Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Brown, Dr. John, Blind Boys of Alabama, Leela James, Lyrics Born, Los Amigos Invisibles and others break fresh Bay Area ground.

SAN FRANCISCO – The City by the Bay opens its arms to the first-ever FESTIVAL OF THE GOLDEN GATE on Saturday and Sunday, August 19-20, at the Fort Mason Great Meadow. Combining two days of contemporary and legendary rock, soul and pop headliners with the cuisine and spectacular views of San Francisco the Festival promises to be an annual fixture on the Bay Area music calendar.

JAMES BROWN brings his screaming 17-piece band to crown the inaugural festival. Also confirmed are legendary performers like New Orleans R&B pianist DR. JOHN, gospel greats the BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA, and rock and roll pioneers THE ORIGINAL COMETS. Rounding out the (still to be completed 2-day bill) are some of the hottest new acts around, including: soul slinger LEELA JAMES, Bay Area funk hero LYRICS BORN, Venezuelan disco kings LOS AMIGOS INVISIBLES, San Francisco songwriter SEAN HAYES, the circus-performance mania of VAU DE VIRE SOCIETY, and Latin-funk heir-apparent SALVADOR SANTANA.

All this will take place on the scenic Fort Mason Great Meadow, historic site of the much-loved San Francisco Blues Festival. Art installations, roving performance artists, and a showcase stage in a massive circus tent will enhance the Festival experience. Local and regional cuisine vendors will offer everything from BBQ to Cajun cooking to Asian delicacies as well as local wines and brews. For the 4-star festival experience, a limited number of $150 VIP tickets offer "up close" stage access, a commemorative limited edition poster, an onsite VIP lounge and a Saturday night VIP concert with surprise guests at Bimbo's 365 Club.

Tickets go on sale Friday, June 2, 10 a.m. at or by calling (415) 256-8499. Prices start at only $35 Saturday and $49 Sunday, with a specially-priced $75 two-day pass. Gates open each day at 10 a.m. and the music lasts until 6 p.m. Updates to the Festival lineup will be announced through the website as they become available.

The festival is co-presented by Sunset Promotions, longtime producers of the annual North Beach Jazz Festival, and San Francisco Funk Festival, and BMP Events.


JAMES BROWN: "The Godfather of Soul," "the hardest working man in show business," "the sex machine," "Mr. Dynamite" are some of the superlatives that have been linked to James Brown. But few realize that James Brown is also the "most prolific recording artist in the English language. That's right, James Brown has released more singles, albums, compilations, retrospectives, box-sets etc... than just about anybody. Along the way, he's reinvented more than a few genres (see: "soul") invented a few others (see: "funk") and dabbled in so many others (see: "blues," "jazz," "rock," "electro," "disco," "house") that "grandmaster of music" might be the most accurate description. And then there are the hits, 24 Top 10 albums plus 52 Top 10 singles including an incredible 15 pop and R&B #1 hits that read like a history of American popular music: from "Try Me" (1959) to "I Got You (I Feel Good)" (1965) to "Cold Sweat" (1967) to "Say it Loud (I'm Black & I'm Proud" (1968) to "the Payback" (1974) to "Living in America" (1986).

But all of this is in the past. What's most amazing about James Brown as he approaches 73 years young, is the fact that he still churns out more energy and excitement, than most artists a third his age. The James Brown show still boasts one of the most cohesive bands on earth ("the Soul Generals") some of the most soulful backup singers ("the Bittersweets") plus world-class dancers, solo accompanists and even the world's most famous musical "hype-man" Danny Ray. In the 21st Century, the James Brown show still manages a massive touring schedule, including an annual visit to the Bay Area to play a big-ticket night show at a big theatre. That Mr. Brown will be performing outdoors, in San Francisco's own backyard is a gift; a once-in-a-lifetime treat; an experience not to be missed.

Dr. JOHN: A true icon of New Orleans music, the man born Mac Rebennack began his illustrious career recording and producing music in the 1950's. In fact, his talent first attracted notice for his guitar playing, when he worked as a sideman to none other than the seminal figure in New Orleans funk/boogie/R&B Professor Longhair, as well as other stars like Frankie Ford and Joe Tex. When his hand was injured in a gun accident, Rebennack shifted his focus solely to piano, and has grown in the past four decades into the most famous heir to Longhair's legacy. His gravelly, patois-tinged singing is one of those rare voices in music that is unmistakable. You KNOW when you're listening to Dr. John.

