There's a "How Berkeley Can You Be?" parade every year, but Berkeley's mystique is too large and all-encompassing to be contained in a single event. How is it that people who usually take themselves so seriously can suddenly go bonkers? Find out at the fifth annual Berkeley Arts Festival, a gathering of the tribes that may in fact be the Berkeley-est of them all. It takes place over a two-week period beginning this Saturday, August 10 (noon to 6 p.m.), at the corner of Center and Shattuck, and contains the two essential ingredients of any Berkeley gathering: arts and politics.
Festival organizer Bonnie Hughes wouldn't have it any other way. "The essence of Berkeley is to give voice to human values rather than market values, and the arts give voice to that voice," Hughes opines. "At a time when the fear of speaking out is so rampant, we're making a place for people who aren't afraid to speak out, providing a space for all kinds of things to happen, things that are experimental, that don't make a lot of money." For those who want silly, there's the City Council Singers, in which the city's elected officials get up and sing a version of "Blue Moon." Or People's Park activist Stoney Burke's "How to Ride a Bus" demonstration, conducted aboard a real AC Transit bus. Or It Takes Ovaries, a stage presentation by the Woman's Will theater troupe. On the serious side, try the "uplifting" hip-hop show by Emeryville performer Azeem and the group VU. Or protest folk songs by the Freedom Song Network. Or the Bicycle Rodeo, or the strategically placed street musicians of the Music Circus (anyone can join, just bring an instrument), or the procession of ecological activists and leftish politicos, such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee, honorary chair of the festival. In other words, not your average municipal street fair.
You'll find all of the above and more Saturday in downtown Berkeley, along with the Public Library's "Poetry in the Plaza" spoken-word party (2:30 p.m. at 2090 Kittredge St.). After the wacky opening day, the fest broadens out with classical piano concerts (August 11 and 14), a free Shakespeare play (August 16), a studio walking tour, a mock City Council session, and much more. See listings for details, or www.berkeleyartsfestival.com
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