Stern Grove Festival

Established in 1938, the Stern Grove Festival is an admission-free series of performing arts events held during the summer months at Sigmund Stern Grove, a eucalyptus-wooded natural amphitheater on a 33-acre (130,000 m2) site about two miles (3 km) south of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco that ranges from 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard west to 34th Avenue.

Sigmund Stern Grove itself is a part of San Francisco history and tradition. Before being purchased by Rosalie Meyer Stern in 1931, the land was owned by the Greenes, an entrepreneurial family in the agriculture sector. The Trocadero, a large clubhouse built the premises in 1892 and still standing, served as a family residence, tavern, saloon, and hotel. Mrs. Stern bought the land and gifted it to the City of San Francisco in honor of her husband, Sigmund. Her terms were that the space be used to present “music, dramatics, and pageantry” to the public, or the land would revert to the ownership of the Stern family.

The natural amphitheatre (referred to as “nature’s music box”) was dedicated on June 4, 1932. Two weeks later, June 19, 1932, the first official concert was held. Gaetano Merola directed the San Francisco Symphony in Richard Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bizet’s L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2, Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, and The Blue Danube Waltz. Guest violinist Jascha Veissi performed the second movement of Saint-Saëns’ Third Violin Concerto. The concert was a benefit for the symphony’s musicians as well as a celebration of the Grove’s dedication. Admission cost $0.25.

Every summer since 1938, Stern Grove Festival has presented admission-free performances for the residents of and visitors to the Bay Area. Generally, the concerts begin in mid-June and continue until mid-August, held on Sundays at 2 p.m. The San Francisco Symphony is a returning annual favorite. The San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera perform most summers as well. Through the years, several other groups became fixtures at the Grove, including Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Lamplighters, and the Pacific Opera Company.

As the city has diversified and grown, so has the Festival. Prominent acts that have performed at the Grove include Ozomatli, Johnny Otis, Joan Baez, Roberta Flack, Blind Boys of Alabama, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, They Might Be Giants, Jovanotti, Neko Case, Aaron Neville, Arrested Development, Femi Kuti, Blame Sally, Totó La Momposina, Angelique Kidjo, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, Aimee Mann, Huey Lewis and the News, Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, and Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

A keystone of the Festival’s mission is public access to arts education. The festival itself presents several outreach programs throughout the summer. Troc Talks are held pre-concert in the Trocadero Clubhouse and feature interviews with the headlining artist of the afternoon. KidStage programs are family events held in the West Meadow, also pre-concert, featuring activities corresponding with the musical genre presented that day. During the season on weekdays, Stern Grove Festival hosts KidsDays, day-long classes for individual families, as well as class and camp groups, featuring lessons in music, dance, and performance art. In 2011, Stern Grove Festival began Summer Sessions, an intensive program for high school instrumentalists.

The Stern Grove Festival Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Read more about Stern Grove FestivalConcert Videos and Podcasts

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