You Have to Be There 

Our critics tell you what not to miss this summer

Trying to make a list of the top summertime arts and entertainment events in the East Bay is like trying to pick your favorite wildflower -- so many to choose from, and they're all unique. This roster represents the cream of the crop of fun things to see, hear, and dance to this summer -- with the emphasis on the cultural pluralism that has made our side of the bay the most vibrant community in Northern California. You don't have to travel to experience an Afro-Peruvian dance party or a Scottish hammer-throw competition or raw, avant-garde skronk music -- the world is coming to the East Bay this summer, just like it always does.

Thursday, June 20

De Rompe y Raja showcases the African-derived traditions of Peru. Studying and performing songs and dances from coastal cities like Lima, where enslaved Africans worked the docks, they keep alive a heritage dating back five hundred years. Recently, at the SF Carnaval, they gave an amazing performance that was as theatrical as it was musical. A high point was when a dancer jumped on a thin wooden box and did a tap dance known as zapateo. Folkloric master Lalo Izquierdo, of Peru Negro fame, and Gabriela Shiroma will dig deeper into this heel dance with a presentation called "Zapateo Criollo." 7:30 p.m., La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 510-324-8430. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Thursday, June 27

Simon que yes, Paul Rodriguez is a funny guy who has come far both as an actor and comedian, poking fun at life with his distinctive East LA point of view. Many still lament his short-lived late-night talk show on Spanish language TV with his sidekick Lalo Guerrero. Yes, Rodriguez can crack you up with carcajadas (belly laughs), but he also points out real-life abuses by law enforcement and immigration authorities. His role in Cheech Marin's Born in East LA, where he plays Cheech's Mexican country cousin, projects a charisma akin to the classic Mexican comedian Cantinflas. 6 and 8 p.m., Alameda County Fair, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton. 925-426-7600. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Sunday, June 30

Bobby Brown apparently is too busy basking in the royal title bestowed on him by wife Whitney Houston to be bothered with the New Edition reunion tour that stops at the Paramount Theatre, but the rest of the Boston bunch -- Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronald DeVoe, and the awesome Johnny Gill -- will be on hand to serve up "Cool It Now," "Mr. Telephone Man," "Count Me Out," "If It Isn't Love," and other soul smashes from the '80s. And reprising such hits of the early '90s as "Hold On," "Lies," "You Don't Have to Worry," and "Don't Go" is En Vogue, minus Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson but still featuring charter members Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron. 6:30 p.m. 2025 Broadway, Oakland. 510-465-6400. -- Lee Hildebrand

Saturday, July 13 - Tuesday, August 27

Ever wonder why our national Fearless Leaders (even the Democrats) always seem a little reluctant to visit the Bay Area? Well, it's not too much of a stretch to say that it's because of people like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who have been making pointed political fun of Washington power-mongers since the '60s and are showing no signs of quitting now, when we really, truly need them. The Mime Troupe's latest, Mr. Smith Goes to Obskuristan, written by comic Josh Kornbluth and the Troupe collective, tackles the "War on Terrorism," big oil money, and the President of the United States. Some things never change. True to form, the Mime Troupe performs free in public parks all over the East Bay this summer, including Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14, at Berkeley's Live Oak Park. Info: 415-385-1717 or -- Kelly Vance

Sunday, July 14

The second annual Transbay Skronkathon BBQ takes away all your excuses for failing to support the local avant-garde of emerging improvisers and composers. Door prices too high? This event's free. Hungry? It's bring-your-own barbecue. Don't know anything about the scene? Surely someone in this all-day cavalcade of drop-in musicians will appeal to you. Come hear what they sound like when they take their horns out of their mouths. Some skronk just as noisily when they speak, but this skronkathon is dedicated to proving that the Bay Area's nameless and faceless masses of musical talent are just folks like you and me. Details will emerge at Tuva, 3192 Adeline St., (across from Ashby BART), Berkeley. 510-649-8744. -- Aaron Shuman

Friday, July 19 - Sunday, August 24

Unfortunately, Central Works' Mata Hari had to be pushed back for logistical reasons, so audiences looking forward to Jan Zvaifler as the world's most famous female spy have had to cool their heels. Fortunately, there's a great team involved, from writer Gary Graves to actor Louis Parnell (fresh off The Apple Cart) and dramaturge Melissa Hillman (also known as Impact Theatre's artistic director). Produced in association with Women in Time, this show asks: Was Margaretha Zelle really a spy, or just a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time? Should be worth it for what promises to be the witty dialogue alone. At the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley. Reservations and information: 510-558-1381 or -- Lisa Drostova

Tuesday, July 23

Sadly, Tin Hat Trio no longer qualifies as a Bay Area band, since guitarist Mark Orton relocated to Portland and pianist/accordionist Rob Burger moved to New York. And between touring with the avant-rock bands Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Charming Hostess, violinist Carla Kihlstedt doesn't see much of her Oakland digs either, which explains why the trio has been so scarce in recent months. With a guest appearance by Tom Waits, the group's second CD Helium (Angel) brought new attention to the band, which combines the rhythmic agility and intuitive interplay of an improvising ensemble with the finely wrought textures and melodic coherence of chamber music. They return to their favorite Bay Area venue for what may be their only gig in the region this year. Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. 8 p.m. 510-548-1761. -- Andrew Gilbert


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