Cal Performances held their first Free For All yesterday on the Berkeley campus and for a first time event they did a superb job on the scheduling and programming. It was also a perfect day to spend on the campus and the event drew a large, diverse crowd to hear and see a variety of performers representative of the organization's season programming- dance, chamber music, jazz, dance, world music, theater and more. They should do this every year.
We had grand plans to leave San Francisco early and get there in time to see the Kronos Quartet's opening set at 11:00 AM and that plan promptly fell apart with a 9:15 AM text alerting me that someone had just awoken. We ended up making our first stop breakfast and our second stop was to check out Chad Newsome's marvelous new digs at the Uptown in Oaktown. From there we leisurely walked over to Cafe Van Cleef because I wanted to show it to GG and Penelope but it was closed so finally we made our way to the campus, arriving at a packed Hertz Hall too late to see the Adler Fellows perform. Well, at that point it was decided the best thing to do was to drink beer, so we walked back down to the Bear's Lair and had a couple of rounds. The day was disappearing fast but we were having a grand old time.
Finally, we left the bar and made our way over to Zellerbach to see the Mark Morris Group's performance. If I had been paying more attention, I would have known Morris's dancers were in New York and what we were going to get was something a little bit different that turned out to be truly delightful.
Two members of the troupe, accompanied by kind of a pianist, led four large groups of people from the audience onto the stage and then proceeded to teach them movements from L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato. The people onstage ranged from two year olds to very senior citizens in every size and color and it was great to watch this humanist exercise in creating an instant community through the art of dance. It was hard not to smile through the entire thing and they even had the entire audience learning the "water moves." We were seated in the very front of the balcony and could watch as the audience below us created ripples with increasingly good effect, while still creating our own. It was truly delightful while doubling as a great outreach and educational experience. How many times does that work? By the way, LA Opera will be staging L'Allegro in May and if you have never seen this fabulous work by all means please do so- it's on my list of "best things I've ever seen."
Next we were going to listen to John Santos, but the tent under which he was leading his band was pretty packed so we opted for Yogurt Garden instead, chiefly because Chad was suffering from Cal-nostalgia. I was too, but mine didn't include the food off of Telegraph Ave. Well, three out of four of us opted for Yogurt Garden and an hour later we were regretful of eating so much of the delicious goop as a sugar-induced wave of something began to take us over in the warm afternoon sun.
So we got in line to see Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir. Tillery has been a Bay Area presence for a long time, but before yesterday I had never seen her perform before. What a mistake that was. Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir are fantastic musicians, beautiful singers and they have a truly deep knowledge and understanding of American Roots music, and African-American Roots music, though I would say the line between the two is a faint, dotted gray.
Imitating instruments to great effect with their voices, while using only percussion instruments, they consistently created perfect harmonies that were intricate and incredibly rich, Tillery and the choir performed a generous, enlightening, hour-long set incorporating spirituals, reggaeton-style hip hop, reggae, Hank Ballard, Bob Marley and the Mickey Mouse Theme song. They were splendid and the perfect way to close out what had been a great day and a weekend full of music. I look forward to seeing them again soon. They have some shows coming up in Canada this October.Do check them out.