Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Faces at a music festival

Loving Stern Grove, San Francisco, July 2009.

What can be better than spending a Sunday afternoon in the woods, listening to live music for free, surrounded by happy people? When you can do it all over again the next Sunday.

For ten consecutive Sundays this summer, San Franciscans can dance, groove and chill at the Stern Grove Festival, the city's annual outdoor music festival that is now on its 72nd season. The eucalyptus-lined grove was a gift to the city by Mrs. Rosalie Stern as a venue for admission-free summer concerts. The first concert at the grove was held in 1932 with the San Francisco Symphony, and the festival series started in 1938.

Traditionally a venue for symphonic music and jazz, the festival repertory has opened up to pop music and world beats. Last Sunday, the festival had its first all-hiphop program. Still to come this season: Bollywood music, Colombian cumbia, Brazilian maracatu, an all-Balanchine dance program, and Italian arias.

The festival holds a special treat for people like me who find pleasure in photographing happy faces. Here happiness abounds even before the first musical note is played. The setting has a lot to do with it: one feels nestled by the towering trees that circle the grove and the air is unseasonably crisp and scented with pine. People of every age sit on the ground or picnic tables, giddy with anticipation. Wine flows freely, lunch is alfresco, and someone being naughty somewhere perfumes the woods with cannabis. When the beats finally come, the crowd rises to its feet, roars as one when the band screams "Howyadoin', San Francisco!," hips groove, hands sway in the air, lovers embrace, and for the next four hours, everything is just fine in the city.

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