Best Bets: WWII-era jazz, Meklit, Lily Dare, and more

Bay Area drummer and bandleader Akira Tana heads up a free concert May 27 celebrating Japanese American musicians who continued playing after they were sent to internment camps during World War II. (Courtesy Akira Tana)

Freebie of the week: Among the lesser-known aspects of the tragic World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans in America is its musical legacy. Many who were unjustly imprisoned were musicians, and at some camps, they formed groups to play to ease the despair and monotony. George Yoshida, a musician and teacher held at the Poston Incarceration Camp in Arizona who played drums with a big band called the Music Makers with fellow prisoners, wrote about the experience in his book “Reminiscing in Swingtime: Japanese Americans in American Popular Music, 1925-1960.”

Yoshida, who died in 2014, is the inspiration behind a free jazz concert from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday on the Main Parade Lawn in San Francisco’s Presidio. The concert, organized by the National Japanese American Historical Society and Partnership for the Presidio, will be led by Bay Area drummer Akira Tana, whose father was among those imprisoned during the internment period. It also features musicians with Japanese ancestry including trumpeter John Worley, pianist Ben Stolorow and bassist John Wiitala – as well as San Francisco singer Kim Nalley.

“Music Makers: Bands Behind Barbed Wire” includes big band jazz and pop classics from the World War II era as well as a performance by taiko drumming master Jimi Nakagawa. The show’s location is also key in that the Presidio was where the order to imprison some 120,000 Japanese Americans was issued (you can learn more about that in a special exhibit on display at the Presidio Officers Club, which is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays). More information is at

Bay Area singer-songwriter-musician will perform interpretations of traditional Ethiopian songs on Saturday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. (Photo courtesy Petri Anttila/Meklit)

Meklit’s music: Bay Area Ethiopian singer-songwriter Meklit is a busy woman. Known for her evocative singing and electrifying stage presence, she is also a TED Global Fellow; has been artist in residence at institutions ranging from New York University to the de Young Museum and Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco; staged theatrical performances at the Brava for Women in the Arts Center; served as Head of Creativity and Impact at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; founded the Arba Minch Collective of Ethiopian artists; and just launched a new podcast focused on migration-themed stories titled “Movement.”

But she’s hardly forgotten her music career. On Saturday, she’ll be at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley to perform her stirring Ethio-jazz interpretations of traditional songs from her native Ethiopia. She’ll be joined by a sizzling band featuring tenor saxophone star Howard Wiley, bassist Sam Bevan, Ethiopian-born keyboardist Kibrom Birhane, drummer Colin Douglas and percussionist Marco Peris Coppola.

The show kicks off at 8 p.m. with a set by Sudanese singer Salma Al Assal. Tickets are $24-$28; go to

J. Conrad Frank stars as the doomed titular heroine in “The Confession of Lily Dare” at New Conservatory Theatre Center. (Courtesy New Conservatory Theatre Center)

If you ‘Dare’: Hollywood’s Pre-Code films of the late 1920s to mid-30s were so starkly dramatic – with sin and sacrifice fighting for attention – that they remain ripe for satire.

One of the more acclaimed recent satires is getting its regional premiere with a new production at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center. “The Confession of Lily Dare” has generated positive buzz since it opened in New York in 2022.

The show is by Charles Busch, heralded playwright, author and drag queen famous for campy melodramatic shows in which he often appears. His best-known play, “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” was a hit on Broadway, but he might be even more adored for such off-Broadway shows as “Psycho Beach Party,” “Die, Mommie, Die!” and especially “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.”

He adapted “Lily Dare” from his own 2019 book. Set in the Bay Area (the “seedy underbelly of the Barbary Coast” as NCTC puts it), the story is a mashup parody of Pre-Code films as it follows the titular doomed heroine, whose many pitfalls and predicaments are all tied to her desperate quest to help the child she was forced to abandon.

The comedy, starring acclaimed Bay Area actor and drag performer J. Conrad Frank, and directed by Allen Sawyer, is playing at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 50 Van Ness Ave., through June 11. Tickets are $25–65; go to

West Bay Opera wil give four performances of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. (Courtesy of West Bay Opera)

Looking for love on all the shore places: Poor, poor Dutchman! Condemned by his own blasphemous tongue to sail and sail and sail without respite—except for once every seven years—he comes ashore at the permitted juncture to search for true love from the only woman who can save him.

Richard Wagner’s early opera “The Flying Dutchman,” and his first hit, is taken up by West Bay Opera this weekend and next for a run at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. Baritone Robert Balonek pours out his trials and tribulations in the title role, and soprano Meredith Bloomfield sings as Senta, the heaven-sent saint who saves him. The production is directed by José Luis Moscovich and conducted by Ragnar Conde. (Unconfirmed reports have it that Wagner suffered through a storm-plagued sea voyage that took nearly a month instead of the expected eight days, which may have put him in mind for this work, which debuted four years later in 1843.)

Performance times are 6 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday, with repeats at 8 p.m. June 3 and 2 p.m. June 4. Find tickets, $38-$95, at or call 650-424-9999. 

The Lorelei Ensemble provides the powerful vocals for the West Coast premiere of Julia Wolfe’s “Her Story.” (Photo courtesy Ars Media Studio)

It’s ‘Her Story’—and she’s sticking to it: There is anger and commitment and perseverance and hope running all through Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe’s “Her Story,” a 30-minute work for orchestra and female vocal ensemble based on multiple women’s voices throughout history demanding equal representation.

The piece was commissioned by five prominent orchestras—the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony, the Nashville Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, which gives the West Coast premiere this weekend in Davies Hall under the baton of guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero (who led the Nashville Symphony’s world premiere last winter). The Lorelei Ensemble, making its San Francisco Symphony debut, delivers the powerful vocals.

Also on the program is Rimsky-Korsakov’s shimmering masterpiece, “Scheherazade.” Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday; tickets, $35-$135, are available at and at 415-864-6000. 

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