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 – 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.

 

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

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Mix’d Ingrdnts

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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.

Zakiya Harris – “Interplay” and Kids Camp

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.


Interplay – Con Brio

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.


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.


SGF Playlist :: The Funky Meters and Sugar Pie DeSanto



Playlist of the Week #3


Along with many of the best things in life (love, good food, good wine…), music is one of the most important, and sometimes overlooked, parts of  our everyday lives.  Our weekly playlists celebrate our love of music and the artists we’re inspired by every day.

The performers at this week’s concert, The Funky Meters and Sugar Pie DeSanto, are the inspiration behind the Playlist of the Week. We’ve asked our staff to compile a number of songs inspired by or related to the artists. Listen below, and come see the founding fathers of funk, The Funky Meters, and one of the most underrated female soul singers of the early ’60s, Sugar Pie DeSanto, perform live this Sunday, June 20, at 2 P.M. at the beautiful Sigmund Stern Grove. The performance is, as always, admission-free. Donations are welcomed!