An interview with Executive Director Steven P. Haines
Wendy: Congratulations on Stern Grove Festival’s 75th year! Would you tell me a bit about the history of the festival?
Steve: Thank you. The festival was founded in 1938, and has presented 75 consecutive seasons of music, but the history of the park goes back well before then. To look at the beginnings of what Stern Grove became, you really have to look back to the mid 1800s. There was a family, [named] Greene; they were homesteaders and had purchased a lot of about 160 acres of land in that area. A few of the other brothers joined, and collectively grouped the holdings to about 600 acres. They actually were the first family that planted eucalyptus trees west of Twin Peaks, and they built the first home west of Twin Peaks as well. That area was primarily used for farming, once the trees grew, and acted as a windbreak from the sand dunes. They mostly planted barley and potatoes out there. There’s a lot of other history back and forth, as far as a land grab from another person, but that all finally became resolved [by] the early 1930s. At that time Mr. Greene had fallen a little late on his taxes with the land. At the same time, there was a woman whose name was Rosalie Meyer Stern; she was looking to purchase a plot of land, for a park. She was the head of the Recreation and Playground Commission for the city of San Francisco. She was a very philanthropic woman. She really believed in a lot of different areas - specifically the environment, arts, culture, and recreation. She really wanted to create a lasting legacy to her husband Sigmund, who had passed away a few years earlier. So, she purchased the land from Mr. Greene, and then gave it to the city for one dollar in 1931. The park was then named Sigmund Stern Grove. Historically, so you know who Sigmund Stern is, he is the second eldest nephew of Levi Strauss. At one point Sigmund Stern was the president of Levi Stauss & Company.
The first concert that took place actually was in 1932, but then nothing really formally took place until 1938, until the festival was actually established.
Wendy: And now today, you have such a wonderful annual festival season, with diverse performances by artists from around the world, and also from right here in San Francisco.
Steve: The concerts really have been created and shaped to mirror the diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area. Part of the mission was certainly to provide performance opportunities to Bay Area musicians as well. For the most part, every concert that takes place has a San Francisco element. This past Sunday was the opening day, and we had the Glide Ensemble, from Glide Memorial. This next Sunday, July 1st, we have a local blues rock group - The Stone Foxes, that will be opening up for Preservation Hall Jazz Band. July 8th is the San Francisco Symphony. July 22nd is The E Family, a San Francisco favorite: Pete Escovedo, along with Juan, Peter Michael and Sheila E. Then, the 29th is San Francisco Ballet. I’m leaving a bunch out, but it’s just a great representation of the diversity of San Francisco that we present.
Wendy: Stern Grove Festival is, of course, free, but costs quite a lot to put on each year. You receive funding from various types of donations, including a membership option.
Steve: While it’s free to attend, it’s not free for us to produce, which is, in this year, well over two and a half, close to three million dollars. We have a lot of different types of support: corporate support, foundations, and as you mentioned, individuals and membership. So, while admission is always free to our festival, we do have this program where members make various levels of contributions, and in return, there are certain benefits. One of the most prized benefits is reserved seating at the picnic tables that we have in the concert aisle. One of the other benefits of becoming a member is the opportunity to have, and to take advantage of, some reserved parking. As you know, there’s no parking for the general public at Stern Grove. There just isn’t room, and there are no large parking lots, but we do have some very small areas that we’ve made available to members. Another way you can support the festival is to become a volunteer. We have the need each Sunday for volunteers, and many times have in the range of 100 people volunteering. We also offer reserved parking for our volunteers.
It’s a festival for the people, but by the people as well. It is because of our fans and our attendees that this is possible. We love people coming out and taking advantage of all this wonderful art and culture, and at the same time, we appreciate everybody’s support.
Stern Grove Festival: A Month of Sunday Fun
Jul 8 | San Francisco Symphany
With Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas program features the iconic sounds of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. The performance will also include Copland’s Billy the Kid Suite.
Jul 15 | Nitin Sawhney/Meshell Ndegeocello
Cross-cultural cool with internationally renowned Indian-British and multi-instrumentalist, Sawhney Singer-songwriter Ndegeocello brings her eclectic blend of folk, jazz, hip-hop, funk, and rock sensibilities.
Jul 22 | The E Family
The Escovedo family brings the beat featuring the Pete Escovedo Orchestra, The E Family Band with Pete, Juan, Peter Michael, and Special l performance by Sheila E.
Jul 29 | San Francisco Ballet
SF Ballet’s only summer performance in the Bay Area! Program includes: Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, Tomasson’s 7 for Eight (First pas de deux), van Manen’s SOLO, Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony.
Aug 5 | Ozomatli /SMOD
Latin favorites Ozomatli return with their genre-spanning, high-energy sound. Opening the afternoon is Malian hip-hop trio SMOD.
Aug 12 | Al Jarreau /George Duke, Mara Hruby
Legendary Al Jarreau and The George Duke Trio reunite for an afternoon of jazz classics. Oakland’s neo-soul songstress Mara Hruby opens with her mesmerizing, smooth vocals.
Aug 19 | San Francisco Opera
There’s nothing quite like opera in the Grove! Enjoy the renowned SF Opera and SF Opera Orchestra with conductor Giuseppe Finzi. The afternoon’s program features soprano Leah Crocetto, tenor Michael Fabiano, and more soloists performing operatic favorites.
Aug 26 | OK GO/The Family Crest
Known for their viral videos and quirky sound, rockers OK Go close Season. Local band The Family Crest opens with an eclectic blend of indie rock and classical musicianship.