Quinn DeVeaux with “Down in the Grove” Commission

If you ask any one of our Festival patrons at random, chances are that they’ve been attending admission-free concerts at Stern Grove Festival for years — maybe even decades. The same goes for many of our local performers like singer/songwriter Quinn DeVeaux, the opening act for this summer’s Big Picnic Concert, who returns to the Grove.

“Playing at Stern Grove is such a pleasure. I’m happy to be doing it again,” says Quinn. “I love performing with trees — it’s like you have an extra thousand audiences members.”

Since his 2011 performance at the Grove, DeVeaux has released not one, but two albums that perfectly express his old-timey soul and blue beat music – but with a modern kick. He’s bound to play a number of these tunes at his upcoming performance when he opens for Kool & the Gang at Stern Grove Festival’s Big Picnic Concert on June 25, as well as his brand new, never-before-heard song, “Down in the Grove”, produced as part of this season’s Local Artist Commission Series.

We met with Quinn to hear about his life as a musician in the Bay Area and his creative process behind the new piece, as well as learn what inspires him as a musician and what has helped craft his sound since his last Stern Grove Festival performance.

“I continue to be influenced by the amazing musicians around me,” says Quinn. “New stuff blows through me and I catch some it and meld it into my style. I’ve started to explore more funky rhythms and slower tunes. I’ve gotten very much into Bill Withers and his churning groove-based songs. Also Al Green, and that smooth haunting quality he has.  I turn it all into Blue Beat!”

Watch the below interview to learn all about Mr. Quinn DeVeaux, set on the foreground of “Shame”, a new song off his upcoming record. Stay tuned to the end to hear a clip of the unfinished “Down in the Grove”.

RSVP for this admission-free concert on Facebook and learn more at sterngrove.org.

Interplay – Astronauts, etc. with “In the Park Dilated”

Aug21_Astronauts etcOne of the most difficult parts of fulfilling a commission request is finding the middle ground between being too literal or too obscure when following a theme or topic.

Within our 2016 local artist commission series, where 10 bands and dance groups have been asked to create new works of art based on the theme “In Concert with Nature”, it could be easy to head down the literal route (it’s tempting to throw in mentions of trees, sunshine, and grass). To avoid this road bump, the next and final group in the 79th season’s series chose to ignore the fork in the road altogether by writing a stimulating instrumental piece that envisages nature without verbalizing it.

Read on below to hear how Astronauts, etc‘s Anthony Ferraro came up with the new piece and to listen to a demo recording of “In the Park Dilated”. Visit Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, August 21, when they open the stage at 2 p.m. for The New Pornographers in the final concert of the 79th Season!


“In the Park Dilated” sheet music

Stern Grove Festival: This commission is a new experience for you as an artist. What do/did you anticipate being the most challenging aspect of it, and what are you most excited about with this process?

Anthony Ferraro: Initially what made me anxious was the idea of writing the words for the commissioned song. Writing directly about nature seemed potentially trite, but interpreting the theme more abstractly seemed potentially disingenuous. So I opted instead to write a song without words, with pen and paper, on the stage where it would be performed. This allowed me to believe I was following the theme as faithfully and simply as possible.

SGF: The commission focuses on the relationship between the artist and the environment. How does the environment/venue you perform in influence your creative choices and how does it influence how you interact with the audience?

AF: It is a tricky business to delineate the border between external environment and internal experience. All that I can say is that, sometimes, being in a beautiful place makes you more explicitly aware of a beauty that is always present and waiting to be noticed no matter your surroundings.

SGF: A major part of Stern Grove Festival’s mission is providing free access to the performing arts for the public, often to artists whose work they are unfamiliar with. How will this focus on accessibility (in terms of free admission and exposure to unfamiliar artists or genres) influence your creative process or performance?

AF: I like the idea of playing to a different crowd and in a different setting than usual. Normally your audience is restricted to those people of drinking age who don’t mind staying up very late, often on a week night, in very loud room with a lot of commotion.

SGF: Stern Grove Festival is committed to artistic diversity and San Francisco is known for its vibrant and diverse arts community. How would you describe the sound of San Francisco?

AF: Sonically, I think San Francisco is still trying to figure out what it wants to say right now. On one pole is a cohort of artists disenfranchised and disillusioned by the financial difficulty of living here, and on the other you find a group energized by the new collaboration of music and technology. Sometimes I feel I exist on both poles at once.

