Each year, from late June to the end of Auguest, there will be a free concert in this eucalyptus grove every Sunday afternoon. This tradition is a gift given to San Francisco by the family of Sigmund Stern. It is the sixty-sixth year already.
It is a beautiful venue. In a bowl shaped grove, a large meadow surrounded by beautiful tall trees. The stage is set against the dense bamboo-like eucalyptuses. Colorful blankets turn the meadow into a large festival looking quilt. People bring picnic baskets, coolers, books, and lawn chairs. Wine bottles are opened, cheese and crackers sneak out backpacks, cakes, salads, fruits, sandwiches and anything you can think of are out in the open. People eat, read, sunbath, dance, nap, kiss, laugh, and meditate while listening to the music. Usually the crowd and blankets will spill out the flat meadow, climbed up the hill and into the trees.
Depending on the stubbornness of the famous San Francisco fog, we were either shivering under layers of sweaters or baked in the sun like sundry tomatoes.
Today is the most crowded I¡¯ve ever seen. The crowd that turned out was also the most colorful. Among the usual women in tank tops or bathing suits, and bear chest young men wearing flip-flops, we were seeing a lot more hippies with their long untidy hairs wearing odd hats, ethnic women dressed in Indian and African clothing, and elaborated tattoos climbed up men and women¡¯s back, neck, and shoulder.
On our way to the city, thinking we would be real early, I told Gui that we should try to pick a spot that is half in the shade and half in the sun. It would solve our either-freeze-or-bake dilemma. However, we miscalculated our timing because we didn¡¯t know the dj¡¯s presentation will start the show an hour earlier than usual. It was packed by the time we arrived. After scanning the entire geographical situation, we squeezed into the end of the grass by the door.
Luckily it happened to be exactly the type of spot I was looking for: half shade, half sun. Soon, I realized one gapping hole in my otherwise perfect design. When a concert that would last three hours, there will be no permanent shade because the sun moves and the shade move with it. What ended up happening to us strongly resembled the complete procedure of cooking. First hour we stayed relatively cool in the shade, slowly the sun moved up our blanket, we were thawed like frozen food taken out of a frig. Then we were fully exposed in the sun, slowly baked to perfection for about forty minutes. Then the shade came back from another end of the blanket, and we were cooled off. Throughout the entire procedure, we were slowly covered with many layers of fine dust that kicked up by the heavy foot traffic due to our proximity to the gate where all three major pathways ended. On the bright side, we were also treated with non-stopped view of colorful people passing back and forth, smelled cigarette smoke and marijuana, listened to the tireless yelling of volunteers asking for donations, and fire-dept-wanna-be¡¯s asking people to clear the walking path.
But we did enjoy ourselves to the fullest. Our self-prepared picnic menu included a bottle of Foppiano¡¯s Petite Syrah Mi and I bought during Christmas, smoked salmon sandwiches Gui made with croissant, home made Chinese pastries by my mom, brownie made by Gui, blue berries, raspberries, cherries, and cinnamon roasted almonds from Costco. Yumm! We finished everything within the first hour even before the dj had the chance to get off the stage. Later we devoted our attentions to movie reviews, political satires, and fictions featured in New Yorker magazines.
The first hour featured a dj who presented a lovely combination of Indian, African, and new wave music. People were dancing up a storm before the first band came up. Gui and I didn¡¯t care much for the first band: SOUND TRIBE SECTOR 9. They produced many loud new wave music synthesized with computers. Some of the sharp notes were annoying me to no-end. However, their last song made a strong political statement that called on Bush Admin to stop waging wars in our names. It perked me up. : )
The final band was lovely: Afro Celt Sound System
The solo singing of Cultic songs and the African drum accompanied vocal were my favorites. Thouse airy sound echoed in the trees like birds from far away land, bringing with them a different flavored wind. They were wild, free, and so full of energy.
It was the kind of afternoon that reminded one why life is beautiful and what a great city San Francisco is: the sunshine, ancient forest, the ocean breeze, the laid-back, diverse and colorful crowd, intelligent and fun-loving friends, and free music.
To keep the free concert going every year, the foundation needs a million dollars donation from the audience a year. We each did our share and earned our sticker that says ¡°Proud Supporters of Stern Grove Festival¡±.