From its outset, the festival has been subsidized by Hellman. Various corporations have offered to sponsor the event over the years, but Hellman always turned them down, saying in an interview, “I want to keep it entirely free and noncommercial”.
For some performers, the unique fact that the event is unsponsored is very important to character. In an interview with Hellman, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show said that part of what keeps the event focused on the music and the community is Warren’s decision to ensure it isn’t “consumption driven” and the audience isn’t “bombarded with signage”.
Hellman has endowed the festival to continue without sponsorship for at least 15 years past his death. Originally Hellman intended only to invite bluegrass musicians. But soon artists from other genres were invited to the event, and in 2004 the word “Hardly” was added to reflect its expanded scope.
The festival draws very large crowds, nearly equal in number to the entire population of San Francisco. In 2011, the festival drew an estimated 750,000 people over the course of the three-day event.