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Yerba Buena Gardens Festival announces stellar lineup for 2014

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Interview with Linda Lucero, Executive/Artistic Director of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. The festival begins on May 4th with a season kick-off event that features the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra, and runs through October. All concerts are free and are presented outdoors in the beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens.

Wendy:

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival is such a great gift to this city; it's almost like many festivals in one, with all of the different series that you curate, the various gardens that the shows take place in, and the many audiences that you cater to.

Linda:

It is. We have six months of programs and we have three stages, so on any given week they have at least three, and up to seven, different public programs. It's music, or theatre, or poetry; we have a great children's series that happens in the Children's Garden - it's for children under 10 and their adults. We get lots of day camps that come to that. For people who live and work in the area, on Thursdays we have a Thursday [Lunchtime] Concert Series. That's one of my favorites because I'm always working on Thursdays of course, and to go out at lunchtime and be able to some really high-end artists that [I] usually go to nightclubs to see - you can sit in the Gardens in a really comfortable situation with your friends and have lunch, and also see some great music on the stage. Then we have a salsa series [Let's Go Salsa @ Jessie!] which is once a month on Thursdays. That's in Jessie Square which is the plaza that is next to St. Patrick's Church and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. That's one of our few evening programs; it's early evening 6 - 7:30. It's just so much fun to dance in the middle of the city, and it's next to the Marriott hotel, so people come from out of town; busses are passing by on Mission Street and you've got this orchestra playing.

Wendy:

It sound like a great, quintessential San Francisco experience. I understand that you have salsa lessons too, at the start of the evening.

Linda:

Yes we do. There are one or two salsa instructors; they're professional; they're used to working with big crowds. They teach people basic steps and stick around for the rest of the program. They wear little aprons that say "Dance with Me", so people are able to dance with the professional dance instructors once the program gets started, or just follow along.

Wendy:

Is that considered part of the Latin Series?

Linda:

It is. It's a general catch-all for a lot of the music presentations with Latin artists; some of that is the salsa, and some of that - we have a really great Brazil program. It happens before the California Brazil Camp; it's for musicians and would be musicians - happens in Northern California. Our Brazil in the Gardens takes place right before that so we have all these master musicians coming in from Brazil, prior to going to Brazil Camp. That's always so fun because nobody parties like Brazilians!

Wendy:

I've heard that about Brazil, and Argentina actually too. So, those performers are coming in from Brazil, but by and large you tend to bring in a lot of Bay Area artists - that's also part of what you do for the festival.

Linda:

I would say about 80 percent of the artists on our stages are local. In fact our mission is to showcase and serve local artists. We're lucky to live in an area that's so rich; there are a lot of master artists who live in the Bay Area that come from Iran, come from Africa, were born in Puerto Rico - all that is really reflected on our stages. We also have people who are not local coming into the Gardens and some of that is in conjunction with local consulates, and then some of it - I go out to different showcases in New York and other places. One of the things I'm very excited about is a group from the Ukraine called Dakhabrakha; they're going to be here in September. They're hard to describe - post-punk folk? They're amazing. Because they're not known in the Bay Area, I'm really trying to let people know - if you like any kind of music, whether it's the symphony, or the opera, or jazz trios, or samba music, you have to see this group! There's a local women's vocal ensemble - Kitka, who is going to be opening for them.

Wendy:

You have some other unusual types of performers, Ensemble Mik Nawooj, for example, who mixes classical with hip-hop.

Linda:

Yes. He and his group are gonna be out here in May. They're local; I believe they're based in Berkeley or Oakland. He's [a] classically trained pianist and composer and he has a couple of MCs, and he has a - I believe she's a soprano vocalist, and a bass - I'm really excited about seeing him again.

Wendy:

There's another special presentation happening with the John Santos Sextet.

Linda:

John Santos is working on a program called The Art of the Descarga, which came out of some jam sessions that Latin artists in the '30s and '40s recorded. He's featuring somebody who's local named Orestes Vilato who is a timbalero; Orestes is one of the master timbaleros. He's originally from Cuba - he's not as famous as Elvis or Michael Jackson, but he's just as important to Latin music as they are to pop music or country music. That's gonna be on June 14th

Wendy:

Aside from all of the amazing musical performers at the festival, you also feature other arts, poetry for instance, with Poetic Tuesdays.

Linda:

We work with Litquake for Poetic Tuesdays. It's up-and-coming and recognized poets and they're accompanied by musicians, usually one or two or three musicians that [play] between the poets reading their poems, or sometimes the music accompanies the poems.

Wendy:

Sounds like a very 'beat' thing, which is, of course, part of San Francisco's contribution to poetry. What are some of the other arts featured at the festival?

Linda:

I'd like to say something about Circus Bella. They are a one-ring circus and they perform to an original score every year; it's a new program every year. This is gonna be their fourth year with us. The score is composed by Rob Reich, so these are all local artists. The Bay area has been a really fertile ground for circus work for a long time. The directors of Circus Bella, Abigail Munn and David Hunt, are now [some] of the foremost artists in the circus world. That is so much fun; we do three performances because it gets so crowded. That's one of my favorites; I go to every single one. To have it with the live band - the band is so wonderful. They're right there; they're following what's going on on the stage exactly. It's great 'cause it's for kids and parents; we even have stroller parking so they don't block the views.

Wendy:

It should be mentioned that, coming down to see one of these concerts which last for an hour or two, there's still so much to do and see in the area of the Gardens: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, the African Diaspora Museum, the Children's Creativity Museum.

Linda:

Exactly - that's right by the Children's Garden, and there's a carousel that's been under repair but it's getting ready to reopen again at the end of this month so we're really excited about that.

Wendy:

When did you become involved with the festival?

Linda:

Prior to the incorporation of the festival I worked at a separate organization, which is Yerba Buena center for the Arts. I did a lot of performing arts programming over there. My boss over at YBCA ended up being the first director of the outdoor program here, so before he left I started working for him, and when he left I took over his position.

Wendy:

When did the festival begin?

Linda:

The festival incorporated in the year 2000. It's mission is to activate the outdoor spaces and parks of Yerba Buena Gardens with free performing arts programming. It's a great place to come and expose yourself to music that you've always wondered about - like we have the Merola Opera - it's so beautiful to hear opera outdoors. You can come down; you can bring your grandmother; you can bring your kids; you can bring your best friend, put out a blanket and have a lunch, and listen to the stars of today and tomorrow.

For more information please visit www.ybgfestival.org

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