Bay Area concerts make thrifty, fun day trips

Contra Costa TimesJune 21, 2014 

Looking for an inexpensive family day trip this summer? Or a way to pack some pizazz into a picnic without dropping a lot of coin?

Well, we’ve got just the right tune for you.

Communities across the Bay Area – all within a 11/2-to-2-hour drive from the Modesto region – host free outdoor concert series that offer a chance to turn a simple picnic into a more rewarding affair. Some of the concerts include favorites who often have played Modesto area stages, including Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Y&T, Chris Cain and Johnny Cash tribute artist James Garner.

Most of the events take place in parks and are kid-friendly, and they offer a wide variety of culinary possibilities. Some outdoor shows practically beg for a traditional picnic lunch, such as the Stern Grove concert series in San Francisco. Performances are held Sunday afternoons beginning this Sunday and running into August in a lovely park, with plenty of room for a blanket and gourmet spread. Keep in mind, though, that the park can be foggy and cool, so a thermos of hot soup might also be a good idea.

Yerba Buena Gardens, which hosts a free music festival, is similarly green and spacious and inviting for a picnic. But you also happen to be in downtown San Francisco, so the surrounding culinary options for takeout or post-concert eating-in abound.

You also have tempting takeout food options at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, which hosts two concert series as well as a farmers market; Los Gatos Town Plaza, which hosts a summer jazz series; and Point Richmond, which hosts a concert series that goes for a family-friendly dance-party vibe (complete with face-painting for kids). Ditto for Pleasanton, Pleasant Hill and Redwood City, all of which play host to free music.

Then there’s the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where free evening concerts can top off a great day at the beach, with all the sinfully delicious food that entails.

Here’s a roundup of some of the Bay Area’s best free concert series happening during the warm weather months.

It’s a good idea to check the event or city’s website before you go to find out what you can and can’t bring into the venue. You should not assume, for example, that alcoholic beverages are allowed.

Stern Grove Festival

When: 2 p.m. Sundays, June 22-Aug. 24

Where: Stern Grove, 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, San Francisco; www.sterngrove.org

Highlights: Motown legend Smokey Robinson (Sunday), one of the best songwriters of all time; the Funky Meters (July 13), the famed New Orleans funky R&B outfit, with the superb Bay Area singer Sugar Pie DeSanto opening; Sergio Mendes (Aug. 17), the Brazilian bossa nova star who has been delighting fans for more than 50 years.

Jazz on the Plazz

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, June 25-Aug. 27

Where: Los Gatos Town Plaza, West Main Street and Santa Cruz Avenue; www.jazzontheplazz.com

Highlights: Halie Loren (Wednsday), a talented vocalist who’s an absolute wizard with the Great American Songbook and the perfect candidate to kick off the concert series’ summerlong celebration of Cole Porter; Ramsey Lewis (July 23), an incredibly gifted and successful pianist known for such smash singles as “The ‘In’ Crowd” and “Hang on Sloopy”; Snarky Puppy (Aug. 6), one of the top dogs in jazz-rock fusion and a recent Grammy winner.

Bands on the Beach

When: 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Fridays, through Aug. 29

Where: Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz; www.beachboardwalk.com

Highlights: Macy Gray (July 11), the R&B vocalist whose 1999 debut album, “On How Life Is,” has sold more than 6 million copies; Y&T (Aug. 1), one of the Bay Area’s best hard-rock outfits of all time; Eddie Money (Aug. 15), the Bay Area rocker who was a huge star in the ’70s and ’80s with hits like “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Think I’m in Love.”

Music & Market Series

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, through Sept. 11

Where: Todos Santos Plaza, between Mt. Diablo and Grant streets, Concord; www.cityofconcord.org

Highlights: The RaveUps (July 17), a Yardbirds tribute act that delivers plenty of fiery guitar work; James Garner, Johnny Cash Tribute (Aug. 14), a first-class homage to the Man in Black; The Purple Ones (Sept. 4), a band that serves up the best of Prince.

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

When: Various dates and times, through Oct. 26

Where: Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Mission streets, San Francisco; www.ybgfestival.org

Highlights: Tom Rigney and Flambeau (July 26), a fabulous fiddler and his acclaimed zydeco/Cajun band; Tiffany Austin (Aug. 7), an accomplished vocalist who blends blues, swing, soul and other styles, backed by a four-piece band.

Point Richmond Music’s Summer Concert Season

When: July 11, Aug. 8, Sept. 12 and 26, two concerts each night 5:30 and 6:45 p.m.

Where: Park Place and Washington Avenue in downtown Point Richmond; www.pointrichmondmusic.com

Highlights: (Opening acts listed first) Larry Vann, an accomplished percussionist known as the creator of the “Oakland scratch groove,” with Steep Ravine, a popular folk/bluegrass act (July 11); American Nomad, a rootsy acoustic Americana act, with Times 4, a fine groove-jazz outfit (Sept. 12).

SFJazz Summerfest

When: 6 p.m. Thursdays, through Aug. 7

Where: Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; www.sfjazz.org.

Highlights: Pamela Rose (July 17), a San Francisco jazz and blues vocalist who’s earning national buzz; Tammy Hall (July 31), a Bay Area vocalist.

Los Gatos’ Music in the Park

When: 5 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 24 (no concert Aug. 10)

Where: Los Gatos Civic Center (front lawn area), Main Street and Fiesta Way; www.lgmip.com

Highlights: Hapa (July 20), the acclaimed Hawaiian music duo known for its wonderful harmonies and guitar work; Matuto (Aug. 17), a popular band blending Brazilian and bluegrass styles.

Music on the Square

When: 6 p.m. Fridays through Aug. 29 (no concert July 4)

Where: Courthouse Square, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City; www.redwoodcity.org

Highlights: Sun Kings (July 18), a rightfully acclaimed Beatles tribute band; Foreverland (Aug. 8), a Bay Area band that pays homage to Michael Jackson.

Concerts in the Park

When: 7 p.m., Fridays, through Aug. 29 (no concert July 4)

Where: Lions Wayside Park, First and Neal streets, Pleasanton; www.pleasantondowntown.net

Highlights: The CoolTones (July 11), a Bay Area big band specializing in swing music; Magic Moments (Aug. 22), a cover band delivering hits from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

Sunset by the Lake

When: 6 p.m. June 22, July 6, 20, Aug. 3, 17, 31, Sept. 7

Where: Pleasant Hill City Hall, 100 Gregory Lane; www.pleasanthillconcerts.com

Highlights: Super Diamond (Sunday), the highly acclaimed Neil Diamond tribute act; Big Jangle (Aug. 31), a band devoted to the music of Tom Petty.

Tuesday Night Blues

When: 6:30 p.m., Tuesdays, July 1-29

Where: Todos Santos Plaza, Concord; www.cityofconcord.org

Highlights: Chris Cain (July 15), the mighty blues guitarist from San Jose; Jeffrey Marshall (July 22), a blues rocker who will perform with members of the Delta Dogs and The Breedloves.

Music in the Park

When: 6 p.m. Wednesdays though Aug. 13

Where: Stafford Park, King Street and Hopkins Avenue, Redwood City, www.redwoodcity.org

Highlights: Top Shelf (Wednesday), a band that serves up classic soul, R&B, funk, doo-wop and Motown; Sinister Dexter (July 2), a 10-piece soul band.

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