Category Archives: grand lake / lake merritt

Freedom Songs at Studio Grand

After doing everything and anything I could to take advantage of last weekend’s gorgeous sunshine, balmy temperatures, and springtime blooms, I could have easily planted myself on the couch to rest my weary bones in front of some mindless TV. But I opted instead to hit this show–solo even, since I could find no other takers on a Sunday night–and I’m so glad I did.

Not just for the show, which was beautiful, inspiring, and quite moving. But also for the introduction to Studio Grand, a space about which I am incredibly excited. It’s the kind of place I’ve fantasized about creating for a long time… a gallery, no… a performance space, no… a community art center. Oh sweet Jesus, it’s all of the above! I can’t wait to learn more and explore some of their super-interesting upcoming offerings.

But on to Sunday’s show…
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Freedom Songs was listed in my Friday post about weekend activities to celebrate Black History Month, and is the one event I attended. It featured four local Bay Area vocalists (Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin, Kimiko Joy) performing selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul.

I arrived just in time for the second set which highlighted mostly contemporary works by Nina Simone, Sam Cooke (by way of Mahalia Jackson), Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Mos Def, and more. My guess is that the first half focused on more of the early gospels and folk songs, and I’m sorry to have missed this.

Each woman in turn performed a song of her choosing, perhaps giving a little history of the song and why she selected it. The set transitioned from songs of struggle during the civil rights movement (Too Slow, A Change Is Gonna Come, Someday We’ll All Be Free, and Visions), to songs of celebration (Golden, Tree of Life, and Shine A Light).

It’s hard to describe how touching these performances were. My words can’t convey the power of these women’s voices and the heart and love that they projected into the crowd. The song that really got me was right in the middle of the show, rounding out the songs of struggle with one emphasizing disappointment, yet still so full of hope.

It’s one of the less well-known songs from Stevie Wonder’s wildly popular and seminal album Innervisions, which featured such hits as Too High, Living for the City, and Higher Ground, and garnered several Grammy’s including Album of the Year.  It is considered by many to be one of his greatest and most important works, addressing such issues as “drugs, spirituality, political ethics, the unnecessary perils of urban life, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream.”(wikipedia).

Visions is the mournful embodiment of this last issue, and Amy Lacour’s rendition brought tears to my eyes. Here are the lyrics for those who aren’t familiar with it…

People hand in hand
Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?
Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?

The law was never passed
But somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last
Have we really gone this far through space and time
Or is this a vision in my mind?

I’m not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown when autumn comes around

I know just what I say
Today’s not yesterday
And all things have an ending

But what I’d like to know
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

The current gallery exhibit Abstracts in the Way of Being by Todd Thomas Brown, though difficult to fully appreciate at night, seemed the perfect backdrop for this show, with bold abstracts in striking reds and blacks. The vocalists were all accompanied by the incredibly soulful stylings of pianist Joe Warner. And the show culminated with a group performance including all four of these beautiful women, encouraging the crowd to sing along.

I was singing all the way to my car… in my head as I went to bed that night… and on into this week. I want to thank Studio Grand for hosting an excellent show, and to all of these courageous artists for sharing their hearts with us!

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Sweater Weather

yarnbomb, streetcolor, yarnbomb install at OMCA

streetcolor, OMCA, yarnbomb, yarnbombing, oakland museum yarnbomb

I’ve been meaning to post these images for a bit now… ever since the weather turned cold, the sandals and summer shirts got sequestered to the back of my closet, and the warm, soft, comforting sweaters I love donning so much each fall were brought forth to their rightful place, front & center.

The pictures above and below are by the same artist, Streetcolor. I shot her a few weeks ago for Oakland Magazine while she was installing her yarn bomb pieces in various locations throughout the grounds of the Oakland Museum of California.  Oakland Magazine will be featuring her in their January/February issue so keep your eyes out for that… In the meantime, you can read all about Streetcolor and her installation, both on OMCA’s blog (Yarn Bombing OMCA) and Streetcolor’s personal blog:

You can also go visit the installation in person, which of course is the best way to experience these incredibly tactile pieces. The installations will be up until December 15th.

The photo below is of an earlier piece she installed at Lake Merritt. There’s a third one just out of frame to the right, but I love this shot so much with its shadows and perspective, that you’ll  have to head to the lake if you want to see the full set…

streetcolor, yarnbomb, yarnbomb bikeracks, yarnbomb oakland

Icons of Oakland’s Grand Avenue

So yesterday’s test was a little too easy, eh? It seems the Pet Hospital sign was the real giveaway… and if that sign clued you in to this awesome stretch of Oakland, these signs should really ring a bell.

I start with The Alley, because it’s a real gem. A one of a kind. An Oaktown original.

I have to admit I’ve only mustered the courage to sing here a couple of times (with a little help from whiskey-on-the-rocks) because Rod Dibble’s regulars are really really good. These folks take their song stylings very seriously. It’s awesome. If you haven’t been, you simply must go.

More reading: Piano man Rod Dibble’s got ’em feeling all right by Peter Hartlaub (sfgate)
piano bar oakland, rod dibble's alley

Next up is The Grand Bakery. As yelper Russ E. said, “If you are a Jew and you don’t know about this place, shame on you.” Always with the guilt! But seriously, this place has incredible chocolate covered macaroons (my personal favorites), and is known for its other delectable Jewish treats like Challah & rugelach. Keep in mind they’re closed on Saturdays. It seems a source of frustration for many, but duh…

kosher bakery oakland, grand avenue bakery

Next up, Kingman’s Lucky Lounge. I don’t do the bar scene too much anymore, but when I did, I loved this spot.  Great ambiance. Cool clientele. DJ’s spinnin’ fresh tunes. And, of course, tasty drinks.

lucky lounge, grand avenue bars, oakland bars

Now the Coffee Mill I’m not quite as familiar with, but as I was heading across the street to shoot their sign, which I love, the woman next to me was telling her little girl that they have the best Chai Latte in the world. That’s quite a claim. They seem to be known for their delicious breakfasts more than their coffee. Any of you fans? Give me the scoop…
grand avenue cafes, oakland coffee shops, oakland cafes
Ah, Boot & Shoe Service. Can I just say that I have a big crush on Charlie Hallowell and his incredible pizzas? Yes, he’s married with child, and yes, I’m in a relationship too, but those fantastically thin crusts! To die for. Everything is amazing. A much smaller menu than his original Pizzaiolo, but that’s part of the charm.

