Mariachi Flor de Toloache opens the 2018 Yerba Buena Gardens Festival -- dozens of free outdoor shows May through October -- at 1 p.m. May 6. (Courtesy Andrei Averbuch)

Free Yerba Buena Gardens fest kicks off with mariachi

It’s time for the 2018 Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, and that means free outdoor entertainment in The City from spring through fall.

The festival’s 18th season begins at 1 p.m. May 6 with Latinas: The cool, Latin Grammy-winning Mariachi Flor de Toloache, the first all-female mariachi ensemble, headlines a bill with melodic Bay Area singer-songwriter-activist Diana Gameros.

The concert is the first of more than 100 admission-free events — music, theater, circus, dance, poetry and children’s programs — in the urban plaza at Mission and Third streets.

“Get inspired! Treat yourself and treat your family, friends and co-workers to the most diverse performing arts experience in the Bay Area,” says program director Linda Lucero.

While many of the shows are around lunchtime, the popular salsa dance party (in Jesse Square near the Contemporary Jewish Museum) returns at 6 p.m. Thursdays, featuring the “mambo retro salsa” Cabanijazz Project (May 17); Bululú, with percussion master and vocalist Lali Mejia (June 21), Bay Area-based Cuban band Pellejo Seco (July 19), Latin Jazz Ambassadors and Annette A. Aguilar & StringBeans (Aug. 16) and vocalist Manny Martinez y la Rebeldia (Sept. 20).

Concerts are most Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The lineup includes The New World String Project (May 10), Community Music Center Older Adult Choirs (May 17), Dogon Lights (May 24), Kitty Pak (May 31), Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco (June 7), Swedish Consulate’s Jenny Lind Concert (June 21), Dalia & the Big Violin (June 28), Manring Kassin Burr (July 5), Maikaze Daiko (July 12), Solate (July 19), Sol Development with Mino Yanci (Aug. 2), LINES Dance Center (Aug. 9), Highest Ani (Aug. 16), Faun Fables (Aug. 23), La Patronal (Aug. 30), John Brothers Piano Company (Sept. 6), Daniel Riera: Future Flutist with Electric Ensemble (Oct. 4), and Rice Kings (Oct. 11).

Acts at 1 p.m. Saturdays include Tom Rigney & Flambeau (May 26), Gamelan Sekar Jaya, (June 9), Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo + VNote Ensemble (June 16), Isle of Klezbos + Fanfare Zambaleta (July 7), Van Anh Vo & The VA’V (Aug. 25) and Manila Disco Fever (Sept. 1).

The festival also offers commissioned projects, including ChoreoFest, a dance festival curated by RAWdance’s Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith on June 2-3; and jazz composer Marcus Shelby leads his orchestra in “Blackball: The Negro League and the Blues” on Sept. 8.

Circus Bella, presenting a new one-ring show, returns on June 22-23.

The gardens also host cultural events: the 21st Native Contemporary Arts Festival is June 17, the 18th AfroSolo in the Gardens (a Duke Ellington tribute with Denise Perrier, Nina Causley and David Hardiman’s San Francisco All-Star Big Band) is Aug. 4, the 25th Pistahan is Aug. 11-12, and Brazil in the Gardens (Pragandaia and Margareth Menezes) is Aug. 18.

IF YOU GO

2018 Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
Where: Mission Street, between Third and Fourth streets, S.F.
When: May through October
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 543-1718, www.ybgfestival.orgDiana GamerosMarcus ShelbyMariachi Flor de ToloacheYerba Buena Gardens Festival

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