesting stories. We learned more about Warren's philanthropic side when I asked a question about the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Warren explained "I care a lot for California which was in a financial mess. Well, you see there were a lot of candidates and I wanted the one who would be best for California to succeed. I had my staff investigate the financial and business acumen of all the credible candidates and Arnie came out easily the best, so I asked him did he need any funds, which he did. I asked how much and gave it to him. He Arnie asked what position would I want on his administration if he succeeded? I said none, I just want you to get California back on its feet. I can't imagine anybody else who would be so magnanimous with only the hopes of a better deal for all Californians on his mind. Like Warren, Arnie, is a republican. I asked what would have happened if the best bet had been a democratic candidate? Warren said "it would have made no difference".

Dinner table...  Pamela, Warren, Chris, Jean and Dawn. I took the photo with just "Hey" as a warning!

Part way through dinner Warren said, "This is great. I propose this becomes the annual official start to the festival! is that OK?" We agreed of course, but that's not how it worked out because Warren inaugurated the Friday night Slim's party in addition to the \saturday night one.

Below -The great card and  photo of the lovely bunch of flowers  that Warren and Chris sent.

The amusing thing is that it was my invitation, not Pamela's!

A humorous tale… Sadly Warren and Chris had to leave early because he had to go long distance horse riding at 5 next morning. Later at the festival Jean asked Warren how he was feeling. He said he was very tired because he had made a mistake and re-racked after riding but would feel better later.
10 Brownie points if you interpreted Re-racked as returned to bed! Jean also asked if they'd had any bad effects from the mussels dish she had made. Warren replied, "I had the same fears but nothing. They were terrific, the best I have ever eaten!" Needless to say Jean was delighted.

Another example that illustrated Warren's generosity, political tolerance and common sense was when at one festival I told Warren I had noticed that among the concession stalls near the road there was one for the democratic party which was busy signing up new members, but there was no stall for the republican party. Warren responded, "Well, they are putting in the effort and being enterprising, so good luck to them"
I once saw and heard a lady talking about 401K problems she was having.Warren overheard her and said, "Well perhaps I can help you with that?" Wow, what an offer! How kind and generous can a person be?
The 401K scheme is an investment retirement plan for citizens.


Warren was very easy to pose for photos and always willing. One only had to make a sign and he would just do it. Here are some examples.

When I tried to take this photo of Warren and his grandchildren they were all looking at me, so I said to Warren, "Point to the stage and say hey, Look at that." It almost worked... There's always one! I emailed the original large version to Warren and he replied... "Derek, fantastic out of this world! Thank you/ Warren."

I caught him at the side of the Banjo stage and these two photos show what I mean about the pose!
Here are two photos of Warren and Chris with Warrens wrangler, my main man, Super man  Paul Mann,
the MC on the Banjo stage.   In the first he hadn't spotted me giving the sign  but in the second one he had!

Onstage Warren was always happy to co-operate with a band
and even join them on stage. The best example I saw was when he
dressed up as 'Warden Hellman'
in prison warder's uniform
(photo right) with Poor Man's Whiskey at  HSB5 (2005).

The band had
brought the uniform and all prisoner uniforms and
persuaded Warren
to take part onstage.

In 2004, MC Paul Mann requested on the Banjo stage PA, " Has anyone seen Jeanette the Chicken?"
No one admitted they had, probably for fear of being thought crazy!

Later good sport Warren presented an effigy of our ACU Vice President Jeanette, the psychologically depressed chicken, to the banjo stage audience (Photo left).

So Jeanette became famous and posed with several bands.

  When, much to their surprise, Warren presented Jeanette to 'Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder' on the main 'Banjo' stage (photo right) she became frightened that she might end up  as kentucky fried chicken.

It was only later that the band realised how it had been honoured!.


 Jeanette said that Ralph Stanley (photo right) was good but she liked Warren better; and the lovely Peasall Sisters (photo below)best of all!

Jeanette was on a world tour  (honest!) and said that the festival was the very best venue she had visited. She also commented on what a good sport Warren was, always joining in to have fun, and make everyone happier to increase their pleasure!


Once, at a Friday night Friends&family event at Slims I spotted Warren chatting intensively with his heroine Hazel Dickens (Photo below right).

Respectfully he was only drinking water. In a loud stage whisper I said to Jean, "There's someone in his 7th Heaven," whereupon Warren turned to me and cried "Derek it doesn't get any better than this!" and it doesn't...

lots of guests were similarly involved with their own idols.

Considering all Warren's positive facets it's difficult to imagine that any musicians could treat him badly, but that actually happened!. At dinner at (see above) Warren told me a story he enjoyed telling concerning well known Bay Area mandolin player (xxx he had booked for an event. when xxx's time was up and he would'nt stop playing even after bing signalled several times by the MC, who was  a principal manager of HSB. So Warren himself went and told him personally. xxx then went to the MC and said, "why can't you do that yourself instead of sending your lackey? Needless to say, it was some years before xxx was booked at the festival.

I was very surprised he ever got booked! If it had been up to me, it would have been never!

We get Friends and Family; F&F 'VIP' passes and we know why.

At HSB 2012 in the banjo stage F&F 'reservation' I was talking to a chap who asked me how-come you english guys get the passes? I told him what Warren told me-"it's because you are friends and family!" So in return I asked him the same question and he told me this story.

He said, "I work in a bar downtown and one day this stranger came in and asked for a beer, please. After I pulled the beer he said, "Oh I'm sorry - I just checked and I have no money on me. He was a very nice, polite guy so I just said to him, No problem, it's on me!" He said "Oh, I can't have that; give me your name and I'll mail it to you." I said come on, there's no need really, I'm happy to help out a nice polite guy"!  He replied"Ok Well give it to me anyway, I'll get it back to you because it will make me happy too" Months later I received a large mail envelope at work containing a F&F pack. I thought What on earth is this?

"Well, I only found out when I recognised him at the festival and asked him. He replied, "You showed kindness to stranger and all I did was to repay it!
At the bar I had no idea that I was serving Warren Hellman! What a guy!


Well, I hope you've enjoyed my stories; I certainly enjoyed all the experiences!.

For your information, Even though Jean and I live in England, in Chester, which is near liverpool, we have attended every SB/HSB festival, and each is a 12,500 mile round trip.

Chester is a very beautiful Roman city near north Wales. It is almost 2,000 years old and the Roman/Mediaeval City Walls are complete! Please visit Chester and help keep down our city taxes. Also walk the city walls  (it's free) to help us to get better value for our taxes!   ;))

Best regards, Dr. Derek Brandon.

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