Best Bets: Tower of Power, Circus Bella, and more

East Bay band Tower of Power brings its 2023 tour to the Bay Area for shows Dec. 15-16. (Tower of Power)

Freebie of the week: Cowboys, ranchers and the like have long made for iconic images reflecting America’s frontier spirit, or a rugged sense of individualism associated with an uncompromising way of life.

“Tattoos and Horsetrailers” is among the photos in an exhibition by Bay Area photographer Charles Lee at SF Camerawork. (Courtesy SF Camerawork)

For the most part, the people in these images have been white. Bay Area photographer Charles Lee is out to change that with his first solo exhibit at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

On view at SF Camerawork, “sweat + dirt” is a collection of images chronicling Black rodeo and cowboy cultures. The mostly black-and-white images focus on Black ranchers, cowboys, trail riders, ropers, equestrian performers and trainers and more, both at work and at rest.

Some of the most expressive images are simple portraits of the Black men and women who define 21st-century Western culture. The photos, taken in Louisiana and Northern and Southern California, are intriguing in their own right; collectively, they offer a rebuttal to the standard image of Westward migration and the notion of Manifest Destiny, as well as the idea that rural lands are the domain of whites and urban life is for Blacks.

As Lee puts it: “All of this is with the intention to further the discussion about what it truly means to be ‘American.’”

The exhibit runs through Feb. 3 at SF Camerawork, Building A, Fort Mason Center off Marina Boulevard. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. Go to

East Bay band Tower of Power brings its 2023 tour to the Bay Area for shows Dec. 15-16. (Tower of Power)

Celebrate the Power: Before our lives become completely overrun by the stress and bustle of the holiday season, let us take a moment to: 1. Breathe, and 2. Celebrate the longevity and kick-butt music of East Bay band Tower of Power, which is marking its 55th year with a new holiday album and a tour that has two stops in the Bay Area this weekend.

The band’s hard-driving, horn-fueled sound was born in 1968 when two saxophone players, Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka met and formed a band called The Motowns. Looking to appeal to listeners of both funk and R&B and the prevailing counterculture rock scene, the outfit changed its name to Tower of Power and issued its debut album, “East Bay Grease” on Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records. Tower of Power’s commercial high point came a few years later with the release of a self-titled album that spawned the hits “So Very Hard to Go,” “This Time It’s Real” and “What Is Hip.”

The band has released nearly 20 studio albums and several live records in all, and its hard-charging horn section has appeared on recordings by dozens of artists, ranging from Elton John and Eric Clapton to Frankie Valli and Lyle Lovett. Their new release, “It’s Christmas,” includes such holiday standards as “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Silver Bells” and “O Holy Night” and its tour includes stops at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Friday and the Heritage Theatre in Campbell on Saturday.

Tickets range from $60.50-$244. Tickets and the new release are available on the band’s website,

Bay Area circus troupe Circus Bella is performing a new show, “Kaleidoscope 2023,” at a big, heated tent in downtown San Francisco. (Courtesy Daisy Rose Coby/Circus Bella)

Serious circus skills: Circuses often are associated with big touring productions — think Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey — but the Bay Area has a long, proud tradition of homegrown ventures that continues to this day.

Among the most famous of these was the Pickle Family Circus, a clown and circus acts troupe that formed in the 1970s and spawned such nationally known entertainers as Geoff Hoyle and Bill Irwin. The group was also said to have influenced Cirque du Soleil. The Zoppe Family Circus, a purveyor of traditional circus entertainment, has been a fixture in Redwood City for years.

A somewhat more recent addition to the mix is Circus Bella, founded in 2008 and featuring a sublimely talented cast of clowns, aerialists, jugglers and contortionists and other performers. The troupe is probably best known for free summer shows in parks and other outdoor venues. But fans don’t have to wait until warm-weather months return to catch Circus Bella in action.

The company, led by co-founder Abigail Munn, is offering a new show, “Kaleidoscope 2023,” its first winter show in five years. Expect the same high-flying stunts and crazy-fun clowning routines presented in the round, yet in a big, 350-seat heated tent rather than an outdoor park. And as always, there will be live accompaniment by a six-member jazz band led by Rob Reich.

Unlike the summer performances, “Kaleidoscope 2023” is a ticketed event. It runs Friday through Dec. 31 at Crossing at East Cut, Beale and Howard streets, San Francisco. Tickets are $55-$75; go to

The Choral Project’s annual “Winter’s Gifts” collaboration with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra will focus on the theme of “Journeys” this year. (Courtesy The Choral Project)

An annual treat: For the 19th year, the Silicon Valley ensemble The Choral Project and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Daniel Hughes and Barbara Day Turner, are joining forces this weekend for their annual “Winter’s Gifts” concerts, focusing this time on the theme of “Journeys.”

Featured vocalist Juanita Harris will perform a medley of “Swing Los, Sweet Chariot” and the “Follow the River” number from the film “Journey of Harriet Tubman.” The program will also include works from composers Ola Gjeilo, Téodora Gines, Dan Forrest, Joby Talbot, Conrad Susa and more.

Performance times are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Portola Valley Presbyterian Church and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Mission Santa Clara de Asís on the campus of Santa Clara University. Tickets, $15-$40, are available at and (408) 295-4416 and can also be purchased at the door. 

French trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary makes her U.S. debut in three “Christmas Ornaments” concerts with the New Century Chamber Orchestra.(Courtesy Simon Fowler)

Blowing her own horn: Renowned French trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary makes her American debut this weekend in three “Christmas Ornaments” concerts with Daniel Hope and the New Century Chamber Orchestra. She will solo on J.B.G. Neruda’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major, and NCCO music director Hope will be featured in the Bach Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. The two will join forces with the orchestra for a number of holiday favorites.

Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City” and Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor are also on the program, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, moving to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere for a 3 p.m. Saturday performance and winding up at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in San Francisco’s St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

Tickets are $30-$70 for general admission, with $10 tickets available for students with ID and $15 for those under $35. Find them through City Box Office at or (415) 392-4400. 

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