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Concerts and Events

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!

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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.

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Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Nighttime view, Centennial concertI 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.

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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.

International Summer Organ Festival 2014, Balboa ParkWhat 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.

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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.

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Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park Dr. Carol Williams, Easter Sunday Concert, photo by Raymond RoyI 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.

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Bark in the Park 8, Parade of Pooches, Balboa Park, Spreckels Organ PavilionI 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.

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Contrary to popular belief, canines are just as prone to experiencing the Monday blahs as their human companions are. But that has nothing to do with waking up to the prospect of facing a new week of working like a dog. Rather, it has everything to do with what happens Monday evening when our tired family returns home, only to plop themselves on their haunches around the TV to watch the latest episode of The Bachelorette or various sitcom summer repeats. Blah!

Fortunately a few years ago, I discovered the perfect cure for the Monday blahs—at least during the summer months: the free International Summer Organ Festival at the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

But how can listening to live organ music played outdoors in a picture-postcard setting under the stars be more enjoyable than watching a carefully contrived reality TV train wreck every week?

Well, if you have to ask that question, then you are probably reading the wrong blog. For everyone else, I will remind you that the International Summer Organ Festival presents an exciting line up of top-dog organists from around the world each Monday evening, starting at 7:30pm.

Representing a diverse range of music styles, the series presents up-and-coming pups like Daryl Robinson (July 15); world-renowned veterans like Jane Watts (July 22), considered to be one of Britain’s top organists; the equally internationally celebrated Barbara Dennerlein (July 29), one of Germany’s top-selling jazz artists; and San Diego’s own beloved Robert Plimpton (Aug. 5), to name the next few.

Best of all, four-legged critters of all breeds are welcome at the concerts, and, if you must, you can always record the night’s episode of The Bachelorette to watch later when everyone else has gone to bed (pro-tip: fast-forward to the rose ceremony; trust me, you won’t miss anything).

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Since I’m usually a little late to the party when it comes to giving my readers the snouts up about the Bird Park Concert Series, I promised myself I’d feature it earlier this year. And so I am—sort of. Well, thankfully, with one concert down and four to go, there are still plenty of opportunities to get your Saturday evening groove on.

For anyone living outside of amplified-music ear-shot of Bird Park, the summer concert series has become a popular community tradition, drawing families from all over who wish to sample a diverse range of danceable music styles in a scenic children’s park from 5:30 to 7:30pm on select Saturdays. The next concert on June 29 will feature the dance-electronica-pop vibe of Okapi Sun.

But what’s this Bird Park? I thought you only write about Balboa Park.

Located east of Morley Field, Bird Park was actually one of the last areas in Balboa Park to be developed for public use (opening in 1997), though it offers one of the best views of the downtown skyline and harbor (ideal for Fourth of July fireworks watching!).

Taking advantage of the open space’s unique shape, the park’s designers created it to look like a perching bird when seen from the sky. They then etched into the park’s paved walkways the names of all the perching birds commonly found in San Diego County. Since three different areas of Balboa Park were already named Dog Park, I guess they felt they had no choice but to name it Bird Park.

As the Bird Park Concert Series is billed as community event, I’ll remind readers that the most neighborly thing you can do is bring plenty of extra Scooby snacks in your picnic baskets for yours truly and my four-legged pals in attendance.

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Cosmos Blog, International Summer Organ Festival 2011, Best of Hollywood, Carol Williams, Civic Organist, Balboa ParkIt seems like only yesterday I was enjoying one of the first installments of this year’s International Summer Organ Festival. Now here I sit, paws on keyboard, preparing to bark about the season’s finale concert featuring some of the greatest soundtracks in Hollywood film history.

If you are one of those types—bipedal or quadrupedal—who read my first blog about these free Monday evening concerts and said to yourself, “I’ll definitely check out these concerts this summer,” well, guess what? Next Monday, August 29, is your last chance!

But don’t despair, because San Diego Civic Organist, Carol Williams, will be pulling out all the stops. Her closing night concert event, “The Best of Hollywood,” will live up to its title by showcasing some of the most engaging and recognizable music from the soundtracks of The Sound of Music, The Godfather, The Pink Panther, Star Wars, and the most recent Best Picture Oscar winner, The King’s Speech.

Cosmos Blog, International Summer Organ Festival 2011, Best of Hollywood, Carol Williams, Civic Organist, Balboa ParkTo help her bring these celluloid show tunes to life will be the versatile jazz saxophonist Bill Shreeve—I can almost hear him now on The Pink Panther theme—and soprano Cherylyn Larson. You Organheads out there will remember Ms. Larson’s vocal accompaniment at a recent Sunday afternoon (August 14) performance by Ms. Williams of selections from another famous flick, West Side Story.

Speaking of flix, since many of you will likely be dropping all your red DVD mailers back in the mail next Monday morning, the Summer Organ Festival Finale is surely your best option for quality entertainment at an affordable price—FREE!

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