KQED's Cy Musiker and David Wiegand share their picks for great events around the Bay Area this week.
Aug. 26-28: Violinist and composer Mark O'Connor debuted at the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 12, and has played with everyone from Stéphane Grappelli to Dolly Parton to Yo Yo Ma. Now he's featuring wife Maggie (also on violin), their son Forrest on mandolin, plus lead singer Kate Lee, Forrest’s fiancé in the O'Connor family band. I'm guessing this is a very tight group, except when they're bickering like crazy. David says he gets the chills thinking about how the Grappelli link ties O'Connor to the work of the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (born 1910), so there will be a century-and-change of music history at the O'Connor Band's shows on Aug. 26 at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, Aug. 27 at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, and Aug 28 at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley.
Aug 26-28: The Black Choreographers Festival is doing its first summer series, with some of the region’s best African American choreographers trying out new material. They're tackling big issues like the anxiety of being a young black man and gentrification in Oakland. Look for work from Dimensions Dance Theater, Dawson Dance SF's founding director Gregory Dawson, Urban Jazz Dance Company, LA’s JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble, and several youth dance companies, including the terrific Culture Shock Oakland (see their work in the video above). Details for the three day Black Choreographers Festival are here.
Aug. 28: Blake Morgan is a singer-songwriter who is also well known for his advocacy for the rights of performers and for his family background as for his music. He started an online petition to fight for royalties for performing artists when their records are played on the radio. He's the one who lured Lesley Gore out of semi-retirement to record an album a few years ago for Morgan's own label, and he's the son of proto-feminist Robin Morgan who coined the term, “The personal is political.” And his dad is Kenneth Pitchford, an original member of the Gay Liberation Front. Did we mention Morgan's a terrific songwriter? Details for his show at the Hotel Utah on Sunday are here.
Aug. 26-Sept. 25 & Sept. 14-Oct. 9: In a time of heightened racial tension, we're highlighting two productions of Othello, one of Shakespeare’s most enduring tragic heroes. Othello was the Moor, the other, the black man in a white society, who had to be better than everyone else to fit in, and yet was still plotted against and driven mad to the point of homicide. Actor Dameion Brown, a former Solano State Prison inmate, plays Othello at the Marin Shakespeare Company, and Brown told me he feels a lot in common with the character. “I know the feeling of being viewed as not good enough," Brown said in a phone interview. "These things Othello went through, the racism, even though he was the greatest general they had. He was still looked upon as the Moor, and back in the Elizabethan era, it was not much different than the n-word is used by others toward African-Americans today.” Details here.
Meanwhile, California Shakespeare Theater's new Artistic Director Eric Ting directs actor Aldo Billingslea (also Provost for Diversity at Santa Clara University) as the titular character in their production of Othello. Billingslea was terrific in August Wilson’s Fences at Cal Shakes earlier this year. Liz Sklar plays Desdemona. Details for Cal Shakes production are here.
Aug. 26-Sept. 10: Quantum Dragon Theatre is a new company focusing on works of science fiction and fantasy, both new and classic. Their first play is Speed of Light by by Bella Poynton, about Mayra, a woman scientist who also has a drug addiction, as she discovers the secret to traveling at light speed. Details here.
Aug 30 & Sept 2-3: The Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a very odd trio playing retro 70’s funk and disco. But founder Ruban Nielson likes to thrash out thoroughly 21st century issues in his lyrics, including polyamory and heartache on last year's Multi-Love: "Checked into my heart and trashed it like a hotel room. Who is your God? Where is she?" Which doesn't mean they don't have some fun as well with their psychedelic take on The Grateful Dead’s "Shakedown Street." Your best chance to catch the band is at the Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma on Tuesday Aug. 30. Details here. But they're also doing a pair of sold out shows (opening for Tame Impala) at the Greek in Berkeley Sept 2 & 3rd. Details here.