Summer Delights: San Francisco’s Free Outdoor Performances
By: Cindy Hu
(June 14, 2012) – It wouldn’t be summer in San Francisco without outdoor concerts and performances. Hundreds of them, in fact, and all for free.
Since these events are free to audiences, but not free to produce, if you see a “Donations Welcome” bucket at the entrance or a friendly volunteer asking for a few dollars, do give. You’ll gain a lot for many summers to come.
Visitors are encouraged to walk, bike or take public transit to all events. For regional transit information call 511 within the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties or visit www.511.org. For information on public transit within San Francisco, telephone 311 or visit www.sfmta.org.
There are more than 400 free concerts, performances and film screenings. For complete listings visit www.sanfrancisco.travel/events. Highlights include:
Film Night in the Park – Park perks in the summer include fresh-air flicks. Every summer Film Night in the Park draws more than 15,000 filmgoers to parks throughout San Francisco and Marin County. Films are presented free of charge on a giant outdoor screen. Attendees are encouraged to picnic before screenings and discouraged from blocking views with chairs and bringing pets. All screenings begin at dusk or 8 p.m. This year’s flick picks run through Oct. 6 and include Mama Mia!, Dolores Park (June 16); The Artist, Union Square (July 14); Sixteen Candles, Dolores Park (Aug. 4); After the Thin Man, Union Square (Aug. 25); The Graduate, Dolores Park (Sept. 15) and Midnight in Paris, Washington Square Park (Sept. 29). Full details and other locations are posted on www.filmnight.org.
Golden Gate Park Band – Regular band concerts began in Golden Gate Park in 1882. Now in its 130th season, the Golden Gate Park Band performs every Sunday through Oct. 7 and the occasional holiday at 1 p.m. in the Spreckles Temple of Music, Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park. History comes alive at the many performances that feature music from specific nationalities and cultures; on these occasions there are dancers, singers, speakers in attendance who “enlighten and entertain,” according to the band’s website. For information call 510-530-0814 or visit www.goldengateparkband.org.
Music on Mint Plaza – This continuing series on Mint Plaza, Fifth Street between Market and Mission streets, is every Friday beginning July 6 through Sept. 28 from noon to 1 p.m. Also presented by People in Plazas (see below), the concert lineup includes Manteca (July 6), Seething Brunswicks (Sept. 7), Bobbie Webb (Sept. 21) and others. For information visit www.peopleinplazas.org.
People in Plazas – The perfect pick-me-up at lunchtime, the series presents 170 free concerts featuring all local performers, July 5-Sept. 28. Locations are in 20-plus downtown plazas on or near San Francisco’s main stem, Market: 101 California St.; 333 Market St.; 425 Market St.; 525 Market St.; 949 Market St.; 1275 Market St.; Crocker Galleria, 50 Post St.; Two and Three Embarcadero Center; One Bush Plaza; 50 Fremont St.; Mint Plaza (Jessie Street off Fifth Street between Market and Mission streets); 303 Second St.; Rincon Center food court and courtyard; Jane Warner Plaza, 17th and Castro streets; 555 Mission St.; 560 Mission St.; Orrick Building Plaza, 405 Howard St.; Rincon Center Food Court and Courtyard, 121 Spear St.; The Beacon, 260 King St.; United Nations Plaza; 83 McAllister Plaza; Yerba Buena Lane; Boeddeker Park, Eddy and Jones streets; and Pyramid Center Redwood Park. Performances begin at noon. For a complete schedule visit www.peopleinplazas.org.
San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) – That’s mime as in “the exaggeration of everyday life in story and song.” This group has a lot to say and they’ve been doing so since 1959. Winners of a special Tony Award in 1987 for Excellence in Regional Theater, the San Francisco Mime Troupe specializes in shows that “debunk the official story.” The Last Election tells a tale that will warm the heart of every billionaire and this “oppressed minority” from the point of view of the 1 percent and the misunderstood “Godzillionaires.” Shows begin July 4 in San Francisco and travel to parks (and a few indoor locations) all over California until Sept. 9. Most performances are free; however, donations are welcomed. For information and show locations, call 415-285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org.
SFJAZZ Summerfest – SFJAZZ’s annual series of free outdoor concerts runs June 14-Oct. 10. The series launches in June at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto and heads north to Union Square on Thursday evenings starting at 6 p.m. , Aug. 9-23. Next stop Levi’s Plaza, 160 Battery St., on Wednesdays noon-1:30 p.m., Sept. 5-Oct. 10. For performance details visit www.sfjazz.org or call 415-398-5655.
Shakespeare in the Park – After a circuit through Bay Area parks in Pleasanton, Cupertino and Redwood City, Shakespeare in the Park will present Henry V, Sept. 1-23 Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day at 2 p.m. at the parade grounds at the Presidio of San Francisco. “Prince Harry” has grown up. In this play he prepares to prove his mettle to the people of England and is embarking on what will ultimately be a successful conquest of France. One of the major free Shakespeare programs in the U.S., Free Shakespeare in the Park began in 1983 and is in its 30th season. For information visit www.sfshakes.org or call 415-558-0888 or 800-978-PLAY (7529) outside 415 area.
