Tiempo Libre with SF Symphony at Dolores Park

Posted on Aug 30, 2012

One of the fine moments I did have this Summer was my MC stint with Tiempo Libre along with the SF Symphony at Dolores Park this past July.
The San Francisco Symphony travelled to Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Mission last July 22nd.  The community that watched the free show had their picnic spots set up at the Park.  The Mission Cultural Center were involved in this concert with the Symphony along with the SF Arts Commission and the McKesson corporation.  The Symphony brought with them a powerhouse of a band with Tiempo Libre, an exciting Miami based septet made up of Cuban born musicians who are adept at playing Afro-Cuban son, timba and salsa.  
I was invited by the San Francisco Symphony to emcee their event at Dolores Park.  
I represented KPFA and my program “Con Sabor”.  The park which was packed to the gills by a wide cross section of people from timba aficionados to the trendy “beautiful” people to some folks who wouldn’t have stepped on Dolores Park soil let alone the Mission a decade ago.  However since gentrification has changed the population and landscape of the Mission, the opportunity seemed right for the Symphony to throw this free classical music bacchanal.  The expansive staging and sound were top-notch.  The Symphony were dressed in their Sunday best attire.  The Symphony were set up in a u formation on stage while the center of the stage was set up with Tiempo Libre’s equipment.
The Symphony presented their special program of classical music with a Latin theme for the first half of the show.  The Symphony started the second half by playing a short suite before introducing Tiempo Libre.  People moved past the barricades in the large grassy area in the front of the stage and turned it into a dance floor for the duration of the set.  Tiempo Libre was superb.  The band led by keyboardist Jorge Gomez took the stage and tore it up with their musically fat sounding versions of timeless Cuban classic standards such as “Que Bueno Baila Usted”, “El Manicero” and “Son De La Loma”.  The band had a tight and explosive sound while their vocalist Joaquin Diaz danced and grinded “a la timba cubana” while he sang his pregones (refrains) to a happy crowd.  The symphony backed Tiempo Libre sounding like a massive charanga with their string arrangements.  
The fired up crowd brought back Tiempo Libre for an encore after they played their set of rehearsed numbers with the Symphony.  Suddenly, the band switched to a hypnotic timba rhythm and the crowd went crazy!  The syncopated sounds of the keyboards, driving synths, funk bass, the fierce polyrhythms of the percussion locked into the timba groove while Diaz led a call and response with the excited crowd.  They managed to get quite a few hands in the air at the SF Symphony concert.  A few Symphony musicians who were on stage dancing in their seats while grooving to the irresistible rhythms of Tiempo Libre!  
Thanks to Louisa Spier and the fine staff at the SF Symphony, the SF Arts Commission and the Mission Cultural Center for their support and tireless work at pulling this event off!  It was a memorable afternoon to be a part of this unique San Francisco happening…vaya!!