Get ready to party down at Yerba Buena 

The annual free Yerba Buena Gardens Festival is back, richer and more diverse than ever. Held outdoors on three stages located in and around San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center arts complex, the festival offers a huge assortment of cultural events that reflect the fresh rainbow face of cutting-edge Bay Area, American and world culture.

Click the picture for a gallery of events happening at Yerba Buena Gardens.

The festival, which extends into October with dozens of programs,   begins this month with weekly powerhouse Saturday afternoon events. The free concerts — which often draw up to 5,000 music lovers to the Gardens’ Esplanade stage in the center of the complex — take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Launching the series this week is an eagerly anticipated performance by Ricardo Lemvo and his band, Makina Loca.

“Think Conga and Cuba,” says YBGF director Linda Lucero of Lemvo’s six-person ensemble. “He draws on a five-centuries-old relationship and really captures the spirit of the Afro-Latin diaspora that extends well beyond Cuba.”

The handsome Lemvo, who lives in Los Angeles, was born in the Congo to Angolan parents. His songs in French, Portuguese, Kikongo, Lingala and English have generated a huge following because they are such an inspiring, gloom-dispelling celebration of life.

“He’s a fantastic performer,” says Lucero. “A lot of his music is dance music, and his presentation is very infectious.”

Lucero is equally excited about the nature of the festival, which encourages interaction between performer and audience.

After the performances, artists may ask the audience if there are questions, or they may take advantage of breaks between pieces to discuss why they’re performing the music. People also approach the stage afterward to converse with musicians. But given that Lemvo is expected to draw thousands eager to see him, don’t everybody ask at once.

Also launching this month is YBGF’s new Spoken Word series. On May 17 at 12:30 p.m., Litquake offers a tribute to former Oakland resident and mid-20th-century writer and pillar of culture, Gertrude Stein.

Other events include a host of children’s programs, which begin in June on Fridays and some Saturdays, and the Let’s Go Dance at Jesse open dance party. The latter opens June 2 with Vima Vice Squad teaching and leading cowboy line dancing in conjunction with the Sundance Saloon.

Once the summer gets under way, there will be so many events each month — June has 15, July has 17 and August 15  — including the San Francisco Mime Troupe — that you’ll want to consult the festival’s online calendar or printed program just to keep track.  


Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

Where: Esplanade Stage, between Mission, Howard, Third and Fourth streets, San Francisco
When: Saturday through Oct. 30
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 543-1718;

Selected highlights

May 28 — American Orchestra tribute to John Coltrane

June 16 — Jenny Lind concert with Rebecca Rasmussen

June 25 — AXIS Dance Company

July 1-2 — Circus Bella

July 9 — Marcus Shelby Orchestra

July 24 — Merola Opera Schwabacher Summer Concert

Aug. 18 — Teatro ZinZanni Band

Aug. 21 — San Francisco Mime Troupe

Aug. 27 — Meklit Hadero

Sept. 17 — Gamelan Sekar Jaya

Sept. 24 — Pedrito Martínez Group

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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