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).
A series of artist commissions returns this summer at Stern Grove Festival
Part of Stern Grove Festival’s founding mission is to provide paid performing opportunities for local artists. The Festival is also a place for local artists to connect and interact with their community in an intimate and admission-free setting.
This summer, Stern Grove Festival continues this legacy with its local artist commission series. Ten local artists performing this summer will debut new works during the 79th Season. Using the the theme, “Interplay: In Concert with Nature” as a point of departure, artists will craft these new works inspired by the unique “interplay” between performance, nature, and the audience.
Fans can look forward to new works in hip-hop music and dance, funk, Afro-Colombian, synth pop, and more from the following local artists:
We met up with local singer Zakiya Harris during the last day of her songwriting Kids Camp at Stern Grove Festival. She spoke about being one of the seven local artists chosen to participate in this season’s “Interplay” local artist commission series, her dynamic sound and band, Elephantine, and more.
She’ll perform her new song this Sunday, August 16 when she opens for Talib Kweli at 2 p.m.
We attended a rehearsal with local funksters Con Brio in their Oakland studio to hear the band’s (almost finished) new song “Wings of Love”, which was created as part of the Festival’s local artist commission series, titled “Interplay: Artists In Concert With Nature”.
When front man Ziek McCarter got his first wave of inspiration to begin the commissioned piece, he was – believe it or not – in nature! After a long morning walk the band began throwing ideas around, and they eventually crafted a slow, grooving piece.
But after attending the tUnE-yArDs concert earlier this summer at Stern Grove Festival, both McCarter and keyboardist Micah Dubreuil knew that slow wouldn’t cut it. Their goal is to make everyone in the Grove dance and they created a completely different, high-energy song that will debut on the Stern Grove Festival stage.
Check out the interview and learn more about one of our favorite local bands, who will open for funk legends Morris Day and The Time on Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 2 p.m. at Stern Grove Festival.
We asked local singer/songwriter and guitarist Bhi Bhiman to be part of the Festival’s local artist commission series, titled “Interplay: Artists in Concert with Nature”, in which seven local artists create pieces specifically for the Stern Grove Festival stage.
Bhi feels very comfortable in a place like Stern Grove, which he says reminds him of his hometown, St Louis. He wrote “Going Back Home” as a tribute to the feeling of missing your friends, your family, and everything that makes you feel “home.” For Bhi, his home is now in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter. Listen below to hear a preview of the song and learn about his creative process behind the commission. Come hear Bhi perform it live this Sunday, August 2 at Stern Grove Festival, when he opens for five-time GRAMMY-winning artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Hālau ‘o Keikiali’i was commissioned by Stern Grove Festival, as part of the “Interplay: Artists In Concert with Nature” series, to create a new work to debut this summer. Alfiche and the Hālau are crafting a 30-person hula dance and musical piece that represents both their hometown of San Francisco as well as the natural elements of Stern Grove itself.
Jazz Club or Outdoor Park, Hot Club of San Francisco Welcomes All
What words come to mind when imagining Stern Grove Festival? For Hot Club of San Francisco, the words “beautiful, outdoors, open, clean, and fresh” inspired their most recent song, crafted for the Stern Grove Festival stage as part of the “Interplay” commission series. Vocalist and guitarist Paul Mehling of this local gypsy jazz band shared with us the challenging process of translating these words into a sound that evokes the unique experience of being “In Concert with Nature” at Stern Grove.
“Using the copious amount of time we spend in rented vans while on tour together, we managed to brainstorm some ideas that were almost unanimously agreeable to all of us, which we then slowly molded into the song’s now ‘finished’ state,” says Mehling of their newest song, “Groovin at the Old Stern Grove”.
Hot Club understands, but embraces the challenges in working with the environment of a concert space, whether it is a jazz club, on the street, a full stage, or among towering eucalyptus trees. Not every band can adapt their sound to the claps of a crowded jazz hall and keep up with the rhythm of the wind blowing through 100-foot trees, but Hot Club looks forward to the environment of Stern Grove advancing their sound.
