Community Voices

‘Saturday in the Park’ Music Series Kicks Off August 22

On Aug. 22, the third season of Saturday in the Park will kick off with an afternoon of acoustic soul music in John McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater.

For those who don’t know of it, the amphitheater is a true treasure, situated in the heart of John McLaren Park, near John F. Shelley Dr. and Mansell St. This wonderful Greek-style venue opened in 1971 and was later renovated over several years beginning in 1999.

It has served as the home of the San Francisco Blues Festival, hosted a number of high school graduations, heavy metal concerts, charity events, Earth Day celebrations and occasional music and community concerts.

Third Season for Family-friendly Concerts in John McLaren Park

A group of tween rockers played Saturday in the Park” at the Jerry Garcia Ampitheater. (Photo courtesy of Donna McCann)

A group of tween rockers played Saturday in the Park” at the Jerry Garcia Ampitheater. (Photo courtesy of Donna McCann)

On Aug. 22, the third season of Saturday in the Park will kick off with an afternoon of acoustic soul music in John McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater.

For those who don’t know of it, the amphitheater is a true treasure, situated in the heart of John McLaren Park, near John F. Shelley Dr. and Mansell St. This wonderful Greek-style venue opened in 1971 and was later renovated over several years beginning in 1999.

It has served as the home of the San Francisco Blues Festival, hosted a number of high school graduations, heavy metal concerts, charity events, Earth Day celebrations and occasional music and community concerts.

In 2003, it became the home of the annual “Jerry Day” birthday celebration of Grateful Dead legend and Excelsior native, Jerry Garcia. In 2005, the amphitheater, through a grass roots community effort of signature gathering and community meetings, convinced city hall to name this hidden gem for Garcia. This year marks the 10th anniversary of that historic occasion.

Sadly, in spite of the naming and civic dedication of the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, in the fall of 2005, the venue continues to be sporadically rented. This is due primarily to the “off the beaten path” location and lack of on-going funding for programming. It is deemed too small for large concert events (750 seats plus lawn seating) and yet too large and expensive for most small local programs.

In 2013, a group of dedicated neighborhood volunteers called Friends of the AMPJerry Garcia Amphitheatre, who worked for many years to promote the amphitheater, proposed to the Recreation and Park Department a yearly summer/fall concert series in the style of the popular Stern Grove Festival.

The focus would be on small, family-friendly shows two to three hours in length with a picnic style atmosphere and featuring quality local entertainment.

One of the first challenges to be met was how to provide supervision and assistance to concert goers. The venue is not visible from any of the nearby streets. It requires parking at a distance away and walking to the facility.

The solution was to create and implement a docent program. These trained volunteer docents provide customer service, oversight of the parking lots and nearby streets. They serve as helpful park ambassadors guiding people to their seats, passing out programs, maps of the park, and other helpful information.

This docent model was created with the help and guidance of SF SAFE and their premier neighborhood watch group, Castro Community On Patrol. In addition officers from Ingleside Police Station provided very valuable support. For public events, the Station captain and permit officer must sign off on all sound permits and approve any safety plans and permittee staffing levels. They are ultimately responsible for safety in the park.

Security issues are a big factor in producing any type of public performance. Happily, good working relationships have been established.

The outcome of all this planning and organizing, was the inaugural 2013 Saturday in the Park. It was followed by more concerts in 2014 and built momentum for continuing the series into 2015 and beyond.

To date, thirteen concerts have been produced and over 2,800 hours of volunteer efforts have gone into creating these shows. The programs range widely from interactive concerts for very young children, youth “garage bands”, ethnic dance groups, Taiko drummers, salsa, blues, jazz, rock and roll, Latin and folk. Free youth art and science activities have also been included.

All shows encourage attendees to “get up and dance”. This has been particularly popular with both youngsters and seniors. Unique local talent is sought out to create programs that honor the cultural diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding the park and the southeastern San Francisco community at large.

An important goal has been to address the lack of free, affordable live arts and cultural performances in the area and to raise awareness of the beauty and recreational opportunities of John McLaren Park, which serves as a regional park for the entire southern side of San Francisco.

Another goal is to bring attention to local nearby commercial business districts. Many local businesses support the series and have been featured sponsors.

This season will include four distinct programs: Aug. 22: will feature local singer and guitarist, Martin Luther McCoy, for an “Acoustic Soul Fest”

Aug: 29: A program devoted to showcasing a variety of local groups and acts. Tentatively called, “The Flavor of the South Side”.

Oct. 10: The Children’s Festival, variety of music, performance and activities, appealing to young children and their families.

Oct. 17: The season finale will be the Saturday in the Park annual blues show—The special program this year will be a tribute to the late blues legend B.B. King. This show will also celebrate the 44th anniversary of the opening of the amphitheater and as tradition goes, there will be birthday cake!

This entire series is completely volunteer-driven. Unlike many popular festivals, there is no paid staff or generous foundation to underwrite the programs. The bookings, marketing, graphics, grant writing, advocacy, set up, take down, docent training and fundraising have all have been accomplished by a core committee of volunteers. It is a model that requires new volunteers each year and a commitment to constantly fundraise.

Funding for the series, which covers artist stipends, sound and stage management costs, permits, food for volunteers and performers, posters, post cards and equipment has come through small local grants, individual donations, support from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department and the Board of Supervisors, with particular help from District 11 Supervisor John Avalos’ office which strongly advocates for continued funding in the annual City budget. They also provided funding that can be used to offset a number of fees for additional local community productions at the amphitheater.

Saturday in the Park is fortunate to have fiscal sponsorship through San Francisco Parks Alliance. This allows donations to be tax deductible.

All this hard work has paid off to help build new awareness of the venue. The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater is slowly but surely becoming a destination. For the past two years, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival has brought their free “Shakespeare in Park” performances to the stage. This year they return with a production of “Romeo and Juliet” on Sept. 19 and 20 and Sept. 26 and 27. And for the first time the San Francisco Mime Troupe will perform at the amphitheater on Saturday, July 25.

Saturday in the Park is a community engagement project that needs volunteers and offers internship opportunities. For more information about getting involved, contact Friends of the AMP-Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre at saturdayintheparkmclaren@gmail.com or (415) 413-7501.

Visit the Facebook pages: Saturday in the Park McLaren or Friends of the AMP- Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre or www.mclarenparksf.org.

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