Interplay – Afrolicious

Aug14_Afrolicious1What started out as a club night in the famed Mission district Elbo Room in 2007, Afrolicious has since grown into a collective of dynamic and skilled funk, soul, and electronic musicians. Since 2010, the group has been playing for packed crowds with a party-ready combination of soulful vocals, funky bass, and lively horns and beats with classic funk, soul, disco, Latin, and Afrobeat.

“As a club night we hosted so many amazing bands, musicians, and DJs from the Bay Area and the city, as well as international,” said Afrolicious’ co-founder Joe ‘Pleasuremaker’ Mcguire, reminiscing on the group’s early days. “We had the honor of building with many amazing musicians over the years and we continue to see new artists come up and blow it up, and it remains super inspiring.”

As the next participating act in Stern Grove Festival’s Local Artist Commission Series, Afrolicious has been asked to create and debut a new song inspired by the theme “Interplay: In Concert with Nature” that doesn’t stray away from their usual funkiness.

“It can be challenging to write a song in general,” says Pleasuremaker, “but the subject matter makes so much sense in the context of our modern times – the need for a relationship to nature. So the subject makes the challenge all more the interesting.”

Stern Grove is an extremely unique concert setting, so naturally the commission focuses on the strong relationship between the artist and the venue’s environment. Those who attended one of Afrolicious’ early Elbo Room club nights or one of their more recent concerts know that the show is more than just a fun musical experience: it’s a raging party. Stern Grove Festival has welcomed musicians from almost every genre out there, but it is always particularly interesting to see how these high-energy, funky groups plan their show around the fact that it is an outdoor concert in the middle of the day – not in a nightclub per their usual show. Understanding these hurdles, their goal is still the same: to wake up the crowd and bring the party to Stern Grove.

“The venue plays a crucial role in how we feel and interpret the music as the sound, dynamics, visual elements, size and if it’s indoor or outdoor greatly affect the sounds and the intimacy,” said Pleasuremaker. “A venue that is inviting, relaxing, beautiful can create much more harmony between us on stage and the crowd. We love playing outdoors when the sound is truly dialed. It’s a magical feeling.”

A major part of Stern Grove Festival’s mission is providing free access to the performing arts for the public, often to artists whose work they are unfamiliar with. Some artists focus on this accessibility (in terms of free admission and exposure to unfamiliar artists or genres) when creating their commissioned piece, and Afrolicious in particular thinks of this as an opportunity to perform for groups of people who otherwise wouldn’t make it out to one of their shows (think children, the elderly, or people who can’t make it to shows in the evening).

“We LOVE that there is no admission,” said Pleasuremaker on behalf of his group. “I came to Stern Grove when I first moved to San Francisco and it was such a great way to be welcomed to the city: great music and open to all. We love this event and have each attended many shows over the years. We get the most excited to share what we do at free daytime events because we can play for everyone!”

A Stern Grove Festival crowd may be pretty diverse, and this depth of character matches that of the Bay Area where people of all kinds flock and frolic. It’s only natural that this diversity seeps into the performance scene. From funk and electro to brass and jazz, the SF Bay Area is home to a vibrant arts and music community.  As Pleasuremaker puts it, “San Francisco music scene is ever evolving. Change is the one constant, and that was a great influence on Afrolicious over the years.

“Hard to say there is one sound of San Francisco, it feels more like San Francisco can absorb any genre and flip it into new sounds, and that would be a long term legacy of [it] that continues today.”

Visit our website to learn more about the concert and Afrolicious. Visit Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, Aug 14 to hear them live when the open the stage at 2 p.m. for a cast of musical performers paying tribute to West African synth legend William Onyeabor in “ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor”.

Interplay – MJ’s Brass Boppers

Next up in this season’s #sgfInterplay Local Artist Commission Series, MJ’s Brass Boppers share their experience in creating a piece inspired by the theme “Interplay: In Concert with Nature”, and the similarities between performing at Stern Grove Festival and in their home town of New Orleans.

The swinging and singing brass-line is the Bay Area’s only New Orleans-style brass band whose founding members were born and raised in NOLA itself. This eight-piece group’s sound has been meticulously formed over years of practicing and experimenting together, fusing classic NOLA performance with funk, jazz, modern pop, and a second line twist. Since 2008, the tight knit musicians have written, practiced, and performed together at festivals, community events, nightclubs, and street corners around the Bay Area.

