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Stern Grove 2019 Festival~ Review ~

Written by on June 17, 2019

Stern Grove 82nd season’s first Sunday unites old-skool and new-skool ‘Hip-Hop Vibes’

There’s really nothing better than an SF-summers’ cool-grey foggy park picnic, with an amazing free soundtrack,  with a few thousand of your closest friends, in the eucalyptus grove beauty of this venerable SF institution.  Stern Grove opened its 82nd season this summer with   ‘Hip-Hop Vibes’ bringing classic Brooklyn 90’s hiphop band, Digable Planets,  on a rare reunification tour tip, to la Área de la Bahía with local heroes Bang Data opening. It was a chill, not-quite capacity crowd but still had lots of people up in the hillsides rockin’ to the beats.

First we got some of that new-skool Bay flavor with Bang Data, who totally rocked the stage (and coulda easily headlined) with their high-energy hybrid of hiphop, cumbia and rock. MC/leadsinger Deuce Eclipse got the crowd moving from ‘go’, hands in the air and singing along on songs like ‘Ya No Màs’ & ‘Califas Amor’ (a local/Latinx retake on the Dr. Dre/Tupac hit ‘California Love’ ), and ‘Bailazo’. Producer/drummer (& charango-player)  Juan Manuel Caipo and bassist Javier Yousef drove the proceedings, guitarist Michael Cavaseno rocked hard and the band got some next-level help with crack conga player Elena ‘LaShorty’ de Troya, from Oakland’s La Misa Negra. Deuce brought out another local hero/activist-rapper Equipto (of ‘Frisco 5’ fame), to trade rhymes on their track ‘Furiosos’ and left the crowd with fists in the air and suitably warmed up and ready to sway.

Digable Planets always came with that liquid, stretched-out jazz feel but the serious band they brought with them this time felt definitely next-level and had the crowd, already seriously nostalgic, ready to get even more lifted. Samples that were, back in the day, more indebted to cool-jazz went a little deeper and funkier.  Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira, Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler (also of the newer and inestimable Shabazz Palaces) and Craig “Doodlebug/Cee-Knowledge” Irving still have that languid vocal chemistry and brought the hits from their 2 classic LP’s,  “Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)”  and “Blowout Comb”, albeit with the occasional revised rhyme references to some of the wisdoms of advancing age and Butler’s greying beard. And some condolences to the Warriors.  Through that, hits like ’Nickel Bag of Funk’ and Cool Like Dat’  got the stretched out space-funk treatment and everyone seemed like they were having a great time and the crowd was most down for going along with that ride. We even got a classic jazz stretch-out from that ace live band [which i can’t say enough about] composed of Seattle all-stars from Butler’s scene:  standout-drummer Conrad ‘Superman’ Real (ok, that solo…so great and not what one expects in a hiphop show), keyboardist Darrius Willrich, the subtle and oft-humorous guitarist Thaddeus Turner, rad bassist Gerald Turner. And in the end, the funk prevailed.

It was a fully fitting kick-off for a summer of fantastic and free music and good times for all la familia.  Followed up next Sunday 6/23 by Mission-District heroes Banda Sin Nombre,  opening up for legendary Cuban son dance-band Los Van Van.  The grass will doubtless take a beating and more spirits will get lifted;  be sure to check the full schedule at

By Bob Thawley.