Mehling feels that the quintet is uniquely aware and involved with the environment of a venue. “Since our goal is to somehow reach and touch our audience, we need to be acutely in tune with our environment and how best to circumvent any blockages which might preclude us from connecting with listeners.” This could be something mechanical (like sound system issues), something personal (a broken heart), or something out of their control, like fans unfamiliar with their style of music.
Gypsy jazz, which promotes the swinging sounds made popular by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt in 1930s Paris, carries a welcoming aura in each twang and pick of a guitar. Fans are drawn in by its lively rhythm, and Mehling and the crew take the next step in treating each audience member as a friend that they haven’t yet met. “While audiences may or may not be familiar with us, or our genre of music, we hope to establish an interplay and connection with them that they won’t find anywhere else, and which will stay with them.”
The five members of Hot Club take being San Franciscans—and the area’s influences and long list of contributions to the evolution of jazz—very seriously. These ties are evident while listening to their new song, where nods are given to local insider jokes like “vegan/pagan hipsters” and “high-tech chief execs” grooving together at everyone’s favorite urban getaway, Stern Grove.
Mehling says he and the rest of Hot Club feel a huge sense of indebtedness to the people in the Bay Area jazz scene that they’ve learned from, been inspired by, and have been a part of for more than 27 years. “We are extremely proud to not only be a part of this artistic tapestry, but we see our role in preserving and pushing it forward as an integral part of our purpose.”
Hear Hot Club of San Francisco perform “Groovin at the Old Stern Grove” and more at Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, June 28 when they open for one of America’s favorite lyricists, Randy Newman. The show kicks off at 2 p.m.
Pacific Mambo Orchestra captures the sounds of nature in Stern Grove Festival commission
West coast Latin big band Pacific Mambo Orchestra is taking part in Stern Grove Festival’s new commission series, celebrating the talent of local artists. This season, seven artists from our summer lineup are creating a new piece of work just for our stage. Taking inspiration from “In Concert with Nature”, these commissioned works highlight the connection between the space, the performer and the audience that is so unique to Stern Grove Festival. Read on to learn about PMO’s progress in this commission.
Pacific Mambo Orchestra: When PMO first learned about the opportunity to do a commissioned piece for Stern Grove Festival, we were really excited about it!
Stern Grove: The commission focuses on the relationship between the artist and the environment. How has this shaped the sound of your piece?
When we heard the theme ”In Concert with Nature”, we immediately thought of a more “orchestral” work, meaning usage of woodwinds (like flutes and clarinets) and utilizing that kind of instrumentation in a more symphonic sense. The idea of a 3-part suite followed pretty much immediately after that and that would fall into the more “classical” approach as well.
This commission is a new experience for you as an artist. What was the most challenging aspect in creating the work?
Given that we are a Latin big band that draws its sound from different rhythms from the Southern hemisphere, the challenge was to combine symphonic/orchestral ideas with the passionate, bombastic, and sometimes fiery sound of a huge horn section! Furthermore, the challenge was to tie in the title of the work.
So, the idea of a 3-part suite would open up the possibility to address different aspects of nature, like heavy weather, soft rustling of leaves in the wind, etc.
Tell us more about the makeup of the 3-part suite.
The first movement starts with a 12/8 Afro-Cuban rhythm, which will also introduce the dancers to the stage. The choreography will be modern and expressive – not like a partner dance.
A fairly chromatic alto flute melody establishes the first theme, followed by a counterpoint clarinet melody, followed by the third theme, played by low brass. These three melodies are switched around from instrument section to instrument section, weaving in and out, depicting the unpredictability of nature.
Out of the last climatic and furious chord and fermata of the first movement comes a soft bossa nova rhythm, which introduces the second movement, and leads into a very harmonious melody, again introduced by the flutes. Vocals in Portuguese enter, singing about nature.
The dance choreography of the second movement is very synchronized and controlled and reflects the fair and warm climate/weather.
The third movement is a surprise…
Come to Pacific Mambo Orchestra’s performance on June 21 at 2 p.m! Joining them will be special guests Sheila E. and Marlow Rosado, and local dance company Salsamania. Here’s a sneak peek of the first suite:
The California Honeydrops stretch their imaginations for “Interplay“ commission
As the city rapidly changes, supporting local artists is vital in maintaining the sounds of San Francisco. One of Stern Grove Festival’s goals has always been to offer a space for local artists to access the community, while supporting their work.
