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Pedrito Martinez kicks off Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

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Percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band are the first of many exciting performers playing free shows in Yerba Buena Gardens this summer. (Courtesy Tom Ehrlich)

Now in its 16th year, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival begins at 1 p.m. Sunday with a performance by Grammy nominated Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his group, with vocalist Issac Delgado. It’s the first of 100 free events in the outdoor urban center this summer.

Calling the season “jam packed” with “the most amazing artists from the Bay Area and beyond,” program director Linda Lucero invites visitors to experience the “true heart and soul of San Francisco.”

Each weekend offers at least one free show — music, theater, circus, dance, poetry or children’s programs — with about 10 performances slated each month from May through September. Most are around lunchtime, and some are in the early evenings.

Highlights include a salsa dance series at 6 p.m. Thursdays, featuring Orquesta La Moderna Tradición (May 19), Los Compas on (June 23), Fito Reinoso y Su Ritmo y Armonia (July 21), Mazacote (Aug. 18) and Candela featuring Calixto Oviedo (Sept. 18).

Concerts are offered most Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The lineup includes Cypress String Quartet (May 19), Inspector Gadje (May 26), LoCura (June 2), Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble (June 9), Jenny Lind Concert (June 23), Cal Raijin Taiko (June 7), Tiffany Austin (July 14), Zéna Carlota (July 21), Joe Bagale (July 28), Blue Tango Project (Aug. 11), Naima Shalhoub (Aug. 25), Destiny Muhammad (Sept. 1) and Mass Bass (Sept. 8).

New works commissioned by the festival also are on the bill. They include Circus Bella’s “Out of Line!” on June 24-25; Patrick Makuakane and his hula school and dance company, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, and their kuahu (a traditional Hawaiian shrine, accompanied by chanting and dance), on July 16; and Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers in a performance tracing the evolution of jazz and popular dance on Sept. 3.

The gardens also host cultural events, including the 18th Native Contemporary Arts Festival on June 19, 16th annual AfroSolo in the Gardens on Aug. 6, and the 23rd annual Pistahan on Aug. 13-14.

2016 Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
Where: Mission Street, between Third and Fourth streets, S.F.
When: May through September
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 543-1718, www.ybgfestival.org

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