For music lovers, the past year and a half has been a disheartening slog. In addition to all the grim realities of our brave new world, one in-person music festival after another was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, though, almost 18 months after the Bay Area first went under shelter-in-place orders, local music festivals are roaring back to life, with the sold-out BottleRock Napa Valley — the first of multiple in-person fests in September and October — which launched at noon today.
Over the summer, the four-day Healdsburg Jazz Festival and three-day San Jose Jazz Summer Fest tested the waters, as people joyfully congregated and danced to everything from blues, soul and hip-hop to swing and Latin jazz. In August, San Jose festival goers spent the days flowing in and around Plaza de César Chávez, end up at headlining sets by the likes of Common, Pete Escovedo, Judith Hill, Ozomatli and Morris Day and the Time.
This weekend’s BottleRock — featuring sets by megawatt stars Megan Thee Stallion, Guns N’ Roses, Miley Cyrus, Foo Fighters and Chris Stapleton — requires everyone let through the gates at Napa Valley Expo to show proof that they are fully vaccinated or that they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 within the last 72 hours. Masks will be required for indoor spaces and recommended outdoors.
For many attendees, it will be the first multi-stage music event they’ve been to in two years. Without doubt, a good number of BottleRockers are chomping at the bit to have that full-on festival experience: gathering with like-minded music lovers; kicking back with beer (and, this being Napa, wine); eating high-end tacos, burgers and ice cream; becoming immersed in sound and dancing; singing along and cheering until they’re hoarse.
For other music lovers, the wild card that is the delta variant is panic-inducing, regardless of vaccine status. What happens when strangers mix with booze? Will all the drinking, eating, singing and dancing mean masks will be discarded and social distancing forgotten? Plus, shifting weather conditions could fill the air with wildfire-smoke particulate matter.
In a way, BottleRock attendees are volunteering themselves to be the subjects of a great experiment that will tell us how live music can move forward at this stage of pandemic.
Besides BottleRock, there are Bay Area music festivals taking place nearly every weekend in the September — including Hiero Day in Oakland, which is also this weekend — and every other weekend in October. A few of them are sold out. Even Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, the adults-only celebration of kink and the queer community, is returning to a masked outdoor in-person event called MEGAHOOD2021 on Sept. 26 — but musical guests have not been named. Similarly, the How Weird Street Faire returns to SoMa two weeks earlier, on Sept. 12, with flamboyant outfits, playa vibes and electronic dance music and DJ stages with artists to be announced. October’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a lonely holdout, remaining strictly online this year.
Here are a number of the music festivals coming up:
Hiero Day Weekend, Oakland, Labor Day Weekend
Before the pandemic, Hiero Day was an epic Labor Day musical block party in Oakland put on and headlined by the legendary hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics and featuring the Town’s brightest stars such as Blackalicious, The Coup, Luniz, the Team and Souls of Mischief as well as national hip-hop artists like Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, the Pharcyde and Black Thought of the Roots. Last year, Hiero Day went virtual with an online Labor Day concert and screening of “Til Infinity,” called the definitive Hieroglyphics documentary.
This year, Hiero Day Weekend is not just a concert but a collection of virtual and in-person events taking place over four days. Earlier today, fans were invited to join a free online kickback “Hiero Listening Party,” where the Hiero crew answered questions and played new and unreleased material. Saturday, an in-person outdoor movie night, hosted by Endeavors at The Lot, 409 13th St., will screen the visual album “Rap Noir” featuring Tajai Massey and the 2021 L.A. music documentary “Where We’re From — The Elements.” Sunday, the Copper Spoon at 4031 Broadway will host a comedy night. Then the official Hiero Day concert featuring Hiero and Friends will take place on the last day of the all-weekend cannabis marketplace presented by Harborside and Smokeland, which is 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. For more information, visit hieroday.com. Tickets to Monday’s Hiero Day and Market Daze, $5-$12, are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/smoakland-market-daze-tickets-157526846037.
Sound Summit, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Sept. 11
A one-day event to benefit Roots & Branches Conservancy, Sound Summit’s seven-act lineup harkens back to Marin County’s hippie days with artists playing traditional American music in the woods at Mountain Theater, a 4,000-seat natural stone amphitheater in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson and his country rock band Promise of the Real co-headline the event with indie folker Father John Misty. Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa, Mill Valley native Teal Collins of the Mother Truckers and Marin County teenage alt-rockers Ray and Paul Holmberg are also on the bill. Admission requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the event. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks when not eating or drinking. Tickets, $115, are still available, plus you have to buy a bus pass for $20 to be transported from a Mill Valley parking lot to Mountain Theater and back. Summit parking is sold out. For tickets and more information, visit soundsummit.net.
