SF’s Stern Grove music festival returns with R-rated hip-hop

On Sunday afternoon, thousands of San Franciscans flocked to one of the city’s most iconic concert venues for an afternoon of smooth soul music and bombastic hip-hop.

Featuring Bay Area legends Too $hort and Tower of Power, the lineup for the season opener was actually a reschedule of the final Stern Grove concert of 2021, which was canceled after 700,000 gallons of water flooded the park. There appeared to still be some construction throughout the grounds, but fans of the venue will be happy to know that the natural amphitheater felt like it had been brought back to life.

Tower of Power performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Tower of Power performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

Despite the new reservation system, long lines stretched along the north and south sides of the park, and as usual real estate for folding chairs and picnic blankets was tough to find. However, thanks to the pandemic pivot to livestreaming, the festival had added a large video screen to the grassy side area, which showed a very slickly produced feed of the concert for those without a sightline to the stage. Early in the day, a heavy fog settled throughout the grove and light drizzles threatened the vibe, but the cooling mist merely added to the San Francisco atmosphere.

Mayor London Breed speaks before cutting the ribbon celebrating the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Mayor London Breed speaks before cutting the ribbon celebrating the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

A couple and their dog listen to Tower of Power perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

A couple and their dog listen to Tower of Power perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Adam Pardee

Eighteen month old Fionnlagh Mac Cumhaill Devine enjoys a bottle of milk with headphones on as her parents listen to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 

Eighteen month old Fionnlagh Mac Cumhaill Devine enjoys a bottle of milk with headphones on as her parents listen to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

A woman enjoys the music by DJ Shortkut before the show begins at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

A woman enjoys the music by DJ Shortkut before the show begins at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

Mayor London Breed announced the start of the Stern Grove festival, as fans danced to Too $hort and Tower of Power. Credit: Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE


Just before Too $hort’s set, Mayor London Breed stepped up for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in which she thanked the Goldman family for stewarding he festival for five generations, and showed appreciation toward parks department employees who worked overtime to repair the park. With her civic duties behind her, the mayor shifted into the role of hype woman.

“Ye Area, let’s turn up, let’s have a good time, thank you for coming!” screamed Mayor Breed.

Too $hort performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 

Too $hort performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

The crowd enjoys Too $hort at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 

The crowd enjoys Too $hort at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

Too $hort performs at the Stern Grove music festival. Credit: Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

The crowd was warmed up by DJ Shortkut, a San Francsico turntablism legend whose career dates back to the late ’80s. He blazed through a medley of Bay Area hip-hop classics including everything from “The Thizzle Song” to “I’ve Got Five on It” to several hits featuring Shock G of Digital Underground, who died in 2019. When it was time for Too $hort to take the stage, he entered to a loop of “his favorite word” from the 2006 hit “Blow the Whistle” and the hillside erupted, with thousands of people screaming the very-much-uncensored lyrics in unison.

$hort joked about how he agreed with the festival organizers to keep his set “R-rated” and laughed as he pointed out babies in the crowd wearing protective headphones, but it was clear that he wasn’t doing much to tone down his language for the families in attendance. He stomped through trunk-rattling classics like “I’m a Player,” “The Ghetto” and “Gangsters & Strippers,” boasting about his legendary history as the first Bay Area rapper to release an independent album. The set was everything a Bay Area hip-hop fan could ask for.

People dance while listening to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

People dance while listening to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

Too $hort performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Too $hort performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

A man known as The Entertainer dances in the aisles while listening to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 

A man known as The Entertainer dances in the aisles while listening to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

The crowd enjoys Too $hort at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 

The crowd enjoys Too $hort at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. 


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

Too $hort performs for a full crowd at Stern Grove music festival. Credit: Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

After $hort left the stage, DJ Shortkut returned for a second set of masterfully mixed funk sure-shots before the arrival of Tower of Power. Ever since their 1970 debut album “East Bay Grease” (released on Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records), Tower of Power have earned a reputation as one of the tightest bands to ever come out of the Bay Area, with their signature wall-of-saxophone sound reverberating throughout the park.

Extended versions of “Soul Vaccination” and “What Is Hip?” offered nearly every musician on the stage a chance to flex into a solo, and the lengthy vamping also gave the sun enough time to emerge from behind the fog. As the sky parted, Tower of Power broke into “You’re Still a Young Man,” which served as the perfect soundtrack for laying on a blanket in the sun and enjoying a uniquely San Francisco tradition.

Tower of Power performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Tower of Power performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Adam Pardee

A man dances atop a rock with a No Seating Area sign while DJ Shortkut pumps up the crowd before the show begins at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

A man dances atop a rock with a No Seating Area sign while DJ Shortkut pumps up the crowd before the show begins at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

People listen to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

People listen to Too $hort perform at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022.


Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

A woman dances at the picnic tables as Tower of Power performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

A woman dances at the picnic tables as Tower of Power performs at the first concert of the year at the 85th Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Adam Pardee

Crowds watch Tower of Power perform at Stern Grove music festival. Credit: Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE

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