Stern Grove
Stern Grove | Courtesy of Stern Grove Festival

The combination of open-air venues and San Francisco’s high rate of vaccination and low rate of COVID-19 bodes well for the return of large-scale live performing arts events, more certainly in open-air places than in limited-seating theaters, which also have high hopes.

For history, size, and popularity, the top of the class here is Stern Grove, whose 84th season is getting a go-ahead from the city to open on June 20. (California’s statewide plan is to end restrictions from June 15 on.)

Stern Grove
The bucolic edge of Stern Grove | Credit: Guillermo Torres

Ten concerts are planned between June 20 and Aug. 29, all on the usual Sunday 2 p.m. schedule. As always, the concerts are free, thanks to the generosity of the Levi Strauss Co. founder and his family, including the Goldmans, but because of Covid precautions, for the first time, reservations are required in order to control audience size. Programs are yet to be announced, but they are expected to be the usual mix of pop, ethnic dance, symphony, opera, and ballet.

Veteran Stern Grove audiences have many treasured memories of those Sunday afternoons. Opera fans, for example, happily recall the quarter-century-old high point of Merolina Joyce DiDonato emerging as a star in the title role of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. SF Ballet and SF Symphony enthusiasts have their own “Stern Grove Moments.”

Stern Grove participants
Youngest audience/participants in the Grove | Credit: Stern Grove Education and Outreach

These Stern Grove old-timers may be amused to see the large-font warning on the Grove website for the festival’s location: “Stern Grove is NOT in Golden Gate Park,” but newbies and everybody familiar with the Park’s many attractions are delighted by the reopening of the many big outdoor events there and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

The June 15 state target date for ending restrictions is welcomed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, whose shutdown order in March 2020 was the first in the nation:

San Francisco is looking more and more every day like the vibrant city that it always has been. As we approach the last phases of reopening, we will keep doing all we can to build back all of the best parts of our city so that all of us can thrive. We are ready to do this with the same urgency, partnership with the community, and commitment to equity that we have had throughout this pandemic.”

For artists and audiences going without live music for 14 months, CalHope is offering a concert Tuesday–Thursday, May 25–27, at 7 p.m. Pacific, at, “sharing messages of hope for Californians dealing with mental and emotional stress especially during and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

WEO Snapshots 2021
West Edge Opera Festival comes to the Bruns Amphitheater, July 24–Aug. 8 | Credit: Cory Weaver

Some of the scheduled or ongoing open-air live performances in the area:

Juneteenth Outdoor Celebration at Bayview Opera, June 19, 1 – 3 p.m., 4705 3rd Street
Dolores Park
Golden Gate Park
West Edge Opera at California Shakespeare Theater, July 24 – Aug. 8
Stanford Live, Frost Amphitheater
Yerba Buena Gardens
BottleRock, Napa, Sept. 3 – 5
Outside Lands, Oct. 29 – 31, GG Park