Stern Grove Festival – The Stern Grove Festival is a beloved San Francisco tradition that began in 1938. The longest running admission-free outdoor music festival in the U.S. celebrates its 75th anniversary season June 24-Aug. 26 for 10 consecutive Sundays at 2 p.m. A new opening day tradition, The Big Picnic: An Opening Day Benefit and Concert, will include a private fundraising event, followed by The Big Picnic Concert featuring the Glide Ensemble, The Family Stone and multiple Grammy-winner Anita Baker. The San Francisco Symphony (July 8), San Francisco Ballet (July 29) and San Francisco Opera (Aug. 19) will perform in “nature’s music box” – Stern Grove, 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. Other headliners include Preservation Hall Jazz Band (July 1), Nitin Sawhney and Meshell Ndegeocello (July 15), The E Family (July 22), Ozomatli (Aug. 5), Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio (Aug. 12) and OK Go (Aug. 21). Weekday Kids’ Days programs at Stern invite children to explore music and more; pre-registration is required for these free programs. Hands-on art programs also precede every concert at the KidStage in the West Meadow from noon-1 p.m. Informative pre-concert “Troc Talks” begin at noon in the Grove’s Trocadero Clubhouse on select Sundays. For the complete schedule visit www.sterngrove.org or call 415-252-6252.
Summer of Arts – Arts-related events staged along the central Market Street corridor will run weekly on Tuesdays through Sept. 25 at U.N. Plaza, Market and Hyde streets. A collaboration of the theater, dance and music community of the Central Market Arts District, the series showcases upcoming performances at neighborhood venues such as EXIT Theatre, A.C.T.’s Costume Shop and CounterPULSE with music by Tenderloin resident artists among other performances. An eight-hour contemporary dance installation by RAWdance, “Two by 24: Love on Loop” is coming up on June 19. On Sept. 26-29 Flyaway Productions (www.flyawayproductions.com) and Dancers’ Group/Onsite (www.dancersgroup.org) perform the world premiere of “Niagara Falling,” a visually arresting aerial dance set on the west wall of the Orpheum Theatre, Hyde at Market streets. Performances are 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. each night; lawn chairs welcome. For details and a full schedule for Summer of Arts, visit www.sfartscommission.org/artery.
Summer Fest – A series of free concerts and festivals held in the Fillmore Jazz District includes Juneteenth, June 16-17; the San Francisco Black Film Festival, June 15-17; the Fillmore Jazz Festival, July 7-8; and the second annual Reggae Festival, Sept. 2. “Grilling in the Mo,” a free family barbecue on June 9, Hamilton Recreation Center, 1900 Geary Blvd., kicks off the season. Event details will be available at www.thevillageprojectsf.org.
Union Square Live – Union Square Live presents entertainment on the main stage of Union Square through Sept. 12. Live music, dance, movies, circus arts and other entertainment will run the gamut from mariachi to rock. The Picklewater Free Circus returns for a month-long tribute to circus arts in July. Dance series include Salsa in the Square, Swing in the Square and Tango in the Square. For performance times and information visit www.unionsquarelive.org or call 415-477-2610.
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival – The 2012 Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YBGF) will present more than 90 free events including music, theater, circus, dance, poetry, family festivals and children’s programs through Oct. 30. New this year is the series, “Lines & Lyrics,” which combines words and music in nearby Jessie Square in front of the Contemporary Jewish Museum from up-and-coming local poets, writers, songwriters and musicians. The Festival will also debut Let’s Go Salsa@Jessie!, an open-air salsa dance party in Jessie Square in front of the Contemporary Jewish Museum. The series takes place on the second Thursday of each month from 6-7:30 p.m. with salsa dance lessons at the beginning of every program. Yerba Buena Gardens is located between Mission and Howard streets and Third and Fourth streets in downtown San Francisco. For information visit www.ybgfestival.org or call 415-543-1718.
Quick Picks – The San Francisco Symphony (www.sfsymphony.org) performs at 2 p.m. in Stern Grove Sunday, July 8 and at 2 p.m. at Dolores Park July 22. A 5 p.m. performance in Justin Herman Plaza Sept. 21 will be conducted by Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas.
On Sept. 15 the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Giants will bring opera to AT&T Park at 8 p.m. with a live simulcast of Verdi’s Rigoletto. More than 165,000 music lovers have turned out over the years for the Opera at the Ballpark event. Specific information on ticketing is posted on www.sfopera.com/simulcast. The San Francisco Opera also performs at Stern Grove, Aug. 19, at 2 p.m., and in Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park, Sept. 9, at 1:30 p.m. The annual San Francisco Opera in the Park concert will feature artists from the 2012 fall season as well as members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti. Other free events include the annual Merola Opera’s Schwabacher summer concert July 7 at 2 p.m., featuring singers from the Merola Opera Program at Yerba Buena Gardens.
San Francisco Theater Festival (www.sftheaterfestival.org) is moving to the Tenderloin in the heart of the theater district. The admission free festival features more than 100 shows and 350 performers in both indoor and outdoor venues on Sunday, Sept. 23.
Yerba Buena Family Day presented by Target is slated for Sunday, Sept. 23 and Yerba Buena Night returns Saturday, Oct. 13. Considered two of the biggest free neighborhood events of the year, they offer free arts and entertainment in the culture-rich center of downtown San Francisco. Details will be available at www.visityerbabuena.org.
The San Francisco Travel Association is the official tourism marketing organization for the City and County of San Francisco. For information on reservations, packages, activities and more, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel or call 415-391-2000.
On June 4-July 23, the Visitor Information Center is temporarily located on the lower level of the Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St., while the permanent location near the Powell Street cable car turnaround at 900 Market St. in Hallidie Plaza, lower level, is being extensively remodeled.
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