Stern Grove Festival celebrates 75 years of free summertime music

The City of San Francisco has a lot to celebrate this summer. In addition to the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco's longest running music festival is also commemorating its 75th year. Since 1938, the Stern Grove Festival has presented a wide variety of local and international performing artists in the idyllic setting of Sigmund Stern Grove, a natural amphitheater surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

Wild West

Before it became known as Stern Grove, the property was owned by the pioneering Greene family, who settled on the land in 1847. At the time, San Francisco still had vast open spaces full of wild animals, and the family made their living by farming and trying their luck in the Gold Rush.

In the 1870s, a landowner named David Mahoney persuaded a judge to give him permission to extend his property and take over the Greenes' more desirable land. The Greenes refused to leave their homestead -- they fortified the property and were prepared to shoot anyone who tried to make them leave. The Wild West standoff lasted for three months before the Greenes were officially given ownership of the land by a Special Act of Congress.

In 1892, they opened the Trocadero Inn which still stands today. The Inn and the cabins and parks built around it were used as a hotel, tavern and saloon, and family residence. In its heyday, it was the place to be, hosting well-to-do guests who sought nature and revelry. It thrived until the Prohibition Era, when the Greene family shut it down over fears that alcohol smugglers would cause problems there.

A festival is born

The initial sparks of the Stern Grove Festival came when the land was taken over by a new owner. In 1931, Rosalie Stern purchased the land in honor of her late husband, Sigmund, a philanthropist and a nephew of blue jeans creator, Levi Strauss. She gave the grove to the City of San Francisco under the condition that the park be publicly used for "music, dramatics, and pageantry." The first official concert was held in 1932, and in 1938, the annual admission-free summertime festival was officially established. Since then, the festival has presented 750 performances and hosted 10 million audience members.

This year's festival will run for 10 weeks with free shows every Sunday at 2 p.m. The season kicks off on June 24 with performances by world-renowned soul singer Anita Baker, The Family Stone, and the Glide Ensemble, a San Francisco establishment known for its multiple genre-infused gospel music. Just like previous seasons, the 75th anniversary season features a diverse array of sounds -- performances by the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet, and Opera, as well as shows by Ozomatli, The Stone Foxes, and Meshell Ndegeocello. Grammy-nominated alt-rock band OK Go closes out the season on August 26.

Space at the shows is limited, so arrive early to ensure that you can get into the Concert Meadow and have access to the best unreserved seating. If you don't make it into the main seating area, you can still find a spot underneath a tree on the hill behind the amphitheater to enjoy the show from a distance. Bring along blankets or folding chairs and a picnic lunch to make the most of a day of music in a fantastic location.

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Stern Grove Festival

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