Cy and Gabe's Picks: A Rapper on a Journey, Raining Banjos, and a Farewell

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Oddisee appears at the Regency Ballroom May 7 (Photo: Courtesy of the artists)

KQED’s Cy Musiker and Gabe Meline share their picks for great events around the Bay Area this week.

Our entertainment cup spills over this week with stuff we couldn't quite fit on the show.  Smuin Ballet finishes its season with a world premiere by choreographer Trey McIntyre and a piece by the Bay Area's Amy Siewert -- details for the show are here. Also, the brilliant clarinetist Anat Cohen does a string of shows at SFJAZZ, Santa Cruz's Kuumbwa, and San Jose's Cafe Stritch. Details for those shows are here.

And now, onto the show.

May 7 - Oct. 29: The Yerba Buena Garden Festival takes its civic responsibilities seriously, with a terrific lineup of free (CHEAP THRILL!) Sunday afternoon shows from now till the fall. Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra kicks things off with its danceable rhythms, and look for Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, Michael Doucet and Tom Rigney with Flambeau, Circus Bella, Linda Tillery, AXIS Dance Company and many others in the weeks to come. And looking ahead, Stern Grove opens its free concert season June 25 with Kool and the Gang, and Quinn Deveaux. We are so lucky. Details for the Yerba Buena Garden Festival are here.

A painting by San Anselmo artist Wendy Goldberg, who is showing her work during Marin Open Studios May 6-7
A painting by San Anselmo artist Wendy Goldberg, who is showing her work during Marin Open Studios May 6-7 (Photo: Courtesy of Wendy Goldberg)

May 6 - May 21: Two more free events are the Marin and Silicon Valley Open Studios. This is a chance to hang out with some of the best artists in the Bay Area, and as Gabe noted, we're all excited about farm to table food in the Bay Area. How about artist studio direct to your living room wall. If we want artists to live and thrive in the Bay Area, we'd better be willing to buy their art. Details for Marin Open Studios this weekend are here. Silicon Valley Open Studios is a bit more complicated, with three weekends featuring different towns. Details are here.


May 7: D.C.'s Amir Mohamed el Khalifa is also known as Oddisee, and on his new album, The Iceberg, he's rapping over a trio of live musicians that's got a 50's Blue Note jazz vibe. Oddisee told SF Weekly he doesn't like the term "conscious rap," but it's the best way to describe his lyrics, which are influenced by Eric B. & Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest and others. His new album's title is in reference to the phrase "tip of the iceberg" because there's more there than you can see at first. Gabe compared him to Chance the Rapper, and we both think he's terrific. Details for Oddisee's show at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco are here.

Continuing through May 7: I'm doing a bit of compare and contrast here for two solo shows. Simon McBurney is getting a lot of attention for his one man play, The Encounter, at the Curran in San Francisco. McBurney brilliantly transports the audience deep into the Amazon jungle on an existential journey with a National Geographic photographer using binaural sound technology that puts his voice right inside the heads of the headphone wearing audience. There's some great moments early on, and the technology is a wonder, but the storytelling falls a bit flat well before the end, and I was left wondering if the audio gadgetry just gets in McBurney's way. Its run ends on Sunday. Details here.

Continuing through May 27: Meanwhile, across the Bay, Reveal host Al Letson is performing his one man show Summer in Sanctuary, which is about teaching creative writing to a group of poor, mostly black kids at a summer camp. Letson tells his story with nothing more than a couple of slides, his lyrical poems, and by channeling the kids themselves. Yet Letson takes us far deeper than McBurney does into his story, and he does it with more heart. Details for Summer in Sanctuary at the Marsh in Berkeley are here.

May 5: If San Francisco’s LGBT Pride Parade has a soundtrack, a lot of people might assume it’s got a disco beat. But this year, the parade will get a dose of bluegrass twang. The California Bluegrass Association is sponsoring a float, and there's a fundraiser on Friday to pay for it. Ted Kuster and fiddle player Brandon Godman (once fired from a bluegrass band because he was gay) talked the association into the effort, despite the fact that some thought the parade is too political. "I’ve always joked," Godman told me the other day, "that when I came out of the closet I didn’t throw away my Bill Monroe CD’s and replace him with Beyoncé. I grew up listening to fiddle playing on cassette tapes, and I was that geek. And I’ll probably never change. So for me that’s the victory. Dispelling that myth of bluegrass doesn’t fit into a box, LGBTQ doesn’t fit into a box. Stop trying to put people in boxes." There's a terrific lineup for this show that includes Kathy Kallick, Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, Molly Tuttle Godman (who plays a mean fiddle) and others. As Gabe said, it's raining banjos. Details here. 

May 9: We had just time for Gabe to do a shoutout for PJ Harvey, who doesn't tour very often, but is a massive talent. She's at the Masonic in San Francisco, and Gabe was surprised to find the show hadn't sold out, so we couldn't resist featuring it as well. Details for PJ Harvey at the Masonic are here.

David Wiegand co-hosting a Do List Live event at the Chapel in 2015
David Wiegand co-hosting a Do List Live event at the Chapel in 2015 (Photo: Courtesy of KQED)

I have the sad duty of saying goodbye to my co-host David Wiegand. He’s left the Do List after an amazing run. David, producer Suzie Racho and I co-created The Do List nine years ago, and David’s been the rock on which we’ve built this show. He's always had a keen eye for great art, whether it was challenging as hell, or made us cry, or just brought us joy and laughter. You can still find David in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle. That being said -- David, thanks a lot for all the good radio.