Best Bets: SF Mime Troupe, Sam Grisman Project, Damian Escobar, Simone Dinnerstein, Word for Word

L-R, Michael Gene Sullivan, Lizzie Calogero and Andre Amarotico star in San Francisco Mime Troupe’s “American Dreams.” The show is presented outdoors at many locations through the summer. (Courtesy David Allen/San Francisco Mime Troupe)

Freebie of the week: The San Francisco Mime Troupe is among many beloved Bay Area traditions. Each year around Independence Day, the company, a self-described “democratically run, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multicultural, gender-balanced theater of social justice,” kicks off a free touring musical production that espouses those same values of equality, justice, compassion and democracy. Oh, and it’s silly as all heck, too. While good old-fashioned American values are certainly worth celebrating, well-timed wisecracks and pratfalls are a lot more entertaining. The Mime Troupe bases its entertainment on commedia dell’arte, meaning the theater is lively and the comedy is broad. And, in the troupe’s case, very political and very left of center. (Fox News should stay home and watch TV.)

Note: Don’t get fooled by “mime” in the company’s name; the productions all have dialogue. This year’s show, “American Dreams,” centers on a father and daughter dealing with the surreal aftermath of a U.S. presidential election. Touching on contemporary themes such as artificial intelligence, student unrest and voting integrity, “American Dreams” kicks off its summer run 2 p.m. Thursday at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco. It plays through Sept. 8 with mostly outdoor stops in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Orinda, Davis and more. Get the full schedule and more information at

Sam Grisman, son of famed mandolinist David Grisman, plays his father’s and Jerry Garcia’s music at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on July 6. (Courtesy Sam Grisman)

Grisman 2.0: He might have grown up in a conservative New Jersey family, but David Grisman wound up creating a big part of the catchy, syncopated sound that defined the Bay Area’s free-wheeling folk scene in the late 20th century. After moving to the Bay Area, Grisman, a stunningly talented mandolinist, began establishing his musical identity, one that brought him in contact with Jerry Garcia. The two formed a lifelong friendship and musical partnership. Grisman was a member of the Garcia-led bluegrass band Old and In the Way and helped create a musical blueprint that melded folk, bluegrass, classic string-band music and gypsy jazz. Garcia dubbed it “Dawg” music in Grisman’s honor, reportedly because Grisman was being followed by a pooch one day when the two were strolling on Stinson Beach. We don’t know what happened to the pooch, but Grisman’s music lives on, partly in the form of Grisman’s son, Sam, also a talented string musician. Noting that his love for his father’s music comes from its sound and the joy and camaraderie it represents, the young musician has created the Sam Grisman Project, which specializes in performing Grisman/Garcia tunes, particularly from the early 1990s, as well Sam Grisman’s own songs. The band performs at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage club at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $49-$54. Go to

Violinist Damien Escobar brings his unique blend of soul, jazz, hip-hop and classical to Yoshi’s in Oakland July 5-6. (Courtesy Damien Escobar).

Strings attached: Early on, it was obvious that violinist Damien Escobar from Queens, New York, had that drive and talent. At 10, he became the youngest student ever accepted at the Juilliard School of Music. After sharpening his skills busking on the streets of New York, Escobar and his brother formed the duo Nuttin’ But Stringz. About a decade ago, Escobar decided to go solo; he’s hardly looked back. A phenomenal musician with a knack for merging soul, jazz and hip-hop with contemporary classical music, Escobar has earned a global following with tuneful albums and activism. He founded the Violins Against Violence foundation in 2007, has been active with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and UNICEF, and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in 2018. A terrific live performer, Escobar is showcasing his most recent release “Gemini” and comes to Yoshi’s in Oakland for a weekend set. Performances are at 7 and 9:15 p.m. Friday and 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $49-$89 at

Simone Dinnerstein is featured in recital at the Art of the Piano Festival on July 5 in San Francisco. (Courtesy Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

A rare appearance: The incomparable pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who launched herself into the stratosphere with an exquisitely expressive 2007 recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” that is still the go-to choice for many a devotee (the New York Times dubbed her “a unique voice in the forest of Bach interpretation”), is not in the Bay Area. You might want to avail yourself of the chance to hear her perform Friday night as part of pianist Awadagin Pratt’s Art of the Piano Festival in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Barbro Osher Recital Hall on the 11th floor of the Bowes Center at 200 Van Ness Ave. Dinnerstein draws part of her program from music on “Undersong,” the final installment of a trilogy of albums recorded at her Brooklyn home during the pandemic. She will play Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mystérieuses”; Schumann’s “Arabesque, Op. 18”; Philip Glass’ “Mad Rush”; Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 3” and Schumann’s “Kreisleriana, Op.16.” Concert time is 7 p.m. Find tickets, $20, at

L-to-R, Ailbhe Doherty and Stephanie Hunt appear in Kevin Barry’s short story “The Wintersongs” presented by Word for Word. (Courtesy Jay Yamada)

Lit comes to life: Have you ever found yourself squirming uncomfortably in your seat on a plane, bus or train, trying to avoid eye contact with a nosy, way-too-chatty seatmate who just can’t seem to take the hint? Acclaimed Irish writer Kevin Barry has written about it, to hilarious effect, in “The Wintersongs,” one of three of his short stories being enacted, with full text intact, on stage by the energetic San Francisco-based theater troupe Word for Word. Stephanie Hunt and Ailbhe Doherty play the entrapped young girl and her elderly seatmate in the story, which takes a somewhat surprising turn. Also being presented are “Who’s-Dead McCarthy,” so named for the annoying protagonist named McCarthy, who is thrilled to be catching everyone in town up on who is the latest unfortunate person to shuffle off this mortal coil, and “The Coast of Leitrim,” about an awkward Irish guy who gets interested in, then obsessed by a younger Polish girl. Performances are Wednesdays through Sundays (no show July 4) through July 21 at Z Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco. Find tickets, $40-$65, at

The post Best Bets: SF Mime Troupe, Sam Grisman Project, Damian Escobar, Simone Dinnerstein, Word for Word appeared first on Local News Matters.

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