Labor Day Weekend has come and gone. And yet again the talk was about how the best part of it was so many people being gone for Burning Man. That said, The City didn’t feel as empty as it used to during this time of the year, probably because so few Burners are able to afford living in San Francisco anymore. What manages to get lost in all of this is that the actual best part of Labor Day Weekend isn’t the Burning Man Rapture anyway, it’s Hiero Day, the all day hip-hop festival that just celebrated its 8th year in Oakland.
Walking down 3rd Street, between the rows of vendors repping everything from local clothing lines to weed delivery services, I saw something wonderful. The Oakland A’s mascot – a big, plush, elephant furry suit named Stomper – was gleefully dancing his tail off with a bunch of kids and their parents as hip-hop blasted from a nearby booth. As we stopped to watch the magic, I turned to Kayla and said. “This is why Hiero Day is the best.”
It wasn’t just that someone in a character suit was dancing with fans, that happens at stadiums and theme parks around the world. What gave it that unique feeling was how genuine it was. You could tell there was no place in the world the person in the Stomper suit would’ve rather been than boogying on an Oakland street with a bunch of local kids. And that is exactly the quality that makes Hiero Day so special.
Hiero Day is all the best parts of the Bay Area distilled into a single event. The crowd is diverse and open. Everyone is welcome, including young kids. Plus everyone is super nice. It’s the kind of event where if two people accidentally run into each other, they both want to be the first to apologize. The folks who attend come from all over the Bay and are fiercely proud of being citizens of one of the most unique regions on the country. Nearly everyone wears clothes that are somehow Bay Area specific, whether it’s a Giants jersey, a shirt designed by a local artist, or a Hieroglyphics hat.
Hieroglyphics is a hip-hop collective that got its start in Oakland in the 90s. Legendary in the world of underground rap, they’ve built an incredibly devout following by a combination of making great music and being active in the community. Hiero Day was actually a free concert for the first number of years, but as the amount of attendees grew, they had to start charging in order to accommodate everyone safely.
The musical lineup has always been a stellar mix of local artists and national names. Over the years fans have been treated to fairly intimate sets by hip-hop legends like Too $hort, Juvenile, The Pharcyde, Black Thought, Mannie Fresh, Dilated Peoples, The Coup and Anderson Paak, while also getting to hear up and coming Bay Area rappers do their thing. The combination makes Heiro Day a celebration not just of hip-hop, but also the Bay Area’s important role in it.
Of course, not everything is perfect. If you’re expecting production value on the caliber of Outside Lands or Coachella, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed. But to me, that’s actually part of the charm. This event is by the community and for the community, so while there aren’t any stage shows with pyrotechnics, none of that really matters. Although it would’ve been nice if they had brought in some shade structures because it was really hot on Monday.
So next year, when you’re trying to figure out what to do for Labor Day, remember Hiero Day. Attending will remind you about all the things you love about the Bay Area and you’ll remember again what makes this such a special place.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.