A crowd of people clapped and danced in the streets of Berkeley Saturday during the opening celebration of the fourth annual Berkeley Arts Festival that runs through June 30.
The event, called the “Music Circus,” brought together about 125 performers who filled the corners of Shattuck Avenue from University Avenue to Channing Way with music during the whole afternoon. The celebration also included a corner of poetry readings.
The majority of the participants were jazz bands, including the Richard Kalman & Friends from Albany Adult School, the band of saxophonist Steve Adams, and the John Schott’s Typical Orchestra. But the program wasn’t limited to R&B or swing. At festival headquarters on Shattuck Avenue at Allston Way, opera singers Hope Briggs, Isabelle Metwalli, Eliza O’Malley and Terry Alvord performed breathtaking arias. Outside, pop, folk, experimental and world music mixed in the air — reflecting Berkeley’s cultural diversity.
“The mission of the Music Circus is to present the wide range of musicians and poets that are connected to Berkeley and give them exposure to the public,” explained Arnie Passman, a festival organizer.
The festival went into full swing at 2:30 p.m. when parents with children, teenagers, and senior citizens of all ethnicity started forming an enthusiastic audience at the corners. Some had come specifically for the event, others were just passersby attracted by the music and the nice weather.
“I love it,” said Mary Kennedy a psychiatrist who came from Marin County to attend the event. “The audience is great, the performers are terrific, and the sun is good.” Events like the festival are part of the reason why Kennedy plans to move to Berkeley, a town she loves for, she said, “its sense of community.”
Many of the musicians who played during Saturday’s Music Circus had come in memory of their former days in Berkeley.
For the Bear Cats’ trombone player Bob Mielke, the opening of the festival was an opportunity to meet and play with old friends.
“We’ve known each other for years. Jack Minger and I roomed together back in 1949,” he said, referring to his band’s trumpet player.
Berkeley native Sy Klopps and his orchestra ended the event. In the span of a couple of ballroom tunes only — many of which were tracks from the band’s last CD, “Berkeley Soul” — Klopps managed to attract more than a hundred people on BART plaza. About 20 of them soon started moving to the rhythm of the music and turned the gathering into a party.
“It’s fun to play in the streets of my hometown, because my fondest memories are of my childhood in Berkeley,” Klopps said after his show. “This was my starting ground.”
The success of this year’s Music Circus is a new example of the growing popularity of the Arts Festival. When it first started in 1997, the coordinators only had the means to list the cultural activities happening in town. They prepared very few events themselves. But progressively more artists and more organizers got involved. This year the festival received $40, 000 from the city and local sponsors and was able to prepare a variety of events. The program features all kinds of music concerts, photography and sculpture exhibitions, historic and architectural tours, as well as poetry readings.
For additional information about the Berkeley Arts Festival, visit the website http://www.berkeleyartsfestival.com