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Cy and David's Picks: The Russians are Coming, Speaking to Angels, and Pottermania

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J-Pop Summit comes to San Francisco's Fort Mason Center (Photo: Courtesy of J-Pop)

July 22, Aug. 12 & 13: Though she’s not as big as the fictional Harry Potter, Grace Potter deserves some of the same mania the boy wizard gets for the way she and her band the Nocturnals have made roots-rock both polished and loose enough to be commercial as well as really good. She’s touring now with some of her old band mates, behind Midnight, her new solo album made with help from producer Eric Valentine. She says she wants her new work to show “growth and change and experimentation.” But it’s her musicianship (watch her play guitar and piano in the video above), and her graceful-yet-powerful voice that makes it all work. Potter is doing a trio of Northern California and Nevada shows at some pretty slick venues: Look for details for her concert at Somo Village here, at the Crystal Bay Club here, and at Mountain Winery here.

July 28-31: Speak Angels is a brand new evening-length dance work by Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton that features 24 dancers, and a troupe of musicians and singers. In past shows, Garrett and Moulton have proved they know how to shape wonderful stories out of these big productions. Speak Angels, they say, is a dance on the way “sudden, unforeseen moments of illumination” provide guidance and support at key moments of our lives. Details are here.


Continuing through Aug. 6: Music at Menlo is a Bay Area treasure and a reminder that some of the best Classical and modern music is written not for orchestra, but for small ensembles. This year, co-Founders and artistic directors Wu Han (piano) and David Finckel (cello) are presenting a feast of Russian composers from Rachmaninoff and Mussorgski to Shostakovich and Prokofiev with performances by the Calidore String Quartet, Matthew Lipman, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Gloria Chien and more, plus master classes. Best of all, the concerts are in small rooms perfect for the intimacy of chamber music. Details here.

Aug. 26-27: Woodsist is a little festival in the Redwoods with a big lineup and now in its 7th year on the Big Sur coast. It’s a celebration of psych folk and indie with Jonathan Richman, Steve Gunn, White Fence, Jessica Pratt, Michael Hurley, Kevin Morby,  Cian Nugent, Little Wings, and more in a setting that can’t be beat.  Details here.

'The Gathering' by Arje Shaw features left to right- Kahlil Leneus, Tracy Camp, Edward Nattenberg, and Arje Shaw
‘The Gathering’ by Arje Shaw features left to right- Kahlil Leneus, Tracy Camp, Edward Nattenberg, and Arje Shaw (Photo: David Allen Studio/Live Oak Theater)

July 22-Aug. 20: Berkeley’s Live Oak Theater is reviving The Gathering by Arje Shaw, a show about an American family wrestling with the legacy of the Holocaust. Dad is a speechwriter for President Reagan in 1985, just as the Gipper is about to visit Bitberg Cemetery, where SS soldiers are buried. Grandpa is a holocaust survivor who insists his son stop this travesty of history. And between them is the grandson, who the grandfather drags off to Germany in protest. The prolific and terrific Joy Carlin directs and in a very-Berkeley update, the Jewish family is bi-racial. Shaw himself plays the grandpa, and actor Kahlil Leneus plays the grandson, a role originated by a young Jesse Eisenberg in 1999. Details here.

Margo Hall and Aldo Billingslea star in Fences at California Shakespeare Theater
Margo Hall and Aldo Billingslea star in Fences at California Shakespeare Theater (Photo: Kevin Berne/California Shakespeare Theater)

Through July 31: You have one more week to catch one of the best plays of the year, August Wilson’s Fences at Cal Shakes. Aldo Billingslea and Margo Hall lead a terrific cast in this show, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, about a garbage truck driver and his family in Pittsburgh (PA) in the 1950’s. Details here.

July 22 – July 24:  The J-Pop Summit is a balanced diet of Japanese popular culture, celebrating the country’s music (including Wednesday Campanella, who’s in the video above), anime, manga, Japanese film, plus a Sake tasting, a ramen noodle summit, fashion and cosplay show, and this year will include the festival’s first ever drag contest. The festival outgrew its old home in S.F.’s Japantown, and now is at Fort Mason. Mika Anami is one of the organizers. “It’s a totally different culture,” she told me, “even though there’s a lot that we see in common. So we want to intrigue people enough that one day they eventually decide they want to go visit Japan.” Hope they’re paying for the ticket. Details here.

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