Make your way to the admission-free #sterngrovefest this Sunday, Aug 7 to witness the never-before-heard song and others when MJBB opens up for R&B legends, The O’Jays at 2 p.m.

Interplay – La Misa Negra, “El Agua Ya Se Acabo”

Next up in this season’s local artist commission series is La Misa Negra, a eight-piece Oakland-based group that performs a mix of late 50’s style Cumbia and high-energy, Afro-Colombian dance music. With such diverse musical backgrounds among band mates it’s hard to clump their talents into one genre, but whoever branded them “hella bailable” was headed in the right direction.

Reflecting on the themes that inspired many mid-century Cumbia artists, guitarist/accordion player Marco Polo Santiago thought about what topic to base their new song around, acknowledging that the theme “In Concert with Nature” could take many routes. Being a California band, they came up with “El Agua Ya Se Acabo”, a timely piece that roughly translates to “the water ran out” and will (the band hopes) help people recognize the severity of the current drought.

Check out a preview of the song below and an interview with the band talking about the new song and their upcoming Stern Grove Festival performance.

La Misa Negra will perform “El Agua Ya Se Acabo” and more at an admission-free concert this Sunday, July 24, when they open the stage for the GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY-winning Mexican singer/songwriter Julieta Venegas at 2 p.m.

Interplay – John Brothers Piano Company

There’s no doubt about it: San Francisco is a musical masterpiece. Whether known or not, residents and tourists experience tunes from the city’s natural soundscape (a hum of Muni buses or cheers from AT&T Park) and from the countless busking musicians posted on corners across the city. Few performing acts recognize this city’s potential as yet another instrument like John Brothers Piano Company (JBPC), who first grew their fan base by dragging a beat-up piano to BART stations around the Bay and making street corners a personal stage for the afternoon.

Although it is a unique setting for many artists, Stern Grove Festival is still a ready-made performance space like fellow Bay Area staples The Independent and Fox Theater, equipped with concert hall speakers and barricades. But unlike many venues, artists not only have to perform: they have to fire up the crowd and remind them that they are not just in a public park for the day, but at a live concert that demands the same energy as any other festival stage. For some artists, this can be a challenging task, but the men of JBPC are very familiar with this game:

“When we play on the street, we must, in essence, create the context for the performance as opposed to one that is readymade as in a club or venue,” explains JBPC pianist and trumpeter Arlo Perlstein. “Our show must be impressive enough to snap people out of their daily grinds, to turn the sidewalk into a venue. When we have an attentive audience in a jazz club or at festival, for example, we are much freer in the music we play because don’t need to be simultaneously performing and saying ‘this is a performance!’” It’s an unfortunate reality that people often equate quality of music or art with a performance’s setting and price point. This thought was well conveyed in an experiment by the Washington Post where one of the best concert violinists in the world performed in a subway station on a 3.5 million dollar violin, but only seven people stopped to listen to him play. JBPC is very familiar with this reality, as a good portion of their audience are pedestrians who did not expect to come across a concert on their commute, and often do not stop to listen at all. 

“To get people to even notice us we have to make the music interactive with the environment,” says drummer and pianist Jimi Marks, who notes that their performances often reflect the crowd’s energy. “We won’t play the same song to a street full of headphone-wearing commuters with their heads down as we would to an engaged crowd. But there are ways to engage people that may have otherwise walked straight past us, and part of that is playing to your surroundings, being part of the environment, and inviting others to stop and be a part of it too.”

Marks looks forward to having the freedom to play music with subtlety and nuance at SGF that “maybe would not fare so well at a busy BART station.”

We’re thinking some of that subtlety may show up in “Katabasis, the new piece JBPC has written as part of this season’s local artist commission series, where ten Bay Area bands and dance groups create new works inspired by the theme “In Concert with Nature” and debut them on the Stern Grove Stage. The band has been coming together to write this new work over recent months in preparation for their show this Sunday, practicing their craft outside in parks to really experience the theme.

“Feeling ‘in concert with nature’ is usually quite an inward, soulful experience,” says Marks. “The challenge will be to capture that experience on a personal level for such a large and diverse audience.”

Although they’ve been hired individually to create original works, the band as a whole has never participated in a commission series and are discovering that multiple voices can be both a blessing and a curse when creating something new.

