After fifteen months of shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor London Breed officiated the ribbon-cutting ceremony to an elated group of music fans at the Stern Grove Festival, yesterday. After a short speech, the Mayor encouraged the crowd to “get up and party!” as there was much to celebrate on this typical foggy summer San Francisco day. It was only earlier in the week that most restrictions in California had been removed and its economy re-opened.
The music venue, which has been hosting free concerts since the 1930s, can normally hold ten thousand people. Yesterday, it was limited to a smaller capacity due to the current city restrictions for COVID-19. Nonetheless, it still managed to draw a sold-out crowd of folks from all walks of life who jumped at the opportunity to dance the afternoon away, in an enchanted venue fit for a queen.
La Doña opened up the show with a powerful set that blended both Latin American with Afro-Cuban rhythms and some fine trumpet work from the Latina songstress herself. The five-piece band is led by singer and songwriter Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea. A local girl with deep roots right here in the Mission district. (Music in SF interviewed her back in December of last year when she took part in the Red Bull Estados Unidos de Bass). While on stage, she spoke about growing up in San Francisco and the gentrification of the city she loves. Later in the performance, she also revealed that her father was playing percussions right alongside her in a touching homage on Father’s Day.
The Seshen were up next and lit up the stage with their six-piece band headed by Lalin St. Juste. Their music blends electronic beats and indie rock, as well as hypnotic vocals and haunting dance moves from St. Juste who at one point said: “We get to be free!” A sentiment echoed by just about everyone in the audience.
Headlining yesterday’s event was soul local legend Ledisi, Bay Area fans remember her well from those early years performing in small local clubs like the Elbo Room and Cafe du Nord. She’s come a long way since, in fact, snatched a Grammy this year for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Ledisi opened with the funk powerhouse “Knockin’,” which brought the house down and had everyone begging for more.
In one very poignant moment between songs, she recounted a time in her past, sitting on a rocking chair on her porch in Oakland where she pondered remaining on this earth. She told us how the song “Trouble in Mind” by Nina Simone came on the radio, broadcast by local station KPFA, moved her so much it lifted her out of that moment. A true testament to the power of music and feelings many in the crowd must’ve been able to relate to after a dreadful year-and-a-half of a devastating pandemic.
Photos by Louis Raphael