A utopian summer music series has quietly started in the Redwood Grove of the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley over the last couple of years.
The combination of beautiful site, low price, superior performers and a small, picknicking audience makes for a magical experience on early Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 as the waning light shifts through the forest.
The series is the brainchild of the Gardens' Education Coordinator/Program Manager Christine Manoux above, who loves music and thought the small Redwood Grove amphitheatre, which is usually rented out for weddings, would be a perfect place for concerts. She was right, and it would be difficult to imagine a more welcoming hostess. Entrance is via an online donation, usually $15, to the Botanical Garden. There's not even an online "ticket handling service charge," which deserves a Nobel Prize all of its own.
Thursday the 25th featured two bands, starting with Tiny Resistors above, an improvisational jazz group. (Click here for samples from the 2008 Tiny Resistors album.)
The constantly changing group, depending upon geography, is led by the bass player Todd Sickafoose above who decamped from the West Coast for Brooklyn close to a decade ago. According to his website:
"A Bay Area native, Sickafoose spent some years in Los Angeles studying bass with Charlie Haden and composition with the great, late Mel Powell. Since then, he's been recording and performing with a ton of innovative folks and genre benders including Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird, Nels Cline, Jenny Scheinman, Ron Miles, Trey Anastasio, Yoko Ono, Myra Melford, Tin Hat Trio, Adam Levy, Skerik, Allison Miller, Stanton Moore, Bobby Previte, Scott Amendola, Will Bernard, Stebmo, Jessica Lurie, Shane Endsley, Erin McKeown, Anaïs Mitchell, Gina Leishman, Carla Bozulich, Noe Venable, Etienne de Rocher, James Carney, Erik Deutsch, Tony Furtado, and Darol Anger."
The second band was an Oakland quartet called Bells Atlas, fronted by the Nigerian-American singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu above. (Percussionist Geneva Harrison is pictured in the background). The size of the Redwood Grove stage isn't much larger than a banquet table, so Sandra apologized for the lack of her usual movement while singing.
"I don't move much more than this anywhere else," Doug Stuart on bass above added. Their music was fun, surprising and rhythmic enough to get some of the crowd dancing. They just released their first CD, which you can listen to and download by clicking here, and if you want to see the group live, they are the opening act in San Francisco at The Independent this evening (8:30, Sunday the 28th).
The audience at the Redwood Grove was an interesting mix of young and old, with a surprising abundance of children, including many infants which seemed odd for a music concert. Happily, the babies and kids were all well behaved, and when they started getting noisy or antsy, their parents quickly whisked them off to cars or to run around trails in the redwood forest. The place really was utopian last Thursday.