Along the way, he's blessed us with more than his share of hits, including "Right Place, Wrong Time," "Such a Night," "Walk on Guilded Splinters" and superlative version of Longhair's classic "Big Chief." His early 1970's work, produced by the likes of Phil Spector and Allen Touissaint, and backed by artists like Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, the Meters and Mike Bloomfield, defined his sound; a greasy gumbo of New Orleans funk, psychedelic rock, and electric jazz which he simply terms "voodoo music." And while he has touched on many traditional styles throughout his recording career, the power of Dr. John's voice and vibe are such that he can even make other legends music his own, as he proved on 2000's "Duke Elegant." He has gained new respect for his outspoken criticism of the government response to Hurricane Katrina, and has been a frequent contributor to various benefits aiming to aid his beloved home. In Katrina's wake, we are honored to pay one of New Orleans favorite sons the respect he so deserves.

BLIND BOYS of ALABAMA: Today the Blind Boys are America's most famous and beloved gospel group, a household name among music fans of all stripes. And yet, only 20 years ago, the group was hardly known outside of gospel circles. The group once known as "the Five Blind Boys of Alabama" met at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind in the 1930's when they were all actually boys. And yet it wasn't until 1948 that they began recording, taking on the more simple "Blind Boys of Alabama" moniker in 1950 after the death of one founding member. And though they recorded many gospel hits, and inspired a generation of gospel, blues and soul artists, it wasn't until their 1983 Obie-Award winning Broadway show "Gospel at Colonus" that they burst into the national music spotlight.

Since then it's been a joyous journey for these incomparable gospel artists. They have achieved worldwide acclaim and earned four Grammy Awards while reaching a new generation of listeners performing with artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel and Lou Reed. What stands out about a Blind Boys performance today is the excitement, the energy, the joy they emit among fans of all ages. With the first-rate R&B grooves of rhythm section Ricky McKinnie (drums), Joey Williams (guitar) and Tracy Pierce (bass) and the incomparable harmonies of vocalists Calrence Fountain, Jimmy Carter, and Billie Bowers, a Blind Boys performance is pure musical deliverance. We are honored not only to welcome them to the inaugural Festival of the Golden Gate, but even more so to have them singing on a Sunday afternoon.

LYRICS BORN: Tom Shimura is a walking, talking, singing, dancing, hitmaking representation of all that's right about Bay Area music. A local microphone prodigy, Lyrics Born began his career while at UC Davis, collaborating with fellow (then) students DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, and Lateef to found Solesides Records and then Quannum, as a vehicle for their unique take on conscious urban music. And while Shadow and Blackalicious met with critical and commercial success relatively quickly, it would take Shimura a bit more time, both to finish his debut album (7 years in the making) and garner even local radio play. And strangely enough, it was the love of local modern rock station, Live 105, and their adoption of the single "Callin' Out" that broke this urban beat aficionado into the national spotlight. And while "Callin' Out" made a star of Lyrics Born, it was the album Later that Day and a brilliant remix follow-up "Same &*%#%, Different Day" that have exposed the fact that Shimura's production skills are as well-honed as his lyrical delivery. And like the rest of the artists at the Festival of the Golden Gate, Lyrics Born absolutely kills 'em when he's on-stage, his raspy staccato offset by the sweet singing of his wife/backup singer/label-mate Joyo Velarde. We are proud to present a true local musical hero to the inaugural FoggFest.

LEELA JAMES: Leela James is a new force in urban soul music, bursting upon the world of R&B and neo-soul with her 2005 debut A Change is Gonna Come (Warner). Produced with the help of luminaries like Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, Chucky Thompson, James Poyser, the album has thrust James into the national spotlight and drawn comparisons not only to neo-soul contemporaries like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, but to divas for whom, a first name is enough to identify them: Aretha, Chaka, Dionne, Carla Thomas. And though it's easy to judge artists by their influences or peers, Leela James has built a massive following completely on her own; touring relentlessly and astounding her audiences with her voice, her music, her grace. And while many of her contemporaries have embraced minimal production and tomorrow's beats, James' music sounds like an extremely talented church band. Sacred music with secular themes: that there is the very definition of soul music. We are proud to present this beacon of modern soul on a day when so many of her heroes will share the stage.

LOS AMIGOS INVISIBLES: What's a Venezuelan disco band doing hanging around the United States? Playing barnburner concerts, building a rabid following, and cutting groundbreaking albums, that's what! The "Invisible Friends" built a following in Caracas by playing abandoned warehouses and bringing live music back to the underground. In 1997 they moved to New York and were signed by David Byrne's prestigious Luaka Bop label for two superb forays into eclectic Latin dance music. In 2004 they joined forces with famed electronica producers Masters at Work to take their sound even further into the future. By updating traditional styles in a live context, they exemplify a world-music movement that's taking the sounds of the rural village to the global village; much like Femi Kuti has for Afrobeat, Rachid Taha for Arabic, and Kinky for Mexican. But its still their infectious energy and superb live cohesion that have built them a coast to coast following. Their concerts are sweaty, sexy, juicy, get-downs full of enthralled female admirers and their acquiescent boyfriends. So we invite you to catch the fever, but make sure you bring something cold to drink, and of course, your dancing shoes.