Lights On Festival, Concord, Sept. 18-19 — SOLD OUT
This year, Vallejo native and Grammy-winning R&B singer-songwriter H.E.R. has launched and curated her own two-day Lights On Festival, which she co-headlines with neo-soul queen Erykah Badu at the outdoor venue Concord Pavilion, 2000 Kirker Pass Road. Singer-songwriters Bryson Tiller, Ari Lennox, Ty Dolla $ign and Oakland native Keyshia Cole also top the bill. The show is completely sold out, but as they say, if there’s a will (and enough money for resale tickets), there’s a way. The Lights On site warns, “By attending Lights On Fest, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.” A month later, the second Lights On Festival takes place in at the indoor Barclays Center in Brooklyn, this time with Maxwell co-headlining instead of Badu. Two-passes for the New York event, which requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, are $199-$499. For more information, visit lightsonfest.com/bay-area/.
Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey, Sept. 24-26 — SOLD OUT
When tickets to the prestigious 64th annual Monterey Jazz Festival — returning to the Monterey County Fairgrounds at 2004 Fairgrounds Road with seating limited to 50% capacity — went on sale in July, they sold out within a week. It’s no wonder: Jazz legends, pianist-bandleader Herbie Hancock and guitarist George Benson, top the bill. And the lineup is filled with Grammy winners like Oakland-raised R&B and jazz singer Ledisi, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and guitarist Pat Metheny as well as Grammy-nominated pianist Christian Sands, the festival’s artist-in-residence. The festival is requiring attendees present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, and masks are encouraged when social distancing is not possible. For more information, and to sign up for the presale for 2022’s full-capacity event, visit montereyjazzfestival.org.
Hardly Strictly Everywhere, virtual, Oct. 1-3
The October ritual of putting a blanket down in Golden Gate Park, drinking beers with friends and listening to live bluegrass music when it’s finally warm enough to laze in the grass is another simple pleasure the COVID pandemic cruelly snatched from the Bay Area in 2020. Still, the community and music live on in virtual space, where people from around the globe can enjoy this free, uniquely San Francisco experience. This year, the online lineup for “Come What May: Hardly Strictly Everywhere 2021” includes legendary R&B singer Mavis Staples, Grammy-winning country stars Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, indie folk singer Ani DiFranco, esteemed banjo player Béla Fleck, former Hüsker Dü and Sugar front man Bob Mould with comedian-musician Fred Armisen, San Francisco’s stunning Ethio-American jazz singer Meklit with Oakland trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and East L.A. Chicano folk band Las Cafeteras. The three-day show, which starts at 1 p.m. daily, will be mostly livestreamed with a few additional sets prefilmed in San Francisco and New Orleans. Visit hardlystrictlybluegrass.com for details.
Huichica Sonoma, Sonoma, Oct. 15-16
Another opportunity to drink in the beauty of North Bay landscapes while low-key rocking out, the two-day fest Huichica Sonoma is presented by Jeff Bundschu and (((folkYEAH!))) and headlined by indie rock acts Mac DeMarco and Yo La Tengo. San Francisco freak folk and psychedelic rock stalwarts Devendra Banhart, Vetiver and Kelley Stoltz are also on the bill. Taking place at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains at 2000 Denmark St. in Sonoma, the event also offers upscale festival food, wine (of course), beer, coffee and opportunities to purchase “artisanal products.” For attendees age 12 and over, proof of vaccination is required, and face coverings are required indoors and encouraged outdoors. Tickets are $125 for Friday, $275 for Saturday and $350 for a two-day pass. Parking is $10 for one day and $15 for two. Gillibus and Huichica are also offering roundtrip shuttles from and to San Francisco and Oakland for $105 a day. Find tickets and more information at sonoma.huichica.com.
