Concerts and Events
While dozens of exhibitions, events, concert series, and performances are taking part in the Balboa Park Centennial Celebrations, only a rare breed of organizations or venues in the Park can claim to be celebrating their own centennial. So when the International Summer Organ Festival adds the word “Centennial” to the name of its annual concert series, it isn’t merely piggy-backing on the year-long recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the 1915 Panama California Exposition.
Representing one of the few original buildings still standing in Balboa Park from that era, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion officially opened the 1915 Exposition with its inaugural concert on New Year’s Eve 1914. Maintaining its pedigree as a central component of the 1915 fair, the Organ Pavilion takes center stage in 2015 with a lineup of top dog organists from around the world performing Monday nights at 7:30pm through August 31 as part of the Centennial International Summer Organ Festival.
As usual, the pack-friendly free series will broaden everyone’s expectations and understanding of organ music with a wide diversity of styles, genres, and special guest accompaniment. For example, next Monday’s concert features every San Diego pooch’s favorite Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams. She’ll perform a selection of her own modern compositions as part of a release party for her new CD “Just Carol—Compositions.”
The following Monday, July 6, Christian Elliot, who was named “Organist of the Year” in 2009 by the American Theatre Organ Society, will cap off a long Independence Day Holiday weekend with a variety of claw-tapping, howl-along patriotic tunes. On July 13, prolific music composer A. D. Miller presents among other original compositions his “Fanfare for a New Century,” commissioned for the 100-year anniversary of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Other weekly installments include local rising pups (July 20), organists from Europe and Canada, a Grammy winner, returning favorites, the always popular Silent Movie Night (Aug. 24), and a finale celebrating “100 Years of Broadway” (Aug. 31) during which Dr. Carol Williams will be joined by some very special guest performers.
For lazy dogs who can’t muster the energy to come see the weekly performances in person, every concert can be streamed live on Ustream (where past concerts are archived for the next 100 years).
With the announcement of all the other great concert series in Balboa Park this summer in celebration of the Centennial, it wouldn’t surprise me if one other long-running music series in the Park is feeling like the runt of the litter.
For 14 summers, the Bird Park Concert Series has brought howling good shows to Morley Field’s Bird Park, making the picturesque North Park neighborhood a popular Saturday destination well before the first craft brewery opened here. In fact, this year’s five-concert line up promises to bring such intoxicating tunes, concert goers won’t even mind the city park’s alcohol ban.
The series kicks off this Saturday, June 13, at 5:30pm with the high-energy folk rock band, A Mayfield Affair. Like all bands invited to perform in Bird Park each summer, their music is danceable and pack friendly. Leashed pooches are also welcome and will be in good company, since this is, after all, North Park, home to two of Balboa Park’s dog parks.
Every other Saturday, a new act will hit the stage, overlooking the municipal golf course and downtown skyline. On June 27, The BlueFrog Band presents its unique fusion of blues-folk-rock music, followed by another feel-good rock and roll band, DNT, on July 11. The remaining concerts in the series include Piel (electronic-techno) on July 25 and the Scott Martin Band (Latin jazz) on August 8.
All concerts run until 7:30pm, giving folks plenty of time to sniff out the many restaurants and tasting rooms that have sprouted up along 30th Street since the Bird Park Concert Series started.
At the risk of sounding like a one-trick pony, over the next few weeks I will be barking about free summer concerts in Balboa Park A LOT. Joining such annual favorites as the Twilight in the Park and the International Summer Organ Festival series are several special concert events in honor of the Balboa Park Centennial.
One such series, Music in Park, will be turning my favorite new hang out, the Plaza de Panama, into the Park’s hottest gathering spot on Thursday nights (7:30-8:30pm) and Saturday afternoons (1-2pm), starting June 6.
Each week, families and their pooches can catch a wide variety of free music and dance performances while lounging in the colorful new furnishings that were unveiled in April. Multi-taskers who have the attention span of a flea will be able to plug into their favorite social media distractions while enjoying the show thanks the Plaza’s free Wi-Fi.
In addition, the Plaza de Panama is also playing host to three major concert events this month:
San Diego Makes Music (June 14, 3:00pm)
The Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra will present a free afternoon of classical music as performed by top-dog concertmasters from around the country. Nipping at their heels during a special play-along opportunity will be local amateur musicians from the audience.
China Tour Bon Voyage Concert (June 18, 7:30pm)
Eighty-two of the San Diego Youth Symphony’s most advanced students, accompanied by members of the San Diego Symphony, help celebrate the Balboa Park Centennial before embarking on a two-week concert tour of China.
Make Music Day San Diego (June 21)
For the first time ever, San Diego joins more than 700 cities worldwide to celebrate Make Music Day. Free and open to every kind of musician — young and old, amateur and professional, two-legged or four-legged — Make Music Day San Diego will include unique musical performances and educational programming for pups of all ages.
