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.

New Works Debut this Summer with “Interplay: In Concert with Nature”

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:

Keep up with the Festival’s blog and connect with us on Facebook for a glimpse behind the scenes as the artists work on these new pieces.

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Midtown Social

bayonics-square

Bayonics

hieroglpyhics-square

Hieroglyphics

mixd-ingrdnts-square

Mix’d Ingrdnts

golden-state-breakers-square

Golden State Breakers

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John Brothers Piano Company

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La Misa Negra

MJ's Brass Boppers

MJ’s Brass Boppers

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Afrolicious

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Astronauts, etc.

SGF Playlist :: Stern Grove Festival’s 79th Season Line-Up

Welcome to Stern Grove Festival’s 79th season! This year, the admission-free concert line-up features some big names like king of funk George Clinton, the GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY-winning Julieta Venegas, and the Bay Area’s own groundbreaking hip hop collective Hieroglpyhics. These major artists are accompanied by a ring of impressive local performers, from the Mission District’s nightclub-turned-big-band, Afrolicious, to the swinging styles of John Brothers Piano Company, who got their start (literally) in train stations and on street corners around the Bay Area.

“Aside from the diversity and world class talent that we’ll be having on our stage this summer, I’m proud that we’re highlighting local artists each week,” says Judy Tsang, Director of Programming for Stern Grove Festival. “The Bay Area is full of talent and we should all get to know and support the artists who live here.”

In addition to the artists and bands shared in the 79th Season’s Spotify Playlist below are three incredible dance groups: the world-famous San Francisco Ballet (performing 7/31), the all-girl dance group Mix’d Ingrdnts (7/3), and the b-boys of the Golden State Breakers (7/3).

Please visit Stern Grove Festival’s concert page for a complete list of and further information on the performing artists of the 79th season, or visit any of the Artist Pages below:

June 19
Janelle Monáe
Midtown Social

June 26
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic
Bayonics

July 3
Hieroglyphics
Mix’d Ingrdnts
Golden State Breakers

July 10
San Francisco Symphony

July 17
Joan Osborne’s Soul Revue
John Brothers Piano Company

July 24
Julieta Venegas
La Misa Negra

July 31
San Francisco Ballet

August 7
The O’Jays
MJ’s Brass Boppers

August 14
ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor feat Jamie Lidell, Luke Jenner, Money Mark, Sinkane, and more

August 21
The New Pornographers
Astronauts, etc.

Interplay – Bhi Bhiman

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.


Interplay – Kawika Alfiche of Hālau ‘o Keikiali’i

We caught up with kumu Kawika Alfiche of Hālau ‘o Keikiali’i at a Kids Day at Stern Grove, where a group of 100 kids learned the art of hula dance.

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.


Interplay — Hot Club of San Francisco

Jazz Club or Outdoor Park, Hot Club of San Francisco Welcomes All


 

Hot Club of San FranciscoWhat 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.

Groovin at the Old Stern Grove scoreGypsy 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.

June, 2015 Stern Grove Festival

Interplay — The California Honeydrops

The California Honeydrops stretch their imaginations for “Interplay commission


California HoneydropsAs 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.

June 9, 2015 Stern Grove Festival