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Just under 10,000 music lovers gathered at Sigmund Stern Recreation Grove in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, for the triumphant return of Stern Grove Festival. The opening day of the 85th season not only celebrated the kick-off of the admission-free Bay Area concert series, but marked the first time the meadow allowed in-person audiences since a water main rupture caused extensive damage in August 2021.
The season opening featured a double bill with two East Bay legends: R&B and funk band Tower of Power and rapper Too $hort. (They were supposed to close out the 2021 Stern Grove season, but the show was postponed because of the flood.) Longtime fan Lisa Bazurto has attended several Stern Grove concerts over the years and was excited to see the festival pick up right where it left off. Bazurto was one of the thousands who could be spotted dancing and enjoying live music in the park.
“I came out here to celebrate life again and get moving,” Bazurto said. “I had tickets for the last year that got canceled, so I’m happy to be here again for the reopening.”
Beyond live music, the festival is a San Francisco cultural staple. On Sunday, the proof was evident in the laid-back atmosphere and diverse crowds at the festival grounds.
“It’s true to who we are… it’s like, authentic. It represents the Bay. You can look at the people and see that this is true Bay Area love,” said San Francisco resident Ty Berry.
Berry attended the festival with a group of mothers she met at her child’s school. She said obtaining the free tickets was competitive.
“My homegirl was like, ‘You have to be at the computer at 2.’ And I was there at like 1:59, and I still had to refresh a couple of times, but I got two tickets,” Berry said.
Raylene Gorum, who attended Stern Grove Festival with friend Danelle James, said it’s refreshing to attend a festival where music is the focus.
“So much of the music experience has been commoditized,” Gorum said. “You have to buy everything from the venue. We donated and [the donation box] says ‘music for all,’ and it truly is. Maybe people, because it’s free, get introduced to new musicians, and that’s the kind of priceless experience that Stern Grove and the free ticket offers.”
Stern Grove continues every Sunday through Aug. 7 with Toro y Moi, Liz Phair and more.