I must admit, I’m having a little trouble wrapping my tail around the trendy concept of “activated spaces.” As a canine, activating a space is a rather simple process, mostly a matter of bladder control.
However, I’m certain when the largest open space on Balboa Park’s Central Mesa, the Plaza de Panama, becomes officially “activated” on Wednesday, April 22, from 12 noon to 4pm, I’ll gain a new appreciation for the buzzword’s meaning.
After all, at 1pm, San Diego’s top dog himself, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, will be on hand to do the honors of unveiling the magical transformation of the former parking lot bordered by The San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art, the House of Charm, and the House of Hospitality.
To experience just what an activated space is all about that afternoon, the public is invited to enjoy special hands-on activities hosted by various Balboa Park cultural organizations, performances by San Diego Civic Dance Arts, and more importantly, eminently edible chow from popular food trucks, Chop Soo-ey and Tacos La Mezcla.
Attendees at the special event will also be among the first to break in the Plaza’s new amenities, which include additional tables and chairs, umbrellas, benches, games, and an “outdoor living room” and lawn for lounging. And while they are doing so, they might want to thank Southwest Airlines and the Project for Public Spaces, The San Diego Foundation, and the Balboa Park Conservancy for making it all possible.
I’m sure once I get a whiff of what a vibrant gathering space in the heart of the nation’s largest urban cultural park is, it will quickly become my favorite hangout for free Wi-Fi, unsolicited petting, and food scraps galore!
If you’ve followed this blog, you know that when I dig someone or something, I make no bones about it. So being Valentine’s Day weekend this Saturday and Sunday makes it that much easier for me to express my love for Dr. Carol Williams and her annual Bark in the Park event this Sunday at 2pm in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
What’s not to love when scores of pet lovers and their four-legged friends assemble for a free animal-themed organ concert? And if you happen to be looking for puppy love this weekend, what better way to meet that special “Must Love Dogs” friend? Or better yet, you can fall in love with one of the many pooches and kitties on hand for adoption, courtesy of the San Diego Humane Society.
For those in a new relationship, Bark in the Park is also the perfect opportunity to show off your love for all creatures great and small, as proceeds from donations go to support the Humane Society’s pet-protection and adoption programs.
For pet owners in a long-term relationship, Bark in the Park presents an ideal chance to reaffirm your commitment to your family and pack when attendees are invited to participate in the much-anticipated Pets and People Parade. Your significant other will fall in love with you all over again as you confidently prance across the Organ Pavilion stage, displaying the family pooch for all the world to see, keeping in mind all organ concert events are streamed live globally on Ustream.
I feel like a kid with a new puppy on Christmas morning … or should I say, I feel like a puppy with a new kid?
At any rate, 2015 celebrations in Balboa Park officially launch on December 31 at 7pm with the most spectacular concert event to hit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion since it first opened on New Year’s Eve 1914!
If you weren’t able to make the 1914 opening event, don’t worry because the Spreckels Centennial Concert will feature a rededication ceremony complete with none other than John D. Spreckels himself (or at least a reasonable facsimile). And if you can’t attend this century’s event in the flesh (or hide), you can watch it from the comfort of your home live on Ustream.
What has my tail wagging so much? Here is a taste of what this once-in-a-lifetime event has in store:
- A grand procession of banner-carrying local dignitaries to open the celebration, led by 50 bagpipers piping
- Additional musical fanfare with Westwind Brass
- A re-enactment of the original dedication ceremony
- A big-screen display of historic images from Balboa Park’s 100-year history
- A first sniff at the newly refurbished, sparkling gold mica pipe facade
- An original organ composition commemorating the event by Dr. Carol Williams, highlighting the brand new Centennial Tuba pipe
- Additional performances by an array of top-dog talent, including members of the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra; former civic organists Jared Jacobsen (1978–1984) and Robert Plimpton (1985–2000); harpist Karen Rokos, who is the great granddaughter of the organ’s original installer; and Gina Seashore, carillonist for Balboa Park’s California Tower
- Choral selections by the 200-voice People’s Centennial Choir, culminating with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and a fireworks display
As with any Organ Pavilion event, be sure to bring along your leashed friends for an especially howling good time.
Marketers do everything they can these days to get a leg up on their competition. As a result, marketing buzzwords tend to come and go like a hashtag in a social media feed. Yet I can’t help but think the word “eventizing” was coined to describe what the International Summer Organ Festival has been doing for over a quarter century.
What else would you call presenting a diverse range of top dog musicians from around the globe under the stars on one of the world’s largest outdoor organs that also happens to be 100 years old and situated in the largest urban cultural park in North America? And if that wasn’t enough “eventizing,” the weekly concerts are free, pet friendly, and the perfect place for a family picnic!
But wait! There’s more! as commercials for my favorite as-seen-on-TV pet products always say.
