Concerts that draw thousands may be common in Golden Gate Park, but efforts to establish a series of musical events at another massive park across town are decidedly more modest.
A quintet of concerts expected to draw about 300 people per day and planned for next year at McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater ran into a slight roadblock Wednesday, but city officials and organizers say chances are good the shows will come off as planned — although whether they will be free is still up for debate.
The Recreation and Park Department declined to grant approval for the concerts, proposed by the nonprofit organization NextArts, until organizers decide whether the musical events would be free or whether a nominal fee would be charged. Organizers will come back before the full Recreation and Park Commission with their answer on Sept. 19, when commissioners are expected to give their support.
NextArts is proposing to host five concert dates in the park, located between the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods near The City’s southern edge, and sell food and wine to offset the costs.
The park is nearly as large as Golden Gate Park, though even many longtime city residents are barely aware it exists. It received attention when its amphitheater was named after the famed Grateful Dead guitarist Garcia, who grew up in the Excelsior.
"I am excited to see events happening there," Commissioner John Murray said. "It’s called Jerry Garcia Amphitheater and he was a performer."
The concert series is supported by the community, according to Franco Mancini of the group Friends of McLaren Park. He said the concerts would be a good barometer to see if the amphitheater can host financially viable events.
"The ability to make this facility a revenue-generating facility for the [Recreation and Park] Department requires a concert series like
[NextArts] is proposing," he said.
Bill Carlin, who lives near the park, said he supports the idea of having concerts in the amphitheater but he is concerned about public safety because there are no lights in the theatre, the adjacent parking lot or nearby streets.
Tony Imperial of NextArts initially told the commission he would know by May whether the organization had enough funding to keep the event free, but they pressed him for an earlier answer, with the possibility that NextArts could reapply for a permit later if its funding status changed. Imperial said he anticipated the event would remain free.
Either way, Murray said he supports the idea, but just wants the details on whether it will be free or not clarified before he votes.
If tickets are needed, they are expected to be less than $10, according to the Recreation and Park Department, and any revenue would be split between NextArts and the department. If approved at the commission’s next meeting, the concert series would begin on Sept. 22 next year and continue the following four Saturdays.
"We’re really excited about this," Imperial said. "It’s all lining up nicely."