“The most challenging aspect of this piece is, incidentally, what I also find to be most exciting: it is the process of creating together,” says Perlstein, noting that it can be easy to become attached to a part of a song that you’ve written, and difficult to abandon the part when it doesn’t work out in the final piece. “Each member of the band brings different musical sensibilities and ideas to the table and, invariably, some must be sacrificed for others when writing together. However it is also by this process that we as band can produce music of vibrancy and richness.”

And how vibrant and rich the music of JBPC is. Visit Stern Grove Festival’s 79th season this Sunday, July 17 to hear an admission-free performance by John Brothers Piano Company when they open for the legendary songstress Joan Osborne at 2 p.m., and keep your ears open for the debut performance of Katabasis.

Interplay – Mix’d Ingrdnts

Oakland-based dancers Jenay Anolin and Samara Atkins sparked more than just a close friendship when they met at an audition in 2008. They had long felt the pressures of working in the male-dominated field of hip hop dance – where women are often degraded and left uninspired to pursue opportunities – and decided it was time for a change. Together they formed Mix’d Ingrdnts, an all-female, all-styles dance crew and company that seeks to empower women to speak up and express themselves through art, most often dance.

Working with a unique track made by local DJ and producer Coflo, titled “Dawn”, the ladies of Mix’d Ingrdnts have come together to create the next installment in this season’s local artist commission series. Inspired by the theme “Interplay: In Concert with nature”, Mix’d Ingrdnts’ new work uses a natural soundscape to open the scene and set the tone for an awe-inspiring piece.

Preview the piece below, and catch the debut of “Dawn” at Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, July 3, when Mix’d Ingrdnts (along with fellow dance crew Golden State Breakers) opens the stage at 2 p.m. for local legends Hieroglyphics.

Interplay – Hieroglyphics

Hieroglyphics logo

Hieroglyphics is an Oakland-based musical collective of underground hip-hop artists whose individual careers skyrocketed in the early 90’s, but later came together to form their own group and hip hop recording label to take control of their careers. Since its evolution in 1997, Hieroglyphics has matured into a preeminent force in the american hip hop scene and is one of the most prolific groups that hails from the Bay Area. As a participating act in this season’s local artist commission series, members of the 9-piece Hiero crew came together to create a new song inspired by the theme “Interplay: In Concert with Nature”. The piece will debut this Sunday, July 3, on stage at Stern Grove Festival.

We were invited to visit and interview original Hiero members Casual and Phesto Dee (also of Souls of Mischief) at their Oakland warehouse and recording space. Listen below for their perspectives on being an artist in the Bay Area, performing at Stern Grove Festival, and what words of advice they have for young musicians.

Interplay – Bayonics, “Abajo Del Sol”

For decades, generations of families from the Bay Area and beyond have looked to Stern Grove Festival as both a source of entertainment and an opportunity for families to experience music from a wide variety of cultures.

Quite often the same kids who grew up coming to the Festival every summer return as adults to perform on our stage. Stern Grove Festival is proud to provide this opportunity for local artists, and Bayonics — a local group participating in this season’s commission series — is no exception. Some of the band’s members have attended the Festival’s admission-free shows their entire lives and drew from these memories when brainstorming their new song, “Abajo Del Sol”.

As one of the 10 local performing groups participating in the commission series, Bayonics was asked to craft this new piece inspired by the theme, “Interplay: In Concert with Nature”. We had a chance to chat with Bayonics’ lead singer, Rojai, on the group’s experience participating in the commission and on their upcoming performance, when they open for funk legends George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at 2 p.m. this Sunday, June 26. Read Rojai’s feedback below and watch the video clip to get a glimpse of their new song.


Stern Grove Festival: This commission is a new experience for you as an artist. What did you anticipate being the most challenging aspect of it, and what are you most excited about with this process?

Rojai: We would say this is a fairly new challenge for us. Stern Grove provides a diverse forum for artists to display their art and talents. Coming from San Francisco and being a household name for the last two decades, I would say the challenge was how we would approach this project in terms of genres specifically, because we play a wide range of music and we wanted to make sure that it was all encompassed in the experience of being at Stern Grove. Finally, we decided to write a song with more of a celebratory “feel good” vibe, and we identified each of our positive experiences of being at this amazing concert series in the past. The exciting part of this process was getting together and witnessing the development and growth of the song we wrote together as a group. I definitely feel that this allowed us to become stronger as a group, get on the same page, and have the results sounding super fresh!

