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Under the Stars

Opening the door to outdoor music


LAID BACK As long as I can sleep on the lawn at the symphony, we're cool.
  • LAID BACK As long as I can sleep on the lawn at the symphony, we're cool.

By now everyone's heard about the great acoustics at the Green Music Center, and the state-of-the-art design of the 1,400-seat space, how the chairs alone cost a million bucks, all that jazz. But in the summertime, there's nothing like being just outside the back door.

This year's summer season utilizing the venue's open-door policy includes cellist Yo-Yo Ma, returning with Chris Thiele, Edgar Meyer and others (Aug. 23); Pink Martini's exotica stylings with singer China Forbes (July 14); jazz trumpeter Chris Botti (Aug. 25); classical crossover singer Josh Groban with the Santa Rosa Symphony and guest conductor Sean O'Loughlin (July 24); Jewish-Muslim musical group El Gusto, referred to as the "Buena Vista Social Club of Algiers" (Aug. 11); and a new partnership with Napa Valley's Festival del Sole brings violinist Sarah Chang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet with the Russian National Orchestra (July 16). San Francisco Symphony and Santa Rosa Symphony concerts abound as well; tickets go on sale to the general public on May 13 at

When the back wall of the main hall is opened, sound shoots out like a giant subwoofer onto a terraced lawn into an acoustic space uninterrupted by reflective surfaces. Looking up at the stars on a warm summer evening last fall, it felt like Alison Krauss and her band mates were singing from the sky, like the universe gave a concert just for us.

The daytime season opener with the Santa Rosa Symphony brought a much more casual scene; on the lawn, children danced, sang, spilled cracker crumbs everywhere and basically were allowed to be kids at a professional symphony concert. The stuffy atmosphere that can accompany a performance melted away. It was OK to cough, sneeze, take a picture, strike up a conversation, lay down, snooze, sunbathe, eat, drink, do yoga, walk around, eat hot dogs; in short, it was fine music made accessible to all.

Other outdoor fare this year includes the Healdsburg Jazz Festival's closing concert. After a two-week festival dedicated to jazz bass legend Charlie Haden that includes Charles Lloyd, Jason Moran, Haden, Lee Konitz, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Frisell, Marcus Shelby, Fred Hersch, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and many others, the festival finale on June 9 features Sweet Honey in the Rock and Azar Lawrence outdoors at Rodney Strong Vineyards. The natural mini-amphitheater at Rodney Strong makes for good acoustics, and the vineyard setting means you'll want to bring visiting friends and relatives. As for the sun? This year, the festival is selling special "Shaded Chairs" tickets. See for more.

The Huichica Festival, the Rodney Strong Concert Series, the Kate Wolf Festival, the Rivertown Revival . . . this concert season, it's time to get outside.

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