Ari Lennox speaks onstage at Black Girls Rock 2019 Hosted By Niecy Nash at NJPAC on August 25, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET)
As summer festival season comes to a close, this fall welcomes highly anticipated pop tours at the newly opened Chase Center, local music showcases, outdoor festivals and the last chance to watch Michael Tilson Thomas conduct the San Francisco Symphony before he retires from his post as music director.
To help you plan your calendar, we've rounded up 10 must-see shows in the Bay Area.
KRS-One Sept. 8, Oct. 12–13 Yoshi's, Oakland; Cornerstone, Berkeley; Mystic Theater, Petaluma Details here, here and here
KRS-One is a name synonymous with the origins of hip-hop. Not only did the Bronx MC perfect the style of rocking the mic in the late '80s, but his politically outspoken lyrics continue to influence rappers across multiple generations. This September he performs in Oakland at the jazz club Yoshi's, with additional dates in October at Berkeley's Cornerstone, a former pool hall-turned-spacious concert venue, and Petaluma's Mystic Theater, a renovated vaudeville theater from 1911.
San Francisco Symphony: MTT & Mahler 6 Sept. 12–15 Davis Symphony Hall, San Francisco Details here
Fans of the San Francisco Symphony know that Michael Tilson Thomas' most beloved composer is the modernist Gustav Mahler. Starting in 2001, MTT made Mahler a key focus of the Symphony's repertoire, and their graceful, dynamic recordings of his works have earned them seven Grammy awards over the years. As MTT prepares to retire from SFS after a 25-year tenure, he conducts the orchestra for Mahler's Symphony No. 6, an emotional rollercoaster that zig-zags through peril, tragedy, triumph and joy.
Lights On Festival Sept. 14 Concord Pavillion, Concord Details here
The antidote to ginormous music festivals that attempt to cater to every taste? Smaller, artist-curated affairs like Lights On, an R&B extravaganza with a lineup handpicked by headliner H.E.R. Known for emotionally intelligent lyricism and an old-school R&B sensibility, the Grammy-winning, Vallejo-raised singer tops the bill, which also includes Dreamville Records breakout star Ari Lennox, pop underdog Jhene Aiko and soulful singer-guitarist Daniel Ceasar. Bay Area up-and-comers Rayana Jay and Marc E. Bassey round out the bill.
Janet Jackson Sept. 21 Chase Center, San Francisco Details here
As those who saw her headlining Outside Lands set in 2018 can attest, Janet Jackson puts on one hell of a show. With hits spanning four decades, athletic choreography and a vulnerable stage presence, Jackson's live set tells a story of self-empowerment. She's made progressive pop speaking out against racism and misogyny since the '80s, and with her recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and accolades like the Billboard Icon Award, the world is finally realizing how ahead of her time she's been all these years.
Bobby McFerrin Sept. 19-22 SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco Details here
Those who only know Bobby McFerrin as the one-hit wonder behind "Don't Worry Be Happy" may not realize that he's a virtuoso vocal composer who's just as comfortable beat-boxing as he is singing jazz and even opera. The 10-time Grammy winner comes to SFJAZZ for a series of concerts in September, and will return in April 2020 for the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship tribute concert, of which he is an honoree along with saxophone great Roscoe Mitchell.
A leader of the new generation of Latin American pop acts reigning the U.S. charts, Colombia's J Balvin is set to turn San Jose's SAP Center into one big dance party when he comes to town for his Arcoiris tour. With reggaeton and dancehall rhythms backing sleek pop production, his hip-winding tracks and collaborations with Cardi B, Sean Paul and Bad Bunny have earned him a devoted international audience.
At the illustrious Fox Theater, where all-time greats and Grammy winners hold court, P-Lo's first headlining show is a triumph for the East Bay. Local fans have watched the Pinole artist put in years of work, first as a member of local rap crew HBK Gang, then as a producer for the likes of Yo Gotti and Wiz Khalifa, and later as a rapper in his own right. Celebrating his new, self-released album Shine, P-Lo brings his post-hyphy slaps on tour to the Fox's ornate art deco halls.
Rituals of Mine, The Seshen
The New Parish, Oakland Details here
Since leaving Oakland for the next phase of her music career in Los Angeles, Rituals of Mine's Terra Lopez founded Bitchwave Records, which spotlights LGBTQ+ people of color, and made headlines with a touring audio art installation that put men on the receiving end of catcalls. With music partner Adam Pierce, she returns to the New Parish for a headlining set of dark, downtempo electronic pop. Local favorite the Seshen opens with a set of kaleidoscopic neo-soul. Both bands have been on the forefront of the Bay Area's indie pop scene for years, and the show is bound to feel like a warm reunion of old friends.
Built to Spill
Nov. 5–6, Nov. 23
The Fillmore, San Francisco and Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma Details here
Pioneering indie rockers Built to Spill emerged from the Northwest's DIY scene in the early '90s and quickly rose to major label success. Combining a slackerish charm with serious guitar chops, the band builds pop songs out into elaborate jam sessions; it's no wonder many consider founding member Doug Martsch a modern-day guitar hero. Built to Spill returns to San Francisco to headline the Fillmore for two nights. If you'd rather see them in a more idyllic, outdoor setting, they play the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma in November.
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Details here
Joanna Newsom came up during the freak-folk wave of the mid 2000s, and her stellar musicianship and enigmatic, elfin voice quickly elevated her to some of the world's most prestigious concert halls. Within the marble walls of the Herbst Theatre, which typically hosts classical performances, Newsom offers a highly anticipated performance that will be stripped down to three key elements: harp, piano and voice.
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