In addition to playing a distinctive style and genre of organ music at each Monday night concert, certain festival performers eventize their own event. Take next week’s performance on June 30 for instance, when Monte Maxwell from the United States Naval Academy performs with the Navy Band Southwest, one of the U.S. Navy’s finest and oldest continuing musical organizations.
Then on July 14, rising star organist Wyatt Smith is joined by soprano Priti Gandhi. The following week (July 21), San Diego Civic Organist Emeritus Robert Plimpton brings along special guest Marco Labastida, a tenor. And on July 28, Danish organist Sven Ingvart-Mikkelsen offers a program from medieval times to the present with bombarde player Jens Roemer.
As always, the 10-week series is capped off by the alpha concert events of the summer in Balboa Park: Silent Movie Night on August 18, when Scottish organist Donald McKenzie accompanies projections of two classic silent films, and the festival finale on August 25, featuring San Diego’s current Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams, who performs with the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra.
Since advertisers tend to chase their own tails more often than not when it comes to (re-)inventing the latest fad, it’s nice to know some programs are buzz worthy based solely on their own merits.
When it comes to summertime, I’m an equal opportunity concert hound — especially when those concerts are free, family-friendly, and outdoors. It makes no difference to me whether the music is rock, country, Cajun, or classical, whether it’s on a weekday or weekend, or whether the concerts take place in the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion or on a lawn at the fringes of Balboa Park’s vast 1,200-acre footprint.
Nevertheless, as much as I dig the International Summer Organ Festival and the Twilight in the Park concert series, there is a very special community vibe that only the Bird Park Summer Concerts can offer. A dozen years in the making, these bi-weekly Saturday evening concerts draw hundreds of residents, and their pooches, from the surrounding Morley Field and North Park neighborhoods.
Located in a small community park at the corner of Upas and 28th Streets, concert seating is open and sur l’herbe, which facilitates my mingling and scavenging efforts. But it’s the top dog local performers, from a variety of genres, that are the real attraction.
In fact, kicking off this year’s summer concert season in Balboa Park on June 14 is none other than the king of the local blues scene himself, Bill Magee and his band. For you lazy dogs who can’t be bothered with clicking the link above, here is the complete Bird Park Summer Concerts schedule:
June 14 — Bill Magee Blues Band
June 28 — The Craig Ingraham Band (folk)
July 12 — The Ballad Mongers (indie rock)
July 26 — Mark Jackson Band (country)
Aug 9 — Bayou Brothers feat. Robin Henkel (Zydeco/folk)
Concerts run from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, offering ample time for dancing, dining, and making new friends.
I have a confession. I don’t actually go to Balboa Park every Sunday afternoon when the Park is full of activity, including a number of free events such as the lip-smacking Lawn Programs hosted by the International Cottages and the 2pm concert in Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Following a big Sunday brunch, I’m sometimes just too dog tired to drag my tail off of the couch. This past Sunday was no exception. I would’ve loved nothing more than to take in a well-attended organ concert as part of the Earth Fair celebration. But after a late-night and a bit of the hair of the dog the next morning, I decided it would be best to curb myself in the creature comforts of my own living room for the rest of the day.
However, thanks to the Spreckels Organ Society’s new Ustream feed, I was able to enjoy Sunday’s relaxing concert event as though I was there in the fir. Launched a few months ago, the live streaming of each Sunday’s organ concert was made possible when the Wi-Fi hotspot in Balboa Park was greatly expanded and strengthened last summer thanks to the efforts of the Balboa Park Conservancy, the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, and San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria.
To stream the organ concerts live on your computer or mobile device, visit the Spreckels Organ Society’s nifty new website just before or after 2pm on Sunday and click the “Follow” button to join the party. An integrated social stream allows listeners to bark their thoughts and comments during the concert.
If you’re kicking yourself for missing last Sunday’s live concert or Ustream, you can still watch a recording of it throughout this week. There is of course no substitute for being there, but it’s nice to know that our current Internet age allows lazy dogs like me to not miss a beat.
I know Valentine’s Day is this Friday, but rather than torment my fellow lone wolves by describing all the exciting, fun, and romantic things couples can do in Balboa Park this weekend, I’ll focus on the best way that we can all share the love: Bark in the Park 8 on Sunday, February 16.
Once again, the free Sunday afternoon concert in Spreckels Organ Pavilion is going to the dogs—literally. Now in its eighth year, Bark in the Park helps raise awareness and much-needed funds for sheltered animals who have so much love to give.
Perennial pet-lover and San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams will present a family-friendly selection of animal-themed tunes beginning at 2pm. As part of her grand finale, all leashed pooches in attendance will be invited on stage for their 15 seconds of fame and a fetching photo opportunity.
All donations collected at the event will support the San Diego Humane Society, which will be on hand to answer all your questions about pet adoption and how to otherwise support canine (and feline) kind.