With that in mind, this summer we’ve commissioned seven local performers to create new music and dance pieces specifically for our stage. These pieces reflect the connection between the artist, audience, and nature that creates the singular experience offered at Stern Grove Festival. Titled “Interplay”, this commissioning series allows the artists to create something special to be debuted for our audience.
Preparing for this commission wasn’t natural to Lech Wierzysnki, the lead singer (and guitarist, and trumpeter) of Oakland-based band, The California Honeydrops. In looking for inspiration to capture what it means to be “In Concert With Nature”, he found that simply sitting down and thinking performing outside wasn’t the easiest way to become inspired.
“This commission is different, in that the work is a little more premeditated,” he adds, on the steps the band took in beginning their new song, “Long Way”. “In writing this song I tried to make the process as natural and personal as possible, while keeping a few important sources of inspiration in mind. I often use nature as a place to reflect peacefully on the complications of life – a place apart from my day-to-day routines, where I can find perspective and guidance.”
Lech Wierzynski and Johnny Bones practice “Long Way” in preparation the the Stern Grove Festival debut on June 14.
Honing their “street soul” sound in BART stations, dive bars, and crowded clubs, The California Honeydrops recognize the connection between music and the space in which it is performed. “This is a welcomed change for us,” Wierzysnki notes. “Just as the people (at Stern Grove Festival) have room to breathe, to relax, and to enjoy the sky above and the trees around, this piece of music will have an organic and meditative feeling to it.”
In writing “Long Way” The California Honeydrops pulled inspiration from their own musical upbringing as street artists. Being non-mainstream musicians with no label backing and little money, the group often plays for new fans. “We know what it takes to grab a new audience and pull them along on a ride.” Wierzysnki says, “In the end, the feeling in music is a universal language.”
In creating a piece distinctly for a crowd in San Francisco, the California Honeydrops had it easy in that, well, they’re from here. They’re well-versed in the sounds of the city. But with the cost of living in the Bay Area on the rise, many musicians like the Honeydrops are constantly under pressure to take their trade elsewhere, and many veterans on the music scene have moved on. “The sound of San Francisco is certainly changing, and reflective of an ever-narrower slice of the socio-economic spectrum,” Wierzysnki notes. “I’m most familiar with folks playing roots music, blues, rhythm and blues, funk, soul, gospel, Cajun/Zydeco. There are great young, creative musicians as well, but I learned my craft from older musicians in the Bay.”
Come check out the debut performance of “Long Way” June 14 at Stern Grove Festival. The California Honeydrops take the stage at 2 p.m., followed by The Doobie Brothers.
A new series of artist commissions debuts this summer at Stern Grove Festival
Posted by Judy Tsang, Director of Programming
One of my favorite aspects of my job is seeing the connection artists have with fans on the Stern Grove Festival stage. Season after season, we’re inspired by this connection that we help create; it’s one that has been part of our history since the Festival first started.The Festival began in the heart of the Depression in the summer of 1932.The Festival’s founder, Rosalie Meyer Stern wanted to give musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera work during their off-season, while providing public performances for everyone to enjoy. The first concert at Stern Grove was a benefit for the musicians (audience members gave a quarter, and all proceeds went to the musicians).
This inspired Mrs. Stern to create Stern Grove Festival as an opportunity for audiences to enjoy performances completely admission-free, and an opportunity for struggling musicians and artists to be paid to perform.
Today, as the city landscape continues to change, supporting local artists has become increasingly vital. Stern Grove Festival is proud to present local musicians to the community, and along the way, support artists in the pursuit of their passion.
This summer, we’re commissioning seven local performers to create new music and dance pieces specifically for the Stern Grove Festival stage. These pieces will reflect the connection between the artist, audience, and nature that creates the singular experience offered at Stern Grove Festival. Titled “Interplay”, this commissioning series allows the artists to create something special to be debuted for our audience.
Throughout the season, the artists will be sharing updates with you as they create and think about how what it means to be “In Concert with Nature.”
Over the next few months on our blog, you can get a behind-the-scenes perspective on their creative process with interviews, photos, and more.
And we hope you’ll come out for show to see how it all comes together!