Charlie Hallowell restaurants
Smitty’s. A dive bar. Pool table. Shuffleboard. Juke Box. Cheap beer. What more do you need to know?

oakland bars, grand avenue bars, dive bars oakland
Walden Pond Books – a great independent bookstore. See my post from last year: Walden Pond Books – Oakland’s Oldest Bookstore including their Declaration of Independents, and my interview with Paul Curatolo, now manager for over 35 years!

independent bookstores, oakland independent bookstores

Bicycle Coffee Co. These guys set up at the Saturday Farmers Market. I haven’t had their coffee yet (organic, fair trade, shade grown, hand-picked, and locally roasted in small batches), but I dig their carts, and was captivated by their groovy logo.

More Reading: Q&A with Bicycle Coffee Co.’s Brad Butler and Brandon McKee by Alex Hochman (sfweekly)

pedal power, coffee cart, oakland coffee carts

And last, but certainly not least, the wonderful Grand Lake Theater. It’s one of my favorite things about our city and I wrote all about it awhile back in Grand Lake Movie Magic… Post includes the top 7 reasons this is, hands down, the best movie theater in the East Bay, the history of the theater, and a cool video about the mechanics behind their amazing lighted sign. Check it out!

independent movie theaters, oakland grand lake, old movie houses

I ♥ Temescal Tool Lending Library – please help save…

So everyone is talking about the potential library closures… you can read all about it

And lots of great points are being made… about the need for these neighborhood resources, providing accessibility to books and the internet for all residents regardless of income, providing social gathering spots and places of refuge from the neighborhood violence in some parts of Oakland, providing a suite of services and resources that once were offered by public schools but now have been cut from there as well.  The list goes on and on, and these are all incredibly important points.

But what I don’t hear anyone talking about is the Temescal TOOL Lending Library.

I have to admit that this is my most frequently visited branch/service of the entire Oakland Public Library system.  They know me by name, and I know most of theirs as I see them nearly weekly.

I’ve always liked fixing/building/making things. I was a born DIY’er before the term DIY even existed. You can see this was either instilled early (by my grandfather – pipe in mouth), or perhaps just came naturally, by this photo of my first home building project (I think I was 6).

projects with grandpa, early DIY training

For those who don’t know, and I’m always amazed when I meet folks who don’t, this is an incredible resource exclusively dedicated to Oakland residents. Modeled after the tool lending library in Berkeley, they house thousands of tools that can be “rented” FREE of charge for short periods of time. Everything you need to tend to your home and garden (carpentry & woodworking, concrete & masonry, electrical, floor & wall, garden & digging, ladders/dollies/handtrucks/wheelbarrows, mechanical & power, plumbing, etc.) plus books and how-to videos.

I think I’ve checked out tools in nearly every one of those categories from the early days in 2000 (this was when renovating my loft in West Oakland, photo left) to more recent projects on the home here in Dimond (photo right).

bathroom tiling project, kitchen painting project

This arm of the Temescal Branch library was launched in January of 2000 (thanks to seed money from a Community Development Block Grant).  It was an outgrowth of a small “Home Resources Collection” established at this branch after the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 to help residents with rebuilding and repairs following the disaster.

And it just makes sense.  In a dense urban environment where homes are frequently smallish apartments or “cottage” houses (read small!), who’s got the space to store all the things you need to care for your home? And more importantly, who wants to shell out the cash (tools are expensive!) for something you may use once or twice a year??

I LOVE the Temescal Tool Lending Library!  Please help save it.

According to the budget proposals currently being considered, the following library branches and resources would be slated for closure:

Asian, Brookfield, Cesar Chavez, Eastmont, Elmhurst, Golden Gate, Lakeview, Martin Luther King, Melrose, Montclair, Piedmont, Temescal, West Oakland, AAMLO, and the Tool Lending Library.

Is this not crazy?!? Especially after residents voted in 2003 for continued support of our libraries (Measure Q).

Here are five things you can do to help (from Save Oakland Libraries):

  1. Tell your friends and neighbors about the devastating funding cuts to libraries – Ask 10 of your friends to call or write the Mayor and City Council. Like the Save Oakland Library page on Facebook.
  2. Share your library experiences with city officials – Make sure that Oakland’s mayor, city manager, and city council know what libraries mean to you and your community.
  3. Attend Oakland City Council meetings – We need a big turnout. Bring signs supporting libraries. Bring children who love libraries. Request to speak. Speaker cards can be requested online one week in advance at the Office of the City Clerk page.  Next meetings 6/7 and 6/21 at 5:30pm
  4. Organize – Gather petition signatures and distribute fliers – These activities must happen outside the library locations–near branches or at community events. Fill our volunteer form and help save your library. Check our volunteer page for an activity near you. Download instructions on how to petition (PDF). Download the petition (PDF).
  5. Contact newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and local blogs – Call the media and ask if they are covering the proposed Oakland library closings. When you read related news coverage, write a letter to the editor with thanks and a message about why Oakland’s public libraries are needed