THE ORIGINAL COMETS: Very few Rock & Roll bands are still performing 50 years after their first record hit but Bill Haley's Original Comets have managed to surpass that mark. The Comets continue to defy the odds with their authentic 1950's rock & roll tunes like "See You Later, Alligator," "Shake, Rattle & Roll," and "Rock Around The Clock." The band has earned a place in The Guinness Book of World Records for selling 43 million copies of its greatest hit, "Rock Around The Clock." There's a famous quote by John Lennon that goes "Before Elvis, there was nothing." But Lennon was wrong, and he probably knew it. It's easy to forget that the Comets' signature song, "Rock Around the Clock," was recorded for Decca Records in April 1954, a full three months before Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studio to record "That's Alright, Mama." Indeed, bassist Marshall Lytle, lead guitarist Franny Beecher, drummer Dick Richards, pianist Johnny Grande and saxophonist Joey Ambrose are still rocking around the clock fifty years after they first stepped into the studio. Eighty-three year old Franny Beecher's nimble hands still pick out the notes on his guitar like a teenager, while 80-year old Dick Richards still manages to take us back to 1956 with his intricate drumming on favorites such as "Rock This Joint." The Original Comets, charter members of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, perform 60 to 80 concerts a year and just recently finished a tour of Europe. "They only accept you over there if you're the real thing, they don't want to hear any copycat groups," says Lytle. Get ready to experience the real thing as we set our watches to the slap-happy rockabilly rhythm of the Original Comets.

SEAN HAYES: Much like the man himself, Sean Hayes musical sensibilities defy easy categorization. Just because there's a banjo feature din a track, don't expect it to sound Appalachian – and definitely don't expect the tuba to have anything to do with Sousa and his severely metered marches. With his new album Big Black Hole and the Little Baby Star the North Carolina-bred and San Francisco-rooted artist continues to embrace the multifarious, channeling Billy Holliday in her melancholy moments or hitting the pavement with broken-hearted wild-eyed friends who take strength in numbers. With subject matter that ranges from Polka-dot panties to innocent death row inmates, it's best to keep an ear cocked to sort out Hayes' lyrics. A masterful songwriter and fingerpicker, the singer plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. We welcome one of the Bay Area's most exciting new voices to open (main stage) and close (showcase) the first-ever day at the festival of the Golden Gate.

SALVADOR SANTANA BAND: Keyboardist and composer Salvador Santana's vibrant music mixes hip-hop, jazz, rock, Latin and other world idioms into a uniquely individual and totally contemporary style. He likes to call the richly textured grooves he creates with the Salvador Santana Band, "a new blend, a sound reinvented." Salvador Santana's artistic chops are also, of course, colored by—and a continuation of—his family's awesome legacy. Salvador's maternal grandfather was African-American blues pioneer, tenor and guitar legend Saunders King, his paternal grandfather is celebrated violinist and mariachi bandleader Jose Santana, and his father is 10X GRAMMY®-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana. Salvador's lyrics and inspired spoken word poetry reflect the gift for writing he shares with his mother, Deborah Santana, whose first book, the memoir "Space Between The Stars," was published in 2005. The audio book version of the title features music that Salvador and Carlos composed together; previously, they collaborated on composing the GRAMMY-winning track "El Farol" from the smash 1999 Santana album Supernatural. "I always dreamt of being a musician," says Salvador, who experimented with guitar, but found his calling on piano and keyboards. "I'm honored to be a part of what my family has created, and to carry the torch a few laps around the course myself."

VAU DE VIRE SOCIETY: Spawned from the depths of San Francisco's thriving Dance and Circus sub-cultures, the Vau de Vire Society, since summer '04, has ravaged and titillated the live entertainment scene causing jaws to drop in awe and admiration around the Bay and beyond. This Avante-Cabaret community consists of classically-trained dancers, some of the nations most acclaimed Acrobats, Aerial Artists, Contortionists and side-show acts, an array of Fire-Performers, a handful of Thespians and the most enticing go-go's. The group has been cross-pollinating genres by collaborating with an eclectic variety of renowned Musicians and DJ's in creating original stage shows for the non-pretentious. Collaborators have included the San Francisco Symphony, Dresden Dolls, Alkaline Trio, Angelo Moore (Fishbone), The Mutaytor, Loop!Station, String Cheese Incident, Kid Beyond, Rosin Coven, DJ Zeph, Mc Azeem and many others. We welcome their creativity, wildness and delicious sense of humor to the inaugural Festival of the Golden Gate; expect the unexpected.

[Published on: 5/30/06]

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