Noise Pop’s 20th Street Block Party, San Francisco, Oct. 16
This jubilant block party, hosted by Noise Pop, returns to 20th Street in the Mission with two killer headlining bands: San Francisco’s seven-piece band Con Brio, which mixes soul, psych-rock and R&B, and Portland’s Y La Bamba, an indie folk band that explores the Mexican American experience. The eight-act lineup includes L.A. Witch, French Cassettes, Same Girls, King Isis, Loud Y Los Bad Hombres and Strange Cities. The one-day outdoor festival, from noon-6 p.m., is free, but requires RSVP. For $69, an attendee can by a VIP ticket that includes a premium view of the main stage and complimentary “adult beverages” and light snacks. Partygoers are encouraged to make donations to the festival, which will also benefit its nonprofit partners 826 Valencia and La Cocina. So far, COVID restrictions have not been announced, but the website states: “Our team takes safety very seriously and we are monitoring the situation closely with respect to COVID-19 and the new delta variant. In working closely with the San Francisco DPH, we will continue to adapt when necessary to make sure this is a safe event for all and in accordance with local health guidelines.” For more information and to RSVP, visit 20thstreetblockparty.com.
Halloween Meltdown, Oakland, Oct. 16-17
For more than a decade, Total Trash Productions co-produced Oakland’s glittery, grungy garage-punk summer festival Burger Boogaloo, hosted by the inimitable camp king John Waters. Then in July 2020, allegations of sexual misconduct at the festival’s namesake Burger Records — a Fullerton, California, cassette-tape and record label and store — prompted Total Trash to cut ties with Burger and rebrand its event, as organizers explained that the Fullerton outfit had scant to do with Oakland’s beloved bash at Mosswood Park. Ticket holders to 2020’s Burger Boogaloo, postponed because of the pandemic, can redeem their passes to the two-day Mosswood Meltdown in July 2022 to see riot-grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill, punk rockers Bleached and ’70s new wave artist Plastic Bertrand. (Visit totaltrashproductions.com for info. Tickets to the summer fest — $99-$149 per day and $149-$249 for two-day passes — are at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mosswood-meltdown-tickets-65083832495.)
But July is nearly a year away, and if that’s just too long to wait, Total Trash is also hosting a two-day outdoor festival for the spooky season, Halloween Meltdown. The lineup features Osees, the high-energy rock outfit led by former San Franciscan John Dwyer; the Mummies, the Bay Area garage-punk band that comes costumed and Halloween-ready; longtime Detroit garage-rockers the Gories; and queercore artist Seth Bogart, known for his bands Gravy Train!!! and Hunx and His Punx. What about costumes? Given the festival’s reputation as rainbow-bright retro punk fashion parade, you better believe you’ll see some wildly inventive costumes at the Meltdown. In fact, a costume contest will be judged by Oakland writer-musician Brontez Purnell, formerly known as Junx of Gravy Train!!!, and singer-songwriter Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams. Find tickets to Halloween Meltdown, held at Mosswood Park, 3612 Webster St., Oakland — $29 per day and $49-$139 for a weekend pass, depending on perks — at halloweenmeltdown.net.
Outside Lands, San Francisco, Oct. 29-31 — SOLD OUT (almost)
We all know the rapper-singer-songwriter Lizzo is a “Good as Hell” goddess who twerks while playing flute, and we don’t deserve her. So it’s no wonder that this year’s Halloween-weekend Outside Lands headlined by Lizzo has sold out both VIP and general admissions. Co-headliners include the influential alt-rapper Tyler, the Creator; the 2000s’ “saviors of rock,” The Strokes; psychedelic rock act Tame Impala; pioneering hip-hop artist Young Thug; R&B singer-songwriter and Oakland native Kehlani; and the “prince of reggaeton,” J. Balvin from Colombia. Besides your standard live music, food, beer, wine and cocktails, Golden Gate Park will be full of whimsical experiences including the GastroMagic stage pairing chefs with musicians, comics and artists; an “Alice in Wonderland”-esque boba tea party; a cannabis marketplace called “Grass Lands”; and a magical place known as “Cheese Lands.” Bay Area artists will provide sculptures and stage design and will paint murals during the fest.
This VIP and general admission for this event — which originally went for $165-$375 for one day and $395-$855 for three-day passes — are hot tickets on the resale market. Only the ultra-luxurious Golden Gate Club experience ($1,795 for a single day, $3,995 for three days) is still available. For entrance, ticket holders must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the last day they attend. Masks are required for indoor spaces and strongly encouraged outdoors. For information and Golden Gate Club tickets, visit sfoutsidelands.com.