SGF: The commission focuses on the relationship between the artist and the environment. How does the environment/venue you perform in influence your creative choices and how does it influence how you interact with the audience?

R: We were able to make the connection between the unique relationships at the Festival by having first-hand experience at the Festival our entire lives. We view Stern Grove as the city’s oasis — a place where people get to escape their daily grind and be free with shoes off in the grass. Where they get together with friends and neighbors and enjoy a free concert while dancing and singing along. Basically, allowing nature and love to inspire positivity. The connection with the audience is an experience for being in the crowd and onstage. Obviously the world is going through tough times and this is exactly what our society needs. To encourage love and respect and freedom.

SGF: A major part of Stern Grove Festival’s mission is providing free access to the performing arts for the public, often to artists whose work they are unfamiliar with. How will this focus on accessibility influence your creative process or performance?

R: The accessibility aspect of the Stern Grove Festival is an ideology that we share and have been on the front lines for the past two decades here in the city and abroad. Playing block parties, street festivals, and simply us running our own little generator and setting up on Market Street to create awareness of our music and our message. For us this is a huge milestone because we have been rocking stages here in the city for quite some time and Stern Grove Festival provides a larger forum for us to spread our creativity and our positive vibrations. This definitely has a lot to do with the inspiration of writing more music that will allow people to dance and get loose.  We are taking our experiences as previous audience members over the years and are able to channel that feeling into our writing process.

SGF: Stern Grove Festival is committed to artistic diversity and San Francisco is known for its vibrant and diverse arts community. How would you describe the sound of San Francisco?

R: I feel that we are a band that describes the diversity of our city. We are a Mission District-based band grounded in Latin roots, funk, hip-hop and reggae. Each member that is in the band comes from an interesting background. The diversity from our members with connections all over the world is amplified in our unique Frisco sound. A melting pot filled with rich ingredients from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. The sound has changed here in the city with modern technology and electronics being integrated more in the mainstream, but unique artists are finding ways to implement folklore sound, mixed in with the new modern feel that will allow them to speak to a larger demographic.

SGF: Is there anything else Bayonics would like to let their fans know about their upcoming performance or about the band itself?

R: We want to let everyone know that they should strap on their Birkenstocks super tight because they are in for a wild ride! We are a band that embraces comradery, family, and life. We have decided for my last two years to focus more in the Caribbean sound that entails reggae, dancehall, salsa, and reggae-ton. We still have our roots in the funk, but we are displaying that more in our side projects which we will highlight this upcoming Sunday. We are super excited to be part of this summer series. Make sure to be on the lookout for our new album Resilience dropping the end of the summer. People can catch us as well at the Reggae on the River Festival in August representing the Bay Area! And also the Cukui Festival at Great America in September. And of course…thank you, Stern Grove!

Catch the debut live performance of “Abajo Del Sol” and more from Bayonics this Sunday, June 26 when they open for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at 2 p.m. Visit our website to learn more about Bayonics and the rest of the Stern Grove Festival’s 79th Season.

 

Interplay – Midtown Social

Following Stern Grove Festival’s founding mission to support local artists, for the second season in a row the Festival presents ten brand new works of art as part of our local artist commission series, “Interplay: In Concert with Nature”.

When we first invited local SoMa-based “California soul” band Midtown Social to participate in this season’s commission series, they hit the ground running. Bouncing ideas off each other, the nine-piece group came up with “Home”, a dreamy hit with heavy bass and percussion that draws various aspects of nature to mind. It’s a perfect match with what Stern Grove Festival represents: an eclectic mix of sounds coming together in harmony with the outdoors.

“We’ve been asked to do commissions before”, says Midtown Social drummer, RJ Julia. “But this is really fantastic because we get to interpret a beautiful space and what it means to us as a collective.”

Watch below for a preview of the song and to learn more about Midtown Social and their creative process.

Catch Midtown Social on Sunday, June 19th for the debut of “Home” when the group opens for Janelle Monáe and we kick off the Festival’s 79th Season!

Midtown Social is: Aaron Joseph (Keys, Lead Vocals), Kisura Nyoto (Lead Vocals), RJ Julia (Drums), Rory Matthews (Guitar), Sarah Rice (Bass), Adam Rubinger (Percussion), Lydia Eyssallenne (Violin), Whitney Moses (Backing Vocals), and Teddy Raven (Saxophone/Flute).